#GivingTuesday was created last year on the heals of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  It is a national day to kick off the giving season and is a great opportunity to raise donation support before the end of the year.  New York’s 92nd Street Y catalyzed the first #GivingTuesday last year.  This year #GivingTuesday will take place on December 3rd.

On the first #GivingTuesday more than 2,500 partners in all 50 state participated.  Donations increased by more than 50%.

The 2nd annual #GivingTuesday is less than 60 days away.  Now is the time to state planning if you want to participate in this national day of giving.  The key is to start building an online buzz now and utilize the resources providing on the #GivingTuesday website to develop an effective online presence.

I encourage everyone to participate and bring this national day to their local membership.  Lets bring the #GivingTuesday buzz to Maryland!

Happy Fundraising!

Additional Resources:


Can We Move Past the Voluntary?

I was lucky enough to stumble across an article by Sami Grover on Treehugger on climate change, Eric Holtaus, and the problem with voluntary strategies.  Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who has covered climate for the Wall Street Journal, made a drastic lifestyle change in light of the latest IPCC report.  The IPCC reported that climate change is rapidly becoming irreversible and dismissed many geo-engineering strategies as viable solutions.  Leaving drastic emissions reductions as the only viable option.

Holthaus flies approximately 75,000 miles a year.  He has now made the conscious decision to stay grounded.

When calculating your carbon footprint the areas with the most opportunity for emissions reductions are flying, meat consumption, and electricity use.  Reacting and adapting to climate change requires lifestyle changes.  Your ability to reduce your carbon footprint lies in your current lifestyle and if those areas of your footprint are high it is most likely because you like them or need them.  To these points Grover pointed out the unfortunate reality that “relying on personal, voluntary lifestyle changes is never going to be a winning strategy.

The issue with a voluntary strategy is not just felt with climate change, but Chesapeake Bay restoration as well.  These are not winning strategies, and yet, groups continue to advocate for them.  Look how far the voluntary has really gotten us with the Chesapeake Bay in the last 30 years.  We have made some progress, but was that all we really could have done?

Add to this – our political reality.  Environmental issues are a pawn in the political game.  On top of that, we are in the middle of a government shut down.  How does this impact our restoration and advocacy strategies?  It might not effect the state’s ability to continue implementing WIP efforts, but our whole federal structure is for the most part missing.  We are without important agency staffers who work closely with states to address climate change and Bay pollution.

Grover went on to conclude “…climate doesn’t give a damn about your personal carbon footprint.”  And to that I would add the Chesapeake Bay and the environment as a whole does not give a damn about our politics.  It does not care about our voluntary attempts.  If your child was sick would you take a voluntary approach?  I am pretty sure that answer would be no.  So why is it acceptable now?

A Proactive Pivot on Conservation

I recently read an article on the question “Is Conservation Extinct?, which explored the change in rhetoric on conservation.  Conservation has traditionally been focused on the past in order to secure a future for a species or resource.  “But while this strategy may still work in certain specific cases, as an overarching vision it no longer fits. You can’t ‘dial back time’ in a world of 9 billion people demanding water, food and energy.”  By accepting that change is inevitable and managing this change we can more effectively sustain vulnerable species and ecosystems.

I really appreciated the author exploring the proactive theories on conservation and pointing out the reality that giving people the facts does not result in meaningful behavior change.  Belief systems and self-reinforcing social groups are serious barriers to overcome.  Conservation needs more than science, it needs behavior psychology.

This article was geared around conservation, but the need to manage change and shift from reactive, “in the past” defense is a lesson that is valuable for all aspects of environmentalism today.  Maryland’s environmental community is strong, but so often we are on the defense as we try to achieve progress and systemic change.  A proactive agenda is easier said than done, but it is a shift that is deeply needed.


