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Encounters: Who Attends the Bioneers Conference?

Who comes to a Bioneers conference? What do people seek and gain from the experience? While it would be impossible to capture the diversity of people, drivers, and outcomes of a Bioneers conference, here’s a look at some attendees we happened to meet during one afternoon break. Who might you encounter at Bioneers?

By Amy Nelson

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Alli, who was attending her second Bioneers conference, was representing OXDX, a (Navajo) Diné-owned fashion company based in Tempe, Arizona. She was joined by OXDX owner and designer, Jared Yazzie, who was there to encourage indigenous youth to explore creative entrepreneurship.

Tami (L) and Nancy (R)

Tami is the Sustainability Education Coordinator for Partners for Sustainable Schools, a Eugene, Oregon-based non-profit working to integrate sustainability into K-12 education. She came to Bioneers to volunteer and recharge. Nancy is a compliance coordinator for Stillwater Sciences in Arcata, California. She came to Bioneers to gain inspiration from other passionate people who have not given up. “Over time, a shell can build around our hearts,” she said. “Bioneers breaks those shells and re-opens hearts.”


Sebastian, a documentary filmmaker, traveled from his home in Sweden to attend his first Bioneers conference and network with others who are using art to advance positive social and environmental change.


Digne, a San Francisco Bay Area native, just graduated from Freie University in Berlin with a degree in literature and communication. Her parents encouraged her to attend Bioneers, and she was glad she did, as the experience made her more aware of the urgency of the climate crisis. “I’m not even sure I want to have kids now,” she said, “but I do know I want to dedicate my career to this issue.”


Mayumi traveled to Bioneers from her home in Tokyo, Japan, where she teaches environmental ethics and sociology at the University of Tokyo. She was glad to have made the trip to attend her first Bioneers. She said that in Tokyo there has been “transboundary talk,” but little of it has been put into practice. “At Bioneers,” she said, “people from different generations and issues are truly trying to connect with each other.”

Tracy and Casey

Tracy and her son Casey came to Bioneers from different sides of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Tracy leads the Easton Economic Development Corporation on the Eastern Shore, and Casey works for Woodberry Kitchen, one of the state’s first farm-to-table restaurants in Baltimore. Tracy has been involved with Bioneers for years and thought it was time to introduce Casey to this inspiring, solutions-oriented community.

Autumn, Angel, and Salote

Angel, Salote, and Autumn, from Fort Defiance, Arizona, attended Bioneeers with Rez Refuge, a nonprofit focused on strengthening the development of Navajo community members through cultural identity, self-sufficiency, and social responsibility. This was the fourth Bioneers conference for Autumn, who is a program manager and mentor for Rez Refuge. For Angel and Salote, the conference was the culmination of an eight-month program in which they connected with other indigenous youth via virtual talking circles. “It has been great to experience the feeling of support here at Bioneers,” said Angel of his first Bioneers conference. “I will take back the memories and knowledge I have gained here and spread it to family and friends.”

Allison and the “Big Blue” Rainkeep

Allison, a Rhode Island-based sculptural artist, came to Bioneers to  showcase Big Blue, a water harvesting sculpture from her biomimetic, functional series of “RainKeeps.” Allison’s nature-inspired work has been exhibited widely and internationally, but it was important for her to come to Bioneers. “Bioneers people share my sense of urgency,” she said.

Kana Koa

Kana Koa is a seed saver, scholar-activist based in Berkeley, California. Through her program, Seed from Earth, she works to inherit and share traditional knowledge about seeds and farming to Japanese youth in Okinawa, Japan, Hawai’i , and other parts of the U.S.  This was her third Bioneers conference.


Suzanne, a San Francisco Bay area landscape designer, transformed her entire practice after attending her first Bioneers conference in 2008. The experience inspired her to study and become certified in permaculture design, to commit to deep ecology, and to use permaculture systems to emphasize soil building, water and energy conservation, and the use of local materials.


Richard is an artist who refers to himself as a “Coastodian.” He walks the beaches of Northern California collecting plastic debris and then transforms it into art that profoundly conveys the magnitude of humankind’s collective consumerism.


Chelsea’s traveled to Bioneers from Summer Lake, Oregon, where she is Residency Manager for the nonprofit PLAYA, which offers residencies and retreats for artists and scientists working toward positive change. This was Chelsea’s first Bioneers conference. “We’re getting a little jaded, and we need more imaginative and integrated pressure,” she said, of those who have labored in the environmental movement for decades. “It has been revitalizing to come to Bioneers.”

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