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Going Organic in the Fast Lane

As we prepare for the upcoming Earth Day on April 22nd and the Palm Springs Mayor’s “Healthy Planet, Healthy You” Race and Fitness Festival on April 21st, it seems an appropriate time to introduce readers to a woman who has dedicated her life to global and local sustainability efforts: Michele Mician, the Sustainability Manager for the City of Palm Springs. Michele is a vibrant, optimistic, and energetic woman whose office was just awarded the California Sustainable Community Leadership Award from the Center for Sustainable Energy for her ongoing efforts on behalf of the local community.

Story by Grace Xanthos / Photography by Mark Davidson

What’s It All About?

Sustainability is defined by the United Nations as “a way of living that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Or, as Michele explains it, it is the idea that long-term prosperity for everyone includes personal, interpersonal, community, and global health and cooperation. As the City’s official “Office of Sustainability” website reminds us, “Sustainability is about actions which are ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just and humane.” To achieve this, she manages a department aimed at reminding residents that “the people are the city,” and the action of each individual can either harm or help the whole.

With Michele’s guidance, the city works with an 11-member Sustainability Commission, individuals, families, and local business partners to achieve 5 Goals:

  1. Establishing a Green Economy
  2. Water Conservation Efforts
  3. Urban Sustainability & Mobility
  4. Waste Management
  5. Energy Efficiency

For those who are unfamiliar with the importance and potential impact of sustainability efforts, the City of Palm Springs has a self-tutorial called “Sustainability 101” that can be accessed through the city’s Office of Sustainability website. The basic premise is that every decision or action needs to be examined in terms of its interconnected economic, environmental, and social impacts before action is taken. Thus, before an environmentally conscious city or individual acts, certain questions need to be addressed:

  • What would be the financial impact on the individual and/or company?
  • What would be the impact on the water, air, land, and the Earth as a whole?
  • What would be the impact on the individual’s and the community’s happiness, health, productivity, and welfare (Sustainability 101, City of Palm Springs)

For the past 2 1/2 years, Michele Mician has worked hard to develop successful and creative policies and procedures that actively work towards achieving the city’s five sustainability goals while maintaining the ecological integrity of our valley and the trust of its residents. Her journey to the Coachella Valley is quite interesting

Michele Goes Green

When asked what led her to the “going green” movement and a career in sustainability, Michele said that her passion for the Earth began at an early age. Her parents immigrated to America from the Czech Republic due to political upheaval. Her family was used to growing their own food and appreciating and using all that the Earth had to offer a value that lives on
in Michele.

After her mother joined the army, Michele grew up in Europe and America, eventually attending high school in Florida, where she often wrote papers on green themes. Even as a teen, she was sensitive to the important interaction between humans and the planet.

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in English while working at an organic farm, Michele attended Field School in Costa Rica, studying indigenous plants and animals and gaining an increasing awareness of the connectedness of all things.

Wanting to make a difference in the world and following the encouragement of her parents, she then attended the University of South Florida, obtaining an MS in Environmental Studies and teaching a variety of courses, including Eco-Feminism a course that examines how a society’s treatment of its women often parallels its treatment of the Earth and environmental issues (e.g., methods of production, pollution, and use of pesticides).

Action Speaks Louder Than Words

Michele’s own eco-footprint began as the Environmental Coordinator of Sarasota, Florida, and eventually brought her to Palm Springs, where her influence can be seen around almost every street corner. Michele believes that “every decision you make matters because we are all part of the Earth, which is a living entity. What hurts us also hurts the planet.” Her work and lifestyle certainly mirror that belief.

When not working, running, or biking, Michele attends Bioneers Conferences (a national organization that connects people with solutions to help the planet), and she seeks ways to employ permacultural design the development of sustainable human habitats and agriculture modeled on the existing ecosystem with a holistic philosophy aimed at social awareness and global consciousness.

