Environmental Voices: The PennFuture Podcast

Women in Conservation - Making the Difference in Pennsylvania

April 27, 2022 PennFuture - Hosted by M. Travis DiNicola
Environmental Voices: The PennFuture Podcast
Women in Conservation - Making the Difference in Pennsylvania
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 3 of “Environmental Voices: The PennFuture Podcast” catches up with three previous Celebrating Women in Conservation Awardees who continue to do big things in Pennsylvania. One recently edited a book on EcoArt, another serves as a nature columnist for the Pottsville Republican Herald, and the third got appointed by President Biden to serve as the State Executive Director for the USDA Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency. 

Our guests include: 

  • Leah Zerbe won PennFuture’s 2019 Woman of Environmental Media, Marketing & Communications award for her outstanding environmental writings at publications such as Dr. Axe, Rodale Publishing, the Bucks County Courier Times, and the Philadelphia Daily News. Since that time, she has been an active participant in her community, including serving as the chair of the Pottsville Citizens Climate Lobby chapter, running after-school educational programs, studying to become a Master Watershed Steward, and most recently serving as a columnist with the Pottsville Republican Herald.
  • Ann Rosenthal won PennFuture’s 2020 Women of Environmental Arts award recognizing her over 40 years’ experience as an artist, writer, and for her work which examines the intersections of nature and culture through timely issues, including climate change and biodiversity, Recently she co-edited Ecoart in Action: Activities, Case Studies, and Provocations for Classrooms and Communities, a collection that seeks to showcase how teachers, citizens, policymakers, and scientists can find inspiration in art. 
  • Heidi Secord is a winner of PennFuture’s 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award. Heidi owns and operates her 48-acre Josie Porter Farm with her husband Gary Bloss in Northeastern PA. Josie Porter Farm is a farmer led community-based food hub that supports other local and regional farmers and provides fresh produce to the community. Heidi also served as State President of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union and sat on the National Farmers Union Board of Directors. And Heidi was recently appointed by the Biden Administration to serve as the State Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency. 
  • Susanne Whitehead is PennFuture’s Donors Relations Manager. Susanne is instrumental in organizing all aspects of our Celebrating Women in Conversation awards, including evaluating nominees.

BONUS: CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW NOMINATE A WOMAN FOR THIS YEAR'S CELEBRATING WOMEN IN CONSERVATION AWARDS - THE DEADLINE FOR NOMINATIONS HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO FRIDAY, MAY 13TH

Speaker 1:

Travis DiNicola, Host (00:13): Welcome back to another episode of Environmental Voices, the PennFuture podcast. My name is Travis DiNicola, PennFuture’s Director of Development, and your host. Environmental Voices is sponsored by PennFuture, Pennsylvania's watchdog for clean air, clean water, and clean energy. You can find out more and become a member pennfuture.org. Our goal on Environmental Voices is to tell the important environmental stories facing Pennsylvanians throughout all regions of the state. In previous episodes, we've talked to advocates in frontline communities fighting for clean air, clean energy and voting rights, as well as one activist fighting back against a disastrous pipeline project near her home. While it's important to lift up environmental voices that are actively engaged in these fights. It's the equally as important to take a moment to highlight environmental victories in Pennsylvania, especially recent victories by women conservationists. Pennsylvania's history is rich with women advocates and activists from the famed, Rachel Carson to the lesser known figures like Rosalie Barrow Edge, who founded the world's first preserve for birds of at Hawk Mountain in 1934. Our Commonwealth has a rich history of women bringing about real and impactful change in conservation and environmental advocacy. And PennFuture has taken strides to honor those accomplishments during our annual Celebrating Women in Conservation Awards. Since 2015, we've traveled around the state it to different communities to ensure recognition of local leaders, volunteers, and career professionals. In the process, we've gotten to know some incredible women conservationists, and we've been proud to tell their stories and honor their work. Today, we want to catch up with three of our previous honorees who are still doing big things for Pennsylvania. One recently edited a book on eco-art. Another serves as a nature columnist for the Pottsville Republican Herald and the third got appointed by President Biden to serve as the state Executive Director for the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency. Our first guest today is Leah Zerbe. Leah won PennFuture’s, 2019 Woman of Environmental Media, Marketing, and Communications award for her outstanding environmental writings and publications such as Dr. Axe, Rodale Publishing, the Bucks County Courier Times, and the Philadelphia Daily News. Since that time, she has been an active participant in her community, including