On February 10th at 6:30pm, a very empowering and event packed weekend began – the 2017 Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference. While the term “Bioneers” may sound intriguing by itself, the name alone doesn’t explain what this conference truly encompasses. The Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference takes place once a year and is open to not just the campus, but anyone in the community. A large portion of the conference involves rebroadcasting nationally recognized plenary speakers from the national Bioneers conference on a large theater screen in CFA’s Kresge Recital Hall. These plenary speakers are social and scientific innovators who have practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. In addition to showcasing these renowned speakers, Knox invites local presenters to discuss how these national issues relate to regional knowledge. This year, these topics ranged from bioremedial herbs in your backyard to panel discussions on renewable energy democracy. The conference had educational opportunities throughout the weekend, not to mention multiple chances to eat delicious local foods! Here are some of the many highlights of the 6th annual Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference.
On the opening night of Bioneers Kresge Hall showcased local poets and musicians who filled the space with their art. Three talented women, Parker Adams, Francesca Downs, and Karter McClendon presented heartfelt poetry to the audience involving racial injustice and gender discrimination of the modern day. Following their performance was the Cherry Street Combo, a local Galesburg jazz band, who brought rhythm and soul to the stage. They were soon followed by The New Regulars, a Knox College Indie Pop band who encouraged much enthusiastic dancing in the audience with their set.
This year’s conference included meals in the program. They were served directly in the building and all sourced from local restaurants! On Saturday the 11th during lunch there were salmon salad sandwiches prepared by Q’s Bakery made from salmon donated by Sitka Salmon. There were vegetarian and gluten free options as well, which created an environment that was open to many different tastes. For dinner that same evening, the irresistible smell of freshly cooked pizza from local baked (pizzas) filled the CFA lobby. While these meals succeeded in bringing delicious food to the attendees, they also had the added benefit of bringing forth a sense of community and togetherness. Conversations sparked by the previous presentations continued during the shared meals.
Each morning started off with an option of morning activities for the early risers. Sofia Tagkaloglou held a “Plant Your Own Microgreens” workshop on Sunday morning where the attendees learned the many nutritional benefits of microgreens in addition to taking their own seedlings home. Alex Connors led attendees through Butoh meditation and attendees held a video chat with Arthur Sevestre, who is running a permaculture farm in Sweden.
Interspersed throughout the conference were the many renowned plenary speakers. Topics ranged from biomimicry, medicine in the rainforest, social justice work, and more. The speakers included Ericka Huggins, Janine Benyus, and Bill McKibben, all keynote speakers at the national conference. These presentations provided insight into issues that impact all of planet earth and showed a glimpse of the community activism happening across the United States and throughout the world. Attendees also viewed videos of various performances from the national conference, which helped bring a sense of energy to Kresge with music and spoken word.
One of the main highlights of the conference and significant conversation starters were the presentations by local speakers. Dusty Spurgeon from Spurgeon Veggies CSA in Galesburg talked about the hardships of doing diversified farming as a business on Sunday. On Saturday food activist and Knox custodian diana Mackin spoke of food justice, while a few rooms away John Curtis, professor at Western University, spoke about political hardships in today’s society and “defending the common good.” These were just a few examples of a wide array of subjects such as- sex slavery, CAFOS, renewable energy, food waste, social justice, fracking, and more. All carried out by knowledgeable passionate individuals who spoke from the heart, leaving attendees feeling like they too can make a positive change in regards to sustainability.
The keynote speaker for the conference was Al Eastman of the American Indian Center in Chicago who witnessed and is continuing to be a part of the “Water is Life” Movement in Standing Rock North Dakota. This passionate speaker talked about the injustice posed to those threatened by the pipeline by displaying pictures and telling stories he had witnessed first hand. He didn’t leave on a dour note either, he closed his presentation with the many ways an average citizen can get involved with the “Water is Life” movement, leaving the audience feeling empowered and ready to make a difference.
A common misconception of environmentalism is that with so many environmental and social hardships in the world, an environmentalist is bound to only feel discouraged. The Bioneers conference sheds light on the real meaning of environmentalism. More than anything, the conference gave people the opportunity to have friendly discussions with like minded individuals about environmental and social challenges plaguing our world today and the solutions to these problems. Leaving this conference did not leave one with a feeling of doom and gloom, but rather a feeling of purpose.
The Prairie Fire Bioneers conference is an annual event. If you would like to receive a “save the date” email for the 2018 event, please send a request to PrairieFireBioneersfirstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/prairiefirebioneers) or just keep an eye on www.knox.edu/bioneers for updates.
And a special thank you to all of this year’s conference sponsors: baked (pizzas), The Beanhive, Knox College Dean’s Office, Knox College Environmental Studies Department, Knox College Office of Sustainability, Knox College Student Senate, Radish Magazine, Q’s Cafe, and Sitka Salmon.