Tomato sprouts at Meadowlark Farm

Urban Farmer and Policy Specialist Shares Thoughts on the MI Healthy Climate Conference

I joined the staff here at Groundwork in November 2022 and became a team member on the Food and Farming team. I currently work on the 10 Cents a Meal Program, and also come to Groundwork with experience as an urban farmer in my base of Detroit. Because of this, I attended the Michigan Healthy Climate Conference representing Groundwork on the agriculture side.

Among the attendees were businesses, organizations, farmers, government officials, tribal leaders, and environmentalists, all united in their commitment to building a more climate-resilient Michigan. Because the mission of Groundwork is to build a resilient Michigan by focusing on food, energy, transportation, and policy, the conference’s focus on climate resilience aligns with Groundwork in every aspect of our programming. I attended several sessions packed into the two-day conference, and there are three I want to comment on. They were the Catalyst Communities Workshop, The Tribal Leadership on Climate Action Session, and the Driving Climate Smart Agriculture Session. Here is what I learned.

Catalyst Communities Workshop 
This workshop was a pre-conference event held the morning before the official conference kick-off. It was hosted by The Catalyst Communities Initiative, and was an opportunity for organizations and government agencies across the state to outline the work they do in order to contribute to the Climate Pollution Reduction Plans for the state. The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced a Climate Pollution Reduction Grant (CPRG) program that will provide grants to states, local governments, tribes, and territories to develop and implement plans for reducing harmful air pollution. This comes as a product of the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which has become the most significant climate legislation in U.S. History. Through the CPRG, the state of Michigan is eligible for $3 Million in funding to carry out this work.

The workshop allowed attendees to brainstorm ideas for implementation of the plan, based on each organization and agency’s toolkit of resources. Participants discussed various topics, including, how to protect Michigan’s land and water, repair and decarbonize homes and businesses, and commit to environmental justice, based on the MI Healthy Climate Plan and the steps it outlines to build a more climate-resilient Michigan by 2030. Though this time served as a platform for networking opportunities, more than that, it was a chance to share and exchange ideas across organizations, demonstrating that those making decisions in Michigan are on the same page regarding building a more climate-resilient state.

Tribal Leadership on Climate Action 
On the second day of the conference, we attended sessions tailored to different aspects of climate change. One significant session focus was on Tribal Leadership on Climate Action. We heard from Frank Ettawageshik (Executive Director, United Tribes of Michigan), Frank Bever (Director of Natural Resources, Little Band of Ottawa Indians), and Caroline Mollering (Environmental Services Manager, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians) about the role Tribal Governments play in climate action across the state. 
 
It is very important to note that this was the only session that spoke to this topic and the only session that had any representation from Indigenous People. We came to understand how environmental justice and the honoring of land and treaty rights made with Indigenous communities here in Michigan can serve to keep the state healthy. They also discussed the impact of climate change on Indigenous communities and how it has affected their Earth-centered way of life. The session emphasized the importance of recognizing the sovereignty of Indigenous communities and incorporating their knowledge into climate action plans. This session also provided an opportunity for leaders to speak out about the lack of representation in these spaces. 
 
Driving Climate Smart Agriculture 
As I came to the conference through the lens of agriculture, the session on Driving Climate Smart Agriculture was one that immediately was of interest to me. Additionally, the Driving Climate Smart Agriculture session was especially relevant to Groundwork’s work in the food systems sector because here we recognize the critical role that agriculture plays in Michigan’s economy and food systems, and the significant role that equity plays in the sector. We heard from the Michigan Department of Rural Development on plans and current progress towards encouraging climate smart agriculture across the state as a means to mitigate climate change. There was an emphasis on the importance of adopting sustainable farming practices, such as reducing carbon emissions, conserving soil, and maintaining the health of the agriculture industry that drives a significant amount of tourism in the state.
 
As a Black urban farmer, I found it disheartening to see no representation from the Black, Urban, or Indigenous Farmers in the state. In fact, I was one of five farmers in the room. It is important to note that the land cultivation techniques used by Black, Urban, and Indigenous farmers are inherently “climate smart,” because of our cultural ties to land and because of the climate challenges we have had to adapt to with little to no support. In this session we learned that there is a lack of engagement in these communities, and this provided Groundwork a platform to begin conversations with MDARD regarding future engagement and representation of Black, Urban, and Indigenous farmers in this space. This work also allows us as an organization to bring BIPOC growers up to the table as conversations are being had about our communities. This work is significant because we can help to ensure that Black, Urban, and Indigenous farmers are represented in the conversation to increase equity and contribute to the overall climate resilience across the state.
 
Groundwork is committed to supporting the development of sustainable and climate-resilient communities across Michigan. The conference provided a great opportunity for the organization to engage with key stakeholders and leaders from government agencies, tribal communities, and other organizations working toward a more climate-resilient Michigan. The sessions highlighted above provide a glimpse of the conference’s importance in advancing the conversation and taking action to address climate change. By working together, Michigan can build a more climate-resilient state that benefits all of its citizens, present and future. It is important to continue these conversations and encourage more representation and engagement from all communities, especially those who have been historically marginalized. By doing so, we can ensure that Michigan’s climate action plans are inclusive, equitable, and effective.Groundwork logo for story end

Amanda Brezzell

Amanda Brezzell, Policy and Engagement Specialist
amanda.brezzell@groundworkcenter.org