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Environmental education goes global

Long-established Shelburne Farms program in Vermont sends out ripples worldwide.

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Erin Cinelli, the foundation’s executive director, has seen a shift in environmental awareness among the people visiting Spannocchia. “Ten years ago, visitors came to Tuscany to see art,” she says. “Now they want to understand what’s going on with agriculture and the environment.”

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In February, Spannocchia welcomed New Englanders to a symposium on sustainable local food systems and their role in maintaining the rural landscape and culture.
“Food is a unifying theme,” says Megan Camp, vice president of Shelburne Farms, which has helped develop school programs that connect children with farmers in their communities. Kids learn what foods are available locally, experiment with recipes, conduct taste tests, and help school cafeterias plan menus using local foods.

This level of engagement has its counterpart in the Learning and Ecological Activities Foundation for Children (LEAF), a program started by the municipal government for the town of Nishinomiya, Japan. Students in the city’s public schools receive “ecocards,” which ecofriendly businesses stamp when a purchase is made. After a certain number of stamps, students earn the title “Earth Ranger.” The program brings together children, parents, businesses, and government in a way that affects Nishinomiya’s environmental policies. Businesses “are one of the indispensable sectors needed for a community to pursue sustainability,” says LEAF board member Haruo Soeda.

One of Shelburne Farms’ international partnerships involves helping China deal with the environmental and social consequences of its tremendous economic growth. Factory managers in the industrial province of Guangdong will be trained in resource efficiency and environmental health through a series of workshops conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) in Montpelier, Vt. The institute, which has enjoyed a relationship with Shelburne Farms since the ISC was founded in 1991, has mobilized civic participation to solve environmental problems in 20 countries around the world.

Recognizing that this community-based model of energy efficiency would be more effective if coupled with enhanced understanding of ecology, the ISC invited Shelburne Farms to implement a plan to train Chinese elementary and middle school teachers in education for sustainability. They also involved South China Normal University, connecting the work it was doing in environmental education with ISC’s energy-efficiency programs. Shelburne Farms has also brought LEAF into the project. The four partners aim to share best practices among educators through visits.

Ms. Camp is excited at the idea of bringing Japan and China together in this project. She sees education for sustainability as giving people a new collaborative lens through which to see the world, with young people in the forefront. “The world is coming to have a more integrated perspective,” she says. “Young people think in a more integrated way than we did.”

George Hamilton, president and cofounder of ISC, agrees. “Kids get it,” he says. “They get thinking about addressing problems, question the ways things have been done, and say, ‘Why can’t we do it this way instead?’ Schools are at the heart of change in communities.”