Growing up on a farm in the Catskill Mountains in New York State has shaped 22-year-old Iris Fen Gillingham’s perspective of the world in a way that imbues her with an appreciation for the land and environment that provides for her family and community. Iris wants society at large to be just as appreciative of the environment as she is, which is why the farmer and climate justice and agriculture activist has dedicated herself to improving society’s relationship with the environment by protesting against fracking in New York State and immersing young people in farm life.
Iris was born and raised on Wild Roots Farm in the Catskill Mountains, drinking from the same well that her grandmother drank from. Iris and her family grow and raise all their food, get their energy from solar panels, and heat their home using a sustainable wood-burning stove.
Having such a close and reciprocal relationship with the environment, Iris has experienced the effects of climate change very acutely. “Between 2001 and 2006, we experienced two 100-year floods, and one 500-year flood,” Iris tells In The Know. “It devastated our small town. It washed away all of the top soil on the 10 acres in the valley that we grow our organic vegetables on. It changed the course of our family’s life.” As a result, Iris’ family was no longer able to continue to make a living growing organic vegetables.
Around the same time as the flooding, Iris explains that landmen, aka oil workers, started coming into the community with the intention of doing hydraulic fracturing to extract the natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. Iris’ community was extremely wary of fracking because other communities across the Delaware River had already experienced it to detrimental results,including being unable to drink their drinking water, and farmers’ animals getting sick.
Iris began attending anti-fracking actions as a child with her dad, and has continued to take action against climate change. At age 14, Iris joined Earth Guardians, where she met other youth involved in environmental and climate justice. From there, she got involved with Zero Hour, a youth-led movement taking action against climate change. Iris has participated in actions that have shut down pipelines, banned fracking in New York State, and banned fracking in the Delaware River Basin.
Iris truly believes that a reciprocal relationship with the environment is key to effecting change. To facilitate a closer relationship with the earth, Wild Roots Farm offers 9-week-long immersions where young people get to experience farm life up close and personal. People learn about foraging wild plants, raising animals, and how to spin sheep’s wool. “I’ve just seen it have incredible, thought-provoking experiences for people,” said Iris.
As far as the future is concerned, Iris plans to continue to do the work to improve society’s relationship with the environment in order to foster a greater appreciation for it. “Living in a society that values reciprocity, regenerative lifestyles, community, our food, our water, our relationship to everything around us; this work is really important,” shares Iris. “And I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be within a movement that is changing the course of history and shaping the future that future generations will have on this planet.”
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