serving as the chair of the Pottsville Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter, running after school education programs, studying to become a master watershed steward, and most recently serving as a columnist with the Pottsville Republican Herald. Leah, welcome to Environmental Voices. Leah Zerbe (02:53): Hi Travis. Thanks so much for having me. DiNicola (02:55): It is great to have you great to chat with you again, it's been too long. I guess the last time I saw you was probably at the Women in Conservation Awards in 2019. So what have you been doing since? Zerbe (03:08): Yeah, so the world has changed in many, many ways, some good and some bad since then. So it's good to be chatting with you to catch up today. I think what I've been up to most these days is trying to, you know, gather people in the community like-minded folks or even folks who aren't so like-minded, we're finding common ground on conservation issues and we're, we're getting our hands in the dirt. We're getting trees in the ground. We're doing planting specifically in Schuylkill County where I live, we've been plagued with a lot of flooding in last few years. So we're really looking at reforestation projects, turning turf lawns, or empty, vacant, lots into what will be native tree and shrub forests to help reduce flooding and so many other things. So that's kind of where I'm at right now and just been like such a joy to connect with people in the community and start getting things done. DiNicola (04:05): Tell me a bit more about this converting lawns to forest and sort of help me understand how it works. I mean, I get it that it's, you know, part of it is to help with preventing flooding, you know, do, are you getting pushback from people who, you know, want the traditional suburban green lawn on this Zerbe (04:21): We were so pleased because we, we truly didn't know what to expect. This goes back into COVID when people were feeling a lot of us anyway were feeling kind of helpless. We wanted to do something positive, we needed to connect, but we weren't sure how. So we went the hyperlocal route and started talking with our borough council members. So what we did was we, we tacked the, the issue of conservation to flooding and nobody in our town enjoys being flooded. And in fact, so many people have been devastated, been pushed from their homes or are kind of stuck in their homes and, and they can't really sell. So we found that going to borough council, we gave them a presentation about flood mitigation, things that we can do in the community through, you know, less intense, more natural methods like planting. And they were totally on board. We only had one council member who, who didn't vote for it. So it was really pretty overwhelming support. And then we teamed up with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay cause they have, you know, the, the tricks and tools to get the funding, to do this kind of thing. Because you know, as you know, there's a huge push in our Chesapeake watershed to help reduce pollution. That winds up in the Chesapeake Bay. So teaming up with them we were able to do our first round of, of plantings about two weeks ago and we to be planting more in the fall and these are actually FEMA plots. So these were plots where homes were literally bought out by the government and knocked over, because the flooding was so bad. So we'll be turning those old plots which were plague by bad memories and floodings into little mini pocket forests all throughout town. So it's also an equity issue. If you don't have a car and can't drive a day to Sweet Arrow lake or Swatara State Park, those are kind of green areas near us. We're going to have these green patches right in the middle of town, these little food forests that will also support pawpaw trees, which is a native fruit, elderberries. So it'll be a place where people of all ages can go learn about their ecosystem, the native plants and all of the life that will be in these, these little plots peppered all around town. DiNicola (06:32): So these forests, I mean, are they literally the size of like a, the plot of the house that used to be there and are, are they connected or are they you know, mixed up throughout the community? Zerbe (06:44): They're, they're kind of mixed up all around the community because we were able to go for borough owned properties. And we went through the members of borough council. Some of them went through, they gave us a tour of what might be open to this kind of thing. So, so those FEMA plots that were bought out are now in the borough's hands. And when you think about it, it's kind of adding a lot of extra work to their day now they're they had to receive them into lawns. So that's another lawn that they have to mow when there's a million other things that they can be doing out there that that's on their to-do list. So we also see it as not just a benefit for the community and to flooding, but also a way to take some of the burden off of the borough workers who are out there doing their thing each and every day. So it's kind of a win-win DiNicola (07:26): So obviously it takes a little while for a tree to grow. I mean, so what do these plots look like right now? I mean, is it kind of like a nursery with a bunch of saplings? Zerbe (07:35): Yeah. Yeah. So what we, we planted using like a lot of them are kind of like deep plug sapling, so they're not the bear roots, so they have a little bit more of a head