The EcoGrrl Interview: Jenny



I just adore Jenny!  I originally met her when she was looking to make a change in her career, then when I started my own business, I ended up recruiting her for my very first client as their VP of Software Engineering along with also hiring most of her team. She has an incredible blend of backgrounds – to name a few, her degree is in forestry, she’s lived in Norway, she led a team of university web professionals, worked as an executive at a photographic software firm, and now works at a company doing the earth some good using technology to aid in marine/coastal planning. She’s also a mom, a runner, a friend, a leader, and a damn cool individual.  I’ll let her tell you more through her answers…

What or who inspires you most? I am inspired by so many “what’s” and “who’s” – often by surprise and frequently, which is nice.  The common connection among them all are the qualities of courage and authenticity.  I love the authenticity of nature – the boldness of sunsets, the comfortable diversity of the forest canopy, the persistence of a stream.  The recognition of these moments inspires me.  I am inspired to my core when I see courage in others – courage to do what needs to be done, to go out on a limb, to call truth, to be quiet, to laugh.  Every “who” in my life who acts with courage is an inspiration.

What do you turn to when you need strength?   My partner is a huge source of strength for me.  I tend to stab out at things on my independent own quite a bit but he’s always there when I’ve stretched too far and need to reach back.  He’s quite amazing that way.  A good life partner is a true gift.  I also find that a good run adds more strength back to the pool than it takes, especially if the run is on the Wildwood trail in Forest Park.

How can women best support and/or empower other women? By not being embarrassed, concerned, or worried about being a true feminist – particularly to and with each other; by honoring and respecting the place each woman, particularly across generations, is in; and by treating every person, regardless of any perceived difference, equally.  Feminism for me is about being comfortable with who I am and who the women around me are as strong, capable women.  We are feminine and we are strong and we are smart – none of these things is exclusive of another.  It is still a necessity to consciously be a feminist because gender inequality exists and persists, often quite insidiously and unconsciously.  That said, to truly support and empower other women I am aware that I need to honor and respect where they are in their own journey.  I can do that authentically though from the place I’ve carved out for myself without “giving in”.  And, as a woman who works in male-dominated fields (forestry and technology), one of the best, most consistent ways I’ve found to support and empower the women around me is to deal and interact with every person – male or female – equally.  Seems simple and it should be.

What do you love to grow? What would you like to try growing someday? I really like growing and maintaining my bamboo and grape vines right now.  It’s a real, year-in/year-out relationship with those plants.  In late winter, I hard-prune the grapes, remembering last summer’s exuberant growth and hoping I’m being both firm and kind enough to coax a bumper grape crop for the next. Each spring, I love finding the first insistent, somewhat violent looking bamboo spears that pierce the soil.  Bamboo is ready to take over the neighborhood if it and I don’t have our twice annual “wrastling” sessions.  You have to get up close and personal with bamboo.  When I do though, it gives gifts of song to wind, cool shade, hues of green and hints of faraway places right in my yard.  Grapes are similar. Pruned well, their shade, dappled greenery, and rose and purple orbs color summer memories.  I love these big plants.  I’ve always wanted to make a fence out of espaliered fruit trees and I want to improve my relationship with basil and lavender. I’ve had a few unsuccessful growing seasons with these guys.  We have things to work out.

What are your creative outlets?  Is there anything you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t? I play the flute but not enough and I plan on picking up the cello in about 10 years.  It’s going to be my later-life instrument.

In what environment(s) do you feel most in your element?   I am definitely most in my element in the forest.  I love being in the woods.  I used to work in them almost daily, depending on the season.  Now, I try to get out and in to them running, hiking, or camping.  Portland is such an awesome city because Forest Park is just an after-work detour away (or less) and the bigger woods of the Cascades and Coast Range are a simple weekend morning commitment.

Who are your top three nonprofits you support and/or volunteer with and why?

  1. Mercy Corps – I try to send financial support to places my body can’t reach and Mercy Corps does an amazing job in this respect.  It’s a double bonus that they are local and easy to feel connected to.

  2. OSPIRG – I value what OSPIRG is doing locally and have a soft spot for them because I worked with USPIRG when I was in college.

  3. ChickTech – I recently started volunteering with this organization to help introduce young women to careers and opportunities in technology and engineering.

What recent “green” change have you made in your own life?  What’s next? Our family runs pretty, but certainly not perfectly, green.  Decisions like biking to work, using public transportation, reducing household chemicals, remembering shopping bags and purchasing minimal packaging, etc. are in place for the most part, we just need to practice consistency and not leap to convenience.  We compost and recycle/reuse like crazy, grow our own summer garden, belonged to a CSA, keep our heat low, and all that good stuff.  The next things in my sights are the big things.  I would love to install a solar system when we install a new roof and would really like to eventually move to or build someplace that used geothermal energy as its energy source.

Where in the world do you consider a sanctuary?  Why?   Wherever my family is.  When my family was together in Hanalei, Kauai, that was a very nice sanctuary.  Truly though, there is no place that I would or find I need to retreat to beyond my family.  I find strength and partnership in my husband and have great love and joy in my two amazing, independent, creative daughters.  I feel incredibly fortunate to live in an amazing, vibrant and compatible city like Portland.  The layers that one forms to create a sanctuary from undesirable external conditions have already been whittled down to a pretty honest, current state of being.  I am consciously grateful for this every day.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Keep reaching, keep your eyes open so that you can recognize those moments when you can pursue your dreams, say ‘yes’ as often and as wisely as you can, and make your mom drive you to a soccer team in another town – it’ll be worth it!

How can we as a society be more radical in supporting a healthy planet? There have been so many fantastic books written and TED talks given on this topic that I almost hate to try to take a stab.  However…my simple response would be to suggest that it would require a radical shift to a state where authenticity and demonstrated courage are valued more than appearance and profit.  Because every person, every culture, and every perspective responds to different motivators and is faced with different challenges, I don’t believe setting concrete behavior rules is a complete solution.  As we often find, what motivates one group, de-motivates or alienates another.  However, if each person at each point of action is encouraged by society to have the courage to make an authentic choice with the goal of that choice being a step toward a healthier planet, it seems to me we’d be gathering momentum.

What sparked your interest in environmental issues?   What’s the first “eco” thing you ever did? My mom was an ardent composter, plastic bag washer, bulk food buying-glass jar storer, and co-op member before all that was more mainstream.  My soil, so to speak, was well-fertilized.  I remember watching the commercial where the Native American cried at the trash in the rivers, shouting “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” with friends, and asking my mom what the ecology flag symbol meant.  Right about that time, when I was five, I remember walking with her along a highway outside our apartment complex, picking up trash along the road.  I felt pretty good that we were cleaning up the space that we lived in.  It made me see the road, the cars driving by on it, and our home near it in a new way.

How do you live simply? I simply avoid, as much as possible, the pull to purchase, consume and dispose.  It’s a conscious choice every day to reduce and un-use and return as much as possible to the world around me.  I try to see myself and my family in the greater context of our home, our neighborhood, our city, our region, and our world.  Seen in that larger context of sharing with everyone, I find it easier to practice saying ‘no’ to consumption and ‘yes’ to interaction.  There are so many people in the world that live beautiful, simpler lives that they inspire me.

Could you leave us with a favorite quote of yours? “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” ~ Oscar Wilde


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