Maryland is #1

Some people know that I am training for the Baltimore Half-Marathon (less than 3 weeks to go!).  Whenever I am on one of my many runs I am very aware of any potential change in air  (e.g., someone smoking nearby, a car’s exhaust, a nearby poultry house).  This usually causes me to go off in a thought spiral of everything I am being exposed to and the potential impact these exposures could have on my health - which is a welcomed distraction on my longer runs.  

Coming into the office today having just finished a long run, an article on a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on premature deaths due to long-term air pollution exposure immediately caught my attention.

At 113 people per 100,000 people per year, MIT found that Maryland has the highest percentage of deaths due to long-term exposure to air pollution.  Those that died prematurely, did so on average of 10 years earlier.  10 YEARS!  

Parts of the state with particularly high mortality rates include Baltimore, Frederick, Reisterstown, Montgomery Village, and Magnolia.

The positive thing I guess you could say about this study is that it was done based on 2005 emissions data.

Since 2005 Maryland has made efforts to reduce air pollution (e.g. Clean Cars Program, 2006 Maryland Healthy Air Act).  I wonder how the impact of these programs/regulations would impact the MIT analysis.

These efforts are also complicated by the fact that air pollution is not sedentary and pollution from as far away as Ohio is impacting our state.

Maryland has made efforts to reduce pollution, but if the total amount of pollution is not just created in Maryland, will state action be enough?  

…I think I have my next blog assignment.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

I went to Washington College knowing I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.  My parents were pretty okay with that because at the time I wanted to pursue law school, so that satisfied their uncertainty of my choice in major.  My parents understood the “career” major of nurse or teacher, but understandably could not wrap their minds around what I could possibly do with this degree.  Or why it really mattered.

This remained the case until my mom was forced to take a basic writing course last year and her professor made her write about the environment.  She was not the most keen on reading and writing about environmental issues, but she eventually got used to the idea.  And when it came to choosing a biology course, she voluntarily chose a course on environmental science!

Her first paper was on her ecological footprint – how perfect!  Now grant it she’s still buying food from the grocery store and having our family’s lawn treated, but she’s starting to get it!

They say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but in this situation you can!  (Sorry mom! You are not literally an old dog <3 )

It just makes me wonder that if she’s getting it, what is that same turning point for other people.  We all need the environment and in my very unrealistic ideal world I like to think that everyone will have that moment where they recognize the importance of protecting the environment.  However, I think it is more realistic to think that although there may be a resonating point at which people recognize the importance of the environment, they may never be confronted with that point in their lifetime.

It is fascinating to me to think about the messages or issues that transform those that are dismissive and apathetic into environmentalist.  Is it a public health message?  Is it a quality of life issue?  The time it would take to develop a unique transformational message for each person in Maryland is unfathomable.  But I wonder with each new campaign and message that is developed, how many people find their “turning point” and  finally get the importance of acting on climate change and/or saving the Bay.


What I Learned Over My Summer (Not So Much) Vacation

I’ve just returned to work after being away from the office for several months.  It was time off from work so that I could spend time on with our recently expanded family. We had the great fortune of welcoming our newborn son into the world at the end of May.  This summer I spent quite a few (very) early mornings, dark circles under my eyes with a large mug of coffee in hand, at local parks toting our infant and chasing around our two and half year old daughter. One of our favorite spots has not just slides, but a great little beach on the Choptank River where my toddler can collect rocks and shells and check out the jellyfish while I bop around with our infant in a carrier hoping he’ll nap. Inevitably, I run into lots of other moms, parents, and caregivers there.  When people find out I live locally (this park is frequented by beach travelers), the question I hear most often is “you think it’s OK for my children to swim down there at the little beach?”  As in, “will my kids get sick if I let them swim in the river?”

