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Environmental Justice Fund Grantee Spotlight: Braided Seeds

Across the United States, race is the most significant predictor of a person living near contaminated air, water, or soil. For this reason, Seattle’s Environmental Justice Fund (EJ Fund) was created in 2017 to support efforts that benefit and are led by, or in partnership with, those most affected by environmental and climate inequities. This includes Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), immigrants, refugees, people with low incomes, youth, and elders. The EJ Fund supports a wide variety of community-led projects that advance environmental justice and respond to the impacts of climate change. This spotlight is part of an ongoing storytelling series highlighting some of the incredible work led by community groups and organizations supported by the EJ Fund.  

I had the pleasure and privilege of sitting down with Ashleigh Shoecraft (she/her), the Executive Director of Braided Seeds, to chat about the organization and how the EJ Fund has supported its work. Braided Seeds is an outdoor recreation and education nonprofit organization that serves BIPOC communities in and around Seattle, Washington. The organization is committed to expanding outdoor access to BIPOC communities and nurturing their connection with nature. 

Tell me about the work Braided Seeds does and the communities that the organization serves. 

“Our work focuses on figuring out how we can remove barriers to access and create on-ramps for people to cultivate their own connection with the outdoors. We also work to remove barriers that often lead to gatekeeping and people feeling like they cannot experience the outdoors because of financial barriers, personal or collective trauma, or lack of information. Our work has several different components that fall into the buckets of rest, restoration, and reconnection. We offer rest retreats like the Black youth retreat in the North Cascades happening in June as well as financial support for those wanting to take their own rest trip. We lead youth programs that center opportunities to learn about the rich history of Black communities in environmental justice, agriculture, and different outdoor recreational sports. We want youth, especially Black youth, to cultivate their own connection with the land before they are socialized to fear it. We also have a lot of initiatives that empower communities to be able to get outside. For example, we do an annual discover pass distribution where we provide hundreds of discover passes free to people of color in the community. We also have a community-use gear library that folks can access if they want to go backpacking or camping and need to borrow a backpack or a tent.” 

People kayaking along the water facing a shoreline full of trees.
People kayaking along the water facing a shoreline full of trees during a day of adventure. Photo courtesy of Ashleigh Shoecraft.

What does environmental justice mean to you and your community, and how do you see Braided Seeds as leading change in that space?  

“Our organization was founded as a response to the impacts of environmental racism we see in terms of estrangement from the outdoors and a lack of access to silence and fresh air. When we think about environmental justice and environmental racism, we think that it’s super far off, but it’s just not. If you live in Beacon Hill, you do not necessarily have access to silence, right? Or when we look at the Duwamish Valley, we see the pollution that’s there. We see communities of color being located most proximate to pollution, toxic air, and toxic waste. It’s pervasive and sometimes it can seem like this really heavy topic, but it’s not. Environmental justice means everyone has the right to fresh air, to a lack of noise pollution, and to clean water. At Braided Seeds, we think about how we can provide those opportunities for access in the short term. We can take groups into the outdoors so they can experience what silence feels like, so they have access to that pause. By creating those opportunities for people who are emersed in places where environmental inequities are pervading, we can normalize questioning these environmental injustices.” 

How has the EJ Fund helped Braided Seeds advance environmental justice in your communities? 

“As an organization that centers Black communities and has a young team and board, we’re trying to figure out who to learn from in order to do this work well and how to make it last. The EJ Fund is really increasing our capacity to be able to do that. We were able to use funding to offer paid professional development for one of our team members to participate in Justice Outdoors, an outdoor education institute. We were able to attend the National Outdoor Recreation Conference in Lake Tahoe. We’re also able to be in community with other antiracist BIPOC-led nonprofits, while learning directly from the community about outreach and engagement. Often, this work isn’t resourced well, and so we’re able to use these funds to be present at tabling and community events where our community can tell us what is important to them, what they know about environmental justice, how it’s impacting them, and what they want to see. We make sure our work is developed in direct response to their desires and needs.” 

Participants displaying gloved hands during outdoor event.
Participants displaying gloved hands during outdoor event. Photo courtesy of Ashleigh Shoecraft.

What inspires you to do this work and what gives you hope for the future?  

“I think what inspires me to do this work is that even though Braided Seeds technically sits in the outdoor recreation and environmental education space, we really want to support people in cultivating their own relationship to outdoor spaces. What gives me hope is providing opportunities for people to create a connection with the outdoors that’s authentic for themselves. It might look like you’re spending more time on your apartment balcony, or it might look like you’re sitting on a paddle board in the middle of Lake Washington or laying in a hammock. It isn’t about how gung-ho you can be about nature. It’s about your worthiness of having access to clean air, to green spaces, and fresh water. I think getting people out into natural spaces really opens up the possibilities of what that can look like. What gives me hope is just knowing that there’s no right way to be in the outdoors and that everyone is worthy of their relationship with the natural world.” 

Stay tuned for more spotlights to come! 

Este articulo está disponible en español. 

About the Author

Jazzmin is a Climate and Environmental Justice Intern at OSE. She is leading the Environmental Justice Fund Storytelling Series and is working to bring greater awareness to the critical environmental justice work happening in Seattle. Jazzmin is also a soon-to-be Masters graduate from the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington.