The following is an excerpt from the National Catholic Reporter, which just profiled Sr. Claire McGowan, a Dominican sister and Northwest Earth Institute discussion course organizer since 20o7. She has been using NWEI guides as part of her efforts to transform Springfield, KY into what is now known as “the greenest county in Kentucky!” Claire’s efforts inspired the creation of a local non-profit, New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future. To read the whole piece, please visit http://ncronline.org/blogs/eco-catholic/green-pioneers-organized-dominican-sister-transform-town
New Pioneers is owned by the community of Springfield. The Preamble to the International Earth Charter serves as its guidepost. “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, at a time when humanity just choose its future…we must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded in respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.”
In their six and a half year history, Sr. Claire and the group have been busy. They sponsor lunchtime learning meetings, drawing upon the Northwest Institute’s educational materials around such topics as food security and global warming. Study groups recently wound up an eight -week series on “Menu for the Future.”
Sustainable communities study groups for local business and civic leaders exist, as well as Earth Day celebrations, a downtown Farmer’s Market ,“smart growth” and farmland preservation workshops, and occasional sustainability columns in the Springfield Sun.
In light of the smart growth and farmland preservation topics, New Pioneers created a video as a visioning tool for Springfield citizens. The video posed a question: What did people want their town to look like in 2025? With the help of the State Extension Office, New Pioneers compiled a questionnaire Some 650 people participated. Then New Pioneers organized a day of visioning, open to the public. Nearly 100 individuals showed up…
To help further the rural heritage vision, New Pioneers has encouraged Springfielders to buy locally.
“If we could get people to spend just five percent of their food money on locally grown meats, fruit, honey and sorghum, instead of relying totally on the area’s two supermarkets, that would go a long way to build a sustainable food system,“ said the nun. To help promote this idea, New Pioneers has made a list available to residents with names and contact numbers of local farmers.
Sr. Claire’s current projects are encouraging the schools, a local college, and three motherhouses (The Dominicans, Loretto, and Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Ky) in the vicinity of Washington County to buy local foods. “We are currently in a monthly education process with our own motherhouse and college food service directors about their buying locally grown food occasionally for special days.”
Restaurants are also in New Pioneer’s line of vision: The group is inviting eateries to offer one menu every week featuring locally-grown food.
“We always start small, with suggestions that are practical and doable.” said Sr. Claire. Why not big? Because “local food is more expensive than what can be bought from large industrial food producers,” she explained.
Sr. Claire McGowan admits to wishing for more progress on the environmental sustainability front, but she acknowledges that one has to proceed slowly when it comes to changing people’s minds and hearts…
Her one bit of advice to groups looking to broaden Earth-centered views. “Make it fun. Build relationships. Do small changes in small ways.”