How is someone capable of walking across 14 states, 4,236 miles to be exact, all while picking up over 37,000 pieces of litter? How did we.grow.eco accomplish something no one else has ever done before?
What is we.grow.eco
we.grow.eco, an environmental coalition based in Northern New Mexico, was co-founded by two ordinary guys, Noah Mertz and Chauncey Foster who had a vision of walking across the United States of America to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Its mission is to start a coalition that supports unifying communities to promote a healthy relationship between humans and the environment AKA eco-centrism.
Photograph of Chauncey Foster (right) and Noah Mertz (left) at Window Rock on Navajo Nation land in October 2021.
How They Live By an Eco-Centric Mindset
Eco-centrism is a point of view that recognizes the ecosphere, rather than the biosphere, as central in importance, and attempts to redress the imbalance created by anthropocentrism.
Noah considered this an “unorthodox approach” to tackling plastic pollution, but a different perspective might be exactly what we need to inspire others. we.grow.eco specializes in experiential environmental education, where instead of telling people what to do, they pique their curiosity and interests that fall under the environmental bracket through community unifying events. These events consist of clean-ups and food walks, along with art festivals like Save The Ugly Music and Save The Ugly Film. The intent of these events is to reduce climate anxiety, reach out to people who may not be exactly environmentally conscious, and bring them together as a community.
They want to encourage their audience to think critically about their consumption habits and reusing single-use plastics—for them to reconsider how “we act and interact within our ecosystems”. By approaching the global movement with this perspective, we are distancing ourselves from anthropogenic lifestyles. When we make this shift, we start treating humans and the environment as equals.
“We need to rethink how humans interact with humans, and how humans interact with the life and non-life things in our ecosystem.”
Are you still wondering how they managed to walk across the United States? Don’t worry, so are we! Even after speaking to Noah, it is hard to fathom how a couple of guys were able to spend a year walking across a country to pick up litter.
In March 2021, Noah and Chauncey set out on a journey that would take them 295 days, and over 4,200 miles of land. With just a car—nope, not a van, a car—a stove burner, a wifi jetpack and one big dream, the boys started their adventure.
Each with an educational background in environmental and conservation, they wondered how they could use that to make a difference. What could they do to shift people’s habits and actions towards Thinking Green? What they did know is that they wanted to use their experience to share their passion with others.
On their walk, before reaching the next state, they would reach out to local organizations that shared their passion and organize a cleanup. They invited people from all over the country to pick up one piece of litter a day.
It All Starts With One Conversation
“Finding something that piques their interest, that is very digestible, it will draw them in to learn more”.
This is where the magic happened. It started with a conversation with strangers, with the locals who wanted to know who they were, and what they were doing—these conversations were what brought everyone together. They brought attention to the movement against plastic pollution, garnering thousands of new supporters that helped the guys along the way. Talking to people builds social support for their mission. Not only that, the connections they make earn them the trust and faith of strangers who may not have even known or initially cared about the plastic crisis. Noah and Chauncey got nothing but enthusiasm and encouragement for their travels and left each state knowing that each person they had spoken to had now been introduced to a new way of thinking - eco-centrism.
“Having conversations with strangers and the impact that those single conversations had, was definitely my favourite part of this whole experience”
Bumps On The Road…Literally
When you are walking across thousands of miles of nothing but land, challenges will arise.
Even though Noah and Chauncey are both driven by challenge, there were definitely moments on the trip where they did not know if this would make the impact they wanted. Halfway through their adventure, when they reached Texas, was the hardest part. There was nothing but flat open fields, with no other humans in sight. Knowing that they were only halfway across the States and still had so much left to cover, it’s places and times like this where doubt starts to kick in. Noah recalls the feeling of missing familiar places and people, but still, he knew they had to keep going.
When Noah and Chauncey first discussed the idea of walking across the United States to pick up litter, the thought of things not going as planned did cross their minds. No matter what happened though, they knew that this is what they wanted to do, regardless of the outcome. It was a goal of theirs to accomplish and that is exactly what they did! They pushed through countless days and nights, the many challenging bumps on the road, and did what they said they would. Almost a year later on January 8th, 2022, they finished their walk, picking up over 37,000 pieces of litter!
Funniest Litter Picking Story:
On one of their many clean-ups across the USA, Noah recalls one of their funniest moments, when one of the volunteers found a "call me" sticky note. The volunteer had decided to have some fun with it, and continued to prank call the given number on the note!
Even before “The Walk”, Noah and Chauncey had a goal of introducing we.grow.eco to the world. Looking to the future, they want to continue making connections between those who share the same passion for plastic pollution and figuring out ways to amplify that connection. They like to think of themselves as a Mycelial Network—forming connections between different communities supporting different movements in hopes of them all joining forces for the greater movement of picking up trash.
They are still going at it with the monthly cleanup events, along with their education and conservation efforts. They want to keep encouraging critical thinking regarding people and their relationship with the environment, as well as abandoning single-use plastics wherever possible
By showing us how we can prevent single-use plastic from ending up in our landfills and ecosystems, they are helping our society transform into a sustainable ecosystem!
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