• Ariel Green

Zero Waste Trailblazer - Anamarie Shreeves | Founder of Fort Negrita, an online cooperative


If you've been in the sustainability movement for a while, you may have heard about people being able to fit months or years worth of trash into a mason jar. For many of us, this may seem like an unrealistic aspiration, or one only achievable by upper middle class white women who are usually seen heading the zero waste movement. However, historically people of color have been living zero waste or low waste lifestyles out of economic necessity for ages.


Today's featured sustainable brown girl is Anamarie Shreeves, one of the leading people of color in the zero waste movement. Since she began her zero waste journey in 2014 and fit 8 months of trash in a single mason jar, Ree has been featured on CNN, Essence magazine, PBS, and the Atlanta Tribune, just to name a few. Ree also the founder of Fort Negrita, a former blog turned cooperative, an online zero waste store and organizer of trash free projects in Atlanta.



Visit the Fort Negrita Blog & Online Store: https://www.fortnegrita.com/

Follow Ree & Fort Negrita on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fortnegrita/

Zero Waste Habesha: https://www.instagram.com/zerowastehabesha/

Zero Waste Misconceptions: https://www.fortnegrita.com/blogs/fort-negrita-blog/i-am-not-a-zero-waster-and-other-misconceptions-about-zero-waste?_pos=1&_sid=844390b87&_ss=r

Womanism is Environmentalism: https://www.fortnegrita.com/blogs/fort-negrita-blog/womanism-is-environmentalism?_pos=1&_sid=5fcff4a62&_ss=r

CNN feature: https://www.cnn.com/videos/living/2015/03/16/orig-living-zero-waste.cnn


- - - - - - - - -

TRANSCRIPTION:


Ariel:

Hello and welcome back to The Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. This show exists to connect black, brown and indigenous women who are interested in sustainability. Our goal is to inspire, encourage and educate each other; from gardening, to thrifting, to minimalism, to veganism and everywhere in between. We are all on a journey to take care of our bodies and our planet. I am your host Ariel Green.


If you have been in the sustainable movement for a while you may have heard about people being able to fit months or years worth of trash into a single mason jar. For many of us, this may seem like an unrealistic aspiration or one only achievable by upper middle class white women who are usually seen heading to the zero waste movement. However, historically people of color have been living zero waste or low waste lifestyles out of economic necessity for ages. Today’s featured sustainable brown girl is Anna Marie Shreeves, one of the leading people of color in the zero waste movement. Since she began her zero waste journey in 2014 and fit 8 months of trash in a single mason jar, Ree has been featured on CNN, Essence magazine, PBS and the Atlanta Tribune, just to name a few. Ree is also the founder of Fort Negrita a former blog turn cooperative, an online zero waste store and organizer of trash free projects in Atlanta. I am so excited to talk to her today. Thank you so much for joining us, Ree.


Ree:

Thank you.


Ariel:

I don’t know if you know but you were one of the first ever featured sustainable brown girl when I first started the account August 2019.


Ree:

No I didn’t know. That’s awesome, thank you.


Ariel:

Just seeing everything that you are doing out in the world is so inspiring so I am so excited to talk to you today.


Ree:

I’m so grateful.


Ariel:

Let’s just start from the beginning, how did you get started on your sustainability journey?


Ree:

This question comes up and I love to answer it. I used to live in front of a creek as a little girl and I would go down to the creek and hang out. I would collect tadpoles in cups and I would bring them back up and keep them as pets and they would die but I could remember, maybe I could not explain that feeling as a little girl. But, I remember going down into that creek and feeling some level of abundance and just fulfilment every time I stepped down there. It’s literally like the spirit world, the natural world was like, “Come here” every time so that definitely kicked off my sustainability journey I would say it’s just my experience with the creek which just led to my intimate relationship with nature and from there became my personal endeavors in the ways that I treated the planet.


And then bigger than that, the ways in which I’ve helped others to identify and return back to some level of sustainable habits, I think we all always believe that, at the root of us, have sustainable practices and habits within us. The childhood experience was one thing and then just maybe in high school I started encouraging my parents to recycle because it was the of best thing to do, it was on trend and such and then from there I joined in college The Green Coalition and getting more involved. I had a friend who was an environmental science major and I was a journalism major so I wasn’t on a professional track per say for the environmentalism field initially. It’s not like it was something from my creek experiences as a child that there was a cohesive journey into it. One of my environmental science friends was like, “No….” I think we had a plan to do something with some balloons, to just release some balloons in the air and she was like “no we shouldn’t do that, that’s horrible for the earth”. Then I was like, “You’re onto something.”