It’s very hard to resist the urge to get on my clean water soapbox.  Instead, I just try to be practical and helpful.  But I found myself fumbling around for a good answer. Is it too polluted to swim?  Shouldn’t the answer be a simple yes or no? And shouldn’t I be able to point to a reliable source that gives me the information I need to decide if my kids can go in the river?   Scientists agree across the board that the Choptank is dirty. In fact, it is probably one of the dirtiest rivers that flows into the Chesapeake.  If someone is testing locally for bacteria counts, the information doesn’t seem to be posted anywhere for public consumption. How are people supposed to know what the deal is? If there is public information about whether the water is safe for swimming in the Choptank, I couldn’t find it.  A recent article in the Bay Journal recommends doing a little internet research before plunging in, but for the Choptank, the internet came up empty.  Maryland Department of Environment does have a beach advisory website, but lists no sites on the Choptank.  What I learned is that we don’t have good public information about whether it is safe to swim in the river in my community.

A notable solution to this problem is the Waterkeeper Swim Guide which is online and has a handy app for your smart phone.   Quite a few swimming spots around the Bay are in the system, although precious few on the Eastern Shore, and none on the Choptank.  The app pulls up a map and you can look up beaches near your location. The information is super easy for a ding-dong like me to understand and use.  If the water is safe, the status is “green.”  You can guess the rest.  Sites in Anne Arundel County include information from County Health Department and a warning not to get in the water within 48 hours of a rainstorm. Our friends at West/Rhode RiverkeeperSouth River Federation, and Assateague Coastkeeper do a particularly good job of keeping their constituency informed about water safety.

So, who, other than clean water geeks and freaked out moms like me, cares about whether the river is safe for swimming? It seems to me that there are probably lots of parents concerned about whether the water is safe.  The communications experts and pollsters tell us consistently that health is a top concern for Marylanders. But the parents I know are like us –pretty slammed trying to get the basics done, such as raising the kids and staying employed. Personal activism on issues we care about, while it is something our family values, ends up pretty low on the list of priorities.  I am fairly certain we are not alone.

On the Eastern Shore, most of the information sharing and connecting about what’s happening in the community happens on social media.  A virtual network that busy families could easily plug into to have their voices heard on issues they care about could be powerful.  National outfits like Mom’s Rising do an amazing job of amplifying the voices of women and mothers through their massive virtual network. They’ve been effective at raising awareness and mobilizing grassroots support for issues such as increasing access to healthy food in schools, improving early childhood education, and better family and sick leave policies.  Social media makes it easy for busy people to sign petitions, send letters to their elected officials, and share information broadly with friends and family. I wonder what the potential is here in Maryland for a virtual network of progressive people who care about issues that heavily impact families  –like paid sick and maternity leave, access to healthy food, and perhaps rivers that are safe for our children to frolic in all summer long.

Suburbs with a Side of Pesticides Please

pesticidesI grew up in Baltimore County where perfectly manicured lawns were non-negotiable.  In the background of passing mini-vans chauffeuring kids around and neighborhood games of tag were the tiny yellow caution signs in lawns recently treated with pesticides.

Beyond purposefully dodging the lawn for the first 48 hours after treatment, I never gave these signs any thought.  It was just something you did without question.  I never connected the dots and thought about what the signs really meant.  It was not until last year, sitting in a meeting with the Smart on Pesticides Campaign that I realized I had been exposed to pesticides my entire life.

I went home to visit last weekend and was greeted, once again, by one of these small yellow signs in my parent’s front yard.  This time I paid a little more attention to it.

The Smart on Pesticides Campaign has made me highly aware of the threats pesticides pose to public health and the lack of information we have on their application.  Pesticides have been linked to chronic diseases, such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease.  With health impacts as serious as those, is a tiny yellow sign really enough?  The more I think about this sign the more I wonder if its size was chosen to purposefully downplay the seriousness of pesticide exposure.  The message on the sign is serious.  I mean there is a reason to keep off of the lawn for the first 48 hours after treatment.  But somehow the size makes the message insignificant (at least to me).  To me it conveys that yes you need to stay off of the lawn for a little bit, but it is really not a big deal.  I wonder how large these signs would be if they were required to be proportional to the implications of pesticide exposure?

