Growing Cities Blog


October 20th, 2011

When we first heard about the Bioneers Conference we had no idea what to expect. We heard things like “the best environmental conference in the country” and “I can’t even begin to describe it.” We knew we were on to something when we saw Bill McKibben’s praise: “Bioneers has been consistently ahead of the curve… issues they raised a decade ago, like local food and rooftop power, have just now moved into the mainstream.”

Though that’s pretty high praise from one of our country’s leading environmentalists, Bioneers lived up to it and more. We heard from thought leaders as diverse as Amory Lovins, who outlined a plan for our country to move to 100% renewable energy by 2050 (Reinventing Fire), to Gloria Steinem, who spoke about the importance of gender equality in the struggle for environmental justice.

We even interviewed two keynote speakers at the conference, Paul Stamets, the leading mushroom researcher in the world (also founder of Fungi Perfecti) and Anim Steel, the Director of National Programs at the Food Project in Boston.

Mr. Stamets, as he is famous for in his book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, spoke to us about the potential for mushrooms as not only a food source in urban areas but also as a tool for restoration.  He mentioned mushroom kits and logs as great ways to grow edible mushrooms for those with little space. He also told us how some mushrooms absorb heavy metals like lead and cadmium, which are the most common threat to urban soils. Just imagine if these mushrooms were planted in blighted lots across our country to revitalize city land.

Our conversation with Mr. Steel was on a completely different level. He started off by telling us “the youngest generation of Americans is the first in history to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.” He affirmed this is largely due to the obesity and diabetes epidemics which are intrinsically linked to the industrial food system.

Mr. Steel isn’t just griping about these problems though—he is also the founder of The Real Food Challenge, which aims to “shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and towards community-based and sustainable sources by 2020.” They are doing this by working with a network of students on college campuses across the country and providing them with tools to advocate for change at their college. Wish we knew about this when I went to school!

All in all, an amazing weekend and many thanks to all the Bioneers staff, presenters, and everyone else who made Bioneers such a great success! If you missed the conference, don’t fret, you can see all the keynote speeches online for free.  Amazing!

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