Caitlin Dickson posted an articleRead about how Climate Generation sees the power through story tellling. see more
We Are All Eyewitnesses to Climate Change, and We All Have A Story
August 2020 Spotlight | Climate Generation
By: Isaac Pearlman
“A better world for me is one where communities are resilient,” says Nicole Rom, RPCV Kazakhstan 2000-2002. “They have the knowledge and skills to navigate any challenge that hits their communities with hope and optimism.”
(World Map painted by the ecology club Nicole worked with during her Peace Corps service.)
Envisioning a better future is one of three simple story prompts that Rom’s climate literacy organization, Climate Generation, has developed to help people tell their climate stories.
"A storytelling workshop starts with your personal connection with your issue, and leads to your understanding of climate change,” explains Rom. “It goes through a set of prompts that works well for any situation.”
On August 6th Sarah Goodspeed, the Youth and Policy Director at Climate Generation (and RPCV Ecuador 2008-2010), led a group of thirteen RPCVs through a virtual workshop on how to tell their own climate story.
(Sarah facilitating a youth climate action workshop)
Learning to effectively tell our climate stories is important because seven in ten Americans rarely or never discuss climate change with family or friends, according to 2016 research presented by Goodspeed. This is despite the fact that sixty percent of Americans say the issue is at least somewhat important. And recently a national survey of over 3,000 RPCVs showed it to be the global issue most important to the RPCV community. Yet the same survey found that expressing opinions and views on social media was the climate action RPCVs are least likely to take.
So why is climate literacy and storytelling important for climate change? Because it can be an accessible platform for anyone to engage in climate action, especially those voices who have traditionally been marginalized. Recent Climate Generation virtual events on climate change and racial injustice featured personal stories and music from young, black, and Latino artists, poets, and activists in Minnesota; such as the Dakota tribal elder Strong Buffalo. These voices and more are featured in a recent book Eyewitness: Minnesota Voices on Climate Change, published by Climate Generation. With media often failing to represent these voices, and frequently tied financially to the fossil fuel industry, understanding and promoting these diverse climate perspectives and experiences is critical.
Another important reason to tell climate stories is that they can inspire people in a way that climate research and data often can’t. A Princeton University study showed that students who watched stirring, emotional speeches exhibited synchronous brain patterns while doing so. As a result, eliciting emotion via a speech or story can actually help influence the listener to perceive the story how the speaker wants them to. As detailed by NPR’s Hidden Brain, politicians and advertisements commonly utilize fear as an emotion to make listeners susceptible to their message – for example, an anti-vaccine ad preying on a mother’s concern for her baby before erroneously linking vaccines to autism. However, the flip side is an emotional climate change story may be able to spur action in those who wouldn’t normally respond to science and data, or those who just may feel overwhelmed by all the information out there.
Climate Generation’s online collection of climate stories link personal narratives of a broad range of people and perspectives, from the daughter of immigrants who survived the brutal Khmer Rouge regime to a climate scientist who faced threats in the 1990s after publishing evidence linking climate change to human activity and fossil fuels. The collection kicks off with the climate story of polar explorer Will Steger who, as he watched ice shelves he had traveled on disintegrate over time, decided to fund Climate Generation in 2006 in order to help people describe the impact climate change is producing in their lives.
After all, as Goodspeed presented to the RPCVs in the August 6th workshop: “We are all now eyewitnesses to climate change, and we all have a story.”
Isaac Pearlman is an environmental scientist, climate writer, and recent Fulbright recipient whose work centers on sea level rise, flood risk, and climate resilience and adaptation. A native of northern California, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru (2005-2007) and in the Philippines (2014-2015) as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. His stories have been published in Sierra Magazine, Estuary News Magazine, Earth Island Journal, and AcclimateWest.org, among others.
Meredith Miller Vostrejs posted an articleThat “Climate Crisis” in Panama 25 Years Ago is our Climate Crisis Today: Carbon Farm Plans Offer A SolutionCarbon plans offer a solution to the climate crisis. see more
By Rick Kaye
In 1995, I began a two-year service as an AmeriCorps National Service Member for a watershed science education program in Sonoma County, Ca. That experience led to an additional three years in public service as a Peace Corps Agroforestry volunteer, working with subsistence farmers in Panama. My career work today is a direct result of these experiences.
