Jenni Jenkins: Urban Sustainability

jenkinsJenni Jenkins

B.A., June 2010, cum Laude

Jenni Jenkins spent her early childhood in Sandy, Utah, a city located at the base of Lone Peak, in the Wasatch Mountain Range. When she was seven years old, her family moved to Long Island, NY. She says “Although we didn’t actually move to the ‘Big Apple’, the change in environment was still shocking. The absence of the mountains made me feel exposed and lonely. Litter was a dominant part of the new landscape, whereas I was hardly aware of its existence in Utah. I remember exclaiming to my mother in disbelief about all the garbage. Our new yard was small and flat compared to the enormous hill I grew up on. A private golf course replaced the open field we used to call the ‘Briar Patch’ behind our yard in Utah. After a few years I adapted; I substituted the mountains with the Pine Barrens, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Long Island Sound.”

While Jenkins always had a deep appreciation for the natural environment, she also had a deep curiosity about and desire to live in a big city. At age 19, she rented a small apartment in Brooklyn and began attending Hunter College. She says, “Although I had spent time in the city as a teenager, the transition to urban life was nevertheless extreme. After answering an ad in the classifieds, I was hired at the American Museum of Natural History.  I worked as an Assistant in the Butterfly Conservatory.  It was a tropical oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle that was my new home. Through my work at the museum I became interested in geography, environmental studies, and the newly emerging sustainability movement.” Jenkins pursued studies in environmental sustainability, film, and media, and today uses her advanced skills in media production to communicate environmental and sustainability issues to the public.

In October ’09, Jenkins founded and was elected president of an undergraduate club called the Green Apple MultiMedia Association (G.A.M.M.A.).  G.A.M.M.A.’s mission is “to create an EcoMedia Coalition at Hunter that seeks to advance and unify the environmental and sustainability initiatives on campus. Through collective media advocacy we aim to enhance the communication, collaboration, and strategic planning of these initiatives, which will ultimately create a resource for the community at large.”

The club has already produced and filmed several on-campus events to promote sustainability and raise climate change awareness. It co-sponsored the first CUNY LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action Forum) with NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group), which showcased CUNY-wide sustainability initiatives.  As a result of her efforts, Jenkins was recruited by the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities to produce a short video to promote their mission statement.  She was also elected Outreach Director for the Hunter Solar Project for the academic year 2009-2010.

Most recently, Jenkins co-authored with director Ramin Bahrani the short film Plastic Bag, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, and later screened at Telluride and New York Film Festival. In April 2010, it screened at the 2009 TED prize recipient conference “Mission Blue” in the Galapagos Islands. She also acted as the film’s Sustainability Consultant. The film is part of the ITVS series, FUTURESTATES, and can be seen at: As a follow-up piece to Plastic Bag, Jenkins produced and directed the short film, What We Do Next: a companion piece to the film, Plastic Bag, which features interviews with leading authorities on the issues of sustainability and marine waste, including Dr. Sylvia Earle, recent TED prize recipient, and Dr. Charles Moore, who first discovered the Pacific Trash Vortex. In addition to producing the companion piece, Jenkins is launching a creative awareness campaign for Earth Day, April 22, 2010 at The aim of the campaign is to continue raising awareness of plastic waste issues, while also empowering people to create local campaigns for plastic bag bans in their community.

Jenni writes:

“As I have been wrapping up my work with Plastic Bag, I have started to do research for my first feature-length documentary about how open spaces and sustainable agriculture relate to quality of life issues in urban environments.

Over the course of my career as an undergraduate, I have come to think of sustainability as more of an ongoing process, rather than an outcome we wish to achieve. However, it is important for this process to be guided with the ultimate goal of resilience in mind. Resilience can be achieved by building relationships between people, and between people and their environment. It does not matter where you live in the world – whether it is a city or a rural area – it is up to all of us to create a bright and sustainable future that fits the local needs and desires of communities.

My grandmother once told me, “There is nothing more exciting than watching something grow.” I replied that in addition to the excitement gained from nurturing biota and watching life grow, people also gain the satisfaction of reconnecting to their environment and to each other. When we learn how to grow our own food, we observe, and embody the principle of resilience that is so evident in nature.

At the time of my grandmother’s birth in 1916, farmers still made up approximately 30% of the American workforce, and included our family, which had been farming for generations. Today farmers make up less that 1% of the American workforce and more than half of the global population lives in cities. Does that mean the majority of the population will never have the opportunity to grow their own food? I don’t think so.

I have heard many inspiring stories about communities in NYC taking over and transforming open spaces to grow their own food. Over the next couple years, I plan to learn from these communities and document their stories on film, lending a voice to their initiatives, so that others can learn how to do so as well.

We can all participate in positive growth that will build resilient communities, whether it is through experiencing the growth of vegetables in a community garden, or through the friendships that grow as a result. I will be sharing my experiences through my blog at”