Dave Timmer (Au Sable Alum ’98; Grad Fellow ’04-’05) serves as Stewardship Director for A Rocha USA in Northwest Washington. Timmer’s talents and demands are many, as evidenced by the three-part exchange between him and Brook Wilke on the role of farmers markets in sustainability agriculture. His skills and ethic were honed through studies at Calvin College (B.S., Biology) and the University of Michigan (M.S., Restoration Ecology) and work as a Biologist with the National Park Service in Olympic Natural Park and as a Restoration Biologist working on salmon recovery with the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians in Washington State. We spoke with Timmer about his current work at A Rocha USA:
What do you do in your current position?
We’ve recently unrolled a new slogan for A Rocha USA – Restoring People and Place…Together. That really captures what I do for A Rocha. I work on habitat conservation and watershed restoration projects and building our local food system in the place where I live – Lynden, WA. Truthfully, this gives me a bunch of hats – farmer, community developer, city planner, tree planter, teacher, and ecologist. My day can consist of grant writing, brainstorming land management ideas with a local landowner, planting onions, organizing the Lynden Farmers Market, meeting with a local pastor, or helping an intern measure trees in a nearby old-growth forest. The key component, though, is we are working on these things in our place with the people who live here with us.
Why is this work important to conservation?
I think anything that we can do to help people reconnect is important. To help people learn a new native plant, or about the salmon that come back to Fishtrap Creek every fall, or something about their history – this is important. We’ve become so disconnected from each other, from our surroundings, and from our Creator. We need this.
The longer I do this, the more I realize that this approach…to be deeply embedded in our place and to be connected to our ecological boundaries and humbly realize that we are a part of that ecology is not only important to conservation but it is also an important approach to living faithfully. Yes, we study the ecology, we cultivate the soil, and we plant trees along salmon streams. But, we also organize networks of agencies, churches, landowners, and volunteers. We spend a lot of time talking to each other…building relationships. This is conservation.
What was most memorable and important to you about your time at Au Sable?
The January term that I spent at the Northern Michigan campus was fantastic. There was tons of snow throughout the month. Right away, I realized that my course, Winter Stream Ecology, meant we would be spending most of the month out in that snow. And not only in the snow but also in the streams that were covered with that snow. We spent hours walking through, exploring, capturing insects, and studying the local creeks with 3 feet of snow covering the streambank. It was my first experience with field biology. Who would have thought that the study of biology comes alive when the students are required to be outside?
Additionally, and just as important, was the experience of intentional community. These experiences: living together, studying together, learning together and eating meals together, gives the student a glimpse of things being right. While I probably didn’t realize it at the time, the Au Sable experience helps to provide some slight insight into the goodness of the created order.
How does your faith in Jesus Christ affect the work you do today?
We are invited to participate in the redemption process. The depth of the incarnation and resurrection exemplifies God’s ongoing investment in his creation. If our work doesn’t help to build his Kingdom – the one unfurled with the resurrection – then we are missing out on that fullness.
How did your time at Au Sable help prepare you for what you are doing now?
My Au Sable experiences gave me a first hand look at field biology. It helped me understand that, no matter the weather, you still need to get outside. It also connected me to a lot of great people…not only the professors and other Winter Stream Ecology students but also to the wide circle of alumni who I enjoy running into.
Why do you think people should continue to study at Au Sable today?
I think studying at Au Sable helps to broaden one’s college experience. Studying out in the field is crucial for understanding ecology – Au Sable helps provide that extended and intense period of field study. But, even more important, Au Sable broadens one’s imagination. This glimpse of what is possible (through community and learning) helps to spark the vocational imagination.
What about your work gives you hope?
Well, building relationships can be messy. It requires a long-view. But, what gives me hope is that people, no matter their background, their politics, their denomination, or even their religion are willing to take a look at the creek behind their house or have a taste of a fresh tomato. I’ve found very few people who are completely antagonistic toward good stewardship. At A Rocha, I often find myself in a mediator type of position. We aren’t government, enforcement, political, or activists…this helps break down barriers and gets beyond stereotypes.
I don’t find hope in legalism – in a certain set of “green” rules or list of things required to save the planet. I do find hope in my compost bin, in sharing a meal, in a nesting kestrel, in reading the prophets, in my boys catching caterpillars and in a good conversation.