Students attend Bioneers Conference

By Amanda Monthei

Twelve Northern Michigan University students recently traveled to Traverse City, Mich. for the annual Great Lakes Bioneers Conference – an event that highlights environmental educators, speakers and professionals from around the country.

The conference which is celebrating its 10th year provided college students, teachers and citizens from around the state with the information and skills needed to raise awareness on a variety of issues in their respective communities.

“Every morning there was a keynote speaker that generally talked about the theme this year, which was ‘Reclaiming the Commons’,” Environmental Science Organization (ESO) treasurer, Amanda O’Farrill said. “So air, water, fire –– it’s just anything that belongs to the people.”

Of the 12 students that attended, eight were members of ESO and the other four were members of NMU’s Students for Sustainable Living organization.

ESO president Andrea Weiner didn’t attend the conference because of the difficulties with the student scholarship process this year.

“It was really a bummer that I didn’t get to go this year,” Weiner said. “Normally, what used to happen, is that there was a group scholarship and (NMU) used to go under that. This year, the Great Lakes Bioneers decided to change it so that every student had to apply, and I didn’t get the scholarship.”

More than 50 workshops took place over the weekend. Many discussed social and environmental issues, steps to become more sustainable and potential solutions for a variety of situations happening around the world.

“I went to (a workshop) called ‘Embracing Strangers’ and it was basically about how even strangers can have an influence on you,” O’Farrill said. “Even someone that opens the door for you can leave this lasting impact.”

O’Farrill also sat in on workshops regarding composting, permaculture, and various global issues.

However, her favorite speaker was Anim Steel, who was streamed in from the Bioneers headquarters in California and discussed the concept of real food.

“Apparently, 98 percent of the food that we eat isn’t real,” O’Farrill said, referring to the amount of either genetically-modified or processed food that we eat. “Only two percent is real food.”

The discussion sparked an idea amongst O’Farrill and the other ESO members, who had been searching for ways to share what they had learned at Bioneers with other NMU students.

“We are going to talk to the administration and the president about allocating some of Northern’s funds that are used for food purchasing to local farmers or organic farmers,” O’Farrill said. “We can start bringing it back to locality –– that is one of the things that ESO and really just about any environmental group on campus is about.”

According to O’Farrill, the first step in the process will be researching how much money is available for such a program, if it would be practical to allocate that money to local farmers and if it would be possible for local farms to provide food to NMU during the winter months.

After that, it would be up to the administration to decide if it was reasonable.

“This is something that we are looking into and hoping to get going as soon as possible,” O’Farrill said.

Editor’s note: Andrea Weiner is a staff writer for The North Wind.