A practical example

of youth leadership essentials and how YL helps YOU harness them.


“… is working to train students to advocate for the reduction and eventual elimination of herbicides on their college campuses by working with groundskeepers to transition to organic land care.

Although we focus on eliminating herbicides, we’re really a youth-empowerment group

  • giving students advocacy tools and
  • helping them realize that they have what it takes
  • to make this change on their own campuses
  • and beyond.”

They do precisely what YL helps you do for all sorts of causes – which makes their example so precious for newbies and advanced changemakers.

This interview with Mackenzie Feldman and Bridget Gustafson of Herbicide Free Campus published by Penny Bauder in Authority Magazine is a rare and precious example of positive change journalism. We are thrilled to share a commented version.

We highlight

  1. breakthrough moments that are UNIVERSAL keys to success 
  2. YL tools, tips and tricks that HELP YOU HARNESS these aspects 

Get a cup of tea, sit back and count your oooh and aahh moments.

The Basic Mindset

Don’t take no for an answer. If you ever get discouraged (and trust us, you will), just remember that there are so many people supporting you from afar. You are on the right side of history, and anything that changes the world takes a lot of time, patience, and grit. When you hit a wall, you just need to find a way around it. And trust us, there always is a way. You got this!


Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Mackenzie: When I was in high school, I came across this book at an event, Facing Hawai’i’s Future, written by the organization Hawai’i Seed. This was my first introduction to the pesticide problem in Hawai’i. It brought light to the grassroots movement happening on the islands in which everyday folks were standing up to corporations and working to address the excessive pesticide use by GMO companies, particularly on Maui and throughout Kauai County. It really inspired me, and I knew that one day, I would figure out a way to join the movement. If you’re interested in learning more, this film does an amazing job telling the story.

Bridget: The Harry Potter series. I think getting to read the books and visualize that fantasy world in my own mind before the movies came out allowed me to build my imagination, something that has been so crucial to the activism and organizing work we do at HFC that requires creating and imagining ways to change landscaping practices that have become so entrenched in common practice.

Origin of Mindset

Nurture Positive Worldview

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Grow up with Real Hero*ine stories

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Flair of Magic, fun and adventure

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How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

We view making a difference in terms of longevity. We want our mission to be self-sustaining, especially since we’re working with college students who typically rotate out of our fellowship every year, and out of college every four years. A lot of our work is focused on imparting the knowledge we’ve curated throughout our work advocating against synthetic herbicides and sharing it in a way that can be passed down through generations.

We give students the tools and training from top to bottom – starting a student group, getting a resolution passed in the student government, and advocating for high-level policies so that the work they do will live on after they leave campus.

We trust that our student fellows will take the organizing skills they’ve learned from us beyond graduation to become engaged citizens working for environmental justice in far-reaching ways.

Longevity at School & beyond

Empower for self-organization

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Activate entire School

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For many settings

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We started Herbicide-Free Campus as undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley in 2017. We played on the UC Berkeley Beach Volleyball team, and one morning when we showed up for practice, our coach cautioned us not to retrieve the balls if they rolled off the court. Why? Because the surrounding area had just been sprayed with an herbicide.

We asked our coach to connect us with the Athletic Grounds Manager who informed us that he had been spraying Ranger Pro, which contains the active ingredient glyphosate, which was declared a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015. The Grounds Manager told us he was willing to stop spraying, but he just didn’t have the staff capacity to pick the weeds. We looked around and volunteered our 19-person volleyball team to help him pick the weeds so he wouldn’t have to spray Ranger Pro.

When he agreed, we thought it was remarkable how receptive he was to our help. Perhaps we could take this same approach to the rest of campus and reduce our dependence on chemicals by working together. Mackenzie wrote an op-ed for The Daily Californian after the day at the courts, and it generated a lot of support from the greater Berkeley community.

It was then that we realized we were not alone- there were many people both on and off campus who supported the end of herbicide use on our green spaces and beyond.

