As John Curtis began his Bioneers seminar, he turned to the room and asked a simple question: “Can you help me name some political leverage points?” The room sat silent for a minute, but soon started to name a few off.
“Voting,” one participant said.
“Money,” said another.
Curtis turned to a man in the back, clearly hesitant to answer but still desiring to speak. “Pain,” the man said. The answer silenced the room. Curtis pondered the answer for a moment, then wrote it on the whiteboard. He explained the sad truth of the notion through his experience as a political figure.
In 2015, Curtis began his run to become the state representative of the 93rd district of Illinois, in which he would eventually be defeated. This experience led him to the Bioneers conference, where he would be one of many people to speak on current affairs. To Curtis, his message was on how the people could go on to affect political change, including how they could end this example of pain through political struggles.
“There are certain things we all share: water, air, land. It’s important that our government protect it long term,” Curtis said. “We all need to move together toward improving this notion of the common good. That’s why a conference like Bioneers is so important.”
Working together is exactly what Director of Sustainability Deborah Steinberg had in mind when helping design the seminars for the conference. Being her first year organizing the event, she sat in on the planning talks and tried to conjure a sort of goal. Her goal quickly became getting passionate, local speakers who would create a dialogue.
“We wanted our speakers to bring action items with them to speak about,” Steinberg said. “Ideas that could be used to make change locally instead of just saying ‘here are the things that are bad.’ We were looking at the big picture moving forward.”
After viewing many of the speakers and sitting in on the conversations, Steinberg noticed much of the information was carried outside of the seminars, specifically when speaking on more current events. This was a good sign to her, as it felt as though the planning was working out in the planning commitee’s favor.
“With the administration the country is currently under, we felt as though this weekend would help people walk away feeling empowered,” she said. “We want to let people from all over feel in charge of what they can do.”
Galesburg resident Tina Hope shared her skills with the conference as well, showing yet another way to make change on a local level. Her session demonstrated the ease and necessity of the herbalist trade using native plants. Using only local herbs, she showed how to make items such as teas, balms and even sinus relief oils. With examples of over 30 plants found in Galesburg alone, she explained that embracing bioregional herbs was necessary for us all.
Her enthusiasm for speaking at the conference stemmed from a mindset of unity and bringing like-minded people together to work towards a ‘greater good.’
“When these people come together, so much is generated through it,” Hope said. “There’s inspiration and support through collaborating. It’s important work.”
She felt as though much of the work she does in her herbalist trade is, however, being threatened within the current political climate. Being at Bioneers for the weekend, she expressed her gratitude of being around people who share a similar feeling.
“These people, like me, truly believe that we can make a change in our everyday,” she said. “Learning the things you might learn here helps us all understand what we can do to make that change.”
Through the few Bioneers Conferences she has attended in the last four years, Hope hopes that the organization and planning of the event will continue to bring people together and increase the bonding it brings between the town and Knox.
“Knox students are great, but they will graduate and move on,” she said. “The locals of Galesburg will continue to be here. We need to make sure this conference continues to bring these ideas to a local level and work towards a common good.”
Dusty Spurgeon, co-owner of Spurgeon Veggies CSA (community supported agriculture), also spoke at the conference, spreading her message of the importance of locally sourced produce. Only a few years out of college, Spurgeon shared her story of how she came to work in such a labor intensive field and how it has been a great benefit in her life. However, though her business has been able to supply local restaurants and markets with sustainably grown foods, she isn’t sure what the future holds.
“It’s an uncertain time, with the FDA trying to enforce new food safety rules,” said Spurgeon. “It’s been passed, but not enforced yet. We’re trying to see what exactly is going to happen. If this stuff gets deregulated, it would help someone like me.”
Throughout her speech, she showed the many ways any person can start their own small farm and work toward a sustainable future in local markets. Though the work is difficult, she stressed that much of what she does is “overly-romanticized,” and that a local conference such as Bioneers helps her show that anyone can take part.
“This conference helps me communicate the practicality this type of work has and way it is needed at a local level,” she said. “People need to keep talking about the ideas presented at this conference. That’s why I think Bioneers is important, it brings us together.”