Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Session Overviews


Preserving Forests: Protecting Farmland, the Planet and Its People, and Biodiversity


John Seiler,Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech 


The importance of healthy forests for wood products, water quality and supply, biodiversity, public health, recreation and carbon sequestration have all received significant publicity in recent years.  Through proper forest management forests and trees can play a large role in sustainability of our environment. As populations increase forests themselves are threatened by urbanization and exploitation. Further, the ecological benefits of forests, groves of trees, and specimen trees in landscapes differ, but are all important. Within this context, this interactive presentation will consider how sustainable agricultural practices can contribute to forest health and restoration of farmland and how urban forestry, including planting of trees and shrubs by churches and members of congregations can help to improve our environment and contribute to public health.


Preserving Farmland, Cultivating Farmers: Government Programs and Roles for Non-Profits in Agricultural Sustainability


James Baird, Mid-Atlantic States Director, American Farmland Trust


Over the next two decades, more than 230 million acres of farm and ranch land will transition from one owner to another.  When there is no effective succession plan for the farming operation, the farm is likely to go out of business, and the land is highly vulnerable to development. Similarly, because of high land values, beginning farmers face a high hurdle in getting started. Virginia and some other states have developed programs to help with such transitions. The role of conservation organizations, like the American Farmland Trust, is also important. Since its founding in 1980, the American Farmland Trust has been dedicated to saving America’s farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and supporting a sustainable future for farms. The presentation will consider how the American Farmland Trust and other farmland conservation organizations contribute as advocates and supporters to the reach and effectiveness of government programs supporting farmland preservation and farming transitions.


The Church, New Biology, and the Challenge of Climate Change: Heritage Plants and New Crops, Risks and Opportunities


Michael Rodemeyer, Executive Director, Science and Technology Policy Intern Program, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia (Former Executive Director of Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnolgy)


Tal Day, GMO Subcommittee Chair, The Episcopal Church Executive Council Committee on Science Technology and Faith


At its 77th General Convention, The Episcopal Church adopted a resolution (Resolution A 013) calling upon Episcopalians to inform themselves about the development of genetically engineered plants and patenting of genetically modified organisms, with particular attention to the consequences for biodiversity, agricultural sustainability, the environment, human nutrition, health and disease, and economic impacts on small farmers. Three years before, a National Academy of Sciences report, A New Biology for the 21st Centuryproposed that by building on developments in information technology, molecular biology, and other disciplines, a new biology could, with dramatically greater efficiency, develop food plants that are adapted to grow sustainably in changing environments, develop the knowledge and means to sustain ecosystems and biodiversity in the face of rapid change, expand sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, and establish the foundations for genomically grounded personal health care.

How these potentials for genetic engineering are to be realized and harms avoided depends upon sound assessments of risks, upon regulatory and monitoring schemes that incorporate sound risk assessments, and upon development of other necessary supports to foster sustainable farming practices and to address other poverty and resource constraints, including barriers to trade and development, and other issues. The presentation will provide an overview of genetic engineering and issues pertinent to the concerns for stewardship of creation and social justice identified by the General Convention.


Empowering Youth as Agents for Planetary Sustainability


Dave Finnigan, ClimateChangeisElementary.org.


Restoring an Ecology:  Personal Choices, Collective Action, Market Functioning and the Health of the Chesapeake Bay


 Marian Moody, Henrico/Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District
 Libby Norris, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
James Wesson, Virginia Marine Resources Commission


Since 2000, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has published annually or biennially reports  on the health of the Chesapeake Bay as measured along a number of indexes. The indexes assess types of environmental degradation that may be mitigated by various means:  through improved farming practices, by  better management of soil erosion and fertilizer inputs, buffering of streams to limit pollution by livestock; through mitigation of residential impacts, by better management of stormwater and better treatment of wastewater; through interventions in the Bay itself, by oyster gardening, planting of underwater grasses, and other means.  The prospects for success of these measures implicate economic incentives, market functioning, collective action, education, and personal choice, all of which are important. There is need as well for continued growth in scientific knowledge, e.g., knowledge of the food webs that sustain healthy fisheries, and of measures necessary to protect some fisheries from collapse.


The panel will discuss steps taken by the CBF, the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, and Virginia's Soil and Water Conservation Districts in collaboration to restore and protect bay health through oyster cultivation and other work of the CBF with farmers, homeowners, schools, municipal governments and others to promote other changes necessary to alleviate the human impact on the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay.