As our team peruses the over 600 applications for the 2023 Future Leaders Climate Summit, we want to take some time to introduce you to some of the members from our past cohorts of leaders who have helped turn the Future Leaders Climate Summit into a successful and meaningful endeavor. The Summit brings together individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 who have demonstrated an interest in climate change and sustainability issues.
In this week's spotlight, meet Vanessa García Polanco, MS! Vanessa is a member of the 2022 Future Leaders Climate Cohort and currently works for the National Young Farmers Coalition.
This article was originally published by the Aspen Institute's Energy and Environment Program.
What does being a leader mean to you?
It means being an example, someone that is their authentic self and is not afraid of doing the hard things that need to be done to advance the goals of a movement.
Can you tell us about your most meaningful climate project to date?
I believe the way we build climate resilience is through food sovereignty. Inspired by Slow Food DC Share a Seed and endless conversations with Ysanet Batista and Dr. Saudi Garcia about what is my role as a diasporic Dominican to cultivate food sovereignty in my homeland of the Dominican Republic. I started a project sending seed packages to the Dominican Republic in 2022. The pandemic, now economic recession and the hunger in our sister island of Puerto Rico after the climate disaster of Hurricane Maria, made it clear the kind of inputs and resources needed to seed food sovereignty in my island nation that are not always available for the growers and their communities. Thanks to a generous donation from URI Cooperative Extension Free Seed Program I was able to send over 12,000 seed packages to the Dominican Republic. I recognize that as a perfect model of food sovereignty, importing foreign seeds with a dependence of western and diaspora resources might be an assault on local foodways and create unhealthy viability concerns. But when I asked my Dominican community what they needed and what I could do to advance food sovereignty and climate resilience they all identified this as a gap I could fill.
What is one climate solution you are most excited about right now?
The Farm Bill! Food and Agriculture are important players to fight the climate crisis, especially because farmers are climate leaders! If we invest in the next farm bill as an opportunity to equip them with the resources to fight climate change and give them the most important infrastructure available to us to mitigate climate change: land, we could start enabling our food system as a climate solution.
How did attending the 2022 Future Leaders Climate Summit and inaugural Aspen Ideas: Climate impact how you will move through the climate space in the future?
I just feel more connected to the climate community than before. I have most of the time been an "agriculture" or "food" person in climate spaces but being in community and conversation with young leaders that are intersectional has been great. I recently "ran into" other future leaders at the LCOY youth conference.. All of us were sitting in the same food systems and climate change session and we looked at each other and realized we knew each other from the Aspen Future Climate Leaders already. After that, we worked together for 3 days on the US Youth Statement.
What do you want other young people in the climate space to know that will help them as they progress through their careers?
Find your niche! Don't be a mile wide and an inch deep. Focus on the things you care about and get really good at them and do things that match your theory of change. You don't have to be a climate influencer, all of us have a role to play in different spaces to champion climate action.