1% for the Planet Q&A featuring Outdoor Afro and Evergreen

on March 21, 2019

 Connecting with the Outdoors

Q&A with Yanira Castro, Outdoor Afro's Communications Director

Q: What is your mission? Why does your organization exist?

A: Outdoor Afro celebrates and inspires black leadership in nature. We've created a leadership network all over the country and are changing the face of conservation and making it more accessible. Currently, we have 80 volunteer leaders across the country in 35 states.

Q: Is connecting with the outdoors important? Why or why not?

A: Nature is everywhere and it's important for people to know that and to have access to it. Nature is not a specific place, it's all around you.

It's absolutely important to connect with nature! It's our responsibility to take care of this planet better than we ever had before. It's time to create that conservation and it's time for black/latino perspectives to join that conversation. If people have a connection with nature, they feel stronger about protecting it. We're threatening the health of our climate and we need to step up efforts to protect our planet.

Getting outside, moving, and building community are all important for physical and emotional health. At Outdoor Afro, we are building a space that feels familiar in the outdoors for everyone.

 (Photo credit: Outdoor Afro) (Photo credit: Outdoor Afro)

Q: How do you connect people with nature?

A: Outdoor Afro's volunteer leaders have connected over 35,000 people with nature. Our leaders are regular working people who love the community and also love to be outside. Any person can be a part of Outdoor Afro—inclusivity is one of our core values, so we meet people where they're at. If someone is passionate about getting outside, they can join, regardless of physical ability, age or race.

Q: Do you think that spending time outside can help people become better stewards of their environment and the planet?

A: Of course—nature is something that we should love and appreciate. We can appreciate a tree on the street for the shade and oxygen it provides! It's important for everyone to understand these benefits. When Outdoor Afro leads someone on a hike or teaches about the geology of an area, we hope to foster a better sense of appreciation with our members for nature and the environment.

Q: What are five tips for first-time hikers, explorers or really anyone looking to connect with nature?

1. Don't go alone: always have another person with you.

2. Do your research: know the trail, call ahead, bring a hard-copy map.

3. Stay hydrated: bring enough water for the day.

4. Bring snacks: keep your energy up. Changes in elevation can be tricky.

5. Embrace 'leave no trace' ethics: It doesn't just mean put stuff in the trash, pack the stuff out that you packed in.

Q: What is one of your favorite things to do outside?

A: I really enjoy summit hiking. It's an adrenaline rush to get to the top. I have a couple of smaller kids and they need something to reach for. When I take them out hiking, I want to make sure there is something beautiful to reach for at the end. As we hike, we do a lot of little things to make the hike more fun, like singing and racing to find the trail markers. It keeps the kids engaged.

 (Photo credit: Outdoor Afro) (Photo credit: Outdoor Afro)

Q&A with Cam Collyer, Executive Lead, Programming at Evergreen

Q: What is your mission? Why does your organization exist?

A: Since 1991, Evergreen has been enabling cities to flourish. At our founding, we enriched our cities by engaging the public in the transformation of public spaces such as parks and school grounds into green, sustainable places for everyone to enjoy.

In 2010, we opened the doors of Evergreen Brick Works, transforming an abandoned brick factory site into a thriving demonstration space for sustainable practices and placemaking that includes Toronto's largest farmer's market, a school visit program and one of the premier event spaces in the city.

From revitalizing green spaces to tackling urban challenges such as housing and mobility, we exist to catalyze change with solutions that are low carbon, inclusive to all and sustainable at their core.

Q: Is connecting with the outdoors important? Why or why not?

A: Connecting with the outdoors is very important. It is synonymous with being active, using the range of our senses and building our curiosity as the natural world is both complex and interconnected as well as constantly changing.

Connecting with the outdoors supports physical and psychological health and it also makes space for people to build social ties with their community. This is known as placemaking. Placemaking in our urban green spaces provides opportunities for communities to reinvent and revitalize the space together. We saw this in our Neighbourhood Nature Play program, which aimed to get families outdoors and connected with each other in two underused parks in Kitchener, as well as facilitated a grassroots movement within the communities to embrace and activate their parks. Communities who are engaged in the design of outdoor programs demonstrate healthy social cohesion and deep connections to each other and their local green spaces.

 (Photo credit: Evergreen) (Photo credit: Evergreen)

Q: How do you connect people with nature?

A: We focus on connecting people with nature in public spaces through both their physical design and public programming. One example includes greening school grounds and providing professional development to teachers to take hands-on learning outside. A key component of our outdoor programming for children is loose-parts play. Loose-parts are movable elements and, in our case, primarily natural objects that children manipulate, build and create with driven by their imaginations.

Other examples of connecting communities with nature include designing public parks, special events, summer camps, school visit programs, community gardens and engaging the public in ecological restoration.

The revitalization of the Don River Valley Park is an important partnership initiative of Evergreen and the City of Toronto. The Don River is one of the most urbanized river systems in Canada and a hidden jewel, holding hundreds of kilometers of trails as well as protected environmental areas and native plants. The valley was heavily used by industry in the 1900s, which resulted in the ongoing need to restore the ecosystem.

Public art, with its ability to transform public spaces, was also used to reactivate the Don River Valley Park. Art encourages people to gather, to connect to one another and inspires reflection. The series of temporary public artworks along the Don River create a new hub for art in Toronto that speaks to the many histories and present-day realities of the ravine and its surrounding communities. Throughout the series, visitors may come across sculptural installations, murals, billboards and dance or sound performances. We also offer talks, walks and research workshops lead by artists. We see the possibility in connecting the public to this landscape through art, returning, again and again, to find new commissions and events unfolding.

Q: Do you think that spending time outside can help people become better stewards of their environment and the planet?

A: Yes! Routinely getting outside helps people witness the health of the natural world around them and encourages them to become active stewards. A good idea is to find and join a local group that is caring for the natural environment in your community. You will meet great people and support lasting change.

City Park Stewards is a volunteer program in partnership with the City of North Vancouver which helps protect and restore nature in the city. These dedicated community volunteers work to restore the City's natural areas from the degradation caused by increased recreational use, variable stream flows and bank erosion, illegal dumping and threats to biodiversity like invasive plants.

Q: What are five tips for first-time hikers, explorers, or really anyone looking to connect with nature?

1. Try exploring with a blindfold on. It will slow you down and open your other senses.

2. Bundle up and go for walks during winter storms.

3. Start a garden and learn how you can help different plants thrive.

4. Go for barefoot hikes.

5. Borrow a tent and go overnight camping.

Q: What is one of your favorite things to do outside?

A: Swimming in a lake or river!

 (Photo credit: Evergreen) (Photo credit: Evergreen)