We worked with the Grounds Manager to conduct an organic pilot project on the two largest green spaces on campus. Now, UC Berkeley has almost entirely eliminated the use of herbicides from its campus. In the four years since its creation, we have expanded the campaign first to other University of California schools, and then to universities nationwide. To date, we have worked with over 50 student fellows across 20 college campuses in the United States and successfully led a campaign to ban glyphosate-based herbicides from all 10 of the University of California campuses as well as every public school in Hawai’i.

In 2021, we launched the HFC Accelerator Program, a one-year intensive student fellowship for 6 schools in 6 states. Our goal by the end of 2021 is to support these students in pushing for policy that reduces and eventually eliminates herbicides from their campuses.

Scaling up all over the country

People care + are kind

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Positive change media in social + news media

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Many people care - tell them + replicate

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First here then everywhere

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Available as coach

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Provide training

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 Importance of Yl stories, hero profile resource links, coaches on demand

Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

That day on the volleyball court in 2017 was the beginning of Herbicide-Free Campus, and our most valuable lesson came early on when we spoke with the Athletics Grounds Manager. We learned that it was possible to accomplish both parties’ goals – ours to eliminate herbicides and his to remove the weeds efficiently – by substituting toxic weed killers with willing hands.

Our aha moment was realizing that our work in achieving an herbicide-free campus must start with meeting the needs of the groundskeepers.

Most maintenance workers are underpaid and undervalued, and groundskeepers are no exception. Groundskeepers at University of California schools are spread much too thin, trying to manage huge swaths of areas and maintain them to a certain aesthetic standard. Offering our group of 19 girls to help pick the weeds and take this task off the groundskeeper’s plate turned out to be a symbiotic relationship, helping the groundskeeper reduce his workload while meeting our goal of halting the herbicide use on our athletic field.

This made us realize that with these same tactics of offering to help, we could expand this campaign to the rest of campus and get herbicides eliminated from the entire school… which is exactly what we did.

Common goal + win-win benefits

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Get active en masse

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Rapic impact, fun time

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Enrich their Life

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Replicable for many others

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Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

After talking with the Athletic Grounds Manager and successfully convincing him to stop spraying Ranger Pro, we talked to every single person we could, knowing full well that we weren’t experts in the field but that we were ready to learn everything we could for this cause that we cared about.

We just wanted to understand why something that was known to be so harmful was so ubiquitous across campuses simply for aesthetic purposes!

We talked to folks in the business school and environmental health and safety department; professors working in toxicology and human health; and staff working in landscape architecture. We understood that we needed to take a step back and understand the literal landscape before diving in so we weren’t arguing for or against something without understanding the full picture.


Activate Adult Allies

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Experts in institutions willing to help

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Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Mackenzie: I happened to be in San Francisco in the summer of 2018 after graduation and I heard that there was a trial of a former groundskeeper, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who was suing Monsanto (now Bayer) after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which had been linked to the daily spraying of his glyphosate-based herbicides. We knew that Lee Johnson’s case would have ripple effects across the country. I was able to pass a note to Lee during the trial telling him how much I admired him and sharing the work we were doing with Herbicide-Free Cal. Once the trial was over, he reached out over email to ask how he could get involved. Lee won his case and is still fighting for his life with the debilitating disease, but he now serves as an Advisory Board member and continues to join us in our public advocacy work. His story reminds us how important it is to work hand-in-hand with groundskeepers like Lee, because at the end of the day, they are most exposed to the harms of synthetic pesticides and herbicides.

Bridget: It’s really cool that we have Lee as a friend, ally, and advisor on our board. He is one of the many reasons why we keep doing this work. Groundskeepers, like Lee, are often invisible to those who just have eyes for maintaining lawns and green spaces to a certain standard and don’t think about the people behind their upkeep. Unfortunately, Lee is just one of many hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced adverse health effects from close contact with these harmful chemicals, and all of those people have friends and families who care about them and want them to live long, healthy lives. So we also remain grounded in that, remembering that this large-scale issue is always rooted in individuals at the end of the day.

