Cassandra’s Climate Story

cassandraI grew up on a farm on the border of Scott and Dakota County along with my three siblings, and went to Lakeville schools my whole life. My parents had 25 acres of land that we mainly used to board horses. Throughout my childhood we had many different animals including pigs, turkeys, chickens, homing pigeons, and bunnies, along with your standard multitude of cats and dogs.

Growing up on a farm taught me to be in-tune with, and respect, nature. As a child my summer vacations were atypical of most of my peers: instead of marathons of Mario Kart indoors with friends, I was baling hay in the 90°+ weather with my family, fixing fences, or pulling weeds with a screwdriver for hours on end. As a young child I wasn’t fully aware that I lived in a suburban area, it felt like the county to me with all the trees and wild animals we came across like deer, wild turkeys, and snapping turtles. My father took pride in our beautiful community and wanted to instill a work ethic in us; I remember my father hooked up a trailer to the back of our John Deere and rode up and down our street, having all four of us children in the ditch picking up litter. While we were preserving the natural beauty of our community we were also being resourceful: we were the family saving and crushing aluminum cans to get spare change to use for sand in our outdoor riding arena. And my mom made sure us kids knew how to separate our recycling, even the colored glass, for the recycling man. Caring for the community and preserving our resources was something instilled in me from a young age.

Every so often there would be a severe storm that affected our farm. The cleanup and aftermath meant valuable time away from other important chores. Downed trees meant days of chainsawing, splitting and stacking wood, not to mention walking the entire property line looking for broken sections of fence. Heavy downpours would flood our pasture and loafing areas, making it harder for the horses to move around. Warmer Winters have resulted in wetter Springs.  Our horses would not be allowed on the back pasture to graze for grass because their hooves would ruin the ground. If we ran out of hay by that time we would have to purchase off a local farmer who could increase the price to suit his needs.  While there wasn’t much discussion during my childhood about climate change being the cause of such events, over my lifetime these incidents have become more frequent, extreme, and devastating, making the reality of climate change harder to ignore.

Growing up on a farm also taught me the value of resourcefulness, and of nothing going to waste. Anyone here today who has owned a pig can testify that there is no food waste on a farm. Making ends meet when you have your own business and four children was no easy task for my parents, and they truly did reuse and repurpose anything they could to get more use out of it, and to save money. These values of respecting nature and of resourcefulness are still very important to me to this day.

I took the first step towards a life in the environmental field when I happened upon a Dakota County email advertising their Master Recycler and Composter Class. You might be thinking “Who in their right mind would pay to take a 6-week 3-hour-per-night class to learn about recycling and composting?!” You’d be surprised! On the last day of class I asked my teacher, Jenny Kedward who works at Dakota County’s Environmental Resources department, where do I go from here? She advised me to try out for GreenCorps, that Dakota County needed a GreenCorps member for the upcoming service year, and she’d do her best to request me. Long story short, I applied to be a GreenCorps member through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and was lucky enough to be placed with Jenny at Dakota County. I was happy to be placed in Dakota County because it is my home, my community, and I have a vested interest to engage in local solutions to climate change.

When thinking about how you can lessen your environmental footprint most people might jump straight to “I can recycle more!” or “I’ll bring my own reusable bag to the grocery store!” What people don’t immediately think about is the amount of food they throw away each week, and the embedded resources that went into producing that food. My service with GreenCorps focused on food waste prevention in Dakota County households. I’ve learned that the statistics are alarming: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council roughly 40% of all the food raised or grown in the United States, ends up in a landfill. Eureka Recycling, a St. Paul based recycling and waste hauler, estimates that each St. Paul resident throws out about $1,600 worth of food per year! According to a U.N. report on agriculture and food security in a changing climate, the global food system is responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Buying and eating local food that hasn’t been transported across the country, and preventing food waste, can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. I am voting three times per day with my fork, and I am starting to make better choices for me and the environment, and actively teaching others about the importance of this issue.

I hope that my future career in the environmental field can make a difference in my community and help improve the environment. Now that my GreenCorps service is over I am eager to continue to put my skills of preventing waste and resourcefulness to good use by working for a company that shares my values. Reducing waste, to me, is step one of the 3 R’s, and “reduce” is first for a reason.

Climate change is an important issue that affects us all, even in ways we can’t immediately see. Weather is becoming more extreme: more severe droughts in some places, yet severe flooding in others. We are seeing some of the hottest summers ever recorded year after year, making it harder to work outdoors. Farmers and livestock are seeing the impacts first-hand.

I hope that my community continues to prioritize environmental initiatives by increasing recycling efforts, moving towards curbside organics collection, and educating youth about their power to change the future. Climate change might just be the biggest obstacle facing our young generations. My parents did their best to instill in us the values of hard work and resourcefulness, and the desire to have the least impact as possible to preserve the place that we love. What my father valued I realise now that this is important to me too; I hope my future children will be able to experience some of what I had growing up. I am reminded of the Seventh Generation Principle taught by the Native Americans: in every decision we must consider how it will affect descendants seven generations into the future. We do have the power to create change, together.

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