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Thursday, February 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 12.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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They're here, they're sincere, they're Bioneers!
Fitchburg conference is like Burning Man for eco-idealists
Kristen Joiner: Shining a light on local visionaries.
Kristen Joiner: Shining a light on local visionaries.
Credit:Carolyn Fath

The aim, says Kristen Joiner, "is to shine a light on what's happening with our local visionaries," to bring them together with other regional leaders and engage the public in a cross-pollinated, trans-disciplinary meeting of minds. The agenda: food, water, energy, transportation, the environment, health, education, spirituality, art, music and politics.

Sustain Dane's executive director explains that this is the abstract for "Bringing Bioneers to Wisconsin," scheduled for Nov. 13-14 at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute. Co-hosted by BTCI and Sustain Dane, the conference aims to induce creative conversations that point the way toward sustainability and social justice.

The model is imported from the annual Bioneers Conference held in San Rafael, Calif. Coined in 1990 by author, environmental activist and filmmaker Kenny Ausubel, bioneer was conceived as a noun for people inspired by the lessons of nature's design to pursue effective solutions to environmental crises. The term has since evolved to encompass people working toward cultural as well as biological diversity, and seeking systemic strategies for restoring a more broadly defined environment to health.

Though the noun has also been co-opted by bio-engineers and biotech firms, more than 12,000 people flock to northern California each fall for the original Bioneers Conference, engaging with presenters like author and foodways critic Michael Pollan and Mari Margil, associate director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

DVDs of these and selected other presenters from last month's national gathering will be part of the Madison conference programming, but live bodies dominate the schedule. Among them: Ven. George Churinoff of Deer Park Buddhist Center; Design Coalition architect Lou Host-Jablonski; Next Generation CEO Rebecca Ryan; and representatives from the Center for Resilient Cities, Montana's Biomimicry Institute, DreamBikes and Friends of Lake Wingra.

Phil Lewis - the emeritus UW-Madison landscape architecture professor renowned for his far-sighted work on the impact of regional design, settlement patterns and transportation corridors on cultural and ecological diversity - further defines the conference as recipient of the first-ever Bringing Bioneers to Wisconsin Award. His concept for Wisconsin's Driftless Area as a protected biosphere reserve (amid the vast circle city defined by Chicago, Minneapolis, Green Bay and the Quad Cities) renders him a bioneer of the first order.

The schedule also includes performances by First Wave Poets and other spoken-word artists, musicians including the Tony Castañeda Latin Jazz Sextet, and displays by a handful of visual artists. Joiner expects the presence of the creative class to fertilize the proceedings, lending the sense of an "experience" that inspires innovative thinking.

In addition to BTCI and Sustain Dane, sponsors including MATC, Organic Valley, the UW's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Isthmus/ and more than 20 other entities hint at the prospects for the desired synergy.

"Southern Wisconsin is a leading region for bioneers," Joiner observes. "I think we're one of the leading regions in the country in terms of people working on sustainability."

A native of Madison, Joiner says the growing convergence of sustainability initiatives is what lured her back to her hometown after 10 years in New York City. "When I was in New York, it felt like Madison was one of the leaders in thinking about sustainability," she says. "I wanted to come be a part of it."

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