Campus / News / February 8, 2017

Bioneers conference looks to solutions

Senior and Co-President of Students for Sustainability Hannah McCullough was one of the organizers of the Annual Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference. (Julian Blye/TKS)

After facilitating the annual Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference for over 15 years, Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Schwartzman is looking forward to this weekend’s talks, conversations and collaborations.

“Bioneers is an environmental conference, but it is holistic in how it understands the environment. It talks about … trees and plants and air, but it also talks about issues with people,” Schwartzman said.

The Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10 with the opening ceremonies in Kresge Hall. The Knox Bioneers will then take over Ford Center for the Fine Arts with a series of talks, panels and workshops designed to support “practical and visionary solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges,” according to the national Bioneers website.

The conference includes national and local speakers, including several members of Knox faculty, staff and students. Some of the talks from this year’s National Bioneers Conference in San Francisco will also be played at Knox’s conference.

Senior and Co-President of Students for Sustainability Hannah McCullough was one of the organizers for this year’s Bioneers Conference.

“You leave feeling refreshed, like you can really make a difference,” she said.

The topics discussed by the Bioneers participants will cover a wide range of issues in science and the world today.

The keynote speaker Al Eastman, in his talk “Mni Wiconi, Water is Life: Solidarity with Standing Rock,” will address not only the implications of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the planet but also on the Native American people.

Custodian diana Mackin will also be speaking at the conference for the fifth year in a row. Her passion for activism began in college, when she discovered that her heaviest friends ate far less and felt far worse about themselves than her thinner friends. With her presentation, “Food Politics: Classism and Other Taboo Topics,” she hopes to expose myths of weight and body-image.

“Women tend to be activists. When we’re focusing on physical appearance, there’s this whole world of pain out there we’re not touching,” Mackin said.

While Mackin speaks on the politics of food, Dusty Spurgeon will provide insight into the production of food. After graduating from Monmouth College, Spurgeon became a partner in her mother-in-law’s farm, Spurgeon Veggies. She plans to provide students with tips on how to succeed as a productive businesswoman in agriculture.

Director of Sustainability Deborah Steinberg noted that the conference as a whole is more impactful than any of its individual parts. She showed particular excitement that this year, thanks to baked, Q’s Cafe and meal donations from Knox students, the Bioneers Conference will offer meals to registered attendees.

“The problem we used to have was that people would leave to go eat, but this year with meals they can stay and connect. It’s a place to discuss,” Steinberg said.

The registration deadline for a name tag closes on Thursday, Feb. 9, but Steinberg stressed that anyone could join any of the Bioneers talks they chose at any point during the conference. The full schedule of events can be found at as well as a link to register.

Knox’s Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference is designed to last past the closing ceremonies, again in Kresge, at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12.

“The purpose of Bioneers is not to just get together and hold hands and cry, although there might be moments of that … There are solutions we can do right now,” Schwartzman said.

Tricia Duke

Tags:  Bioneers prairie fire bioneers conference science sustainability

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