Sure enough, working with subsistence farmers was an eye-opening opportunity and challenge. Equally so, I’m certain that much of the benefit was for me, though my earnest work to guide and cheerlead was well appreciated. Lots to say about that, but one point cannot go unwritten: there was always a farmer, here and there, that had a gut sense on how to pull together the resources of water, soil, livestock, crops, and energy to bring the farm and the environment back to life.
Twenty-five years later I’m doing what I’ve learned abroad, as Farm Manager for Puma Springs Vineyards, a certified organic operation. We are atypical. Organic certification represents only 2% of vineyards in the region. That “climate crisis” in Panama twenty-five years ago is our climate crisis today. The solution: we must pull together the resources of water, soil, livestock, crops, and energy.
This year, in 2020, we completed a Carbon Farm Plan. The principle is put in motion by a set of practices such as no tillage, hedgerow planting, increased compost applications, livestock grazing, permanent cover cropping, and efficient pumps and energy generation. The net effect, like all good farming, is to capture more carbon in the soil to lead to “resilience”, “ecosystem functions”, and “regeneration.” We’ve had these practices underway since 2000. It was a chance to capture them in written form while creating a driver’s handbook going forward.
The Carbon Farm Plan is a unique tool of the developed world, but I’ve seen it before in the gut sense of Panamanian subsistence farmers like Francisco Rodriguez and Eliseo Salina Surdo. Both were sent to Panama City at some point in their education, completed their basic schooling there, and returned to their rural communities to farm by choice. This is highly atypical in developing countries. The practices I advanced at Puma Springs were practices I already knew by observing Francisco and Eliseo’s farms many years ago.
If we put a letter grade to it, the farm I manage would receive an “A-“ for practices underway. Once we fully implement the plan, the vineyard will function as if it received 7” more rainfall each year. We are already half-way there, and we see the changes.
"Ultimately, the credit is due to the farmers whose shoulders we stand on"
Ultimately, the credit is due to the farmers whose shoulders we stand on, around the world, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It may not be enough to overcome broad changes to our climate underway. It is the road less traveled. But it is not a new road. It begins with patience and leads to transformation. We change the climate within ourselves first, and we then pull together the resources.
Rick Kaye (RPCV Panama, 1997-2000) is the Farm Manager for Puma Springs Vineyards in Northern California. He is passionate about sustainable agriculture in practice. Rick lends his ag expertise to the Northern California Peace Corps Association where he serves on their Grants Committee. He also serves on the board for a Vineyard Technical Committee, local Ag Boosters, and is a Peer reviewer for the Journal of Agriculture, Food Science, and Community Development (JAFSCD). He and his wife, and their two daughters, live in Sonoma County, California.
Maureen Smith Martindale posted an articleLisa Curtis describes her superfood marketing journey to benefit small farmers worldwide. see more
By Maureen Smith Martindale
Seven months into her Peace Corps service in Niger, Lisa Curtis had just hatched a plan to help village women sell moringa, a green even more nutritious than kale, but then came the unthinkable: a terrorist attack.
The 2011 attack included the kidnapping and murder of two French men, led to evacuation of all 98 Peace Corps volunteers from Niger, and brought her plan to an abrupt halt. At least so she thought. She left, and eventually returned to Oakland, California, her childhood home.
“I kept thinking about Niger and the plant. I felt like I had been given so much by that community, but like I didn’t give anything back,” she said. “I was shopping with my mom at a Whole Foods. In the U.S. we love all our superfoods. Nobody used to know what chia seeds were, why not moringa?”
Several years later after spending many weekends creating and selling moringa product samples, Lisa Curtis founded and became CEO of Kuli Kuli Foods, a company that sells moringa products. The company has expanded from moringa powders and energy bars to teas, smoothie mixes, and soon, various flavors of dark chocolate bark. In 2018, Curtis was featured in the Forbes list of 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs.
Since it began, Kuli Kuli Foods has paid more than $5 million to small farmers and planted more than 24 million trees in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a B-corporation, it meets high social and environmental standards. It also relies on organic, regenerative agriculture, and a recent study showed it is likely carbon neutral.
I asked Curtis to tell her story, from her days as a community development volunteer in Niger up to the present.
