It’s Oscar season, with all the glamour and drama Hollywood can produce. Closer to home, it’s another kind of award season, with decidedly less glitz and red carpet and a whole lot more green. Here in Raleigh, it’s the time of year to nominate organizations, businesses, projects and individuals committed to the environment.
Awards range from market transformation to green building design to urban stewardship to institutional innovation to outstanding youth and more, but it’s safe to say that with the City of Raleigh’s Environmental Award nominees around, we’re all winners. Over the course of the community-sponsored contest’s eight-year history, the hundreds of outstanding honorees all have one thing in common: they work to make our community a better place to live in the present while helping preserve that quality of life for generations to come.
That commitment to preservation is embodied in the work of the City of Oaks Foundation, first created to enable a generous gift of land by William and Mary Coker Joslin, recipients of the 2013 Legacy Award for their lifelong contributions to the environment.
Executive Director Kevin Brice is enthusiastic about the Joslin Garden, explaining its impact “as a respite and place of natural beauty for Raleigh’s citizens. After working with the Joslin family, we figured there must be other conservation-minded landowners who want to leave a legacy for future generations to enjoy, and we’ve found that there are.”
According to Brice, “Raleighites are proud of their city because it offers the best of everything: vibrant neighborhoods, effective schools, successful businesses, and beautiful parks, greenways and nature preserves. Our neighborhoods, schools and businesses have advocates working on their behalf. The City of Oaks Foundation is Raleigh’s advocate for our parks, greenways and preserves. We work to keep nature nearby.”
It’s a mission very much in sync with the Kellam-Wyatt farm, an active exercise in sustainability. Their home in East Raleigh is surrounded by subdivisions, but the 58-acre farm along the Crabtree Creek watershed that Kellam inherited from his grandfather is largely untouched by the development around it. Small lakes draw waterfowl while the dense woods and open farmland are magnets for other wildlife.
Kellam, Wyatt and their current staff, all graduates of NC State’s horticulture program, grow more than 40 varieties of vegetables and fruits using organic methods. Their wide expanse of land is beautifully and thoughtfully maintained; grass borders surround each garden plot, serving as buffer and partial barrier to deter pests and help prevent the spread of disease. Fences keep out hungry wildlife; hoop houses and traditional greenhouses extend the season at both ends.
Crops are carefully rotated, solar energy supplies a barn and greenhouse, and chickens do double duty by laying eggs while the farmers naturally weed, till, and fertilize the land for the next crop. According to Kellam, it’s a technique handed down from past generations.
The land has long been eyed by developers, and its real estate value has skyrocketed to more than $3.7 million as the city has grown, but Kellam and Wyatt believe it is much more precious in its natural state than for any other use. When they eventually leave the farm, it is their intent that it become a nature preserve, environmental education center and sustainable farming incubator.
“Several years ago, at the age of 59, I was the average age of North Carolina farmers,” Kellam said. “There is a tremendous need for young farmers and more local farms.” Toward that end, Kellam and Wyatt helped create and participate in programs that teach young people about land, vegetables, fruits, and animals. They often host tours for high school horticulture classes, and Enloe High School students created an enjoyable documentary profiling the couple’s efforts.
If you’re not inspired by now you can stop reading.
But, if you are, and you know a Raleigh-based1 entity deserving of one of these impactful awards, you have until February 13 to submit an application. This is no time for humility; self-nominations are encouraged. Read through all 12 award categories, write your best acceptance speech in advance to convince the jury why you should win, and hit submit.
The best of the best will be honored at a free public evening celebration on Earth Day, April 22, at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.
Even the awards themselves are sustainable, handcrafted from local reclaimed wood by Bill Wallace of New Light Wood Works in Wake Forest. Unique oak leaves commemorate each category winner, and the overall Raleigh Environmental Stewardship Award is a work of art, often a large sculpted bowl atop a pedestal crafted to showcase the wood’s natural grain.
This year’s keynote speaker is Michael Tiemann, vice president of open source affairs at Red Hat. Also a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a national leader in sustainable food-systems practices and policies, Tiemann plans to discuss environmental practices as they relate to food policy and economics.
The topic is fitting since it’s the first time the Environmental Awards program is awarding Urban Agriculture grants, up to $1500. Research shows that eating food grown locally, and participating in its cultivation, motivates people to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, and the social connections that are naturally part of the process contribute to a city’s livability as well.
Urban ag applicants — individuals, groups, non-profits and/or businesses — and projects must ultimately improve Raleigh’s access to healthy, affordable food; be linked with existing community infrastructure, resources and/or groups of volunteers; and have a plan in place for long-term success. The funding could be used for fences, irrigation, garden structures, equipment, compost, seeds or soft costs. The grants program has a later deadline; all applications must be received by March 6, with projects completed by fall 2015.
The Environmental Awards program is a celebration of youthful creativity as well. High school and college students each have their own video public service announcement contests, complete with cash prizes, and entries are typically the highlight of the evening as humor often runs rampant. While it may look like fun, the messages are serious: stormwater runoff, and its connection to healthy waters; and “Our Water, Our Future,” regarding the importance of fixing leaks, keeping the sewer system fat-free,2 and the value of water.
Connecting young people with nature is also a priority for the City of Oaks Foundation. “Healthy, nature-based play builds self-confidence and develops kids’ social skills, and nature is an ideal environment for inspiring STEM education,” Brice said.
“Looking long-term, our children are Raleigh’s future leaders. It is important they develop a love of nature now so they make wise conservation decisions when it is their turn to lead our community.”
And the winner is…Raleigh.