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Canton woman on the front lines of environmental advocacy

Fri, Oct 10th, 2003
Posted in Features

How does a girl from the Twin Cites suburbs grow up to be an activist for agriculture and the environment?

Loni Kemp of Canton admits its a stretch.

She is currently the senior policy analyst for The Minnesota Project and well as a Food and Society Policy Fellow, a two-year program of distinguished leaders nationwide.

For the source of her passion for agriculture and the land, she looks back to her formative years.

Her high school years occurred during the raucous late 1960s. She was influenced by things like the first Earth Day, feminism, and the atmosphere of social change.

People lived and breathed change, she said. Since then I never wavered in that I wanted to help work for social change, she said.

And though she grew up in the city, she frequently visited rural North Dakota where her family came from.

In addition, she attended numerous camps, and later became a camp counselor. And thats where my love of nature comes from, she said.

Kemp, whose husband is attorney Dick Nethercutt, seems reluctant to talk about herself. Shed rather talk about issues dear to her. Or her recent trip to Europe.

Kemp was part of a delegation from the Northern Plains made up of top elected and government officials, industry and agriculture executives, and renewable energy and sustainable agriculture advocates from Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba who recently traveled to four leading energy countriesthe Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Icelandto seek energy solutions that will position the region to prosper over the next several decades and beyond.

The group met with key policy and business leaders in each host country to discuss climate change mitigation, renewable energy development and transition steps toward a hydrogen economy,

The trip was part of the Powering the Plains initiative, a new industry-led, public-private consortium aiming to accelerate our regions shift to a hydrogen economy and to position the region as the continental leader in the production and distribution of hydrogen from renewable and carbon-neutral sources.

Kemp says she is still thinking about and sorting through the trip, but was especially struck by the contrast between the way the U.S. and the European countries view global warming.

In the U.S., the concept of global warming is still under discussion, according to Kemp, and the coal and oil industries have made a concerted media effort to get consumers to doubt that its a real problem.

Every country in Europe has moved way beyond agreeing its a problem, she said. Theyre already years into implementing changes to prepare for the possibly disastrous effects of global warming, such as rising ocean levels. Kemp noted that the countries of Europe are taking drastic measures to stop contributing greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

Denmark already gets 25% of their energy from wind energy, she added as an example.

What Kemp found so exciting about the changes and plans being made in Europe is that the countries do not look at it as doing without, or lowering their living standards: they see alternative energy solutions as an engine for economic growth. She hopes the U.S., lead by the Midwest, can take the same approach.

Kemp worked for a short time in government as a planner, and also for the pollution control agency, but found government work limiting.

It seemed our job was to balance competing interests, she said, rather than working to effect community-driven change. This is another contrast with the countries she visited, where governments function as a way of carrying out the will of the people, she said. The citizens, through parliament, set the agenda, and the governments job is to figure out how to do it.

It wasnt long before Kemp was drawn toward non-profits where she could focus on educating consumers and feel like she was making a difference.

While Kemp is quick to point out that the Minnesota Project is non-partisan, she also admits that the late senator from Minnesota, Paul Wellstone, was an inspiration to her.

Ive been missing Paul Wellstone, she said. He was an organizer and an activist before he was a senator, so I could relate to him. Kemp was surprised after Wellstones death that vast numbers of people nationwide felt such a personal connection with him as a role model.

He was just the best at organizing and making people feel affirmed along the way, she said.

For those who are not activists yet, or anyone who feels theyd like to help make a difference but dont believe they can, Kemp has two messages.

One is that anybody who cares about the environment can take steps in their own way, steps like recycling, wasting less, taking care of lawns and gardens without chemicals. These small steps taken individually do make a difference in the world, according to Kemp.

By taking these steps, a consumer also has the added benefit of educating him or herself.

Ive learned more about agriculture issues from my garden, she commented.

The second message is that citizens have to be informed enough to vote. Kemp recommends that voters quiz candidates on important issues, and then vote based on the answers they get.

To learn more about Kemp and her work, visit the Minnesota Project website at or the Food and Society Policy Fellows Program website at

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