Q. Can you describe your Peace Corps service and how you first came across the moringa tree?
A. I was actually a municipal and community development volunteer in Niger. Like a lot of Peace Corps volunteers, I did a needs assessment, and I ended up helping out at my village’s health center. One of the things I started doing was measuring the upper arms of babies to tell how malnourished they were and recording that data. I’m a vegetarian, and I was just basically eating a lot of millet and rice. It was a diet that left me pretty tired. I was asking the nurses, what can I eat to give me more energy? They literally pulled these leaves off of trees nearby. I had never heard of moringa.
Q. What was the biggest factor that motivated you to market moringa in the United States?
A. It seemed like an amazing plant. I went from my village to a nearby city and did a bunch of research. This tree is incredible--it grows all over the tropics. It’s one of the most nutritious plants in the world. I started asking some of the women in my village, how can we grow more of this plant? They said, we’re not going to grow a crop we can’t sell, so why don’t you help sell it? That was the original plan. I was putting the final touches on the plan when we got evacuated.
Q. Where does the name Kuli Kuli come from?
A. It’s a peanut snack. They mix it with moringa. They separate peanut oil from resin or powder, make them into peanut balls and mix with moringa and cook. The kuli kuli snacks are crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. I thought, why don’t we use that same idea and create products in the U.S.?
Q. Prior to Peace Corps, did you have a marketing background, and did you ever envision yourself starting your own company?
A. I was a politics and environmental studies major in college and joined Peace Corps right after college. The thing I knew was the American market, and that it could be an asset for small African farmers. I thought I could help them unlock it. It’s been eleven years. It’s been quite the journey, a kind of learning under fire.
Q. What were the biggest deterrents in forming your own company here to market moringa?
A. Probably the biggest challenge I had was getting anyone to take me seriously. I was 23 years old. A lot of people told me, you have no business experience, and you’re trying to do something that’s fundamentally hard, with a new product, sourced with women farmers in Africa. I pitched to a ton of people, a ton of investors, to try to get this idea off the ground. Ninety-nine percent of them said, no, this is too crazy.
Curtis samples moringa at an organic farm in Nicaragua in 2016.
Q. How did you get the company off the ground in the beginning?
A. I ended up starting really, really small. I got a few of my childhood friends together to start a side project with me. Nights and weekends I spent building Kuli Kuli. Initially I just wanted to test the idea, to see if I could get Americans to eat moringa products. Instead of peanuts, we used almonds, and made moringa energy bars. Basically, we would spend all of Saturday in a commercial kitchen making these bars by hand and then spend Sundays selling them in farmers markets.
Q. What benefits is the company providing to women farmers?
A. We have an impact page, a full summary, our 2020 impact report. We source from small farmers primarily on the African continent, and also some from other places like Mexico and Cambodia. We evaluate all our suppliers. There are over 3,000 farmers. We’ve put over $5 million directly in the hands of small farmers through moringa purchases. We’ve been able to plant over 24 million trees.
Q. Did you explore the possibility of forming a nonprofit rather than for-profit corporation?
A. I saw a lot of nonprofits come and go in Niger, and funding ran out. Why not try to build something that can sustain itself, that’s not reliant on outside grant funding, kind of a market-based solution? After Peace Corps instead of coming straight home, I ended up staying and working in India for five months for this social impact investment firm. That really was what opened my eyes to social enterprise. I worked at a social enterprise for about three years, trying to figure out how to do Kuli Kuli on the side.
Q. How is the rest of the company structured in developing countries? Your web site mentions trade, not aid.
A. They are their own organizations, generally social enterprises or non-profits started by people from there to support sustainable farming. They also sell moringa locally and that’s something we really encourage. We want people there to sell and benefit from moringa. We’ve sponsored school feeding programs, like adding it to the kids’ porridge, doing a lot of nutritional education . . . cooking classes, showing people how you can add moringa powder to different local dishes. . . and fresh leaves cooked into sauces.
Curtis and colleagues meet with women moringa farmers at a USAID project in Niger in 2018.
Q. Do the products you sell have fair trade status?
A. There isn’t yet a fair trade certification for moringa, unlike chocolate or coffee where there’s an established fair trade certification process. It’s about $20,000 per group to invest in fair trade certification. We work with many different groups. We do follow fair trade practices. We’re sourcing directly from many small farmers. We visit them, we talk to them all the time. We do pay quite a bit above the local average wage. And we try to really invest in the communities we source from and support them in other ways.
Q. Your company now has U.S. staff. Do you ever feel frustration that living wages here are based on a much higher standard of living than that of farmers in developing countries?
A. It’s a huge gap, and that’s part of the reason why we pay above market and why we think it’s so important to be investing directly with small farmers. We can pay more and get it directly into their hands. Many of the farmers are getting three or four times more than they would get selling other crops. Moringa is also very easy to grow, low maintenance and low water.
Q. You mentioned a study showing that the company is likely carbon neutral because of all the moringa trees planted? Can you also talk about other environmentally friendly practices?
A. We haven’t had a full-on third party audit, but we worked with a team at UC Berkeley that does carbon analyses. Their calculation was because we were planting so many moringa trees in sustainable ways, we were likely carbon neutral. What was the biggest use of carbon? I thought it would be shipping containers full of moringa going from Uganda to California. It ended up being the packaging. We have just switched our pure moringa line to post-consumer recycled plastic, so about 30 percent to 50 percent of the bag is now made with recycled plastic. It saves the equivalent of 40,000 water bottles per year. And 100 percent of our moringa is certified organic. We provide free financing to achieve organic status. One farmer has powered his entire facility with solar. A lot of them are using solar powered dryers to make the moringa powder.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
A. The last thing we just launched we’re really excited about is our superbark--a dark chocolate superfood snack, flavored with baobab, hibiscus and breadfruit. These different flavors have environmental and social impacts as well, since we are using more specialty crops. We’re hoping there’s a market for those in the same way we’ve built the market for moringa.
For more information, visit www.kulikulifoods.com.
Maureen Smith Martindale is a journalist and former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Cameroon from 1987 to 1989.
Meredith Miller Vostrejs posted an articleThe People Closest to the Problem Hold the Solutions: Investing in Grassroots Climate Justice PhilanthropyThe Global Fund for Women, led by RPCV Latanya Mapp Frett, invests in grassroots climate justice. see more
By Meredith Miller Vostrejs
In 2019 only 2% of the $730 billion in overall philanthropic giving was allocated to climate change mitigation, primarily for sustainable energy (Climate Works Funding Trends 2020 Report). When we talk about funding climate change, the conversation often turns to initiatives like reducing carbon emissions and fossil fuels that require large-scale investments and public-private sector engagement. Yet what about the communities affected by climate change? Where do our Peace Corps host country communities and partners we lived and worked with - and often those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change - fit into this philanthropic landscape?
Unfortunately, too often, they don’t. An even smaller fraction of climate change philanthropic giving reaches grassroots groups and social movements. This is surprising given that climate change is a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing inequalities, and the communities most impacted often have the least resources to adapt. Local solutions are also critical to sustainable mitigation and adaptation. Grassroots voices, insights, and experiences are rarely present at the decision-making table - let alone recipients of climate change funding.
One exception to the philanthropy status quo is The Global Fund for Women, led by RPCV Latanya Mapp Frett (Lesotho 1994-1996). The Global Fund for Women is committed to movements for gender justice and supports shifting power and resources into the hands of community leaders, many in the Global South, who are most impacted by the issues they seek to address. They view the struggle for women’s rights and gender justice as inextricably linked to that of environmental justice, citing UN figures that indicate 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and that women farmers who produce the majority of food in developing countries own less than 20% of the land.
The struggle for women’s rights and gender justice
is inextricably linked to that of environmental justice.
The purpose of Global Fund for Women’s Climate Justice initiative is the promotion of rural and indigenous women’s leadership in the face of the global climate crisis. Since 2017, they have granted over $2 million to 44 organizations in 13 countries. Their climate justice portfolio takes a holistic approach in supporting movements and collective action for gender justice with focus areas on: food, land, and agriculture; women human rights defenders who are under threat as they fight to protect their land and natural resources; the right to live in healthy environments and to address exploitation and harm done by extractive industries; and climate change induced crises. Working in solidarity with their grantees, they provide core, multi-year support and ground their partnerships in trust-based philanthropy.
During a recent webinar, Global Fund for Women CEO Frett was asked about how best to address climate resiliency. She replied, “We have to lift up voices, women farmers and girls who are carrying water miles every evening…we have to look at the various constituencies affected…To effect big change, we have to support little changes at the community level to turn the tide.”
“To effect big change, we have to support little changes
at the community level to turn the tide.”
-Latanya Mapp Frett, CEO, Global Fund for Women & RPCV Lesotho 1994-96
Another RPCV, Sara Ferree, is Global Fund for Women’s Director of Philanthropic Partnerships. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica from 2003-2005, working on environmental education in schools. When asked how Peace Corps has influenced her career trajectory, Ferree recalled a story she heard when she arrived at her site about a previous volunteer who started a mushroom farm. “The community walked me out to the back of the school yard to show me a falling down building that was part of the project. That building stood until a hurricane came and destroyed it during my second year. I held this in my mind throughout Peace Corps and my career, where I’ve been committed to supporting projects, organizations, and collective efforts led by those closest to the issues and the solutions. When we think of sustainability, I think of the importance of local creation, leadership, and ownership. I need to support and stay out of the way.”
“I think of the importance of local creation, leadership, and ownership.
I need to support and stay out of the way.”
-Sara Ferree, Director of Philanthropic Partnerships & RPCV Jamaica 2003-2005
This sentiment, investing in local leadership and trusting community partners, is imbued in the way Global Fund for Women conducts its business. As Ferree explained, “We provide general support funding because we believe they [local partners] know best what to do with limited funds, and they will shift and pivot to address the most critical needs in their community…The people closest to the problem hold the solutions.”
When it comes to climate change, investing in locally led, long-term efforts for systemic change may be the exception, but many Peace Corps Volunteers agree it should increasingly become the norm.
A women’s group in Tanzania. Photo by Mark Tuschman, for Global Fund for Women
Caitlin Dickson posted an articleLearn about our Spotlight person, Caitlin, for our July 2020 Newsletter! see more
July 2020 Spotlight | Caitlin Dickson
By: Meredith Vostrejs
Caitlin Dickson served as a Youth Development Volunteer in Fiji from August 2019 - March 2020. She was evacuated and had her service ended early due to covid-19. Caitlin helped reduce litter in one village, yet her other longer-term project was in the planning stages when she had to abruptly leave. Always passionate about the environment, Fiji made Caitlin more aware of waste. “Being evacuated was overwhelming, especially because I was mentally prepared to serve for 19 more months. I felt sad, numb and in disbelief…. My day leaving Fiji started at 4 am where I caught 2 buses, a ferry, and a plane all in one day to get back to the US.” Below are some of Cailtin’s thoughts about her environmental work in Fiji.
Environmental work in Fiji: “With help from our village spokesperson called the turaga ni koro…we planned an evening class for the children in the village [Maumi] to educate them on the importance of responsibly disposing of trash and different types of trash. We went over what you can recycle, what is compost, and what is trash…Another day we worked with children in the village building different posts around the village and nailing two bins to be used for holding the trash and recyclables…Certain families were in charge of emptying the bins when they were full and responsibly disposing the waste.” Cailtin’s other environmental project on the smaller island Ovalau, an island wide recycling program for tin cans, was in the planning stages when she was evacuated.
How Fiji impacted her environmental awareness: “I have always been passionate about the environment. Fiji made me even more aware of the waste I produced from products I purchased because all personal trash is burned in their backyards or taken to a nearby place and dumped onto the ground. Now I pay more attention to the chemicals in my products and am slowly replacing current products with more environmentally friendly products that produce less waste such as using shampoo, conditioner, and body soap bars, reusable cotton rounds, etc.”
On being evacuated: “Being evacuated was overwhelming, especially because I was mentally prepared to serve for 19 more months. I felt sad, numb and in disbelief. I had less than 36 hours notice of leaving and got very little sleep between saying goodbyes to friends made, informing friends and counterparts I’d be leaving to go back to the US, and packing my bags. My day leaving Fiji started at 4 am where I caught 2 buses, a ferry, and a plane all in one day to get back to the US.”
While Caitlin is searching for her next opportunity, she is volunteering for RPCV4EA.