Magical moments

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Win-wins for Hero*ines

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Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

Mackenzie: When we first started reaching out to UC Berkeley groundskeeper, we aggressively bombarded him with emails and were ignored each time. Bridget suggested we alter our approach and shift the conversation toward what we could do for him and express our gratitude for all the work he was already doing, which is a very Bridget suggestion. Lo and behold, he responded in just ten minutes! This was a very important lesson for us – to remember to meet the groundskeepers where they are.

Now we teach all our student fellows how to approach and work in tandem with the groundskeepers and landscapers on campus.

Bridget: Being in the advocacy space, we often feel like we always have to be ready to fight- fight Big Ag, fight herbicide manufacturers and anyone else who disagrees with an organic approach. When we started we just knew that these groundskeepers were doing something we didn’t like, and we felt like we needed to come in with guns blazing to get them to stop spraying pesticides and herbicides. But what’s really happening is that these groundskeepers are in a Catch-22 situation – they need to get a specific job done in very large spaces with little resources, and they’re taught the most efficient (although not the safest) way to maintain these green spaces free of weeds and pests, so they spray chemicals to do that. 

It’s not really the groundskeeper as an individual deciding to spray Round-Up because it’s their favorite method, it’s that this is often their only option.

We had to remember to focus on the commonalities between us – wanting safer green spaces.

Projects not Protests

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Create win win Benefits

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Help Key Professionals

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None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

There are so many mentors and supporters who guided us in our campaign to go completely organic, starting with Lee Johnson, of course.

But before meeting Lee and after the day on the beach volleyball court when we decided to advocate against pesticides, I wrote an op-ed in the school paper that was read by a woman named Susan Junfish from Parents for a Safer Environment.

She encouraged us to apply for a grant to bring in a professional horticulturist, Chip Osborne, to train UC Berkeley’s Ground Manager and his crew in organic land care. He agreed, and we were able to choose the two largest green spaces on campus to go organic. Chip taught the groundskeepers how to do soil testing and use the results to conduct practices like over-seeding, aeration, and compost tea to balance the soil and allow the grass to outcompete the weeds. Theron, the Grounds Manager, has been excited about it ever since, and now nearly all of Berkeley’s campus is organic.

Philip Stark, the Associate Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at UC Berkeley and an avid forager, was also an early supporter of ours. He had actually been working to ban herbicides on campus but hadn’t yet thought of working with a student group. He’s now on our Advisory Board and takes students on on-campus walks to learn about the medicinal and herbal properties of weeds.

Finding Adult Allies



Positive change media work

involving audiences

Helping Adult Allies detect and wield their superpowers

Genius know-how applicable by common caring people

Adults join the extended team

for support on demand but also with new roles embedding their skills in the framework

Experts get active

in context of the initiative

At the Heart of it are YOUTH

Nothing could happen without them. The adults are alone and busy with professional and family life. The youth crew wields all superpowers of Youth At School

This is a perfect demo of what we call



Pure spirit

innocent pure motivation, no hidden agenda or renumeration, benefits all + no burden to anyone, in fact relieves many people of bad burdens

Large crew

with multiple talent

Daily access to 100s of peers

in their space but also all over campus reaching 10,000s + then at other universities reaching 100,000s

Passion + Creativity

drive to succeed, do research, fire to inspire others, sense of urgency that activates others, willingness to make impact = invest time, Weeds Appreciation Day

Free infrastructure

to meet and organize on campus

Good status with media

momentum and role model solution to solve a global problem

Good status with school board

quality solution, high educational value, no need for investment, multiple long-term benefits

Good status with adult allies

experts, coaches, supporters who see their good wishes for the world realized by those equipped with superpowers to manifest them


health, fun, vision, skills, love, adventure, ace relations: hero*ines, experts, journalists, students … globally

Universal tool, method to apply wherever they go, adding purpose, vocation to life



to do this besides their core profession as student; yet free from time consuming professional, community and family duties

You now better understand why with YL

  • we prioritize to activate youth leadership at school 
  • with Changemaker Student Clubs
  • we provide every caring youth, adult, teacher …
  • with simple steps to activate youth leadership at school
  • with plenty of tools, training, support
  • enabling student self-organization 
  • so that you need not spend a lot of time on it, since your life is buzy

because one single caring person can spark it – swift and fun – with out toolset. Crash Course Phase 1 is enough. Phases 5 and 6 make you a pro.

Imagine The Superpowers of Youth at School at work on other causes

You can very well imagine what can happen at schools …

end use of poisons on school grounds

enormous book drives to build children’s libraries in places of need

LEGO and games drives

Daily Bake- and LemonAID sales to raise funds for causes

Philanthro-Parties for various causes, putting the FUN into FUNdraising

incl. Party in a Box for the Unseen – giftbox for maintenance personnel, groundskeepers – can be combined with a fest celebrating Public Services

Changemaker school fest inviting parents and community

3D-print hand protheses for Indian village kids

Donate Don’t Dump unused canteen food

Vegan lifestyle challenge involving canteen, students, teachers

Good touch bad touch training; stop street harassment campaign

Donate hair to make wigs for cancer chemotherapy patients

Plant an edible garden; “with so many hands it takes only 10 minutes”

48 hour sponsor run for development project partners – small town schools in YL score 10, 20, 40,000 within 3 years

Long-term partnerships + exchanges to shape the future of entire regions

Global SDG School Challenge to take tangible action on all 17 SDGs 

YL CRASH COURSEs – cascade to classes and other schools

with Changemaker Student Clubs equipped with tools, tricks, partners, 400+ activities, 50 UN Days … to organize year-round fireworks of action

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Bridget: I’ve held this story close to my heart since the day that it happened. During one of our student workdays, I was chatting with one of the Berkeley groundskeepers, and he stopped for a moment and got serious. He told me, I’m grateful that we are doing these student workdays and we’re working alongside one another. It makes me hopeful that these students will learn that it is me and my crew that takes care of this campus, and hopefully that will make them less likely to throw a piece of trash on the ground knowing that we’ll be the ones picking it up.

What was being said in that moment was that he was grateful to be seen, as we all are. It reminds me that the ripples of our organic lawn care advocacy go beyond the physical health of groundskeepers and students, it’s also about forging human relationships and breaking down the social structures that can separate us from the maintenance staff. It’s reminding our students that the campus that they love so much is only made possible by these groundskeepers, landscapers, janitorial staff and other maintenance workers.

Intangible Impact

heals people, society, community

makes life at school more awesome, also for students to feel less awkward, controlled, guilty sub/consciously

Are there three things the community / society / politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. Call on your school board and school administration

to eliminate the spraying of synthetic herbicides on school grounds and advocate for a transition to organic land care. There are examples all over the world where this has been done, so you won’t be the first! See this list for examples of where this has been successful.


2. Call on governments and corporations

to phase-out and ban HHPs (highly hazardous pesticides), to be replaced with safe, sustainable and ecological methods of pest control.

3. Start with your own home garden. 

On a per acre basis, American homeowners use 10 times more pesticides than what is used on U.S. farms. Here are some tools for healthy gardening and lawn care. Once you make this change in your own backyard and are ready to advocate for more, check out this page to help inspire your neighbors and your HOA (Homeowners Association).


Well documented good practices

YL solution stories galore

Give people tools to self-organize

text YL resources

Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

1. Talk to anyone and everyone.

When we first began, we scheduled meetings or phone calls with just about everyone we could think of, whether they were directly related to this issue or not. Funnily enough, we found one of our greatest allies (who is still on the HFC Advisory Board to this day) in the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, a school that many environmentally-focused students and faculty are in conflict with. You really never know who could be your ally… so why not open every door?




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 In youth leadership UNEXPECTED ALLIES and NEW OPPORTUNITIES beyond what youre used to in 20th century battles (get moving in good spirit, projects not protests and BE PRESENT, passionate, eloquency helps but not decisive + VIVIDLY DOCUMENT TELL STORIES = LOCAL YL MAGAZINE = get found, expect surprises, this is OUR TIME; the deatheaters work heard to elimiate life on earth and enslave souls like raging childish ego morons kicking off the chess board BUT we have already won by the cosmic clock and shall save as many species as possible into the next good era >> make the LAND STRONG make the PEOPLE STRONG, it’s all about SPIRIT, spirit over matter!)

2. Effective communication, network building, and “across the aisle” organizing happens

when you see and treat others the way you’d like to be treated, no matter what side of the issue you perceive them to be on. This sounds simple, but it really revolutionized our campaign. The people we originally viewed as our “opposition” were groundskeepers (aka the folks who sprayed herbicides) and now collaboration and teamwork with groundskeepers is one of the most vital pieces of our organizing strategy. 



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 (NOT PROTEST BUT PROJECTS, most people nice but … incompetent, impotent in terms of genius, knowhow, power to create change; once spirit + solution it rolls = learn of plenty plenty model solutions from yL magezine and media and SOME TIME over your nextz fifty years youll run into settings and people that NEED that, and you ll remember and where to find it to give them the link or do it yourse

3. Don’t be afraid to not know something.

One of the best ways you can connect with someone or more wholly understand an issue is by hearing how someone else sees and processes it. We would’ve never achieved herbicide-free campus grounds if we pretended like we had all the answers from the start.


Your Title Goes Here

(get rolling spark and evolve full spectrum youth leadership, with activate your city with crash courses at schools all over town, connect with libraries and community centres for learnspaces, with city for exhgibits and press and news media presence, JUST TAKE THE CRASH COURSE and DO 48h SPONSOR RUN and soon START THE SDG SCHOOL CHALLENGE)

4. It is crucial to constantly bring others into your work.

You might think you need to wait until your campaign is officially “established” until you are ready to host large meetings and assign people roles, but it is never too early to invite others to brainstorm with you. Your campaign will only go so far until you bring new energy into the fold! 



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 YL HEROINES AND COACHES FOR YOU, also 24/7 for initiatied warriors and coaches)

5. Don’t take no for an answer.

If you ever get discouraged (and trust us, you will), just remember that there are so many people supporting you from afar. You are on the right side of history, and anything that changes the world takes a lot of time, patience, and grit. When you hit a wall, you just need to find a way around it. And trust us, there always is a way. You got this! 



Your Title Goes Here

YL TRIBE, diverse HIGH IMPACT STARTER ACTIONS cannot fail!!! and live changemaking as a sport and #bemoreawesome

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

If you see a problem around you, and you think you have ANY chance of eliminating that problem or offering a solution to improve it, you shouldn’t ignore that call. There’s a reason you are in that moment in time and place, and you shouldn’t shy away from that. It’s our responsibility to protect people and the planet for the generations that come after us. It can be as simple as picking up trash on the side of the road. There is so much theorizing in academia and we tend to get in our heads, but there is incredible power in the actual doing.



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(Spirit tells you for a reason, trust, obey the divine guidance, s/he knows, sees far more than you do little blindfold walking backward into the future)(the future of all species and generations to come depends precisely on the people alive right now) Dare To Be Great! Polly Higgins Stop talking and fretting and analyzing and protesting – bemoreawesome – set the benchmark to evoke true tangible changes impacting real lives land, learning, laws and industries

no need to reinvent the wheel and wait for years for your big idea. Do what needs doing. All this does. And do it fast. By doing so you make impoact, groeww, experience, reonomme, recognition, tean, supportive community – and with that platform spirit will show you the big mission – and then you WILL BE READY FOR THAT BOSS BATTLE with flying banners. Not now, you newbie. But then!

GIVE „ACCESS“ TO SPECIAL PEOPLE and hollywood etc spaces
BACK AND TAG YL AND HEROINES ON SOCIAL MEDIA + ADD ACTION CALLS to involve your audiences and followers (=in-kind help by news media; make an interview, article)

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Mackenzie: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!!!!

Bridget: Jesmyn Ward. Her writing has both made a home for me and shown me worlds and lives that have expanded my understanding of this country. I live in a small, rural town very similar to the one she describes growing up in and would love to get to talk to her about that.


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Well done, champ.

Now, enjoy seeing what you’ve just read and realized packed into one video – and FEEL the SPIRIT.

This is another ace example of proper positive change media culture.

Sigh, check your tv programs and youtube … and compare the ocean of nonsense. 

JOIN YL to make a huge difference!