In 2008, I founded the nonprofit organization Bay Area Green Tours (BAGT) to provide interactive, experiential field trips and events for public, private and educational groups, with the purpose of connecting them to Northern California’s environmental epicenter.
With a mission to “demonstrate the sustainable economy in action, inspire support of local green businesses and empower people to incorporate environmental responsibility and social justice into their personal and professional lives,” BAGT offers about 20 different bus and walking tours for organizations, schools, conferences, retreats and groups from places like senior centers and garden clubs. Topics include design/architecture/building, green collar jobs, social entrepreneurship, zero waste, renewable energy, transportation, water and the sharing economy. Some of the most popular tours focus on urban farming and sustainable agriculture, including wine and cheese. BAGT also provides unique, off-site events for business teams and private parties that want to have a tour, possibly combined with a lunch, barbecue, cooking class, hands-on experience at a farm or “moveable feast” spotlighting local food purveyors at exceptional restaurants.
It’s gratifying to expose local people to resources in their own backyards and to introduce foreign visitors from around the world to models they can replicate in their home communities. For example, on a zero waste tour for MBA students from Jordan, a visit to an e-waste recycling facility left a student excited to go back home and create a similar business there.
North Bay sustainability tours
In Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties, BAGT has taken guests to a variety of scenic farms, dairies and wineries so they can learn directly from a network of farmers and ranchers about sustainable practices, agricultural history and the issues affecting them today. BAGT has partnered with Organic Valley, The Commonwealth Club and Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) to produce tours where participants can taste, touch and see the benefits of cutting-edge, sustainable practices in the North Bay.
The organization recently journeyed to Napa Valley with a group of Australian Parliament members who were interested in the greening of the wine industry. In September, BAGT provided a North Bay tour for Pleasant Hill seniors, which included a visit to the Heirloom Exposition and Devoto Farms in Sebastopol. Occasionally, a client requests a customized tour, like the South Bay Raw Foods Meetup group BAGT introduced to a variety of inspiring North Bay tour stops: Café Gratitude, True North Health Center and Lydia’s Lovin’ Foods. On the road, BAGT shared information about the region’s history; the dairy, apple and wine industries; why organic food costs more; and about movements like Slow Food, Slow Money and food justice.
In April, BAGT brought Sir Francis Drake High School students to Devil’s Gulch Ranch, a diverse, 75-acre family farm in Nicasio, where they learned about sustainable and humane agricultural practices. Next they were introduced to seed preservation at the Petaluma Seed Bank, followed by a visit to the Marin County Food Bank.
When students have a chance to get into the field, the topics they’re studying come to life. They're able to engage more deeply in coursework while learning about the rapidly expanding green economy and industries that are helping to actively heal the environment. BAGT tours connect students to ideas and mentors, inspiring them to consider careers they may not have known existed. As a direct result of a BAGT experience, several students have decided to explore career paths such as waste management, solar energy, green industrial design, aquaponics and architecture.
Because of nationwide budget cuts, field trip programs have been almost completely eliminated; in some low-income and at-risk school districts, they no longer exist. BAGT is currently engaged in a crowdfunding campaign on Fundly.com to help take underserved youth out of the classroom for interactive and inspiring learning experiences that will prepare them for a greener future (donations to the crowdfunding campaign are tax deductible).
Feedback from partners and participants
Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch says he values BAGT “getting people out to visit green projects, whether it be solar or wind energy, ecological restoration or organic farming operations. Participants are able to see what we do and ask questions, starting a dialog between the consumer and producer, learning about where their food comes from and how to be critical thinkers.”
Constance Washburn, who’s served as Marin Organic and MALT’s education director, agrees: “One of the most important things BAGT is doing is letting people witness positive efforts in a variety of fields, showing them that a sustainable future is possible and introducing them to the people who are making it a reality.”
Robert Girling, professor in the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University and co-founder of the Sustainable Enterprise Series, is also a big fan. “BAGT shows people how green businesses work from the inside,” he says. “I went on one of their high school tours and observed education being taken out of the classroom and into the world. When the students saw examples of cutting-edge businesses creating a sustainable economy, instead of just reading about them, it made the theoretical concrete.
“There’s a great need for this kind of learning in the general population, and we will all benefit if more students have access to these types of potentially life-changing experiences.”
Marissa LaMagna is founder of BAGT (www.bayareagreentours.org). Her career has included working as an educator, community organizer, environmental activist, natural foods chef, film editor, radio producer and yoga teacher. For more information about how to support BAGT’s efforts, please visit: www.fundly.com/keepfieldtripsalive. To become involved with BAGT or receive information, call (510) 704-0379 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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