Delaina Castillo is an EcoAgriculture Partners intern working on the Communications team. Hailing from southern California, her passion for environmental justice and background in Geographic Information Systems inspired her to pursue a position with EcoAg. A sharp writer with an eye for design, Delaina supports the communications team through social media content creation, graphic design, newsletter development and brand building.
Question: You have a dual degree from Villanova University in environmental studies and art history—two subjects that seemingly aren’t connected. How does one help shape your understanding of the other?
Delaina Castillo: Actually, these two fields do intersect a lot. For example, there is a subsection of art known as environmental art, which is influenced heavily by environmental processes and natural materials. The Schuykill Center, an art center near Villanova, showcases great examples of environmental art on their grounds. One of their distinctive pieces is called Rain Yard created by Stacy Lacy. It is a rain garden that doubles as a runoff catcher for the Center. This type of environmental art serves both a functional and aesthetic purpose. When learning about environmental art, I found that having a scientific background gave me a better understanding of the meaning behind certain pieces because I also understood the environmental processes represented in the artwork.
My art history background also influenced my studies of the environment. The deep analysis encouraged in art history is really transferable to understanding our natural world and the way biological and ecological systems operate. Having an understanding of art history gave me the skills to be able to see and talk about how I analyzed what I saw in the environment.
I saw the culmination of these intersections when I took my first GIS course and became totally enthralled in the cartography component, which is basically creating maps using data collection and spatial statistics. It essentially builds a visual representation of a landscape and tells a story about that environment at any given moment. It’s the perfect combination of my interests in environmental data analysis and design and a really tangible representation of how art and the environment overlap.
Q: You’re also very passionate about environmental justice. How has this shaped the way you think about environmental issues?
DC: A lot of my family worked as migrant workers in the vineyards of Northern California during a time when there was not a lot of pesticide regulation in the industry. Nearly all of those family members have had health complications, like cancer, over the years. Going through that at a formative age and then learning about environmental injustice in college, I pieced together the connection between my family’s experiences and the kind of injustices these vulnerable communities continue to face. I also realized that these issues were still so prevalent, and there are so many complex systems that create barriers to enacting real systemic change.
One of my favorite classes in college was called Geographies of Environmental Justice. It examined how scientists, researchers, activists and lawyers help support communities in the face of these systemic injustices. That’s the kind of work I want to do.
Q: What do you see as some of the biggest environmental justice issues across our landscapes?
DC: One of the biggest challenges for these local communities is a lack of access – to funds, resources and a real seat at the table when it comes to decision-making in their area. This is especially the case for Indigenous communities, which have been historically disenfranchised and denied access to their own land.
The concept of integrated landscape management is rooted in giving marginalized and disenfranchised communities a voice and a say in working within their landscape. Integrated landscape management has the power to provide these communities with tools and training that can help them better understand their landscape and advocate for themselves while at the same time listening to them and integrating their knowledge into better solutions.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about interning with EcoAg?
DC: Hands down, my favorite part of the internship has been learning new skills. Part of the reason I wanted this internship was because I’ve always had an interest in journalism, graphic design and social media, which is the majority of what my role entails. I also really love learning to use new technologies and software like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Being able to work more in these areas and seeing my growth in learning and executing designs have been really fun. I’ve also gained a lot of valuable writing skills that I’ll be able to use in my career moving forward.
Working with EcoAg as a whole has been really fulfilling, as well. One of the reasons I was interested in this position is because they work with leaders on the ground. I love being able to share stories and learn more about EcoAg’s efforts to ensure that people have thriving livelihoods while making sure their environment is also thriving. I didn’t know much about integrated landscape management before. Once I spent time learning about it, it made me realize just how much we need solutions that address multiple interconnected challenges. These are the types of solutions that will give us the best chance at a sustainable future.
Q: If you had to live in one landscape for the rest of your life, where would that be?
DC: I would choose Mammoth Lakes, CA. My family and I go there every summer, and being surrounded by mountains just makes me feel so much closer to nature and our environment. I have had some of the most amazing hikes there, and I feel so at home. I’ll probably retire there.