NORTH BRANCH, Minn. -- The Ann Bancroft Foundation has honored the Women's Environmental Institute (WEI) with a Dream Maker Award for its work on environmental issues and policies relevant to women, children and low-income communities.
2010 marks the 13th annual Ann Bancroft Foundation Dream Maker Awards. Each year the Bancroft Foundation recognizes two adults, an organization and one girl for their achievements in life and for supporting other women and girls as they accept challenges and reach toward their potential.
Seeds of change
"Our mission is to work on environment justice," Director of Education and Operations Jacquelyn Zita said. "All the studies indicate that most of the toxic dumping, or build up of toxicities happens in communities that are poor, largely communities of color and in the inner city."
One of those communities is Little Earth of United Tribes housing complex in Minneapolis' Phillips neighborhood.
Mapping health burdens
"One of the things we did in looking at the issue of environmental justice and injustice in Phillips neighborhood," Women's Environmental Institute Executive Director Karen Clark said. "The right to know about this is really at the heart of WEI."
Clark has mapped the environmental burdens facing residents of Little Earth and the Phillips neighborhood. Her statistics on arsenic sites, childhood lead poisonings and asthma hospitalizations show what WEI is trying to change.
As each burden is mapped, more of the Phillips neighborhood becomes blocked. When Clark is done, the map's area of south Minneapolis is nearly covered in black dots representing health problems and toxin reports.
"This is the whole county. This is where we have a problem," Clark said, pointing to south Minneapolis on the map of the county. "You can see the disproportion impact."
And, it's not the only problem in the area.
Growing a healthier community
"Phillips neighborhood is considered a food desert that doesn't really have access to really good food," explained Valerie Martinez, the Executive Director of Indigenous People's Green Jobs.
But, that too is changing, thanks to the work of the Women's Environmental Institute Farm.
In the WEI greenhouse, the residents of Little Earth are learning how to grow their own good food.
"Eventually, the hope there is to create a co-op and a food shelf that will support the community and bring in revenue for the community. So we're very excited about that project," Zita added.
"They're not doing that model of 'Oh, here's some food, we're going to donate good food to you.' It's not about that. That's not sustainable. They're saying, 'We're going to teach you how to plant good food. We're going to give you the education, the resources, the tools,'" Martinez said.
It's the same type of help WEI has already given a group of Hmong Minnesotans by supplying land for a garden of organic vegetables.
"We have a lot of clients who are looking for land for farming, and one thing that we learned is that this place will be organic. Our people are organic farmers back in our home countries," Thomas Yang of Hmong Minnesota Organic Farming explained.
"There are lots of communities who come to our country having been farmers and just needing access to land," Zita said.
The Women's Environmental Institute offers that access on its farm while also providing advocacy back in the city.
In many ways, the Women's Environmental Institute is planting seeds of change that organizers hope will grow environmental justice for all.
Support for Women's Environmental Institute
WEI is a membership organization, and relies partly on member dues to operate. In addition to growing vegetables, WEI also sells produce in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. The money is used to fund WEI programs.
For more information on the Women's Environmental Institute's CSA program, visit https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=c7422a.