March 18, 2021

MCF's Environmental Impact, Part 2

by Andy Davey

This is the second installment of a new series of blog posts and reports providing more information and analysis about the impact of Madison Community Foundation's (MCF's) grantmaking in each of our five community impact focus areas: the environment, the arts, learning, community development and capacity building.

Read Part 1, about the scope of MCF’s environmental grantmaking and the work of Holy Wisdom Monastery to stop erosion are restore biodiverse prairies.

Fostering the Next Generation of Environmental Stewards

Aldo Leopold Kids Blog
Students at Aldo Leopold Nature Center get a close-up look at life in the pond.

“I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” said a fourth grader to environmental educator and advocate Richard Louv during one of several thousand interviews with kids across the country in the early 2000s. Through his research, Louv began to realize how little time American kids spend outdoors exploring nature compared to prior generations, resulting in what he calls “nature-deficit disorder,” a trend having adverse effects on the physical, mental and emotional health of young people.

Fortunately, organizations like Aldo Leopold Nature Center (ALNC) here in Dane County are working to reverse this trend. Through multiple grants, MCF has supported ALNC's work, including a major renovation of its learning center, the creation of a nature-based preschool, and expansion of the Nature Net program.

ALNC hosts more than 70,000 visitors each year and features innovative spaces to learn about everything from native frogs and butterflies to the effects of climate change. The preschool helps kids learn about nature while exploring nearly 100 acres of natural outdoor space, and provides full scholarships for a quarter of the students to make access more equitable for low-income families.

Nature Net connects more than 1.5 million web visitors a year to experiential learning curriculum and to 20 outdoor education sites throughout the greater Madison area. It also facilitates collaboration between each of these environmental education organizations, helping to use resources efficiently and further best practices in the field.

Securing Access to Land for Hmong Growers

Hmong farmer Groundswell blog
A Hmong farmer shows off his harvest at Westport Farm. Photo by Ben Jones Photography.

For Hmong growers in Madison, access to land means nothing short of happiness. Land provides opportunities to grow food but also the freedom to enjoy the outdoors, a place to deepen relationships with other growers and family members, and an opportunity to remember joyful times in their homeland in Southeast Asia. Secure land tenure, however, is not always easy to come by, especially for those in the Hmong community who might have lower incomes or face other cultural or societal barriers.

Groundswell Conservancy, with the help of funding from MCF, tackled this challenge head-on, working to ensure a group of growers on the Northside have long-term access to protected agricultural land. Through the leadership of recent hire and Hmong community member, Yimmauj Yang, Groundswell facilitated five-year land leases with opportunities to renew. Groundswell also built a well for easy access to water and is working on other improvements, such as a tool shed.

Some of the growers use the land to grow produce for farmer’s markets. Others focus on growing food for their families. For Hmong elders, especially, working the land and providing for their family gives them purpose; it relieves stress, depression, and loneliness - all of which have become acute challenges during the pandemic.

For Yimmauj and Groundswell, these efforts are just the beginning; they are working on connecting more Hmong growers and elders to the land, and partnering with other nonprofits based among communities of color to provide access to the entrepreneurial, community-building and therapeutic opportunities provided by growing food outdoors with others.

Learn More About Where to Give