Farmers, activists, a legal group, and a canoe company are among the 12 entities to receive awards from the Hoosier Environmental Council at our annual Greening the Statehouse event October 15, 2022. Each year, HEC staff hand-selects organizations and people passionately defending Indiana’s air, land and water, and public health while serving as role models, educators, thought leaders, and innovators in environmental stewardship. We are proud to announce the complete list of 2022 awardees:
Earth Charter Indiana (ECI), a statewide climate justice organization, was recognized as the Organization of the Year. ECI generates local and intergenerational solutions to the climate crisis by working with youth to bring their voices on the issue into the public policy realm to advance resiliency and the principles of the Earth Charter, a global guide to responsible action for a livable planet. Among the many activities of ECI is the group’s annual Climate Leadership Summit convening citizens and local government officials to discuss proactive programs and policies in response to climate change. Another key initiative is The Thriving Schools Challenge, a green schools program for Indiana K-12 schools, with an emphasis on civic engagement and circular economy. ECI also hosts Resiliency Coordinators in 12 Indiana cities, focused on advancing local climate-related projects. “Earth Charter’s work in effectively engaging with and supporting young people to promote community-wide climate action plans has been groundbreaking, and has led to positive and measurable actions in many Indiana communities,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director of HEC. “They have literally written the book on climate activism at the grassroots level.”
Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), a public interest environmental legal advocacy organization, was named Legal Advocate of the Year. ELPC leads strategic environmental advocacy campaigns to protect natural resources, the Great Lakes, and improve environmental quality across the region, using a multi-pronged approach of legal strategy, economic analysis, public policy advocacy and research, and communications tools to address challenges to the environment and the economy. “The attorneys and policy staff at ELPC are first-rate, and their track record in defending the Great Lakes and other waters and natural resources of the midwest is unmatched,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director of HEC. “Most recently, ELPC represented HEC in a successful legal action against a Lake Michigan polluter. The consent decree that resolved the case included a $3 million civil penalty, substantial new pollution control improvements at the Cleveland Cliffs Burns Harbor plant, increased water monitoring, and donation of 127 acres of open space that will eventually become part of Indiana Dunes National Park. It’s this kind of tenacious advocacy that we are recognizing with this award.”
Fourth generation farmer, Sugar Creek steward, and conservation cropping innovator Kenny Cain of Darlington, Ind. (Montgomery County) received a Lifetime Achievement Award. While developing, modeling, and teaching sustainable farming practices, Cain has worked for organizations that educate the community about how to protect soil and water quality. The Cain family routinely plants 50% of his acreage in cover crops, a practice that naturally suppresses soil diseases and pests while providing food and habitat for wildlife, beneficial insects, and pollinators. And he serves on the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative steering committee, a statewide working group that helps farmers apply science-based methods to improve soil health. Cain is a charter member of Friends of Sugar Creek and worked on the Upper Sugar Creek Watershed Project. “Kenny Cain is the epitome of the modern farmer-conservationist – a steward of the land and soil, and the well-known river that runs through it, improved by his stewardship. He inspires those around him, seeking to pass on his experience and wisdom. Indiana has other farmers like him, but needs many more,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director at HEC.
Dyer, Ind.-based pedestrian and bike transportation planner and leader Mitch Barloga – active transportation manager for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) – was named Sustainability Champion of the Year. Since 2003, Barloga has worked with governmental entities in Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties to design and secure funding for pedestrian and bicycle facilities in the NIRPC region and beyond. He holds a masters degree in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Barloga serves as board president of the Greenways Foundation of Indiana and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. “You’d be hard pressed to find a more determined, passionate voice for trails than Mitch Barloga,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director of HEC. Northwest Indiana has been a leader in bike and pedestrian trail development, and Mitch spreads his enthusiasm statewide through his work with the Greenways Foundation. We are delighted to recognize his work.”
The Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) at Indiana University has been named Climate Advocate of the Year. ERI, with the expertise of Managing Director Sarah Mincey, has been a leader in urban forest management issues statewide by supporting community-led work to study and plan for stronger green infrastructure. This year, ERI helped revive the state’s Urban Forestry Advisory Council which is now planning to help communities steward urban forests for climate resilience. “With an active council, Indiana can now receive federal funding for city tree conservation work,” said Paula Brooks, environmental justice program manager at HEC. ERI is also recognized for its McKinney Climate Fellows (MCF) program that places undergraduate and graduate students with non-profits, governments and businesses for three-month terms of focused work on climate, sustainability, and community resilience projects. “HEC and at least 130 other organizations have benefited from hosting a fellow since the MCF program began in 2017,” said Brooks. Through ERI’s McKinney Midwest Climate Project, the institute connects Hoosier communities and organizations to experts and resources to help mitigate local greenhouse gas emissions and implement climate solutions and adaptation strategies.
Jerry Sweeten, Ph.D., of Denver, Inc., co-founder of Ecosystems Connections Institute, LLC and professor emeritus of biology and environmental studies at Manchester College, was named River & Streams Steward of the Year. Dr. Sweeten’s career has included educating students about water quality and researching nonpoint source pollution, nutrient and sediment pollution, and the reintroduction of endangered freshwater mussels in the Eel River. After his retirement in 2019, building on a lifelong passion for water quality research, Dr. Sweeten and three collaborators started Ecosystems Connections Institute, a company that provides holistic aquatic ecosystem restoration. The company’s work focuses on removing low head dams and establishing innovative fish passage solutions to allow aquatic species the room they need to move up and downstream. “Jerry has done so much for stream and river restoration,” said Dr. Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director at HEC. “It is our pleasure to get to honor his work.”
Ducks Unlimited Indiana, a non-profit that conserves wetlands for wildlife and people, has been named the Wetlands Steward of the Year. This year, Ducks Unlimited Indiana announced an initiative to help farmers plant 75,000 acres of cover crops in Indiana and Michigan that will improve soil health and reduce sediment running into Indiana waterways. Over the years, this organization’s conservation program has restored or enhanced nearly 33,000 acres of wetlands and adjacent habitat. In the last two years, the organization increased its focus on wetland policy in Indiana including significant engagement on the 2021 anti-wetlands bill at the Indiana statehouse. This bill, now law, drastically reduces wetland protection—making Ducks Unlimited’s soil health and conservation project even more vital. “Indiana is part of the Mississippi flyway for migrating birds,” said Dr. Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director at HEC. “Wetland restoration by Ducks Unlimited means healthier populations of waterfowl, but it also benefits the many species in Indiana that are dependent on wetlands.”
The Coalition Against the Mid-States Corridor, formed in 2019 by a group of concerned Dubois County residents opposed to the proposed new terrain highway, received one of two Frontline Organizers of the Year Award. Since 2020, the grassroots group has collected over 8,000 signatures petitioning against the Mid-States Corridor, hosting two rallies, four town hall meetings, and workshops for helping residents with letters to the editor. The Coalition has met with project managers from INDOT, IDEM, and the Federal Highway Administration Indiana Division to speak on behalf of preserving land for purposes other than roadbuilding. “The Coalition is a formidable grassroots group on the frontlines, working on many levels to raise awareness, engage citizens, and build alliances to fight an unneeded, environmentally-destructive new terrain highway proposed through some of Indiana’s best woodlands, farmland, and natural areas,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director for HEC. “Matched against well-funded, influential project supporters, the Coalition has more than held its own, slowing down a controversial project that seemed headed for easy approval.” “We continue to pressure the Governor, local government officials, other political leaders, INDOT, the FHWA and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation,” said Coalition member Mark Nowotarski. “Our fight is not over.”
