Why did you choose to become involved in this type of work as a Summer Fellow?
I am an environmental studies major very interested in public lands, urban nature, and community-scale environmental protection and remediation work. The New Haven Land Trust’s nature preserves serve a unique function in the community because we essentially function as a supplement to the NH Parks Dept, but with the resources and approach of a nonprofit. Between the six nature preserves and the 50+ community gardens owned or managed by the Land Trust, we get to engage a huge portion of the New Haven community in our work. Not only do we provide the services and labor to maintain these spaces (which all need constant maintenance) but we have funding to plan events that turn these green spaces into hubs of community engagement and interaction. The Land Trust nature preserves are a really special, yet undervalued natural resource in New Haven and doing this work has proven to me that, despite America's persistent desire to prioritize majestic natural landscapes, smaller local sites are equally as valuable and allow a much greater opportunity for access (especially for urban residents). As much as I am interested in environmental science and environmental protection, the most important part of doing environmental work (in my opinion) is bringing people to those spaces and constantly working to increase access for people of all backgrounds.
what excites you most about your fellowship and the work you're doing?
There are people in the Land Trust community for whom the educational events and other services we provide are incredibly important. We have some partners who come to almost every event – they care so much about our organization and derive great benefit from it (mostly for families with kids, who get to have hands-on, place-based outdoor education for free in their own backyard!). I am so excited about the growing potential for the Land Trust to build relationships with teachers, educators, and museums so kids in the city can come out to our nature preserves and learn about ecology in this amazingly hands-on, engaging way! Developing attachment to place through education is so important for young people and will hopefully move many of them to become politically, socially, and environmentally aware citizens of this city.
What inspires you to keep moving forward in your work?
Urban environmental remediation is a constant battle. There is so much degradation happening all the time and to do the work properly you need to have so much botanical and ecological knowledge, as well as money for resources and hands to help do the work. Picking up trash alone is so demanding, because in cities people don’t always treat the natural spaces with as much respect as folks might who visit National Parks, for example. But the best part of this work is that there are so many community members in New Haven who are so excited and willing to help with maintenance and upkeep and beautification! We have a huge community of volunteers who bring so much positivity and expertise to volunteer workdays. I love workdays because when there are many hands the work goes quickly, and because I always get to meet new people – every single one of whom has such an interesting story to tell. Working outside surrounded by interesting who care enough to donate their time on weekends to make their city beautiful and to heal the environmental damage that has been building up for centuries here is SO inspiring. Also, there are so many people in the Land Trust community who have expertise in botany, masonry, education, social work, technology, etc and an amazing part of my job is meeting these people, who are so willing to share their expertise and advise me on projects that fill within their area of interest.
what is your favorite part of your fellowship?
My favorite part of this whole summer experience has been getting to explore the city. My job takes me all over NH to different nature preserves and community gardens, and I feel like I know the city so much better now. There are so many great neighborhoods and hidden gems that I know of now and I think that’s going to completely change my Yale experience for my final two years. I have met amazing community leaders and environmentalists and naturalists and professors from all the universities in NH – this city is full of creativity, knowledge, passion and goodness! I would recommend to every Yale student that they stay in the city (to work, not to take classes) for at least one summer during college. You have the time and mental space to see the city in a whole different way, and to shed the “Yale student” ethos and learn from people who really understand NH and have a serious stake in its future.
what have you been thinking about and reflecting on during your fellowship that you have not previously reflected on before?
I have been thinking a lot about how to be an environmentalist but still focus on fighting for equality and justice within an environmentalist framework. Throughout history, the environmentalist movement has mostly not done a good job of being aware of the ways in which race, class, and gender create barriers to outdoor spaces, or that race, class, and gender create different environmental needs among different communities. There is a critically important intersection between environmental/climate work and social justice work, and I want to make sure I am always thinking actively about where that lies and how I can be involved. I love environmental work, but there are more direct ways to make an impact in the New Haven community than spending time alone stewarding natural spaces without engaging people in them. Throughout my career, it will be of utmost importance for me to think about the way my work is affecting people and whether I am actively listening and responding to the needs of folks who have historically been denied a place at the table in the environmental movement.
what is your favorite thing to do in new haven?
My favorite places to spend time in New Haven are either at the Grove St cemetery or down by the New Haven Harbor in City Point (especially Long Wharf Nature Preserve!). There are so many beautiful places in the city that feel removed from the busy pace of the main streets, and I like going to areas that are slower and quieter. New Haven is such an incredible city because it has everything a person could need to live an urban life, but there are plenty of areas all over the city that feel peaceful whenever you need a break. Also – I have loved this summer getting to know some of the neighborhoods better and realizing how each neighborhood has its own distinct flavor and cool things to explore.
what is your dream job?
I used to think my dream job was working for the National Parks Service, but I’ve since come to realize that I’ll prefer working for a smaller-scale, community-based organization. I really love getting to know people, and working in New Haven has shown me that living in a smaller community is so gratifying because you get to know the community members you are trying to reach. I am starting to realize how much I love education and working with young people, so I would say right now my dream job is being an environmental educator in an urban area, probably for elementary schoolers or high schoolers.