Twenty-five people representing seven countries gathered at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis on May 14-15, 2019 for an intensive two-day workshop to help shape the work of the EcoHealth Network. Participants included farmers, economists, soil scientists, medical doctors, public health professionals, engineers, ecologists, and representatives from six of the eight Founder Sites in the EHN network.
Key objectives of the EHN Steering Committee in bringing together this diverse, multi-disciplinary group of researchers and practitioners were to: 1) identify strategic goals for EHN and develop an organizational structure to meet them; 2) introduce representatives from the EHN Founder Sites to one another; and 3) begin fostering connections across disciplines to raise awareness about the link between ecological restoration and public health, and about the critical role of soil health as a common concern, and potentially transformative issue, across the range of restorative activities.
The first day of the workshop, and the morning of the second, consisted of short, ‘Ignite’ presentations and panel discussions covering many aspects of ecological restoration and exploring the interface between ecosystem health and human health, including livelihoods and broader questions of human well-being. We also heard talks during lunch breaks and dinners.
Discussion was wide-ranging, with much of it situated in the context of the different categories we have initially identified for EHN network sites: farms and ranches, protected areas of high conservation and ecosystem service values, and complex sites encompassing mosaic landscapes and even cities. We are looking at modifying these designations and/or adding additional categories as the network continues to grow.
The afternoon of the second day was spent in breakout groups for focused discussion around several topics, including: research to address key gaps, communication and outreach, and the state of soil science. We also asked the groups to discuss strategic goals/priorities for the EcoHealth Network, with a view to maximizing the Network’s beneficial impact not only for members and partners, but also for the fields of ecological restoration, public health, and soil science more broadly.
At the conclusion of the meeting, we established four working groups to help carry forward EHN’s organizational development: 1) EHN Structure and Management, 2) Communications, 3) Research, and 4) Funding. The Steering Committee also invited input from participants about needs and next steps to further consolidate and strengthen the Network, which we have since incorporated into a Three-Year Action Plan.