Barry Chernoff, the Robert F. Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, has the look of someone who has just received everything they’d wanted – happiness combined with the realization of how much work there is ahead.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he said with a laugh while describing the ambitious goals that will be realized by the recent $2 million grant from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation to support sustainability initiatives at the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment, at Wesleyan, and in the surrounding region.
The goals include building a network of local community non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that specialize in food security, environmental justice, and sustainability; financial support for 5th year M.A. students; paid internships for Wesleyan students to learn day-to-day operations in these organizations; and serving as the coordinator for these communities to share information with each other, their communities, and the Wesleyan campus from students to faculty. There will be biannual workshopsled by local organizations on how they promote urban farming and what it takes to make the organization successful, as well as a yearly Symposium that will be held over the next five years.
This all begins with building the network. Chernoff has already begun working with KNOX Hartford, an urban farming initiative that partners residents with business and government to bring sustainability and healthy food to Hartford, with others to be announced. The student internships will take place Summer of 2023.
“We hope to contribute to the wonderful work these organizations are doing, and through our collaboration we can inspire our students to make a better world,” Chernoff said.
The Symposium theme will be food security and environmental justice. The event will be an opportunity for the organizations to network and discuss best practices, commonalities of approaches, and have Wesleyan students learn from the organizations themselves. The Symposium presenters will come from the networks’ commendations of people they want to hear from.
Chernoff sees it as a way to facilitate the network, a way for Wesleyan to create a space for those working day to day in urban farming, environmental justice, and sustainability to connect with each other. “I see it as an opportunity for Wesleyan students to learn from folks who are doing the work. How do they make it work? This education for Wesleyan students will at minimum create responsible citizens, at most it will have a multiplicative effect,” Chernoff said.
In addition, Chernoff will hire a professor of the practice to teach undergraduate courses in the areas of environmental justice and food security.
If this sounds like a lot, it is, but Chernoff is adamant about the importance of this initiative. “The mission of the College of the Environment is to change the world. We are not afraid to fail, but we are afraid not to try,” he said.