Starting at Home: Whidbey ECO Net Spotlight Article

April is Whidbey Earth and Ocean Month, and our partners at Whidbey ECO Network have been busy putting together a calendar of community events. See for more information. As Whidbey ECO Net’s April Spotlight Member Organization, we’ve been invited to share an update on our work stewarding the land and waters around Whidbey Island. Here is that update.

Starting at Home

by Marnie Jones

“This much is clear to me. If I can’t change my own life in response to the greatest challenge now facing our human family, who can? And if I won’t make the effort to try, why should anyone else? So I’ve decided to start at home, and begin with myself. The question is no longer whether I must respond. The question is whether I can turn my response into an adventure.” —Kurt Hoelting, The Circumference of Home

When our neighbor Kurt Hoelting pulled out a map and drew a circle around this place, he found that a radius of 100 kilometers just took in the peaks of the wild Olympics and the snowy Cascades, brushed the southern end of the Puget Sound, and encompassed the San Juan Islands and the outlet of the Salish Sea to the north. Our campus, known as Chinook, is adjacent to Hoelting’s acreage. Like his home, ours sits in the center of this 100-kilometer circle—the heart of Cascadia and the center of the Salish Sea. Hoelting spent a year exploring this region by kayak, on foot, by bike, and on public transportation, and emerged with an even deeper understanding of his personal role in stewarding it all.

At the Whidbey Institute, we know that our tie to the land is vitally important and deeply personal. Here, at Chinook, we care for our spaces and see how they care for us. Through events like our upcoming April 19 Place-Making Day and a community  BioBlitz, planned for early August, we’re working to develop a community ecological learning group as we deepen our commitment to land-based programming.

In the courtyard of Thomas Berry Hall is a bell with swimming salmon suspended by three ravens that reads, “Salmon are the seabright silver shuttles weaving our rain green world.” The Whidbey Institute lays at the headwaters of two creeks feeding the largest watershed on Whidbey Island, the Maxwelton Watershed, which drains into the salmon-bearing Maxwelton Creek. The bell signifies The Whidbey Institute’s bioregional perspective. We understand that the political, cultural, and geologic forces affecting Cascadia affect us all, and the Salish Sea physically connects our Whidbey Island home to a complex living ecosystem.

Some of our work on behalf of the planet is right here at home. On Thursdays throughout the growing season, volunteers gather at the Whidbey Institute’s Westgarden to cultivate vegetables and herbs using a variety of organic and biodynamic horticultural techniques. This working garden, part classroom and part pantry, supplies produce for the local food bank as well as for the onsite kitchen and for volunteers and staff members’ personal use. The garden is a place to learn and play for Waldorf Students, who share Chinook and attend school onsite. Chinook is also a popular destination for college students and others in pursuit of service learning opportunities. We have had a long standing service learning partnership with Edmonds Community College through their LEAF program, and now through the Center for Service Learning. These land-based projects have included ecological research, gardening, and land stewardship.

Our Westgarden Steward, Abigail Lazarowski, is also the Community Garden Leadership Training (CGLT) Co-Coordinator alongside Cary Peterson. Together, they head an inter-organizational effort to train future garden leaders, attracting talented young people from around the nation to serve on South Whidbey at the Good Cheer Food Bank, South Whidbey School District, and Whidbey Institute gardens. This program has ripples around the nation, as inspired young leaders nurture our students and then take their lessons home to regions as far away as the Atlantic coast.

In addition to garden stewardship and trainings which address ecosystem work close to home, the Whidbey Institute holds Signature Programs which leverage the energy of area change-makers to help address regional, national, and global environmental issues. The Cascadian Climate Collaborative, founded in 2013 by a leadership team which includes Kurt Hoelting, exists to help strengthen the climate movement by linking diverse groups of climate leaders, engaging with tough ethical and emotional questions, and encouraging wider participation. Strategic gatherings of climate leaders from our bioregion serve to build a more powerful and resilient climate movement:strengthening our connections by bringing climate leaders together in common conversation, deepening our commitments by addressing the difficult moral, emotional, and spiritual questions at the core of the work, and broadening our collaborations by bringing new constituencies into the movement. The public is welcome at our upcoming April 18 talk, “Getting Real about Our Climate Future“.

Like the Cascadian Climate Collaborative, Salish Sea Bioneers exists to bring change-makers together and strengthen our shared competence in addressing pressing social, moral, and ecological challenges. Bioneers is a national organization, founded 26 years ago, which seeks nature-inspired solutions to our most pressing environmental and social challenges. For five years, we’ve held Whidbey Island Bioneers Conferences at the Whidbey Institute to bring this work to our region. In 2014, we rebranded as the Salish Sea Bioneers to honor our growing focus on bioregional collaboration and movement-building. We are excited to collaborate with the myriad bioregional efforts that are underway to make our communities models of what is possible when we learn to work with, rather than against, nature. In this collaborative spirit, we recently launched a series of Salish Sea Bioneers Community gatherings, which take place monthly at Seattle Impact Hub. This learning community has already gathered together Seattle-area citizens to learn with leaders in community solar, compassionate communication, and community rights with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s Democracy School. By popular demand, we’ll be hosting a follow-up Democracy School meeting on April 8 with members of Seattle’s chapter to continue exploring community rights.

Whether we’re working in the fertile soil of the Westgarden at Chinook, gathering with regional climate leaders, or learning in the National Bioneers community about issues and solutions affecting us all on a global scale, one thing is certain: if we are going to take adequate care of the planet which so fully cares for each of us, we must begin with ourselves and start at home. We’re deeply grateful to ECO Net and the many individuals and organizations in our community who have taken this lesson to heart, and who live by example into our promising future.

The Whidbey Institute’s 100 acre campus includes miles of trails, which are open to the public from dawn to dusk daily. As this is a wildlife preserve, we ask that dogs be left at home. We also invite the public to our weekly Westgarden volunteer work parties, which take place from 9 to 12 each Thursday and which will extend to 4 pm as the harvest season draws nearer.

To learn more about the Chinook land or the programs of the Whidbey Institute, visit or email