Meet a few of the women who are reframing our approach to the environment
by Christy Klein
Getting dirty has always been high among the boy’s club clichés. Girls were stereotypically conditioned to keep their clothes clean and shoes shiny while their male counterparts were often free to romp in the muck. Until recent history, women were expected and encouraged to find careers of the so-called feminine variety: teachers, secretaries and child care. But now women are taking up careers in dirt, sweat and grime and switching up the status quo, paving the way for future generations to abolish the glass ceiling.
Meet a few of Wisconsin’s trailblazers.
“I’ve always been interested in garbage,” Kelly Adlington says with a chuckle.
The recycling process piqued her interest in high school. That initial interest flourished into a degree from UW–Stevens Point in waste management and an ongoing pursuit of sustainability throughout her career.
“I think it just made sense to me that we would use and use and use something until we couldn’t use it anymore,” she says.
Post graduation, Adlington started an organic farm with a few friends, where she found her calling in compost. Her experience there led to her successful launch this spring of Bucket Ruckus, a waste management business that collects organic compost from homes and businesses in the Stevens Point area.
Bucket Ruckus subscribers receive their very own containers to hold organic waste and can choose a weekly or monthly pickup and bin replacement. Those within biking distance are serviced by Curbwise LLC, owned and operated by Trevor Roark. Adlington and her partner, Asher Maliepaard, pick up the buckets that are further out, as well as the brutes — large 32-gallon bins, usually given to businesses that create more waste than a household typically would. Adlington then empties the all collected bins at Whitefeather Organics, where she does a bit of pile management and monitoring before returning clean bins to their original locations.
Bucket Ruckus accepts all food materials, including meat and animal products, a unique element to their composting business. While composting is a productive soil amendment, for Adlington, composting is a waste disposal management tool so things don’t need to go to the landfill if they don’t absolutely have to. This is why she accepts all organic waste; for Adington, composting is an elevated form of recycling; rather than creating more plastic products, compost results in zero waste.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently recognized Bucket Ruckus with a 2022 Recycling Excellence award, celebrating the company’s dedication to waste minimization efforts.
“There should be more than just two bins at the curb every week,” Adlington says. “But it doesn’t have to be a bin at the curb. I can be a resource…this business can be a resource for learning how to compost on your own, for learning how to live a life that is less wasteful.”
Rebecca Biggs stops to observe a plant a few feet off the trail — a common occurrence on our hike through Noyes Park, one of her favorite Milwaukee County Parks.
“This is Lion’s Tail,” she says as she examines the seed pods. She then begins harvesting the seeds and placing them carefully into a plastic bag.
Biggs has created a life outdoors. Taking inventory and collecting seeds of certain plant species in Milwaukee’s 169 county parks is part of her job. After majoring in linguistics and environmental studies at UW–Madison, she found herself in a number of roles where she could take care of the earth. She worked for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Milwaukee Riverkeeper before her current position as one of just four land stewards at the Milwaukee County Parks.
Biggs’s work reaches far beyond the boundaries of the parks she maintains and studies, one of the aspects of her job she loves the most. Her role as land steward is fitting; she prides herself in her role as a public servant. Although much of her work is unrecognized and she often winds up with poison ivy rashes or wild parsnip burns, she considers the job well worth the effort and feels blessed to have the career she has.
In May 2021, Biggs and her boyfriend, Andy Meyer, started The Tree Couple MKE, a treeing and native gardening business where she can help people maintain their yards sustainably. Native gardening is a recent trend that calls for gardens to contain plants that are native to the region in which they are planted.
At The Tree Couple MKE, the process is highly individualized, since the client’s landscape often dictates what type of plant life will best suit the yard in question. For example, if a yard has more sun than shade, Biggs would offer up prairie flora that are native to Wisconsin.
“We don’t just plant for the people,” she says, “but for the environment, too.”
For Biggs, gardening is more than how a yard looks. Native plants tend to grow slowly, so native gardening is a labor of patience, something that often leads homeowners to choose nonnative landscaping. While curb appeal is important, she focuses on sustainable options that look beautiful and serve the earth at the same time.
Between stopping to identify various plant life along the trail and hugging some 100-year-old beech trees, Biggs points to an owl flying through the woods, a rare find.
“My boss calls that Barma,” she says. “Good bird karma.”
For the last nine years, Dineo Dowd has been making her impression on the outdoor community, carving out a place on the trail for people of color. She is a South African immigrant who found her love for nature in the United States.
Her website describing the ins and outs of her family’s outdoor adventures, Wisconsin Adventure Family, has become wildly popular since its start in 2017. In 2019 and 2020, Dowd wrote and published five children’s books about hiking and camping, and she is now a content specialist for the Madison Moms website. She is also a board member for the national nonprofit organization, Hike It Baby. She has secured some lucrative sponsorships, including L.L. Bean and Winnebago Industries. And to top it all off, this summer, Dowd and eight other women summited Mt. Kilimanjaro.
For some, the accolades and the sponsorships are good for the money and the recognition. Dowd uses them as a platform for change. Yet even as a Black woman in her position with the impact she has on the trail, Dowd does not consider herself an activist. She simply wants to continue trying to make the trail more accessible for people like herself and her daughter. Labels do not sit well with her.
“Titles like ‘influencer’ or ‘activist’ take away from the point,” she says “Even when it’s like ‘the first Black person to do this,’ I don’t like it. It almost sets the rest of the Black community up for failure. They see that, and they think … what’s the point?”
Dowd believes in a more community-based approach: invite people in, create a presence in the outdoor community and show others that they are welcome, and they are able to do the exact same thing she can, regardless of experience, age or race.
In the middle of talking about advocacy and achievement, Dowd is suddenly distracted. She dashes over to a cluster of giant puffball mushrooms and starts to inspect them; puffball mushrooms are one of the edible fungi that can be found on the trail.
“Look at the mushrooms! Oh my gosh! I have seen so many mushrooms this week! I think it is all the rain,” she says.
Dowd picks two and loads them into her backpack. While her mission to expand the accessibility of the outdoors is clear, Dowd clearly lives by one rule: be present.
Featured photo by Christy Klein.