start than a bear root. But then we'll, you'll see those, if you've ever like driven around maybe farm country, especially you might see those reforestation projects where there's like those tubes, those plastic tubes coming out of the ground and you might not even know what it looks like. We’re doing education around that too because you're right. It, it's not going to look like a forest for quite some time here. And for some folks they might think, okay, like what what's going on over here? It was actually so great. One of the plantings, but it right up to a, a gentleman's property and his name's Dale Haring and you know, he comes out and he's a lifelong hunter outdoors, men, conservationist. And I wasn't sure though, you never know it's coming right up to his property. And I was like, are, you know, are you okay with this? And he's like, absolutely have all your volunteers park in my driveway. And he's out hammering in stakes and putting tubes around the trees. He's even going be the riparian ranger for that property. So he's going to keep an eye on things, you know, if a tube falls over, he'll nail it back in or let us know if there's anything go going on that needs to, to, to be looked at DiNicola (08:50): That. That is so cool. So tell me, I'm still kind of fascinated by the idea of, of using these reclaimed FEMA sites. Is this something that's happening in other places besides in Schuylkill County? Zerbe (09:05): I'm not sure of that. Like I do know a lot of these reforestation plantings are and, and it makes sense. They're kind of focusing on farmlands because they're big, oh, lands, you know, it's an easy conversion. Our project was a little bit different in that, you know, we're kind of all over the middle of a borough. And not to say like these haven't been done, I know Lancaster City has done some of these projects with Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay as well. But we're kind of a, a little one red light town doing what we think are pretty big things here and big projects here. So we hope that this can be something we can showcase to other areas who are having flooding problems throughout Schuylkill County and then other, other parts of the state as well. DiNicola (09:50): Now, I mean, obviously what you're doing in, in the long run is also going to help fight against climate change. But it, it seems as though by going at it from the very practical, immediate flooding standpoint that maybe people are a little bit less reluctant to get involved. Is that something you're finding? Zerbe (10:08): I think so because you know, climate change can be such an overwhelming thing. And even, I know, you know, I read about this and write about this every day and it can be quite overwhelming and hard to bring down to like the practical, everyday level. Like you're saying, and people here are hard working. You know, many people here are working multiple jobs. Like they're, they're hard, they've got grit and they want to see like boots on the ground and things happening in their neighborhoods. So for us at least, this was a really this was just, I think the way that we could get people into action and start working together. I know for a fact, all of the people, you know, working on this project, they don't vote the same. They, they don't all vote for the same candidates. Many of them have many different political beliefs and background and things like that. But man, if you could have seen these 30 plus people coming out in the pouring rain, it was cold, it was miserable. I didn't think anybody was going to show up all these people came out and they're working together. And I think this is what we need more of these community projects that they're practical, yes, but they're tapping into much bigger problems that we can all work on together. DiNicola (11:20): What a great project Leah it's so cool that you've been able to do this there. Now, is this at all in any way tied to the afterschool work you've been doing as well? Zerbe (11:29): Yeah. So I'm, I'm glad you brought that up. This is, what's so fun about it. So I do afterschool work with the Schuylkill Achieve Program. So these are kids who stay after school sometimes till like 5:30, 6 o'clock depending on the district, we do a lot of work learning about invertebrates, learning about beneficial insects and, and particularly how we can tie our plantings into supporting the ecosystem. So what's so great is Pine Grove Achieve, I started with them years ago, and we got to a point where we were doing a lot of plantings at school and the kids were like, all right, let's do something bigger. So we went to borough council and we proposed that Pine Grove again, this, the small little borough in Schuylkill County that we become the first Bee City USA town in Pennsylvania. And you know, it was great because the kids came up with a presentation, it was during COVID so we had to deliver it a via video remotely to borough council. But again, kudos to our council for being forward thinking they voted for are Bee City USA, which this is the plantings that we do. It incorporates Bee City because these are all native plantings that are supporting our native bees and our pollinators and the whole ecosystem. And when kids get involved, I think it's just so much more powerful. Like what I want to teach them is, and I hope it's working. You might not be a able to vote, but you certainly have power. Absolutely. And if you see something going on in