22 Sep Meet the Team: Jessica Lee
Meet Jessica: Head of OAK Garden
Jessica Lee (LinkedIn) has been with OAK Garden since Day 1. Starting as a project assistant, she soon impressed with her work ethic and dedication to sustainability. She has been running OAK Garden for the past year and has many exciting plans for its development.
What is a typical workday at OAK like for you?
It’s very varied; no two days are ever the same. Some days I focus on developing partnerships to bring educational content into our schools. We have some fantastic partnerships, such as with Transform Our World and Earth Warriors. Other days I might focus on grant writing, creating marketing materials, or all the important admin that comes with running the company. One of my favourite parts of the job is putting my creative hat on, for example creating assemblies for the kids or designing our pupil platform – our latest project! The only thing that is consistent is a hell of a lot of cups of teas.
What inspired you to work in this sector?
When I left school, I was unsure what I wanted to do and just fell into a few different jobs. After a few soul-destroying years in sales, I took some time off to go travelling and work on some organic farms in Europe. This really inspired me to get into sustainability and self-efficient living. Coming back from that, I really wanted to work in the sustainability sector. I tried to find something that would fulfil that desire, first working in an organic tea and herbal remedy shop, then volunteering at a dog shelter. Eventually I came across OAK Garden, which felt like a calling. It combined sustainability and education together, which is something that I feel was really missing in my upbringing – connecting with nature and getting back to our ancestral relationship with the natural world. I felt it was a fantastic opportunity to combine my passion with teaching the next generation.
Tell me more about your journey to where you are today?
Before volunteering on the organic farms, I was very separated from the concepts of climate change and sustainability, in fact I was probably a very unsustainable person! But I had a really defining moment when I was travelling. One night on one of the farms, I was asked to help with dinner by going to pick some carrots from the garden. Easy, right? When I got to the polytunnel I realised I had no idea what a carrot looked like when it is growing out of the ground. It was a real moment that made me understand how disconnected I was from nature and how we humans get our food. Fast forward a little bit, I had moved to the other side of the sustainability spectrum and was on the hunt for some land where I could live completely off-grid, running away from a society that I thought was the problem behind it all. Soon enough, however, I realised that we all bear some responsibility for Mother Earth, which is when I decided to come back home to England to try and take responsibility for and reduce my impact on the world around me and to encourage others to do so too.
Funnily enough, energy was never something that I thought about. I was always leaving the lights on, leaving appliances on – I didn’t know anything about it. Coming to OAK Garden, where we focus on energy and its effects on our planet, has been another eye-opening experience for me. It isn’t just about recycling or what we eat, energy actually has one of the biggest carbon impacts. It has been a huge learning experience.
What three words describe you?
Creative. Brave. Passionate.
What is your favourite sustainability top tip?
I am very lucky that I have a zero-waste shop 15 minutes’ walk away from where I live. So now I collect jars, containers, and milk cartons to take with me to the zero-waste shop to reduce my plastic consumption. If you’re trying to tackle your plastic waste, my biggest tip would be to start in one room (I usually suggest the bathroom), look around, and take stock of all the plastic that you have. Start to make some small changes, for example I buy bars of soap now instead of liquid soap in plastic containers. You’ll be surprised how much difference you can make just from these small changes.
I’m quite focussed on plastic, it’s a big thing for me. Another amazing thing you can do is make an eco brick! All you need is an empty plastic bottle. You put all the single use plastic that you use into this bottle, until it is so compressed that it becomes a brick that can be used for building materials. Check out their website for more information. It was a really insightful project, rather than hiding it all in the bin, I could really see how much plastic I was actually using. This is what inspired me to start going to the zero-waste shop! Doing that for a month really opened my eyes and led to me changing my habits. It’s important to remember that you can only do what you can afford, I know that not everyone will be able to go to a zero-waste shop, for example, but maybe there’s something else they can do.
If you could give one piece of advice to your childhood self, what would it be?
That you don’t have to have it all figured out. The majority of adults still don’t have it all worked out! Do the best that you can, but you don’t have to be an astronaut to be worthy.
What book are you currently reading?
Yes, so excited to talk about this! I’m reading Valley of the Horses by Jean M Auel, the second book in the Earth’s Children series. It is based in the primeval world, following a very brave, strong woman, who journeys through ancient Europe. You learn all about the medicinal properties of plants, their weapons, etc. It makes me feel connected to how humans once lives. Reading it is like remembering something I didn’t know I had forgotten.
What does the future look like to you?
If you’d have asked me that a couple of years ago, I would have given you some apocalyptic future that I thought we were all heading for. Whereas now I have some real hope that we are going to reach a milestone in how we measure the importance of the world around us, both as a society and in government and legislation. I have some real hope that it isn’t all going to be a disaster end-of-the-world movie, quite the opposite, it is going to be an enlightened community. Same as when covid hit and the whole world stopped and battled through together. I think in the future there will be something like that where we all make sacrifices for Mother Earth.
Finally, give us your Call to Action.
Take as much time as you can to connect with nature. The more connected you are, the more you’ll do to fight climate change.