Saturday, October 8, 2022

HoCo Holler: Chiara D’Amore and CEI


Yesterday was The Day. It was the moment that the folks at Freetown Farm had been waiting for. The feature that had been filmed at the farm was finally going to be aired on the Today Show in NBC. If you missed it, here’s what all the excitement was about:

Freetown Farm is cultivating veggies - - and nurturing communities , Today Show, NBC

Moments like these are worthy of celebration. Sometimes they come and go in a blur and then we’re on to the next thing. Let’s stop and take some time to sit with this and examine what it means.

Freetown Farm is an arm of the Community Ecology Institute, founded by Columbia’s own Chiara D’Amore. “Brain child/passion project/life’s work” might be a good description of CEI, which contains not only Freetown Farm but also Families in Nature, Roots & Wings Learning Community, Green Seeds Internships, and Nourishing Gardens.

You can learn a lot about the mission of CEI at their website but you can’t learn a thing about the founder. I had to go to her own personal website to find that.

Chiara D’Amore, Educator & Reseacher

I hold a PhD in Sustainability Education, lead the Community Ecology Institute, and teach graduate courses. My research focuses on the importance of the human connection with the natural environment for personal, societal, and environmental well-being. 

I first learned about Dr. D’Amore back in the days when she was running a local group called Columbia Families in Nature. Its mission seemed pretty straightforward. Children should grow up having hands-on experiences in nature from their earliest years. These experiences would support physical and emotional health and would sow the seeds for a lifetime of loving, learning about, and caring for the environment. Families in Nature was (and continues to be) a combination of experiencing joy in the present moment and an investment in the future of our planet.

My feelings about D’Amore back in the day ranged from curiousity to confusion to - - perhaps - - jealousy. This was clearly a person with a vision. As a woman who has had more than her share of Big Ideas over the years, I’ve experienced how women are often belittled, mocked, derailed, sidetracked, and sabotaged. It’s incredibly difficult to be a woman with a vision and see it through. 

When I watched the Today Show piece about Freetown Farm yesterday, this was what was on my mind. That video, and everything that exists within CEI today, represents the vision and relentless hard work of Chiara D’Amore. She would be the first to give credit to all of the volunteers, donors, and collaborators. But there had to be the one person who dreamed this dream and refused to let it go.

The fact that you can go to the Community Ecology Institute website and learn all about their mission and nothing about Dr. D’Amore is telling. I’m guessing it’s the work itself that matters to her most.

Every day brings an invitation to get involved in a CEI initiative. If you want to learn more, follow them on Facebook. They have opportunities both large and small. At the moment they are raising funds to turn an old barn at Freetown Farm into a classroom space. You can be a Barnraiser by donating to the project. Or you can sign up for a tour of Freetown Farm on November 12th or December 10th. 

Take a moment today to watch their video and to be grateful for a place like Freetown Farm. While you are at it, take some time to imagine what you could achieve if you absolutely, positively had the courage and conviction of someone like Chiara D’Amore.

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