your community that you're not okay with, like you can definitely do something about that. So because of them and their projects, they could show that they've done this work at school, they took it to the borough council and, and then that was approved. And some of those same kids who started working with me during middle school, they're now in high school and they were, they were here showing up for the plantings a few weeks ago. DiNicola (13:21): So I, I think most of us have heard of, you know, Tree City Projects, but I've never heard of Bee City before. Zerbe (13:26): Yeah. So Bee city is through the Xerces Society. So they focus on invertebrate conservation, not just, you know, safe, saving a Monarch Butterfly, but saving the habitat that all of these critters need to survive. And it's just been a really fun way to bring more community engagement to everything that we're already doing. And they have like, you know, they have really nice guidelines and they have plans all laid out. Part of it means that our borough will have to use integrated pest management when we're dealing with pests and things like that. So instead of maybe going all out with chemicals, we'll be looking at maybe less damaging ways to deal with pests that are, that are occurring on borough properties and things like that. And then we encourage all of, all of the folks, in their yards, no matter how big or small or in their business or school landscapings to adopt this native plant gardening and practice to help conserve our native bees. DiNicola (14:26): Leah some great projects you're working on. It's so good to catch up with you and find out about these and the immediate impact you're having in your community. Congratulations. Zerbe (14:35): Thank you. And I just also want to say with the Women in Conservation Awards, I know there's so many women out there doing this hard work every day. And I certainly know that they're not doing it to win an award. But I will say like if you know, somebody in your community who is doing this work, it really makes a difference to nominate them because it gives them a bigger platform to continue the work that they're already doing and kind of spread it out and impact more people. So I hope folks will consider nominating people. DiNicola (15:05): Leah, thank you. I couldn't have said it better myself. That's awesome. Great to talk with you. Thanks again for being on Environmental Voices. We really appreciate it. Zerbe (15:13): Thank you. Have a great day. DiNicola (15:28): Our second guest on today's episode is Ann Rosenthal. In 2020. Anne won PennFuture’s, Woman of Environmental Arts Award, recognizing her over 40 years experience as an artist writer and her work, which examines the intersections of nature and culture through timely issues, including climate change and biodiversity. Recently, Ann co-edited eco art in action activities, case studies and provocations for classrooms and communities, a collection that seeks to showcase how teachers, citizens, policy makers, and scientists can find inspiration in art. Ann thank you for joining us today. Ann Rosenthal (16:06): Thank you for having me. DiNicola (16:08): Absolutely. This is such a beautiful book and I've been enjoyed looking at it so much. Give me a bit of a background of what the book is and then we'll talk in more detail sort of how it came about. Rosenthal (16:21): Okay. All right. Well as the title implies, there's three sections in the book: activities, case studies, and provocations. So the activities are things that you could do with your family, you could do in a community environment or in a classroom, a formal or informal classroom setting. It might be an activity that could take an afternoon or it might be a few sessions. So the way that the book is constructed it has an overview at objectives and goals of the activity and then directions. So it's really easy to follow. And the whole intent of the book is that people could actually use this in their community and in in their educational environment. So the case studies are a little bit more complicated and involved. It might be a semester's worth of work. It might be going out into a community and have students working with an environmental organization on an environmental problem, something like that, a restoration of an eco site and so on. And, and the provocations are more kind of things to think about in terms of art and the environment. DiNicola (17:57): I love that word provocations. There's some really interesting suggestions in there and, you know, and as you said, these could be for classrooms. These could be for younger students, older students, communities, summer camps. I mean, it it's really all over the place and, and, and that's what I found so interesting about the book, because you're one of the, the editors, but the contributors are all members of the Eco Art network. And there's so many of them and so many different types of contributors. Tell me a bit about that. Rosenthal (18:26): Well the Eco Art Network is a group of over 200 artists from around the world. And we have had exchange via email or listserv for over 20 years. And so you might consider that this book has been in the work for 20 years. It has actively been in the works for about five years. It was a long process asking our members if they would like to contribute in activity, case study, provocation, that is something that comes out of their own art practice. So these are vetted, you