If these caution signs are required for small private homes, can you imagine what type of caution is needed for pesticides applied in such high concentrations on cropland?  What is concerning is that we do not know when these fields are treated and what they are treated with.  It would be one thing if the areas they were applied to were encased in a bubble and those exposed to pesticides were only done so by choice, but that is simply not how it works.  There is a lot we do not know about their use and it is important that we find out.

The Smart on Pesticides Campaign has gone to summer school to ensure that a summer study workgroup for a state pesticide reporting database results in positive recommendations.  Sign up for Maryland Pesticide Network E-News List to stay connected to the issue.


They’re spraying what!?


I received this notice, from my apartment complex, warning residents that MDA would be spraying the property for mosquitos.  And while I completely understand the seriousness of mosquito related diseases, I cannot get past the first sentence of this notice.  The property manager wrote as if mosquitos are large enough, and rare enough, for people to notice a mosquito trying to work its way onto the property.  Although this notice was quite amusing, it reminded me of the threats pesticides pose to our health.  There is obviously a reason that mosquito spraying took place between 12am and 5am and there is certainly a reason they warned residents to close all windows and doors and remain inside.  These substances are meant to kill.  It may be intended for insects, but these pesticides and insecticides are still toxic.

It is one thing to know about the impending mosquito treatment, but it is quite another to know exactly what the complex was treated with.  Who knows what else is applied to the lawns, gardens, and farm fields in our neighborhood?  Pesticide use transparency is imperative.  These pesticides are not being sprayed in enclosed facilities in a structure where only the applicator is exposed.  The public has a right to know what they are being exposed to and the potential risks associated with exposure.

The Maryland Pesticide Network, supported by the environmental community, worked vehemently throughout the 2013 Legislative Session to pass a pesticide reporting bill.  The bill was moved to summer study where the appointed workgroup will provide recommendations on the need for a pesticide use database.

Pesticide exposure has been linked to chronic diseases such as asthma, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.  With these health impacts do we really want industry representatives to win the argument that pesticide regulations are just fine?  I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure I do not want to put my health in the hands of an industry representative who is focused on their company’s bottom line.

Ruth Berlin, Director of the Maryland Pesticide Network (MPN), wrote a great blog on the pesticide workgroup, which was posted on MomsRising.  If you are interested in learning more, MPN’s website is packed with incredibly useful information!

Granting environmental progress

I was recently interviewed by Jesse Schaeffer ’12, Alumni Relations and Annual Giving Associate at Washington College and fellow WAC ’12 alum, about my position at Town Creek and my experience at Washington College.  Below is the great story she put together!  Click here to learn more about Washington College.

Granting environmental progress

MMilliken WACAt Washington College, Megan Milliken ’12 developed a comprehensive view of environmental issues. Now in her role at the Town Creek Foundation, a private philanthropic foundation based in Easton, Megan uses this perspective to make grants to nonprofit organizations and support initiatives across the State in an effort to achieve Maryland’s loftiest environmental goals.

“I love the thought that we put into our work…Our grantees are accomplishing so much here in Maryland and it’s such a rewarding position to be in.” Megan cites a recent grant to support a project through the Friends of Frederick County that deployed a mobile app to empower citizen-led enforcement of environmental laws; the app permits citizens to submit photos and information about potential land use violations impacting local water quality.

Megan joins Town Creek at a critical point in the foundation’s history. In the fall of 2010, Town Creek’s Board of Trustees made the decision to ‘sunset’ the organization, believing that “the urgency of the challenges and the promise of the opportunities is such as to warrant a full commitment” of the Foundation’s resources. Trustees pointed to the evolution of Maryland’s efforts to restore the Bay and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as evidence that a “special window of opportunity” had emerged in which they could make “substantial progress” toward State goals. In accordance with this decision, the pace of the Foundation’s grantmaking has accelerated with aims to exhaust the endowment sometime around 2021. Just last year, the Town Creek Foundation awarded 77 grants, totaling $5,340,600.

