Freshman Grace LaDuca attended the Bioneers Conference in CFA partly because it was required for her sustainability class, but quickly came to enjoy the many workshops and presentations from activists trying to save the environment.
“I went also because I wanted to hear from people who are passionate about the environment and who were taking steps and making real positive action,” LaDuca said. “It was a really neat event and I felt that a lot more people should be going.”
The annual Bioneers Conference at Knox is a satellite of a larger, national Bioneers conference held in California. The goal of Bioneers is to bring activists and the public together to share ideas on how to make their communities more environmentally sustainable.
Knox’s conference took place over two and a half days, from Friday, Feb. 9 to Sunday, Feb. 11. According to Director of Sustainability Initiatives Debbie Steinberg, who manages the logistics of Bioneers events at Knox, around half of the presentations feature videos of prominent activists from the conference in California.
“We’re taking the big picture from the national speakers and then providing local and regional ways that we can act on it,” Steinberg said. “So it’s kind of big ideas and then suggestions and different resources with what’s happening locally.”
The other half of Knox’s Bioneers conference involved interactive workshops with professors and local environmental activists as well as meals.
“We provide a lot of time for discussion and give opportunities for people to get together and plan and meet each other,” Steinberg said. “Conversation is really important as well as learning new things.”
The workshops are organized into three different categories: art, justice and food, with one of each happening concurrently. According to sophomore Abigail Romo, a member of the Bioneers planning committee, the conference attempts to expand the definition of environmentalism to include social movements.
Romo is also the secretary for M.E.Ch.A. and was one of the presenters for M.E.Ch.A.’s workshop on sanctuary campuses at Bioneers. The workshop focused on M.E.Ch.A.’s recent set of demands to the Knox administration to make the campus a safe place for undocumented students.
“Being on the planning committee, I knew we had a justice track, so I asked M.E.Ch.A. if they wanted to participate and so we talked about sanctuary campuses,” Romo said. “We’re really happy that we got to tell everyone about our mission and our goal.”
Romo mentioned that because of their presentation, M.E.Ch.A. was able to make connections with people in the Galesburg community who could help them with their cause.
“One of the Galesburg ladies that works with the community came up to us and she gave us her name and her information,” Romo said. “Also, one of the pastors from a local congregation came up to us and spoke with us about a meeting time. So that was really rewarding.”
One of the art-related workshops included a presentation by Photography Instructor Mike Godsil, who was asked by the planning committee to discuss his landscape photography. Godsil has been working on two self-assigned creative projects for the past 30 years, both of which he has realized are related to climate change.
Godsil’s first project involves photographing the Native American Pueblo ruins of the American southwest. The ruins were abandoned 800 years ago after an extensive drought collapsed the society. His second project focuses on the receding glaciers and icebergs in various countries around the world.
“Mostly [my aspiration is] to talk about how it’s possible for a creative artist to work on a project that can also be meaningful in terms of social or political conversations,” Godsil said about his presentation.
One of the presentations that LaDuca enjoyed most was part of the food category. It was given by a family of activists who traveled from Minnesota.
“They worked at factories like half of the day and the other half they would work at this co-op where they grow green beans, pumpkins and different things like that,” LaDuca said. “To have this fresh food that was grown naturally was really good to have for low-income families. They would bring food to people’s homes because they knew people were busy.”
LaDuca, who is a member of Students for Sustainability, felt disappointed that there were only a few students in attendance who did not have to be there for a class. However, she believes the conference was successful in addressing environmental issues.
“It shows that there is hope, because a lot of times when you’re thinking about the world and climate change you just get frustrated that nothing is being done and no one cares,” LaDuca said. “With this we are bringing people together who do want to make change so that’s really important.”