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Meet the 2017 Badger Bioneers

Three local champions will earn the title of "Badger Bioneer" at Sustain Dane's 9th annual Badger Bioneers Conference. Nominated and selected by members of the greater Madison community, these awardees will be recognized for their pioneering work that fosters Big 'S' Sustainability, inclusive of a strong community, just economy, and healthy planet.

Badger Bioneers are individuals or teams who are moving the Greater Madison Region toward a happier, healthier future -- people who, in their professional or personal lives, are actively making change happen. They don't need to be famous, or work in a specific field, or have a fancy title. They just need to be people who care, who take action, and who are making a difference. Check out the Badger Bioneers Hall of Fame for a list of past awardees.

Sustain Dane is pleased to announce the 2017 Badger Bioneers:

Aaron PerryAaron Perry - On September 11, 2005 at age 43, Aaron G. Perry became the world’s first insulin-dependent African American diabetic to complete what is considered the world’s most challenging endurance event, the Ironman Triathlon. Aaron would spend the next two years traveling nationwide advocating to improve the health of African American communities impacted by diabetes. In 2007, Aaron founded the Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association (RLWA) with an overarching goal to ensure that African American men living in under-represented communities who bear the heaviest burden of disease and poor health status, can live fuller and healthier lives.

For more than three years, Aaron served as a strong voice for communities of color as host of the WORT 89.9FM Tuesday 8 0'clock Buzz radio show. In this role, he confronted social issues head on. Aaron also serves as President of the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce for 2 years, all while maintaining full-time employment with Dane County Gang Response Intervention Unit.

Throughout his journey of caring deeply about the health and wellbeing of the community, his work has also focused on the intersections of public health, green spaces, well-being and economic opportunities for men of color in the Madison region. In October 2016 Aaron opened the nation's first Men's Health & Education Center inside of Madison's largest Black Barbershop. His vision is simple: if Black Men are reluctant to go to the doctor, then we bring the doctor to them in a place where they trust and respect. This has become a space where men of color improve their health, socialize, build relationships and find comfort all while getting a great growing service.

Aaron was nominated for the Badger Bioneer award due to his holistic view of public health and his ability to create strong relationships with those who are looking to improve their well-being. Learn more about Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association here.

Natasha SmithNatasha Smith - REAP's Farm to School program brings fresh, local, sustainably produced food to children, establishes reliable markets for local farms using sustainable agriculture practices, and provides hands-on education in Madison classrooms. 

For many children, school meals represent a significant percentage of their daily nutrition. An increasing number of students eat meals and snacks at school, making school food more important than ever. Industrialized and commodity foods, which are often highly processed and nutrient-poor, have unfortunately become the norm for many school districts, as they struggle with budget constraints and a limited ability to cook from scratch. REAP works closely with the Madison Metropolitan School District to overcome these difficulties, developing opportunities to incorporate fresh, healthy, local products into school meals. Natasha has been relentless in pursuing new ways the district can support local, sustainable farms, one of which includes a new process that allows farmers to plant hundreds of pounds of vegetables well in advance of when the district needs them. This ensures local, healthy, flavorful food is in lunches year-round and decreases transportation costs and the environmental effects of shipping Madison schools' food across the country. Learn more about REAP's Farm to School program here.

Project Green TeenProject Green Teen: Tina Murray,  Martha Vasquez , Rachel Schramm, Grant Goettl, Robert Banks, Aaron Kaio, Brian Counselman, Lori Bennett and Aric Soderbloom - Project Green Teen is an environmental service learning class that addresses authentic environmental needs in multiple communities. Instruction is integrated across all high school subject areas and delivered thematically with emphasis on real world connections that help students with future school, community and career opportunities. During the class, students learn in-depth land and water sciences and how the two are interconnected. Students become more engaged in learning with hands on opportunities to experience real world problems and solutions. Sustainability is the main theme across all subjects.


Project Green Teen’s unique comprehensive curriculum literally takes students out of their comfort zones, giving them life-changing experiences through hands on work with arborists, biologists and farm to table food systems, learning the art of fly fishing, building competence through experiencing outdoor pursuits such as orienteering, caving and canoeing, using tools to build equipment for projects, the accomplishments of a variety of service projects in land and water resource management. The course combines art, math, science, writing, geography, technology, physical education and leadership. The curriculum, particularly through the service projects, connects sustainability across environmental, economic, scientific, social, and political spheres.

Since 2005, the Project Green Teen has united businesses, nonprofits, and other community volunteers to collaborate on service learning projects. Students gain self-confidence and discover the joys and benefits of the outdoors. Students self report of positive effects on their personal, intellectual and holistic development. Staff report student’s increased abilities to problem solve, communicate, work as a team and take the initiative (21st Century "soft skills").  The service projects students complete meet an authentic need within communities benefiting people and resources positively. Through building confidence and competence with the natural world and understanding the interdependence of systems, Project Green Teen teaches vulnerable young adults the core values of sustainability. Learn more about Project Green Teen here.

All awardees will be interviewed about their journey, their work, and their vision for the future at Sustain Dane's Badger Bioneers Conference on Wednesday, November 29 - register today!