And then after college, I graduated, got a job and was feeling underwhelmed at the job. In spite of it being a really cool job, working for a TV network which was really fast paced and fun. I still feel empty. I went on a journey to Ecuador where I was able to just able pause for a little bit and see something new and take some time for me and when I started that process of leaving for Ecuador, I purged a lot but I didn't want to just put everything at the curb. I wanted to get rid of it responsibly so I started looking for how to recycle a mattress, how to recycle old CDs, how to recycle electronics and I found that the information was very sparse and so I started Fort Negrita because I said someone else is going to look for this information one day and they are going to find it here. I started it as an information source initially and then it turned into a blog so that when because I went to Ecuador I could just blog around, being on the beach and being reflective on the different sustainable habits I was seeing in South America and the blog just exploded.


A friend of mine, she told me about this woman who ran the No Trash project in the zero wasting when I was in Ecuador and that was when I first heard about zero waste and I was like people think that I am the zero waste or the eco-friendly friend or family member to them then I had to do this with the best practices so the best practices at that time was just I need to go into the zero waste thing. I started just thinking about ways that I would do it and then I would do a 30 day challenge and I knew that was just no going back, once you figure out that there would be models to minimize waste, your mind just never turns off from this so even if you do purchase something that is made from plastic, your mind is still giving give you that guilt trip because you can’t take away the idea now that you know that this plastic thing is going to be here longer than you and probably you and your grandchildren and your grandchildren's grandchildren. It is an interesting process but that is the long-winded journey of me into this whole sustainable world.


Ariel:

I was looking at your YouTube channel and I saw you have videos dating back to 2014. Is that around the time that you started your zero waste challenge?


Ree:

It was. I did the thirty day challenge I think in April 2014 and that's when it kicked off with me doing my blogs where I would just walk around and be like, "I have my bag, I have my mason jar" when I am walking to the grocery store or you know now I'm on a nature center so there are different things I would share through the blog in 2014, 2015 and from there started to think about reusable menstrual pads and started selling them at the times, on and off and I sell them now on Fort Negrita all of that just started initially from the lifestyle that I was living and sharing in 2014.


Ariel:

Since you were into zero waste several years ago, I would say it started making movements in mainstream media within the past, I don't know maybe 3 years or so, you've been an OG zero waste person. And part of the reason why I started the Sustainable Brown Girls was because I didn't see a lot of brown faces in this area and on your blog you have post, it's titled, "I am not a zero waster and other misconceptions about zero waste,” where you talk about being black in the zero waste space and what zero waste means to you. And I just want to read and exert because I found it so powerful. So you write, "I felt that there wasn't space for both my blackness and my deep relationship with the earth online and instead of choosing between the two I opted out. And for a long time I felt alienated from this space, I can now identify that zero waste is just a souped up title for habits black women, melanated people, indigenous communities and poor folks have been doing since the dawn of time.”

Now it's seeing why your waste is so white even though it has gained more exposure in the past few years, how do you feel like it’s shifted?


Ree:

I definitely see that there’s this level of mainstream buzz around it when I first started I could actually count on hands how many of us were blogging about zero waste and I was the only black one of those. I would say it was 4 of us at the time I was the only black one and black woman or black person that was talking about zero waste and the lifestyle was also different too, which were things that I couldn't really even formulate and fathom back then was that, these were rich white women, whether they're privileged enough to be able to... some of their zero waste habits are just out your scope. I know one of the women had talked around… She was like, “I don't carry around reasonable stuff because whenever I am somewhere and I want to get something I just buy.” And I’m like, “Wow! That must be nice because I can't just go out eat if I'm out. I have to pack lunch because I need to preserve these coins whether it's not…” at the time I think there were times when I started the zero waste life and I was like getting into college and all that, going to grad school.


It really shifted the ways that could operate, when I first started out, I was also working a job but I also didn't consider the systemic privileges that they had that I didn't have to be able to maybe start a business or do whatever it is that they were doing in zero waste. I was trying to keep up with something that literally systematically gave me an unequal stance on it. It was trying to keep up with something that just, like people say, "Keeping Up With the Joneses". I could probably try to if I could describe it in that kind of way and maybe it was there. It wasn't an ego thing that was pushing me, it was really an honest pursuit, I'm going to do the best practices of zero waste and it looked very white and not just from a race perspective but just like even the colors. There’s this slate grey and white imagery, it comes up like…


Ariel:

Very curated.


Ree:

Very curated spaces of just like Nordic interior design. It's very minimal and I’m like, “I have African patterns on my wall, does that exclude me from the zero waste movement?” I am a colorful person who comes from very colorful people and I think that was really tough to have to deal with and what happened was that I was just like I didn't want to share the parts of me that were colorful, that were beautiful, that were black. Instead, I opted out and was like I want to share it all. There were a lot of judgment too of just like, you did this but it was just so much scrutiny and I definitely think I got more scrutiny than everybody else because I was a black woman. People just feel like they could talk to me any kind of way on the internet and I’m just like, “Listen, I am trying something here that is bigger than me. This is a divine journey. You call it Zero waste, I call it culture so back off.” But I didn't have the heart and the spirit and the energy to really be able to cope with that so in a lot of ways I just shied away and stopped because I was just like these parts that don't fit the zero waste whole so I can't show up anymore. And it wasn't until I started to see the trend of zero waste expand and then you started to see more women of color in the movement who were bringing their culture with them as well and unapologetic about then I could step back and unapologetic about it that I could step back in. I was thinking Zero waste Habisha. She was a person that influenced me to let me know, she didn't do this directly but by her existing fully, she let me know, you can exist fully too in this movement, what are you doing? And people need you to exist fully because in this case I've inspired so many people even when I was shying away from it, I still have been able to inspire people and people have seen me over the years. It is a journey, it is intense my heart rate is up.


Ariel:

No, seriously there really is so much judgment in this space and it's just like people are doing their best, not everyone can be perfect and it's just a lot of privilege. But, it seems like it's getting better. You posted a few zero waste events and earth projects in Atlanta, can you tell us more about that?  


Ree:

Yes, through Fort Negrita, I've hosted reusable menstrual pads workshops which we call pad parties. It's an opportunity for people that bleed to be able to make reusable pads. We do sell reusable pads on fortnegrita.com but in an effort to make it more accessible we were also hosting pad parties. We would have about 4 to 5 machines going and for like a few hours just invite people to come make their own pads, they could bring their own material, I think one woman made some out of her old pair of jeans before but we also provided fabric as well so you could do either or and it was definitely a bonding moment. Sometimes we have things like watermelon or just fruits or refreshments to keep it going and music and it was intimate so people could talk about their flow freely. That's the first question I ask them when they are preparing to make their pads because they need to choose what size they want and it’s like, “Well how is your flow?” and some women are like looking around, I'm like, "Girl you're fine." Everybody in here, were bleeders or we honor and give reference to the women or the people that bleed. This is the creation of life, menstruating is life, it's just life that didn't get a sperm and all that other scientific parts of it. 


The pad parties is one thing and then also we have an annual earth day events called birthday fest. We didn't do one this year obviously but we've done 3 so far and the plan is to keep it as an annual event for Fort Negrita. I am even thinking about how we could expand it so right now we hold it in Atlanta and it's just an opportunity for people to come and just celebrate the earth, we call it the earth's birthday that's why it's called the birthday fest. The word birthday spells with earth in it. It's a chance for people to hang out, we play music, we some very hands-on activities that could just give people an idea of just simple practices and fun practices that they could do that are sustainable so we made bath salts in the past as well as laundry detergents, with just baking soda, lavender and oils, essential oils, we've also done screen printing where people can either bring their own item to screen print or they could find an item in the clothes swap to be able to exchange and then we have a clothes swap which is one of our biggest things.


And it's really cool because now in Atlanta a lot of my friends are just people within the network that have visited birthday fest, I've seen them hosting swaps and I'm like let me go to this swap I might find something I want. But that's been the best thing about it is that everybody goes away, walked away from it and their like look at all these things I found at the swap. So the swap has really been a big thing for birthday fest and then we have DJs, vegan food to just promote veganism, not in a very strict, you have to be a vegan but more so just pointing out that one of the largest contributor to climate change is the agricultural industry specifically the beef and chicken industry and the ways in which we have to provide for the cows just so they could eat, corn and soy so that you could go buy a slice of steak. Same thing from just feeding them to be able to allow them to create dairy and all of those processes are very intense processes on the earth. We do provide vegan food and then we have microbrewer. Actually, I don't know if they would define themselves as microbrewers at this point but there is this group called “Brothers that Brew' here in Atlanta and each one would make their little keg of beer and we would serve beer. It was a really cool experience and it is usually at an outdoor space, we had it at a farm the first year.


The second year was supposed to be like a music festival, it was outdoor in front of a Performing Arts Center and then the year before, 2018 we had it in the former Black Cracker practice field here in Atlanta which is also a big deal because it is a part of the Bush Mountain neighborhood, which was one of the first black settlements post slavery so big important space with acres of trail so beautiful space and continued to want to do it every year. Those are some of the events that I’ve hosted, on top of, I'm sorry, I also started Zero Waste in Atlanta Facebook group few years back and it started out we would have events at people's houses so sometimes we would have a patch up day where you would bring something that you needed to patch up or something.

