Sprouting not-for-profit prophets

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

If you’re a community activist/environmentalist, you might have been at The Sprout Fund’s bio-diversity symposium yesterday at the Cabaret Theater Downtown.

tommurphyTom Murphy (at left) made the keynote speech and got laughs as he related stories from his mayorhood days. Besides crime, he said, "the second biggest complaint I got was about deer, geese and beavers."

As the senior resident fellow and chair for urban development with the Urban Land Institute, he has let his hair grow a little. He still has the give-'em-hell about him. He rooted us on in our efforts to be revolutionary in a town that’s sometimes reticent "with an ‘It’ll do’ mentality: nice idea but no money; wrong place, or we just don’t have time for that.betheprophets

“You’re about the community will,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing, whether working in community gardens or in a watershed restoration, don’t think of it as just that. Think of it was part of a remarkable story we’re writing. Your job is to be the prophets.”

In the workshop that followed, 75 people in eight groups were asked to come up with ideas to promote biodiversity that Sprout might consider for grants later this year.

I jotted down a few tidbits that inspired us:

-- From Shannon Reiter of PA Cleanways: a statewide survey in 2005 of illegal dump sites turned up 5,098 holding more than 15,000 tons of waste, 33 percent within 15 feet of a waterway: “It’s going to take behavior training.”

-- From Tom Baxter of Friends of the Riverfront: Among the waste found in our local rivers, the top three are tires, plastic drinking cups and balls of every shape and size: “We’ll do an installation once we reach a critical mass of a few thousand balls.”

-- From Dan Volz of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at Pitt: About 800,000 pounds of dissolved solids reside in the Monongahela River and 13 waste-treatment facilities operate on the Mon River drainage areas. A new web-based blog and data tool, called, is being tested now to help people understand the impact of shale fracturing for natural gas extraction.

-- From Danielle Crumrine of Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest: Of 134 tree species in Pittsburgh, six species dominate. Nine percent are sycamores reaching the end of their lives and 6 percent are ash, “and it’s pretty inevitable we’re going to lose those” to the emerald ash borer.

From Kathy McGregor of Sylvania Natives, an enterprise that sells native plants and educates people about the critical role they play in fostering a biologically diverse environment: As pretty as they may be, carefully tended gardens full of non-native ornamentals are not friendly to insects, which we should be encouraging: “Without insects we wouldn’t have birds. Plant native plants and biodiversity will come.”

Finally, Joe Zgurzynski of ‘Burgh Bees told us why an increase in beekeeping is imperative. Colony collapse disorder is killing honey bees at an alarming rate: “We are losing 50 percent of our honey bees” while two-thirds of our food grows on plants that depend on the honey bee to pollinate it.

Despite much sobering information, the event was uplifting. Artist Leah Silverman created the graphic symposium’s story board from which this photograph was lifted. (It's much brighter than it appears here.)

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.