Shopping every Saturday at the local Farmers’ Market is an important part of Michele’s week. She believes in eating “lower on the food chain” and buying locally grown products. She adds, “if the way you eat harms you, [ultimately] it harms the planet… it is a circle of life.”

As part of her personal green economy, Michele rides an electric scooter to and from work; she walks or bikes to meetings and everywhere possible; she believes in telephone conferences so participants don’t waste energy on transportation; she tries to buy products that use “ethical labor and non-violent means of production”; she supports local businesses; and she helped obtain numerous grants to help the people, schools, and businesses of Palm Springs in their efforts at energy conservation and obtaining a sustainable city.

Getting Results

Michele is a go-getter who gets results. A grant from the Coachella Valley Air Quality Enhancement Program provided an all-electric vehicle for the city, promoted the use of energy efficient transportation, and funded plug-in charging stations at city facilities, thereby taking a big step towards reducing emissions and improving air quality.

Last year, the city focused on water conservation through a lawn buy-back program to help fund low-water “desert friendly and native landscaping” and provide low-flow toilets to those who could not afford them. This year, Michele, and the sustainability Commission, hope to emphasize a “non-motorized transportation plan,” including the promotion of biking, improving old and creating new bike lanes, and continuing a program to provide bike lights and helmets.

As part of their sustainability plan, Palm Springs has a unique program whereby they provide up to $2,500 to individual schools to create their own gardens. As an extension of the shared garden concept, Michele and other community leaders recently completed a long-term goal: the Community Garden in Palm Springs.

Located at Demuth Park Community Center on Mesquite Avenue, the Community Garden provides over 30 planting beds, and, as she excitedly describes, “It is a community gathering place to share food and knowledge and for people to come together. The town took an empty space and created a beautiful orchard with shady areas for families and kids to meet and grow.” The Garden also includes educational programs for children to learn about topics of ecological significance, and it hosts lots of fun activities.

Through the hard work of Michele and Mayor Steve Pougnet’s “Twenty Steps to a Sustainable City” Program, Palm Springs has made giant strides in the past few years. They have a Sustainability Board that meets on the 3rd Tuesday of each month and is open to the public (5:00 at City Hall).

There is a monthly Sustainability Film Series available at the Camelot Theater, and the Palm Springs Library hosts monthly lectures and/or screenings on related topics.

Several local restaurants, hotels, and the Convention Center are now composting their unused food waste; in fact, the Convention Center has gone “completely green.” There are Alternative Fuel & Electric Vehicle Exhibits, Sustainability Celebrations, annual Sustainability Summits, Olive Festivals, and a variety of free public education seminars on topics from composting to olive pressing.

And in the near future, Michele hopes to encourage more focus on eco-tourism, which she sees as an under developed asset of the local desert area.

The city also has well organized and user friendly waste disposal programs, such as an electronic waste drop off program (for anything “with a plug”), a household hazardous waste program, a medical waste program that is free for residents, and last year they collected 90,000 pounds of locally grown citrus fruit that was distributed to the homeless and hungry. No matter what she is working on, Michele clearly keeps her focus on what counts: helping people in need and protecting the planet.

Michele has high hopes for the upcoming Mayor’s Race and Wellness Festival. Although the event is not until April 21st, Mayor Steve Pougnet has pledged to raise $100,000 from donors—all of which will be used to fund programs or projects aimed at fighting childhood obesity, a key initiative of the city. It is anticipated that the entrance fees alone will fund the event, which allows all other contributions to directly benefit children. It’s sure to be a great prelude to Earth Day!

Final Thoughts

When asked what “going organic” means to her, Michele explained, “Going organic is much more than just your food. It also involves things like forgiveness, of yourself and others. It means really trying to do your best. It’s being creative in how you live your life in a responsible way. It means not being afraid of what other people might say or think. It means trying to live the best way you can every day, but not beating yourself up if you make a mistake. And it’s about making a commitment to live green and enjoy each day!” What a wonderful way to look at life from a woman who is working wonders in and around Palm Springs.