know, solutions. So we know that they are workable and that they will be useful to people. DiNicola (19:15): And it it's such a great collection of, I mean, so many different artists. I mean there's a number from Pennsylvania, which is awesome, but these are artists from all over the world, two dimensional, three dimensional installational (if that's a word) performance, community based, I mean, all different types. It's really quite the collection. Rosenthal (19:34): Yeah, it is. And when the, when the group started, we were even discussing, well, what do we call ourselves? And is it ecological art? Is it eco art? Do you spell it with one word or two words? We were really defining the field of what eco art is and what it encompasses. And some people feel like eco art is really kind of, should be focused on restoration work, artists going out in the community and working across disciplines with specialists in different fields like ecologists and anthropologists or whatever. But the thing that I found really interesting about the book is that I haven't really counted it up, but I think those types of projects are not as many as ones that are more, more, more about getting in touch with nature, being more aware of nature and our relationship to nature. And so there's a lot of activities that are about that. Things like walking in the environment, responding to what you see with artwork and then sharing it with the other people who are involved with the activity. DiNicola (20:54): Yeah, eco art is really such a broad category. You know, so many different things fall into it, whether artists are working with the environment or in the environment or using it as a subject matter or creating environments, but given all that, why do you think it's important that artists are exploring environmental issues in this way? Rosenthal (21:18): I think it's important because we, those of us who are concerned about the environment have been trying to, to know, reconnect people to the natural world and as a result be more responsible to it and take better care of it. And I think we all thought in kind of in the beginning, whenever you call, wherever you call the beginning, the first Earth Day or whatever that if people had enough information, they would act and they would, you know, respond accordingly. But I think we've all kind of come to the conclusion, including scientists, that that is not enough just to provide information that people there needs to an emotional connection to the natural world, and there needs to be compassion, empathy. And those are the kinds of things that I think the humanities, art being one of them, literature being another, that can foster that emotional component it. And the thing that I think's really great about eco art is that it both fosters that emotional component and a community spirit with scientific information. So it really kind of covers, you know, all the bases in terms of what I think is needed for people to, to step up and take care of their local environments, as well as globally. DiNicola (22:57): I absolutely agree. And the Eco Art and Action book is such a great introduction to both the artists who are doing this work and the type of work and such a great guide for people who want to get involved in doing these type of projects, whether they conserve themselves artists or not. There's so many really accessible activities in here that can both be a lot of fun and creative and make a difference. Congratulations on such a great book, Ann it's, it's wonderful to be able to chat with you about it. Rosenthal (23:25): Thank you. And I hope your listeners will you know, know, take a look at the book and jump in! DiNicola (23:48): Next, up on this edition of Environmental Voices, we'll be speaking with Heidi Secord, the winner of PennFuture’s, 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award. Heidi owns and operates her 48-acre Josie Porter farm with her husband, Gary Blossom in Northeastern PA. Josie Porter Farm is a farmer-led community-based food hub that supports other local and regional farmers and provides fresh produce to the community. Heidi also served as state president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union and sat on the National Farmers Union board of directors. And Heidi was recently appointed by the Biden administration to serve as the state executive director for the Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency. Heidi, we're delighted to have you on Environmental Voices. Heidi Secord, State Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Farm Service Agency (24:30): Great. Thank you so much. I appreciate being here. DiNicola (24:33): Absolutely. It's great to catch up with you and what you've been doing since last fall, when we saw you at the Women in Conservation Awards. So congratulations on the recent appointment. Tell me more about what the Pennsylvania Farm service Agency is and your role in it. And I, I know it's part of the USDA but not a whole lot more. Secord (24:53): Okay. Well, yeah, a pleasure to speak about that. I'm the new state executive director I've been here for just about almost three months. Still learning a lot myself, but the Farm Service Agency is the in service of farmers, ranchers and rural landowners. We administer programs that support economic stability, conservation, environmental programs that protect and restore farms, ranches, and grasslands. We do a lot of, a lot of work out