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Seeing green: Vicki Assevero does it for love of the environment

Sunday, May 1, 2016
Vicki Assevero

Vicki Assevero is an international lawyer who, four years ago, founded the Green Market Santa Cruz as an experimental social enterprise to test some of the ideas explored at Rio+20, where she represented the New York City Bar Association’s International Environmental Committee.

The main focus for Assevero and her team has been on changing existing patterns of production and consumption by creating direct links between farmers, producers and consumers, and fostering land-based entrepreneurship all in an effort towards strengthening community-based sustainability.  The Green Market recently issued an “Eat Local Challenge” during the month of April and has been organising a series of Edible Talks highlighting interconnections among agriculture, ecology, health and nutrition.

Assevero, who has made T&T her home, has practised law in Abidjan, Ivory Coast with Duncan and Allen representing major US petrochemical and other corporate clients and most recently, she began developing new collaborative models among governments, non-governmental organisations and businesses in order to make the delivery of international development assistance more efficient through her work with Millennium Promise, a non-profit related to The Earth Institute at Columbia University. She continues as a consultant to LEX Caribbean.

She graduated from Yale College with a BA cum laude in philosophy, from Harvard Law School and from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (LLM in Sustainable Development Diplomacy) in 2010, where she focused on legal and governance issues related to non-state environmental actors. 

Her interest in sustainable development revolves around the design and legitimacy of global and local democratic governance procedures. 

She is a member of the board of directors of The Children’s Ark where her pet project is trying to establish a literacy programme for young fathers to read to their children.

Q: Where did you grow up and what area do you now consider home? 
A: I grew up in Washington, DC. Home is Earth, our global village, but I have permanent shelters in Carenage, Trinidad, and New York City.

Where did you attain your primary, secondary and tertiary education?
Primary School—Brightwood Elementary in Washington, DC; secondary—National Cathedral School for Girls also in DC; tertiary—Yale University, Harvard Law School, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

What led you in the direction of seeing and going green? 
You have chosen the terminology “seeing and going green”...My interest is in sustainable development.  It started as a policy interest in environmental and development law and gradually evolved into a desire to initiate a practical project demonstrating the elements required for sustainable development.

What has made Green Market become so popular? 
I think it’s the phytoncides—a phytoncide is a substance emitted by plants and trees and generally means the aroma of the forest. “Phyton” means “plant” in Latin, and “cide” means to exterminate. Phytoncides are produced to help plants and trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs.

But recently, research has shown that these substances increase natural killer cells in humans and reduce stress levels. In common language, people are happy when they come to the Green Market; they shed their stress. The vendors and staff are friendly and knowledgeable. The atmosphere is calm and congenial.  People feel safe with their families. As we say, it’s a market in a garden.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
 Do whatever kindness you can in passing—from my mother.  In other words, don’t lose your own focus but never be too busy to help others.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life and how so? 
There have been many important influences in my life, but I think I will say my father because he had a lot of influence on me during my formative years.  He was a disciplined person—a paediatrician, but someone who taught himself foreign languages, painted, wrote poetry. He made me understand that discipline and hard work were critical keys to success. He also exposed me and my siblings to lots of different ideas, but he always told us we could be whatever we wanted to be except an actress!

What is your recipe for success? 
Not to take myself too seriously.  But I really do believe in practice, over and over and over again, especially for your spiritual goals—gentleness, kindness, joy, love and self-control.  I fail continually but I believe that I can work at getting better.

What goals do you still have? 
I want to write a book or two. I would like to learn Chinese. I want to ride a horse across the steppes in Mongolia. And I really would love to be able to say like a certain sage has, “In the past five years, I have not experienced a single moment of anger or frustration.”

If you had to solve the ills that prevail in T&T what would you do?  
The ills as you say that prevail in T&T prevail in most other countries to varying degrees.  We are in a late stage of a global capitalism that started 500 years ago and we are now being consumed by our consumerism (also known as greed) and carelessness.  If we don’t care about each other and our environment, then we cannot have a community. And without strong caring communities, societies perish.

We are living in a time of great inequalities and the marketers continue to spew forth their unattainable images of wasteful and unnecessary and unsustainable consumption. People are unhealthy, living in toxic environments both physically and psychologically. Technology has upended the paradigm of a job and so, work—meaningful and contributory work requires redefinition. People need to understand what work is—a contribution to the well-being of everyone.

We need to deepen and mature our democratic practice, which requires relearning civility and respect first and foremost.  

Learning to listen and really hear and understand each other is a huge challenge because of our multiculturalism, which I believe is the most beautiful and uplifting core of Trinidadianness. We need to embrace our differences and make that loving embrace a foundation for unified decision making.  If the population understands the goals and the plans, then they can play their part in contributing to the realisation of our goals of a better and more inclusive and prosperous T&T.

I also, however, think that it is critically important that we solve our basic infrastructure problems because doing so will empower the citizens to work on improving their own personal and community well-being.  Telecommunications should be flawless: reliable stable internet and telephone connections allow people to learn skills online, small businesses to thrive, and to reduce traffic congestion by teleconferencing.  

We should consider a Minister of Mobility, not Transportation. A great deal of the stress of life in Trinidad today is moving around in a timely manner.  We need a comprehensive national urban plan for our cities so that there is parking (small fee) which removes traffic from city centres. Efficient public transport does not have to be rapid rail in a first instance.  

For example, there is a lot of space across from West Mall to create municipal parking lots and then buses could run every 15 minutes to Chaguaramas and back until we can finance the much needed causeway. Significant fees (revenues) as in London could be imposed on those who insist on using their own private vehicles.  High occupancy vehicles could be excepted which would encourage carpooling and which also builds community because you carpool with neighbours.

My observation here again reflects the need for the democratic consultations with communities so that there is serious buy-in on these plans.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating a vocation/career such as yours?
 My first advice to young people is to know yourself—learn what you are good at; what you are passionate about. Then start to teach yourself about that. Make friends with older people—find mentors. Travel. Learn another language—see how other people live and think.

Upcoming Green Market events? 
Jazz at the Lily Pond—our invitation to our patrons to support our public education programmes. May is Biodiversity Month and we are inviting artists to reflect on that theme and come out and share their work on May 28 when we will also celebrate Indian Arrival Day. We have Edible Talks every Saturday morning to explore the interconnectedness of all things like health, nutrition, the environment, ecology.  The launch of our Community Garden.

Describe yourself in two words, one beginning with V, the other with A, your initials. 
Vivacious and adventurous (but also ageing!)


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