11 Honored with Isaac Wolfe Bernheim Climate Hero Award

By Lynette Cox

Eleven individuals and organizations were presented with the first annual Isaac Wolfe Bernheim Climate Hero Award on Saturday, April 20, at Bernheim Forest and Arboretum.

“Our vision at Bernheim is to inspire our community to join us on our climate action journey,” explained Melissa Raley, Director of Advancement at Bernheim Forest and Arboretum. “We are proud to recognize these leaders for their exemplary work in environmental sustainability. They inspire us all to take climate action!”

Kentucky Resources Council informs and empowers the public to protect the environment and foster healthy communities. Founded in 1984, the nonprofit provides free legal assistance to those living “downwind, downstream, and downhill” of environmental problems. Legislative victories, such as raising landfill standards and promoting renewable energy alternatives, have directly improved the health of Kentucky’s communities.

Jessie Rathburn helped to establish the Carbon Reduction Fund and encouraged renewable energy practices at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in Loretto, Ky. She was a primary organizer of the movement to place more than 600 acres of Motherhouse land into a conservation easement and assisted in establishing the Nature Preserve Cemetery. Through her current work with Land Justice Futures, Rathburn partners with religious communities to heal the land, protect it from extraction and restore stewardship.

Louisville Climate Action Network and Sarah Lynn Cunningham – Sarah Lynn Cunningham co-founded the Louisville Climate Action Network (LCAN) and serves as its executive director. Cunningham advocates for energy efficiency and alternative energy as inseparably key solutions to the climate crisis. LCAN offers reliable climate-action tips to renters, homeowners, and small businesses, advocates for smarter public policies, and provides independent technical assistance to nonprofits. LCAN’s Urban Energy Partnership provides nonprofits serving Louisville’s BIPOC communities with free services to cut carbon consumption and utility costs.

Chef Eneitra Beattie inspires West Louisvillians to grow healthy, organic food. As an urban farmer, Beattie collaborates with nonprofits, including Bernheim, Change Today, Change Tomorrow, the Louisville Urban League, and Parks Alliance of Louisville, to advance urban, organic gardening and showcase creations made from shareable recipes. As owner of Greenz N Tingz, she specializes in organic salads, soups, and hot sauces and often provides free food to others.

Amanda Fuller and Justin Mog champion environmental issues and sustainable living. In addition to being executive director at the Kentucky Academy of Science, Fuller owns Lots of Food, which transformed five vacant lots into gardens and orchards she uses to educate the public. Mog is the University of Louisville’s Sustainability Director and led efforts to design and implement UofL’s climate action plan. Under his leadership, the university has slashed emissions by 53% by investing in efficiency, launching composting and reuse programs, installing solar, and encouraging change in transportation habits. In 2017, Mog helped launch Forward Radio and hosted Sustainability Now!, a weekly radio show and podcast.

Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition (KSEC) connects and empowers young Kentuckians to take action for a just and environmentally sustainable Kentucky. KSEC has created and distributed informative, creative zines about climate justice and convenes young people through their annual summer camp, Catalyst.

Berea Earth Warriors remove litter from their community’s parks, streets, and waterways. The group also cultivates fresh produce for a local food bank in the East Ridge Community Garden and provides workshops on growing food at home. One of their primary projects is the Owsley Fork Reservoir, Berea’s drinking water source and home to bald eagle nests and other vulnerable species. The Berea Earth Warriors reported a dump site on the reservoir and mobilized volunteers and community partners, including Get Outside Kentucky, to clean up the area.

New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future and Sister Claire McGowan – Founded in 2002 by Sister Claire McGowan, New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future promotes sustainability in rural communities to ensure a healthy future for all. Notable achievements by the group include hosting a Green Pioneer Home effort with 1,000 homes participating, spearheading opposition to the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, offering locally based education programs for all ages, and releasing its community-development strategic plan.

Kurt Mason promotes conservation through his professional and volunteer service. As both District Conservationist and Urban Conservationist for Kentucky with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mason helped landowners utilize USDA resources and programs. He serves as Chair of the Louisville/Jefferson County Environmental Trust and is Board Chair of the Food Literacy Project, through which youth transform their communities through food, farming, and the land. As a board member of the Community Farm Alliance, Mason supports the mission of helping family farms be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. He also serves on the West Jefferson County Community Task Force board, which identifies environmental and environmental health concerns of area residents.

Beargrass Thunder: Jody Dahmer and Mariah Corso – Dahmer and Corso advocate for improving our built environment, making communities and transportation accessible, and promoting urban biodiversity and agriculture. They run the Louisville Seedbank Program, which focuses on finding and distributing vegetable seeds that can survive in urban environments. Through their work at Beargrass Thunder, the pair successfully advocated for ‘yarden’ legislation in Louisville and promote adding trees to streetscape, rezoning so different amenities can coexist in the same neighborhood, walkability, and public transit.

Christina Lee Brown co-founded the Envirome Institute at the University of Louisville to study environmental and social effects on clinical health. The institute pioneered implementation science, using research to improve and model urban health with community partners. Brown serves on the boards of the Sustainable Food Trust in England, The Berry Center, The Center for Interfaith Relations, The Louisville Orchestra, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation. She advocates for science and nature-based strategies, emphasizing that we all must become part of the solution. Her partnerships with Bernheim, Kentucky Natural Land Trust, Ohio River Way, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, and many others amplify this cause.

The Isaac Wolfe Bernheim Climate Hero Awards were presented along with the unveiling of the Bernheim Climate Crisis Action Plan (BCCAP) at RESTORE, Bernheim’s annual Earth Day celebration. As part of the BCCAP, Bernheim will implement strategies to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and achieve or exceed net carbon emissions by its centennial in 2029.

Dr. Mark K. Wourms, Executive Director at Bernheim Forest and Arboretum, explained, “The Bernheim Board of Trustees has endorsed this ambitious plan. We commit to taking action to do our part to mitigate the climate crisis.”

“How are we going to do that? We have a plan with 10 targets, 33 strategies, and 128 tactics,” continued Dr. Wourms. “We will act deliberately and urgently and capture opportunities to move forward as quickly as possible with these and emerging strategies and technologies. We strive to implement many of these strategies before our centennial celebration in 2029.”

The ten target areas for a sustainable future outlined in the Bernheim Climate Crisis Action Plan include:
• Protect the land
• Plug into renewables
• Create buildings that give back
• Slash waste and boost recycling
• Model regenerative horticulture
• Cut the engines
• Serve sustainability
• Tell a compelling climate story
• Deploy art to change hearts and minds
• Boost inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility

Additional Bernheim Climate Crisis Action Plan information can be found at bernheim.org.

Donations to support Bernheim’s mission can be made at bernheim.org/climatehero. Gifts will be matched thanks to a matching challenge by the Owsley Brown II Family Foundation. Donations help to protect natural ecosystems, inspire a new generation of environmental stewards, and reduce our carbon footprint.

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