Iris Fen Gillingham, 22, has devoted the last few years to protesting against fracking in New York State, which she calls home.
IRIS FEN GILLINGHAM: When I was growing up, I did not think that I would be so passionate about sharing my family's farm and lifestyle with people. But as I've gotten older and started to see that how I grew up was so different, it has shaped my perspective of the world and my appreciation. I appreciate every glass of water and everything that I eat because I know what it is taken to protect those forests and land.
Hello. My name is Iris Fen Gillingham. I'm 22 years old, and I'm a farmer, climate justice and agriculture activist from the Catskill Mountains. I was born and raised on Wild Roots Farm. I grew up drinking from the same well that my grandmother drank from. I have had the opportunity, because of my childhood, to really understand what it's like to live within your ecosystem.
We grow and raise all of our own food. We have solar panels that give us light. We heat our home with masonry heater, which uses radiant heat, so it's a very sustainable wood-burning stove. Climate change, for me it's very grounded in the people. It's very grounded in the communities. And those communities are dealing with some of the most extreme impacts of climate change.
Between 2001 and 2006, we experience two 100-year floods and one 500-year flood. It devastated our small town. It washed away all of the topsoil on the 10 acres in the valley that we grew our organic vegetables on. It changed the course of my family's life. We were not able to continue making a living growing organic vegetables.
Around the time of the flooding, landmen started coming into our community telling folks that they were going to do hydraulic fracturing and extract the natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. Other folks across the Delaware River had already experienced fracking. It came to light that they weren't able to drink their drinking water. And the fact that farmers' animals were getting sick, that was demonstrating the straight-out lies that landmen were telling us.
But going through that experience helps me to better understand why climate change is something that we really need to be taking action around. My journey started with my dad bringing my brother and I to actions he was involved in. One time I testify for the protection of the Delaware River Basin and my watershed to keep a moratorium on fracking. I remember feeling like I wanted to know more about what was going on, and I wanted to continue taking action.
When I was 14, I came across Earth Guardians, and I applied to be on their National Youth Council. And I just remember being there and being like, oh my gosh. I have found my family. Jamie Margolin from Zero Hour reached out to me and asked if I wanted to get involved because they were putting together a project with a group of young people around climate action. I was like, you know what? I would love to connect with some more young people.
A couple of months later, we were marching through the streets of DC in the pouring rain calling for climate action and getting all of these young people on Capitol Hill lobbying with their elected officials. It was an incredible experience. Pipelines like the Constitution Pipeline, we shut down. Banning fracking in New York State, banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin in my watershed have been incredible, huge wins.
It's incredible to see that everywhere you go, there's young people who are taking action, who are leading campaigns, who are sharing their voice, sharing their work, using their passions to make the change happen. Our society's relationship with the environment is part of what has gotten us here. There's an extreme disconnect.
I started doing Wild Roots Farm Immersions on our farm. Young people got college credit to come for nine weeks and actually immerse themselves on the farm, live in our little off-grid cabin. Introducing people to foraging wild plants, and to meeting the sheep, and learning how to spin, and make a hat like the hat I'm wearing. Because having that reciprocal relationship with our environment is so important in today's day and age, and I think a lot of people are craving that. Exploring that on the farm, I've just seen it have incredible thought-provoking experiences for people.
My hope for the future is that we are living in a society that values reciprocity, regenerative lifestyles, community, our food, our water, a relationship to everything around us. This work is really important, 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.