there in the field. And thanks to the commitment from the Biden and Harris administration, we're really touching the lives of all Americans every day in so many positive ways. So happy to be here empowering people improving lives out in the field. DiNicola (25:48): Well it's, I mean, such important work and, and obviously, I mean, farms and food, there, there are a few things that are more important than that. And it sounds like your role is a big one. So again, congratulations on that. I want to talk specifically about some environmental issues and, and the work that you're doing with that. I mean, of course, one of the big environmental issues that we've seen involves excess fertilizer runoff ending up in on waterways. I know you're a proponent of sustainable farming techniques such as cover crops and no-till farming, stream bank fencing. Is that something that you work on in your new role? Secord (26:24): Actually, it is, you know, a lot of our key programs here. CREP, the conservation resource enhancement program. CRP grasslands, you know, obviously soil health is a priority of our work. Listen, climate change, you know, is happening. And America’s, rural communities are right there on the front lines. And agriculture is one of the ways that we can really make some of those deep changes that can really you know, turn the page on it. So you know, our programs are focused on that and we're out there to help farmers succeed as well. So it’s important. Our work is really important. DiNicola (27:11): It, it certainly is. I mean, the farmers that you're talking to do, do they, are you finding that they're starting to recognize the need to have more sustainable farming and, and, and deal with climate change issues? I mean, certainly, you know, farmers don't want more regulations, but you know, are you finding that they're starting to become more receptive to this? Secord (27:36): You know, you know, I, I always go back just to my own farming background, right? And thinking about, you know, how I'm making it financially. And I think once a lot of people take a look at ways of increasing their profitability, then a lot of ways they can increase profitability is by decreasing the amount of maybe products that they're using on their farms, input costs. I've spoken to a number of farmers this year already who are making different decisions; not going out, not buying chemicals, but utilizing what they have at their disposal. You know, more manure is compost and manure being put into farm fields instead of products that, you know, maybe aren't good for our, our soil. So soil health is what at, and, and really, I think a lot of farmers find that they're more productive as well. And also it, they could increase their bottom line with the practices that they're using. DiNicola (28:49): Have you, have you found any specific techniques that are just really effective and you just mentioned the composting manure, but anything else that you can share with us that, that you're seeing farmers utilize Secord (29:02): Cover cropping you know, is one of the big programs that we were work with, you know, there's three under USDA and every state there's three organizations main organizations that do a, or two main organizations that really do a lot of this work, which is the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency. And through our programs, you know, we are providing grant programs, cost share programs to help benefit farmers putting in some of these conservation practices in on their farms, on their properties, on their land and also loan programs, you know, so that, you know, farmers can get loans at low interest and be able to expand their operations and make their farms more profitable. DiNicola (29:58): I've heard a bit about carbon negative farming, which is basically farming that absorbs more carbon that creates. Is that something that people are starting to explore or is that a something we could see here in Pennsylvania? Secord (30:14): I do know that, you know, there are organizations that are out there talking about that even at higher level USDA and in Washington. There's a lot of, a lot of conversations happening around that. So yes, it is happening out there. We'll see more coming for coming forward in future years. DiNicola (30:37): What, what do you see right now is really the biggest challenge for Pennsylvania farmers? Secord (30:42): Well, you know, right now we're coming out of the pandemic years. And so supply chain is, is a huge issue. We have another huge problem right now that's rearing its head, it's the avian influenza, that there's quite a few farms in Lancaster area, Franklin County that are unfortunately, you know, large amounts of, of birds are domestic and chickens and turkeys are, are being euthanized because of, of the issue. DiNicola (31:29): I heard a number of the millions and, and I mean, this has just been happening in the past week or two, really. Secord (31:35): Yeah. So, I mean, that's a real concern of farmers here moving around the state and making sure that we're, we're keeping it localized to those areas, but that's pretty hard, you know, it enters into the wild birds population, and it's pretty hard to keep wild birds from flying. DiNicola (31:56): Yeah and I want to reiterate it that the avian flu is not something that that humans are susceptible to, and, and by being in contact with chickens or eggs, or even eating them, but it's, it's horrible obviously for