As Megan and her colleagues carry out this vision, administering grants to support existing State initiatives while promoting work that responds to questions about the fundamental sustainability of existing social systems, Megan has both the opportunity and the responsibility to retain a comprehensive view of the environmental work being conducted in Maryland. Megan reviews proposals and reports; attends committee hearings and tracks legislative bills with environmental impact; researches and reports on innovative initiatives in the Foundation’s blog; and at every turn, does her part to connect like-initiatives and build coalitions in the environmental community.

Throughout this work, Megan cannot help but be reminded of the tenet underscored in her undergraduate experience, the interconnectedness of the environment. “I often wonder: if I didn’t go to WC, would I be in the same position I am in now? I got such hands-on experience in the environmental program and working with Dr. Munson, my advisor. [He taught me that] there is more to the environment than just the Chesapeake Bay. It is important to keep that in mind and to put your work in perspective.”

Megan graduated from Washington College with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a concentration in Chesapeake Regional Studies, receiving honors on her thesis entitled “The Taxonomic Recognition of Eubalaena japonica, the North Pacific Right Whale, and the Decisional Implications on the Recovery of the Species.” Before joining the team at the Town Creek Foundation, Megan interned in both the nonprofit and government sectors, having worked most recently with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Protected Resource – Endangered Species Division.  While at NOAA, she conducted literary searches for recovery plans and completed the first draft of the Fin Whale Five-Year Review. Megan also worked as a legislative intern for the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Food for Thought

Drum roll please … badadadadadadadadadadadadadada … After an almost 2 1/2 month hiatus we have returned to blogging!  I know what everyone is thinking – “Thank goodness!  We have been waiting with bated breath for your next post!”  Well lets not keep you waiting any longer.

We are keeping ourselves pretty busy at the Town Creek Foundation.  I cannot believe we are already halfway through July!

A few weeks ago I attended the Sustainable Agriculture and Food System Funders11th Annual Forum: Rethinking Risk and Resilience in Providence, Rhode Island.  It was an incredible experience and well worth putting on my big girl pants and getting over my fear of flying (which I had not done since 5th grade, let alone, by myself).  I now consider myself a world traveler…or more like a state traveler…and navigated BWI like a champ.  I’m pretty sure I annoyed the TSA agent with all my questions, but in my defense, I just wanted to make sure I did everything properly.

Okay back to the conference …

The conference was packed with three days of thought provoking plenaries and informative workshops focused on various aspects of food system work.  It was a valuable opportunity to learn what other funders, from across the country, support on food (e.g. healthy food in schools; market based approaches; farmer education and organizing; policy reform).

Though no two funders’ goals were identical, they were built on the common recognition of the need for a transformed food system that breaks from the industrial and creates a space for local, sustainable food economies to thrive.

I left the conference with a long list of thoughts and valuable insights.  I thought one in particular, on re-industrialization, was especially valuable to be mindful of as we continue down the path of food system reform.  We want to break away from our unsustainable industrial food system, but how do we do that without re-industrializing?  With 313 million people in this country, I can imagine that it would be very easy to fall into a path of re-industrialization.  The speaker, who highlighted this point, characterized our current food system as depersonalized and distant and looked to relationships and networks as the key to avoid re-industrializing the system.  

The concept of unintentional re-industrialization was one of many light-bulb moments for me at the conference. I had not thought re-industrialization was a possible outcome of our focus on food system reform, but it makes complete sense.  Duh, Megan.  Maryland food system reform work is still in the early stages, but I think the issue of re-industrialization has real potential for us today.  If we are not mindful of the potential for re-industrializing, as we develop a collective strategy, our work could fall short of really moving away from our present day food system.  Just a thought.