By Everett Catts
Laura Turner Seydel can’t wait for tonight’s fifth annual Captain Planet Foundation Benefit Gala.
The sold-out event at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead, will include honors given to four environmental advocates. They are: primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall, Ph.D., the Exemplar Award; Marshall Shepherd, Ph.D., director of the University of Georgia’s atmospheric science program and host of the new Weather Channel Show “Weather Greeks,” the Protector of the Earth Award; and Fayetteville residents Carter and Olivia Ries, teenage founders of One More Generation, an environmental nonprofit dedicated to helping save endangered species, the Young Superhero Award.
The foundation, co-founded by Ted Turner and an offshoot of his cartoon TV show, “Captain Planet and the Planeteers,” works with children, impacting nearly eight million of them, according to its website. Seydel said it is important for the foundation to recognize both adults and children.
“We do try to recognize youth,” the Buckhead resident said. “Obviously a lot of their work goes under the radar screen and they're unsung heroes. It’s very important for adults to see the children out there making an effort to protect the environment. It makes them feel they should be more active in doing so. … Kids need to have role models just like adults need them. It’s very important to bring both the icons and the unsung heroes to the Atlanta community so our sponsors and attendees can become educated on the issue by experts and really know the issues and care. It really works to inspire people.”
Seydel said the foundation is also focusing on its Project Learning Garden, in which the organization has funded 700 school gardens in the U.S. over the past 23 years.
“A lot of them had gone fallow,” she said of an audit the foundation did on the gardens. “We looked at the barriers of gardens in schools and … what we found was first, they were not enculturated in the school, but usually tied to passionate parents or teachers and those went away when they left the school.”
So the foundation developed a three-pronged program to help schools sustain their gardens.
“First we went into the schools and created a program where teachers of all subjects could teach classes at the garden. … Students got excited about growing their own fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Georgia has the second highest obesity rates in the country. We were just at Garden Hills Elementary [in Buckhead] with some executives at Kaiser Permanente and the kids made a huge salad. We were able to prepare the salad in the classroom because we provided mobile kitchen carts.
Another overlay was the summer garden management. We’ve hired young urban growers, giving them their first job to maintain summer gardens. They maintained 60 gardens collectively. When all was said and done at the end of the summer, there were 4,000 servings donated to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. We have an agreement with Atlanta Public Schools to have 525 gardens in schools. We have the funding for 164 and will have 130 in the ground by the end of the year. Kids are also getting over their fear of nature.”
The third part of the program is teacher training, curricula and mobile kitchen carts offered free on the foundation’s website. The project has expanded into California and elsewhere.
“We want to make sure every school has a garden with these overlays and children can benefit from understanding their life support system, the importance of clean air and clean water. … The program is already in six countries and 300 clubs signed up,” Seydel said.
She also said the foundation’s small grants program’s deadline to apply online is Jan. 31.
“There are 30 additional gardens and we’re looking for applications from schools who want a Project Learning Garden in their school,” Seydel said.
Regarding ways for anyone to aid the environment, she said there are simple things people can do.
Seydel recalled helping found the Zero Waste Zone, a program downtown Atlanta restaurants, hotels and event venues, in partnership with the Georgia Restaurant Association, adopted about five years ago to keep the area from losing out on major events and conventions. It was so successful that it spread to Midtown and Buckhead and was adopted by the National Restaurant Association.
“The three big dealmakers were the fact that spent grease was turned into biodiesel, everything in the [building] was recycled - including pallets, food cans, aluminum and glass - and food residuals were composted instead of going to landfills and food that was good was donated to hungry people according to the Good Samaritan laws. … We did it that way but anybody can strive to have a Zero Waste Zone in their home, office, school or church. It’s about waste conservation. Recycling is a must.
“We also have to learn to live with the animals on the Earth.”