Modern-Day Earth Angels
A new book, Eco Amazons, celebrates women at the forefront of the environmental movement almost 50 years after Rachel Carsons seminal manifesto, Silent Spring, led the charge. Three pioneers share their vision.
By Dorka Keehn
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Eco Amazons & PowerHouse Books
San Francisco, California
Vital stats: Cofounder of workers' rights group Centro Campesino in Minnesota; executive director of the Pesticide Action Network.
Backstory: When I was young, my grand-mother told me stories about the farm she grew up on. Farming's in my blood, and my work is grounded in the values she taught me making policy changes for good, clean, fair food. I think she'd be proud.
Bold move: I went to the University of Minnesota's College of Agriculture, where biotech companies had a disturbing influence. The Department of Agronomy was developing a "Roundup Ready" soybean gene, to allow plants to withstand Roundup, a herbicide from Monsanto, the leading producer of genetically engineered seeds. Despite studies showing Roundup was toxic and the fact that farmers had to purchase the seeds yearly instead of saving them from one season to another there was no talk about the implications for rural communities. Worker issues weren't on the curriculum. To raise awareness, I organized lectures on the rights of migrant farm workers, and cofounded Centro Campesino, a nonprofit group that advocates for Latino and migrant agricultural workers through community organizing.
Turning point: In 2005, I joined San Francisco's Pesticide Action Network (PAN). We work to ban pesticides and support sustainably grown food. I'd just been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, and I believe it's linked to environmental contaminants. Autoimmune diseases are increasing in women, but research on the link to chemicals is lacking. I want to focus on the causes of these illnesses.
What's next: PAN recently helped convince the U.S. to end the use of endosulfan, a highly toxic insecticide linked to autism and birth defects. We are the world's third-largest consumer of pesticides, and people are realizing they've been part of a huge, toxic experiment. We want to ensure liability rests with the corporations that make and market these contaminants.