SHEFFIELD — Cecelia Caldwell and Isabella Kemp have a shared interest in sustainability and the environment. Last year, this led the young women, both seniors at Mt. Everett Regional High School, to set their sights on creating a composting program in their school’s cafeteria, to combat the amount of food being thrown out by students each day.
“We [were] attracted to [composting] as a relatively easy way to accomplish [a goal] with a big impact,” Caldwell said in a recent Zoom interview. When the myriad complexities presented by COVID-19 caused these efforts to stall, Caldwell and Kemp decided to pivot. Not only did they launch the Sustainability Coalition of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District (of which the pair serve as co-founders), they also designed a Sustainable Speaker Series that will launch this Friday, Feb. 26, at 5:30 p.m.
The virtual series will feature six influential leaders, in various sustainability fields, whose work serves to inspire action and raise awareness around building a better future for this generation and those to come. Mt. Everett graduate Ezra Small, who currently serves as campus sustainability manager at University of Massachusetts Amherst, will be the inaugural guest.
“I absolutely do think this is an issue that deserves more attention,” Caldwell said, citing the “astounding lack of progress with single-use plastics in school [coupled with] the fact that we don’t compost” as surprising if not a bit disappointing. Topics for the monthly series, Our Relationship to Land and Water: Conversations with Local and National Sustainability Leaders, will include innovative solutions to the harmful effects of declining water quality, the importance of community food systems, and the interconnectivity of soil.
“There are many young individuals who are wanting to take action against global warming, inspire change, and gain a greater understanding of sustainability,” said Kemp, who proposed the idea for the series, “because it is important to create a way for students and community members to explore topics that are not easily accessible.” Caldwell and Kemp have a timely message for the community at large: “Having a group of equally passionate people can be both inspiring and motivating.” Which is why, before they graduate in June, their goal is to gain traction for future generations and enlist the help of more students.
Kemp, who hopes to pursue Environmental Studies and Policy in college, has always been keen on effecting growth and change in the world. She met the series’ second speaker, Jen Salinetti, co-founder of Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham, through a marketing internship. There, Kemp was tasked with helping to create a new website for the farm — one partially inspired by Petersburg, New York’s Soul Fire Farm, an Afro-Indigenous-centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system. Woven Roots also recognizes that agriculture is rooted in the longstanding cultural practices within communities of Indigenous people, people of color, and immigrants.
“While we’re lucky to live in an area that cares deeply about the environment, we recognize there is still work to do,” said Caldwell in a nod to the inherent interconnectivity of issues. “Racism and sustainability impact each other,” she continued. “Not everyone is able to afford a reusable water bottle — how do we help those people?” she asked, rhetorically, underscoring the real nugget: “Even though we are sustainability-minded, sometimes we are sort of caught up with our privilege.” (Caldwell is also a founding member of the School’s Social Justice League.)
The series, which is free and open to the public, was made possible with support from the Berkshire Environmental Endowment Fund of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. Between now and July, experts will offer actionable methods for audience members to effect change in their households and communities. The complete lineup includes Ezra Small, campus sustainability manager at UMass Amherst; Jen Salinetti, co-founder, farmer, and director of community engagement at Woven Roots Farm; Holly Fowler, co-founder and managing director of Northbound Ventures; Jamie Samowitz, co-founder and co-director of Roots Rising; Rob Koenen, chief marketing officer at Boxed Water Is Better®; and Natalie Narotzky, associate program director at Urban Sustainability Directors Network.
The coalition’s mission, to raise awareness about the impact of our collective actions and provide ways in which we can work together to create a more sustainable community, is summed up by Caldwell: “We’re growing, and it’s our goal to get the community involved.”