Amanda Parker is Cowgirl Creamery's Managing Director, joining us over 2 years ago with a background in business development and specialty cheese. Amanda began her journey working in cheese 12 years ago working at the vaunted Murray's Cheese in New York City, where she grew their beloved Manhattan cheese counter into a national business. She stands by the idea of dairy being used as a force for good, and is committed to maintaining the role that Cowgirl Creamery plays as a community hub and supporter of a local, regenerative, organic food systems.
Amanda recently met with participants and organizers of Project Green Challenge (a month of student-led climate initiatives) to reflect on leadership and resilience during a challenging year:
When Judi Shils, the dynamic and passionate founder and Executive Director of Turning Green and the Conscious Kitchen, invited me to spend my Saturday afternoon with a group of climate-conscious and environmentally-focused students, I accepted with a great deal of humility.
We were gathered for the culmination of Project Green Challenge, 30 days of daily challenges for high school and college students to better understand how their actions impact the environment, raising overall consciousness and empowering this group of the young, climate-activated leaders of tomorrow. Like many things this year, this weekend looked very different than years past, but even this virtual “eco-summit” served as a true showcase for the passion and drive of all involved.
From a total of 4,572 participants across all 50 states and 85 countries, 16 finalists joined us for panels, speeches and breakout sessions. Students from Indiana to India, Colombia to California kicked off their day with words from Senator Cory Booker, whose work on the Green New Deal underpins his commitment to attacking climate change. The filmmakers of Kiss the Ground spoke of their work with Bay Area local Farmer Al of Frog Hollow Farm in a panel on the tremendous potential of soil regeneration. And Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, Debbie Raphael, inspired these young changemakers-in-training with her words on merging her own passion for science with the power of public service.
Our panel was entitled “Resilience in a Time of Opportunity,” in many ways an appropriate topic both for this year of challenges as well as a reaffirmation of the need for our planet to survive its own challenges. I was joined by Laurel Hanscom, CEO of the Global Footprint Network, pioneers in their data-driven approach to calculating environmental footprint and Earth Overshoot Day , and Susan Griffin-Black, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of EO Products, whose organic beauty and cleaning products have long led the charge on positive environmental impact—and whose business has shifted drastically during the pandemic due to the overwhelming need for sanitizer and soap.
We spoke of the difficulties of leadership, of navigating change and the challenges of cultivating resilience through tough times. Representing Cowgirl Creamery, our commitment to organics and our local agricultural traditions and food systems, I shared my own leadership lessons of such a strange year in management: we have worked hard to keep our people safe and healthy through regular communication and extensive environmental safety protocols, but still have had to make difficult decisions about how to do so. I shared that I truly believe that today’s difficulties will become our future successes, as long as we remain resilient and flexible, stay true to our mission and values and have the foresight to know that hindsight will illuminate all the things we are learning now.
The students were truly inspiring, their work in Project Green Challenge a testament to their beliefs in their own ability to change the world. Their questions were poignant and relevant: what does it mean to have pushed back Earth Overshot day by three whole weeks? What will that mean to their generation, let alone our own? How can their generation embed education on these topics into their formal curriculum? Could we teach more conscious consumerism, better connecting where their dollars go; who or what do they help and who or what do they hurt?
I was particularly struck by a question from Ethan, a high school student from West Lafayette, IN. He was grappling, he said, with what it could mean to really be a sustainability leader in his future career, and how do those of us that operate for-profit businesses reconcile the potentially opposing forces of capitalism and social responsibility? I shared our belief at Cowgirl that in our own little corner of specialty cheese and the broader dairy industry, we hold that we can do good through our own growth. Through our success, we can embed more success in our communities, both our own employees and our local towns and counties. Our growth allows for the growth of our dairy partners in West Marin, whose work with organics and regenerative practices continue to not only counteract but offset the climate change issues we were gathered to address. And we have great hope that our focus on growing our sustainability initiatives in incremental steps-- reduction of paper and water and energy usage, composting at all locations, replacing older generations of packaging with more sustainable materials-- can add up to greater and greater impact.
There is so much work ahead of us, to protect our precious and only Earth. And though the challenges may be great, there is hope yet for our future if we have this great group of climate leaders to watch—I know I am inspired and hopeful by these Project Green Challengers!