- Join E.O. Wilson at the Rachel Carson Biodiversity Symposium on May 27
- NEW DATE for Rachel's Sustainable Feast - Sunday, August 29
- Rachel's Sustainable Feast moves to September on the Bridge
- E.O. Wilson at Rachel Carson World Environment Day Event - May 27
- World Environment Day 2010: The Rachel Carson Legacy Challenge to be Used to Encourage Sustainable Action
- Life On Chemicals (Or: TSCA: A failed regulatory system that’s supposed to protect consumers from hazardous synthetic chemicals)
- Q&A with Patricia DeMarco
Patricia DeMarco, Executive Director, Rachel Carson Homestead Association
Q&A with Patricia DeMarco
Q&A with Patricia M. DeMarco
By Carmen J. Lee
Endowments Communications Officer
The Rachel Carson Homestead is an unassuming, five-room clapboard house that sits in the Pittsburgh suburb of Springdale. But the childhood home of the ecologist whose book “Silent Spring” brought unprecedented global attention to environmental issues also is the anchor for an organization whose influence in the environmental health field is spreading nationally and abroad. Patricia DeMarco, executive director of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association, explains how the nonprofit is making the transition from small historic house museum to national environmental leader while honoring the principles of its namesake.
Q: What has been your organization’s biggest triumph of the past year?
A: We’ve been very successful in branding and extrapolating what had been a small celebration of Rachel Carson’s birthday into a healthy food-sampling event called Rachel’s Sustainable Feast, which was featured last year in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine and in the Rick Sebak documentary “Right beside the River,” about his study of river towns. Secondly, we’re going into our fourth year of the Rachel Carson Legacy Conference, which has drawn together a coalition of multi-disciplinary participants from universities and business communities that informs the public about green chemistry and people’s relationship with the environment and their health.
Q: What has been the biggest trial?
A: We are have many more opportunities to present than we can respond to, and we have ambitions that have exceeded the capacity of our historic configuration. So we’re in transition from an organization focused mostly on the historic house to expand the impact of our message beyond the building… and that transition has challenged us most in the past year.
Q: What issue or event has had the most impact – positive or negative – on your organization and how have you responded?
A: The centennial in 2007 was a tremendous opportunity to catalyze change. We issued the Rachel Carson Legacy Challenge that year, and 20 entities – institutions, companies, schools – responded by executing tangible, measureable changes. Also coming out of the centennial was our whole new direction on pollution prevention for health, which is the focus of our strategic plan. We’re in the process of updating the plan in anticipation of 2012, which is the 50th anniversary of [Rachel Carson’s seminal book,] “Silent Spring.” So, 2007 established us in a broader arena and was the beginning of the expansion of our message. We’ve been around since 1975, but until the centennial year, we were really perceived as a little historic house museum.
Q: What new initiatives have been started?
A: The Green Chemistry Roundtable, which we piloted last May as a result of our 2008 conference on green chemistry. It was a discussion on the institutional barriers to taking green chemistry mainstream. As a result of that work, this year we are doing a whole series of green chemistry roundtables, which will look at the entire production cycle from design to the regulatory environment to successes and challenges to end of product-life planning. Also coming out of our green chemistry efforts is our participation in the reform of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act to help people understand the issues involved.
Q: As head of this organization, what goals do you have for it next year?
A: We hope to use World Environment Day as a way to amplify our message by bringing biologist E.O. Wilson here and giving him a good platform to reach a lot of people with a very enthusiastic message. He’s a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, who was a collaborator with Rachel Carson. Another thing we’re doing is having the Rachel Carson Legacy Conference focus on the environmental health impact of the Marcellus shale well-drilling process. It’s a little controversial, but I think it raises a lot of questions that we need to get into the public eye.
Q: So if your organization was a person, what type of personality would you say it had?
A: Elegant, eloquent, scientifically grounded and forceful. We don’t shy away from the difficult issues, and when we take a position, it’s going to be tight, scientifically grounded and make an impact. We do memorable events and memorable publications. Rachel Carson was an elegant lady and very soft-spoken, but she had a huge punch.
Q: What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about your organization?
A: There are people who believe that Rachel Carson is responsible for the deaths of millions by DDT being banned. She didn’t say you never use pesticides. She wrote about DDT as an example of the impact of synthetic chemicals in her time, and she was urging precaution in putting synthetic materials into the biosphere. She said you should anticipate and prevent the environmental and health impacts of things, and the misconceptions around that are legion. The biggest tragedy is that this overshadows the abundance of wonderful, science-based information she wrote about oceans, ocean systems and the interrelatedness between people and the ocean, people and the land, people and the environment that they inhabit.
Q: Can you share a short story about an incident or event that illustrates the impact you believe your organization is having on your local community or the region?
A: Our Sustainable Feast has so many people involved in presenting it and participating in it, and now they are looking at ways to change how they relate to their food chain. I think that has been a growing impact. We find more and more people are aware of the fact that organically grown, locally grown, sustainably grown food is part of what makes this area special, and that is reconnecting people to their world in a very tangible way.
Q: Could you share a short story about an individual’s experience that captures what your organization is meant to be to the community?
Sometimes people who visit the homestead share with us that it means a great deal to know her work and to come here. I gave a tour of the house to a man who worked for PPG in Brazil and came here during the centennial. He was very moved to see this place. He had always heard about Rachel Carson. He took away materials for his daughters. His wife is a teacher and downloaded our curriculum. He bought every book we had and talked about how the principles of Rachel Carson are so needed in his country where they are just beginning to open up large unused parts of the environmental preserve in the Amazon.