February 18 Questions: Mark Smallwood

by Sue Taggart

Each month we will ask a new eco-maven 18 questions about his or her life, occupation and advice for other like-minded people. This month, we spoke with “Coach” Mark Smallwood of the Rodale Institute.

  1. What is your name (and age)?  “Coach” Mark Smallwood
  2. What is your occupation? Executive Director of the Rodale Institute.
  3. Do you have a “green” memory growing up? Sure, lots.  And I’m still growing up, by the way.  I remember as a small boy I would help my grandmother in the garden by holding my end of the string, so she get her string lines just so, to plant spring onions in a nice straight line.  We composted and returned it all to the garden.  We canned.  We had had cherry, plum, apple and pear trees, one each, and ate those fruits seasonally.
  4. What’s your favorite meal? Fresh pesto on pasta with fresh tomato.  All ingredients for the pesto picked fresh from the garden, put in the processor, and then put on the pasta all in one fell swoop.
  5. Who/What inspires you to be more “green” in your life? Well, I live in a world where we don’t point things out and say, ‘that’s green,’ or ‘that’s sustainability.’  It’s a living Earth.  It’s mostly green.  We are more likely to point out what should be avoided by saying, ‘that’s toxic,’ or ‘that is synthetic.’  My grandmother is the one who helped to bring me up seeing life that way.  I do wear something green everyday just to give myself a trigger to remind myself to be a better steward from day to day.  I also make it a point to thank all of the plants and animals that were here before us.  That’s why we’re here today.
  6. Where on the “green scale” do you fall? Very dark green.
  7. What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of your job? The most challenging part of the job is always funding.  It’s very rewarding when visitors come here to the farm and maybe they haven’t really looked into what organic means, beyond a grocery label.  We host an endless amount of ‘ah ha moments.’  Our farm is a destination for inspiration and it rejuvenates us in our mission when we see that inspiration happen for the first time, or in a new way for someone when they come to visit us.
  8. Where’s your “greenspot”: food, bodycare/beauty, oceans, home or neighborhood, explain: J.I. Rodale, the founder of the Rodale Institute and the organic movement in America, wrote these words back in the 1940’s; “Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People.”  He was directly concerned about the rise of chemical agriculture.  Now, I have been a beekeeper for a long time.  And I consider the Earth to be our ‘hive,’ our colony.  Everything is interconnected and interdependent.  Our food and cosmetics have direct effects on our oceans, homes & neighborhoods.  There is no aspect of human living that does not need to improve when it comes to the ultimate goal of a healthy ‘hive.’
  9. Where do you turn for your news? I don’t necessarily go seek news.  I spend more energy working to create ‘news.’
  10. What is one environmental change you vow to make in the next year? I vow to take our message to mainstream America to create a massive awakening.
  11. If you could trade places with one person from any time in history (past or present) for one day—who would it be and why? Muhammad Ali.  I look up to him for having deep values and taking a strong stance.
  12. You have a meeting with the leader of every country in the world. You have 30 seconds to tell them anything you want. Go! Organic agriculture is the answer to many of our problems including food security, economic viability and climate change.
  13. You have the chance to send one tweet to all the tweeps in the world. Let’s hear it in 140 characters, or less! It’s time to feed your children.  Will you feed them food grown using Biology or Chemistry?
  14. If there was one industry/product that you could make more eco-friendly, what would it be? Agriculture, of course.
  15. Where in the world would you most like to be right now? Right here, right now.
  16. What is the best book you have read recently? Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson
  17. What makes you cringe? The label: “All natural.”  There are no standards whatsoever to say what that means.  Lots of food products labeled “All Natural,” contain GMOs, for instance.  And if I wanted to, I could claim that my car is ‘All Natural.’
  18. What do you want your legacy to be? When I make choices, I imagine my grandchildren asking me, 40 years down the road, “So, were you involved in all of that?”  And I will have one of two answers.   “Yes, I was involved.  And I am sorry.  We blew it.  We left you with a world that is worse off than we arrived.” Or, “Yes, I was involved.  And I’m proud of the work that we did at the Rodale Institute.”  I hope to pass the torch while it’s bright, to achieve things previously thought impossible.


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