Don’t Leave it to Beaver (DLITB), a Hamilton County grassroots group organized to halt the approval of a sand and gravel mining pit near the banks of the White River, was honored as the second of two Frontline Organizers of the Year. DLITB was formed by neighbors in the Potter’s Woods and Fairfield Farms subdivisions in 2020 in response to a application co-filed by Beaver Materials and Hamilton County Parks to rezone a 50-acre area of residential and farmland along the White River, directly above the main aquifer supplying water to all of Noblesville. Studies of the site showed moderate risk to the local drinking water supply, and risk of air and noise pollution that would likely negatively impact wildlife habitat and migratory bird flight paths. Through thorough research and consultation with industry professionals, DLITB won the fight to prevent rezoning of this ecologically sensitive area; in June 2022, seven out of nine members of the Noblesville Common Council voted to reject the gravel pit. “DLITB was able to halt a mining operation in the floodplain of the White River. Its advocacy efforts really speak to the power that community organizing can have on shaping the environment,” said Susie McGovern, senior water policy associate at HEC.
Katy Rogers, local/organic food advocate, received the Sustainable Agriculture Champion of the Year Award. Rogers is a grower, an Indiana native, and manager of Teter Organic Farm in Noblesville. The farm’s mission is to increase food security, provide ecological education, and build community. As a child, Rogers witnessed up close the loss of small family farms at the expense of people and the environment. She studied agriculture at Purdue, and then earned a political science degree from Indiana University which led her to work in the communications and campaign management fields while maintaining her passion for food justice. In 2011, she began her own farm and her first Community Supported Agriculture program—which led to advocacy work for the hungry. “Katy’s work is about improving human and environmental health through farming, education, and advocacy,” said Jeni Jenkins, senior special projects coordinator at HEC. “Katy’s passion for growing healthy food and regenerating the health of not just the acreage used for farming, but for all of the surrounding land as well, is contagious. Hoosiers are lucky to have her working for food system reform in Indiana.”
Canoe Country, a river outfitter in Delaware County on the West Fork of the White River, was given an award for Distinguished Service to Indiana’s environmental community. Canoe Country offers float trips, by canoe, kayak, or tube, on a beautiful stretch of the White River which includes Mounds State Park. Owner Robbie Mixell purchased an existing canoe livery in 2006, and continues to operate Canoe Country just across the river from Daleville’s Shellabarger Park, and today hosts over 40,000 paddlers a year. Besides hosting seven annual Rides for the Mounds—HEC’s bicycle outing highlighting the importance of protecting the White River valley—Mixell has outfitted numerous float trips to encourage community leaders to experience the river. “Since 2015, Robbie and his business have supported the work of the Hoosier Environmental Council’s campaign to establish the Mounds Greenway, a linear park and trail system along the White River,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director at HEC. “Robbie also was a leading community voice against the proposed Mounds reservoir. Robbie’s service to the cause of a healthy, free flowing White River and the Mounds Greenway campaign is laudable.”
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box received the Improving Kids Environment award for her work to prevent lead poisoning in children. Under Dr. Box’s leadership, Indiana has made key strides in advancing lead safety for the youngest Hoosiers: convening a Lead Advisory Committee in 2019; lowering the blood lead threshold to acknowledge that low-level exposure can have irreversible, lifelong impacts on children; allocating funds from HEA 1007 (passed in 2021) to support the costs of providing in-home nursing and environmental inspection support to families living in leaded housing; working alongside partners at IHCDA to secure more than $6.7 million in funding for lead abatement and healthy homes upgrades over the next three years; and championing legislation that takes effect in January 2023 that will require universal screening for lead in young children across the state. “Since lead poisoned children don’t reach their full potential, lead poisoning stops our state from reaching its full potential,” said Dr. Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director at HEC. “Around 2,000 Hoosier children per year have had elevated blood lead levels in recent years. Dr. Box’s work is bringing that number down.”
Please join HEC in congratulating these exceptional environmental stewards!