Bioneers 2007

When Santa Fe–based husband-and-wife social entrepreneurs Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons formed their environmental advocacy organization in 1990, they coined the term Bioneers— a neologistic meld of “biological pioneer”—as its name.

Like the pioneers of yore, Bioneers and its adherents will once again be coming west, for the three-day Bioneers conference at the Marin Civic Center October 19 to 21, arriving not in Conestoga wagons but more likely in vehicles powered by hybrid engines and biodiesel fuel.

The annual event is part environmental trade show, part earth mother revival meeting and part homecoming of the progressive tribe. Panel discussions will range from the scientific (“Social and Regenerative Forestry”) to the feminist (“Girls Gone Mild? Reclaiming Feminism’s Radical Edge”) to the political (“Toward a Green Growth Alliance”). There will be imagineering of the loftiest kind (“Thinking Like Cathedral Builders”) and events that seem lifted from Farmer’s Almanac: at a Saturday night seed exchange, participants can “exchange genetic materials with neighbors,” a phrase that could be interpreted differently by less high-minded thinkers. Of course, as with any trade show there is also a celebratory bash, in this case a drumming and dance party following the seed exchange (check your genetic material at the door).

Before and after the drumming, the conference addresses global warming, environmental racism, food safety and other issues now becoming increasingly mainstream. Attendance at the annual conference keeps growing, and this year more than 3,000 people are expected to pay entrance fees ranging from $76 a day to more than $400 for the whole shebang; another 10,000 are expected to listen in from satellite locations.

Major speakers from Marin include Jay Harman, CEO of Pax Scientific, a San Rafael firm specializing in energy-efficient engineering, and Charlotte Brody, head of the Bolinas-based environmental health organization Commonweal.

The Bioneers conference is not held in Marin by accident; it moved here in 1998 after a stint in San Francisco. Marin has “the most conscious and sophisticated socially responsible thinkers living here,” according to cofounder Ausubel. “It’s a fertile place to be and the facility is perfect.”

The conference is a learning opportunity for local residents, adds county supervisor Charles McGlashan. “This county is the inheritor of visionaries in the environmental movement,” he says. “There is a lot of intellectual property as well as natural resources in Marin. Bioneers is an essential asset to us.”

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