the birds. Secord (32:11): It, it is. And for the farmers who unfortunately are having, you know, to deal with that issue. So another big, you know, item that we're dealing with here in Pennsylvania too, and, you know, it's, it's the administration, the Biden-Harris administration and Secretary Vilsack, and USDA and leadership we're really focusing this year and years and taking a really bold action on rooting out generations of systemic racism. I'm a big, big proponent of this. We're really deeply integrating equity in our decision making and policy making and really, you know, making an attempt to build the equitable systems and programming that is inclusive of our employees and all of our customers. And, that's really something that I was really excited about coming on board with, and being a part of that. So really excited about that. DiNicola (33:19): Yeah. What is, what does that look like on a, you know, on a practical level? Secord (33:24): Yeah, sure. You know, we're, we're really committed to those values of equity and inclusion. We're really focusing on building a leadership team. And if you look at USDA in Washington and the work we're doing here in Pennsylvania you, you know, a little, a little bit of a slower process, but building a leadership that's very, you know, diverse and really focused on equity and inclusion. So that's what we're we we've created at the national level, the USDA racial justice and equity working group and equity commission actually our Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Redding sits on that. And so again, that really excited to be part of, of that effort. DiNicola (34:24): Has there been anything, I, I know you've only been in the position little over three months, but has there been anything that's been a bit of a surprise for you? Secord (34:33): I don't know, as if it's a big surprise, but it's just the quality of the people in the field that are, are doing work you know, it's just, it's interesting, right. You know, you always, you always hear people talking about farmers and, and saying, you know, people saying this or that about the differences between say traditional farmers, conventional farmers, but when it comes down to it, right, we're all farmers, and we're only 1% of the population. And I see that in the field that, you know, once you start talking with each other and, and our field officers are out there working, there's a lot, there's common ground. And, and we all find that common ground, and we all find ways to work with each other. And, and I'm just really again, it's so thankful for, you know, the past few years have been so hard on, on staff, here at FSA, NRCS, and a lot of people who have been working you know, out of office in the, at the county offices at the county level. And so, yeah, they're amazing groups of people and I'm really privileged to work with everyone. I've been visiting county offices last week. I went out to three different offices and I, I reiterate to them, you know, it's that I don't work, you know, I'm, I'm not their boss, you know, I work for them. They work for me, we're a team. And I don't, I think they're interested in, in knowing that they're state executive director is more reachable than past state executive directors and honored to be this in this position. DiNicola (36:28): Well, the figure of 1% of the population being farmers is really astounding to me. I mean, when you think of that, 100% percent of us are reliant on you. And you are certainly much more than just an executive director. You are, you continue to be a farmer yourself. And so as we wrap up this interview, I have to ask you what are you really looking forward to growing and harvesting this, this coming season? Secord (36:56): Well, we're, we're excited for this season than, you know, we're, we run a community supported agriculture operation at the Josie Porter farm in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. We are, you know, lowering our numbers a little bit because of my work here at state I'm in Harrisburg three days a week, and two days teleworking from Strasburg. So yeah, we have some good people in place at the farm really strong leaders to take on the work of the farm. And, yeah, so we're doing the CSA on farm. We have a couple of drop sites looking forward to seeing grow new leaders. That's what I'm looking for to growing new leaders. DiNicola (37:44): Awesome answer. That's terrific, Heidi. Hey Heidi, thank you so much for being on Environmental Voices. We really appreciate it. Secord (37:55): Oh, I appreciate it too. Thank you so much. DiNicola (38:13): Finally, we'll end today's podcast by talking with Susanne Whitehead. Susanne is PennFuture's Donor Relations Manager, and is instrumental in organizing all aspects of our Celebrating Women in Conservation Awards, including evaluating the nominees, Susanne, glad to have you on the podcast, Susanne Whitehead, Donor Relations Manager with PennFuture (38:31): Travis, thank you so much for having me today. It's a real pleasure. DiNicola (38:35): Absolutely. Well, it's, it's an exciting time of year, because this is when we're accepting nominations for Women in Conservation. What can you tell me about the 2022 Women in Conservation Awards? Whitehead (38:46): So this is our eighth annual Celebrating Women in Conservation awards in 2022. And you know, they're designed to recognize excellence in conservation, and to forge a stronger network of women who are