Working the Land: Sara Elliott
“People are joined to the land by work.”
— Wendell Berry
Director of Programs
Montgomery County, Maryland
How did you become interested in programs that engage the public?
My entire career has been about connecting people to places and helping mission-driven organizations communicate their values and work. My first job, developing a training program for volunteer docents at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, taught me some basic lessons: keep messages simple, make personal connections and use the power of beauty to engage. After graduate school, I was part of the team that converted Stone Barns into the nonprofit center it is today.
What are some examples of past programs you’ve developed?
At The Nature Conservancy, I developed “Design for a Living World,” an exhibition that told stories about the places where the Conservancy works around the world using beautiful objects made from sustainable, natural materials. One program I helped to create that I am most proud of is the Mundo Verde public school in Washington, D.C. It’s the first D.C. school to combine language immersion with sustainability education using Expeditionary Learning— interdisciplinary projects that engage students at a deep level.
How did you develop an interest in sustainability?
I’ve been interested in sustainability for as long as I remember. My father worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s. I remember the excitement over early successes like the Clean Air Act. Sustainability brings out the best and the worst in our species: our ability to innovate, problem solve and plan for the future, and our struggle to rise above our immediate self-interest.
Will your sons have the chance to participate in a Stone Barns program?
Yes! My 10-year-old will be participating in Farm Camp this summer, and he’s really excited about it. My 5-year-old is still too young but is looking forward to next year already. Both boys came to Harvest Fest 2014 and will definitely be at this year’s family festivals.
Who cooks more, you or your husband?
I do but when my husband cooks, it’s always amazing. I’d prefer to eat his food over mine any day.
What’s the best book—fiction or non— that you’ve read in the past year?
Fiction would be The Children Act, by Ian McEwan. I like everything he writes.