You could bring your sewing machines, we provided a couple and we would just meet and talk and work on our patch up projects and I've also hosted some “how to zero waste” shops at the natural food co-op here, Svendanda, so those were geared towards the Zero Waste Atlanta Facebook group so that people could meet each other and get activated and that was early on and we maybe have about 200 followers or members. I think the group has grown to about 2,000 now on its own, it’s budding on it’s own. And it's really cool because people just ask some of the greatest questions on there and I was like can someone get that answered because I need to know too. It's good.


Ariel:

In addition to what you've done in Atlanta, I know you took a trip to Haiti where you also hosted a pad party and you participated into some other activities to help a local community. What inspired that trip?


Ree:

Yes, that trip I have to give all the responsibility and inspiration of that trip to the general of Fort Negrita, what I call the general of Fort Negrita is my good friend Dominique. She is a Haitian American woman and her family have been travelling back to Haiti for a few years and she and I are also line sisters and we had the opportunity to celebrate our ten year anniversary and we were like, let’s go to Haiti and let’s make it more intentional. I think typically, the trend is to do the line trips but there are like a resort and we went to a resort towards the end of the trip but they were more leisure and we wanted to add a huge part of service to the organization and our sorority is very service based so were like let's go that route. It was interesting because the trip also created a tension between line sisters because of the social conditioning that we perceived of Haiti. People think of it as a dangerous place, people think of it as a poor place. And I think they dreamt poverty, it exists everywhere, I could find it in Atlanta right around the corner so I think that, that was a thing but that is what inspired it, she wanted to go back. She wanted to take her line sisters with her or just wanted to take people with her in general. 


And her being the general of the Fort she’s been the person I travel with to Ecuador when I completely had to switch over into the more sustainable world. She has been here every step of the way and she was like when we go you are hosting a pad party in Haiti. But it was just a beautiful idea so we were able to host them. And it was the first time… Us going to Haiti has also challenged me to figured out how to host a pad party without sewing machine and without electricity which was a huge thing and it was just like I depend on the sewing machine to make it quickly easy to make pads. If we truly want get accessible and gully with it, what does it look like to not have those resources, to not have a sewing machine and not have a running electricity and still have to figure out how to take care of your cycle because this is the experience of the Haitian women and other women who don't have access to on-going energy electricity. It was a really good way to also get that plugged in and so luckily I was able to host one here in the US, actually at Spellman, beforehand, where we made them by hand because it was such a large group so it just gave me like a push to try to figure that out and to work it out so we made them by hand and we were able to give them to women in the village in Haiti where my friend Dominique’s father is from. It was a really sweet little full circle experience and then we also were on the beach one day and we were like, let's do a beach clean-up. The beach clean-up, actually was just an impromptu thing that we did and I can't remember if Megan was before or after us, I think she did it before and I think that was part of what egged us on, let's do a beach clean-up because thanks to Megan, beach clean-up is a concept that people could think about now because I am not even sure that I was the one who came up with the idea of let's do an impromptu. I want to highlight that too, Megan Thee Stallion doing something like a beach clean-up and how that can impact other people to start think about waste at the beach when beforehand they may have ignored it or just not paid attention to it so that was really a fun project, we were able to fill up a thirty gallon bag of trash. And most of it was really recyclables; most of it were water bottles, plastic bottles and tin cans and stuff that could be recycled. Waste infrastructure, trash infrastructure is a privilege too that many countries do not have. The majority world, some people may define as the developing world, I don't like to use that term, I call them the majority because they don't have access to the sophisticated waste infrastructure that we have here in the United States so it’s a privilege.


Ariel:

It really is, that's so true. Going along the thing with the pad parties in many ways on your blog or on Fort Negrita, you talk about the connection between females and the earth and you advocate for normalizing the menstrual cycle by holding the pad parties. And you have a blog post about womanism as the original environmentalism, where you discussed how the term coined by Alice Walker describes black and women of color; feminist theory, which goes deeper than race and class structures. Can you share more about the relationship between womanism and environmentalism?