deeply committed to working to protect Pennsylvania's environment. And this year, since they do travel around the state, we are now having the awards in Philadelphia and our categories this year, are Women of the Watershed, Women of Environmental Justice, Women of Climate and Renewable Energy, Women of Environmental Education, Women of Environmental Arts, Women of Environmental Media, Marketing, and Communications, Young Women of Conservation leadership, and Women with Lifetime Achievement in Conservation. Now the eligibility for these nominations are Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. So if you, if you know someone who lives or works in any of these counties, you can nominate them. You can actually nominate up to eight women yourself if you feel so, including yourself if you feel so inclined, but it has to be one nomination per category. So to submit a nomination, it actually is very easy. You go on our website and that's PennFuture.org, and you'll see how fabulous aqua color box on the left hand side that tells you, please put a nomination in, click on it and you can complete your online form. You can fill out the PDF and send it and we'll need a letter of recommendation or two if you want. And they will go to diNicola@pennfuture.org, no later. Yeah. That is you no later than 4:30 PM. Friday, May 13th. We have actually extended the nominations by one week. DiNicola (40:46): Oh, that's great. Whitehead (40:48): That's it? That's all you have to do. And those letters of recommendation, they don't have to be miles long. They can be short and to the point as to why you feel this woman needs to be nominated. DiNicola (41:00): Excellent. Very good. So Susanne, I want to ask you, why is it that PennFuture does this event and feels it's necessary to give special recognition to women? Whitehead (41:10): Well let me, let me go back. I guess to the beginning in, in 2015, when we began the nominations, we actually partnered with the National Wildlife Federation to get our first award out. And the basic thought behind it was women have had to really push hard to contribute to their science and we really need to make them more visible. So when you think of people who have made an impact in Pennsylvania, you know, what's the one woman that quickly comes to your mind, Rachel Carson. Bu more often than not, you'll think about Gifford Pinchot, Ralph Abele, Johnny Appleseed even, Franklin Kury, or maybe Ned Smith, the great, you know, environmental artist. But as for women not so much, and we really need to have greater gender equity in conservation. And so how do we get there? We have to elevate the women that are doing amazing conservation work so that other women and young women will realize, “Hey, I can do that.” That's really what we need and why we push that. Maybe one of these days, Travis, we won't have to do all of those things, but right now we do, we need to elevate women. And it's so important to keep that network of women going, you know, at PennFuture, we also do an alumni newsletter for all of the women who have previously won. We try to keep them all connected. And we really are looking to grow this list. I mean, just to have this huge network, hopefully in the future of hundreds of women who are doing great work is only going to help the state of Pennsylvania. DiNicola (42:41): Excellent. Well, it a very exciting event and the women that we've celebrated each year, that I've been a part of it are just incredible. And the network that they've made has, has been so encouraging. It's very exciting to see and to hear about. And can't wait to find out who the winners are. The honorees are for this year. Whitehead (43:02): Neither can I, it's going to be a stellar event and it's going to be October 3rd, by the way, in Philadelphia. And we'll soon have our location and other things that we can put on the website, but we encourage people to put in those nominations. I mean, when you realize the impact that this will have on not only the woman who gets the award, but those around her and her community, you'll soon realize how important it. So please, please put a nomination in! DiNicola (43:32): Thank you, Susanne. DiNicola (43:46): And that does it for this episode of Environmental Voices, the PennFuture podcast, thank you to Leah Zerbe, Ann Rosenthal, Heidi Secord, and Susanne Whitehead for being our guests. If you'd like to learn more about the work each of them do, you can check out our show summary pennfuture.org/podcast. And of course, make sure to subscribe and leave behind a review of Environmental Voices, wherever you get your podcast. And as always, please let us know what you'd like to hear on future episodes. Next month's episode, we'll feature an interview with PennFuture's retiring President and CEO, Jacqui Bonomo. Environmental Voices is sponsored by PennFuture, Pennsylvania's watchdog for clean air, clean water and clean energy. You can find out more and become a member at pennfuture.org. And if you're interested in becoming a sponsor, please let us know. Today's show was written by Jared Stonesifer, Travis DiNicola, and Michael Mehrazar. It was produced by Donna Kohut, Michael Mehrazar, Susanne Whitehead and Jared Stonesifer with additional marketing help from Annie Reagan. The executive producer is Matt Stepp. Our music is thanks to Pixabay.com. I'm your host, and audio engineer, Travis DiNicola. Thank you for listening to Environmental Voices, the PennFuture podcast.