Ree:

Yes. When I think of those two words, they are very synonymous to me because both of them are beautiful, they express beauty, they express patterns, they express some kind of reverence to the natural world in living beings. They are expressions of systems, intelligence systems, indigenous technology almost where you think of a woman in a kitchen and her ability to come and pick up a few things in the kitchen and just make this beautiful meal with it and if there wasn't a need to say I have to go to the grocery store and get all these things. When I think of womanism, I do think of a woman in a kitchen and that doesn't…some people may say that doesn't sound like you are freeing up the woman because men always put us in the kitchen, but I can say from my personal experience that I enjoy what magic I am able to create in the kitchen and I think that womanism expresses the creativity that we have. And then we can look outside and you see creativity. Outside and we see lines and patterns of trees which you see the beauty in the colors inside of a mushroom, those are the difference things that I think aligns with womanism and environmentalism and then also just this nurturing care. It's like come into the bosom. I think we all sit in the bosom of earth and we also sit at the bosom of women.


Women are just abundant with energy and with offerings to people, so much that we're always so extracted from whether it be our intelligence that’s being extracted on or it is our capabilities to be able to get something done. Women are always like, "you can't do it, get out of my way I got it". And these things does mean that people get to extract from us in the same ways like the earth been extracting on, we extract from the earth for these fuels, we're digging up, we are blowing away mountain tops to be able to access those natural resources or we are going down under the ground, under the water to pull that energy or creating pipelines that are destructing sacred waters and in order to do that, the extraction on both ends both on women and on the earth are both the same where people know that we are abandoned. They come and sip at our breast but they don't give value to it, there is no exchange, no reciprocity for that process. And I think that is happening to both women and the environment and then just our expressions of just creativity, beauty patterns, love, nurturing and the abundance, the bliss that happens both in the presence of women and the environment are the same. That's how I see them as the same. 


Ariel:

When you explain it like that, totally. It's obvious that life comes from women and the earth creates life, that is beautiful. This is the question that I ask everyone at the end of the podcast. What is 1 simple way that anyone can be more sustainable?


Ree:

I am definitely going to go with awareness. It really is a light switch, once you are aware of things you can't turn off awareness. Once you see something or know something you can't turn it off and I think having the awareness around, what we are experiencing, meaning, I'm talking about our inundation with waste and trash, every day we come in contact with plastic and trash and all that kind of stuff and we didn't even ask for it. Looking at the ways and having a level of awareness of where your electricity comes from, where does my food comes from. All of those things turn on a light switch for you. I just watched a video about bananas and the whole banana republic thing and I feel a way about buying bananas now and it’s hard I'm not saying I could necessarily stop buying them, sorry. But, in my mind it puts into perspective, what are we doing about this? what are we doing about the force labor? the diseases that are taking over this monocrop of a sterile banana that we all depend on every day. I think that awareness just helps us to turn that light on so that we can at least have some level of consciousness around something and then that consciousness will shift into our behaviors. Maybe I'll buy less bananas or I'll go out of my way to go get the bananas that I know are from a different breed and they are better to eat, I hope.

It is things like that that will change our habits it's, awareness first. Once I saw you and your jar or your trash, I can't even look at my trash the same way and it's like that's good because that's your awareness that helps you to then shift your habits so now that you have this awareness about your trash, what are you going to do about it. “I started bringing my bag to the grocery store,” that is just a small habit but it's shifting the way, because people are going to see more people with reusable bags at the grocery store. I can say over the last 6 years that I've been doing this I've been seeing more people at grocery stores with reusable bags. I’ve seen more people recycling, asking me how to recycle. I've seen people carrying reusable water bottles and when I was in grad school, I just finished last year, last December and there were so many people that had reusable water bottles and I was just like see, the kids are alright. The shifts and changes that are happening, it definitely starts with awareness so that would be my one tip. 


Ariel:

Absolutely, 100% agreed, thank you so much, Ree. Thank you for joining us and can you tell everyone where to find you online?


Ree:

Sure, so please visit www.fortnegrita.com, that is where the blogs, former lifestyle blog, it still has a lot of all of the lifestyle blogs content on there and the cooperative exist. The cooperative is a place where you can get reasonable alternatives to every day disposable wear. We also still talk around a lot of theories and principles that we hold dear to our hearts at Fort Negrita, including womanism and cooperatives as an alternative or regenerative economy source of over capitalism and we also talk a lot around nature and just, our love and we are poetic about it and we like science so you could find cool things about, different birds that are helping us to track climate change. We talk a lot about climate change too because that is super important. Join us there at fortnegrita.com and then also on Instagram @fortnegrita and I have personal Instagram which is @reefromthefort.


Ariel:

We will put all that in the show notes so everyone can get to it easily. Thank you so much, Ree, it was amazing talking to you. You are doing so much inspirational work and I hope that you continue and keep making big waves and bringing more people into the sustainability field.


Ree:

Same. Thanks to you. You’re doing the same work so I appreciate you being right by my side.