Eleanor Kinney was all of twenty-two years old when Brownie Carson, former executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, sat at the kitchen table of her small Washington, D.C., house and watched her write her first four-figure philanthropic check.
It was her parents, Gilbert and Ann Kinney, who suggested Carson visit their daughter. They had seen how Eleanor’s love of the environment and her passion for Maine had focused her life, leading her to study history and the environment at Yale and later oceanography in Rhode Island.
Over time, Kinney found that simple philanthropy was not enough; she needed to get directly involved. To that end, she began putting her time and energy, as well as her money, into campaigning, lobbying, and investing. Whether working to save Rhode Island’s last old growth forest; serving on and directing boards, as she did at the Natural Resources Council of Maine; fighting the construction of a Walmart in Damariscotta; or supporting businesses that simultaneously create jobs and increase the availability of fresh local foods, Kinney is there, she says, with her “boots on the ground.”
Sitting in her living room in Bremen in midcoast Maine, Kinney describes a trajectory that runs from concern for the environment to ideas for economic growth. After lobbying against the Plum Creek development proposed for the Moosehead Lake region, she became focused on ways of preserving Maine’s North Woods, for both its economic and environmental values. Through that work, she heard about the Environmental Funders Network, or EFN. This joint project of the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Philanthropy Center supports Maine’s natural environment and actively connects funders to generate new ideas for enhancing quality of place.
Before she put her philanthropy to work for EFN, Kinney set up a fund at the Maine Community Foundation. “The work that the community foundation does to educate donors is symbolic of its tremendous value,” she says. Instead of soldiering on alone, Kinney now connects to a community of people who are inspiring each other with ideas and deeds.
Kinney’s current concern is this: “How do we build a food system in Maine that will feed Mainers, keep our land open, and do something about hunger in the state?” Her answer, beyond joining EFN’s steering committee and the board of the Maine Farmland Trust, is to become an active Slow Money investor. “I want my investments to reflect my values,” she notes, “which for me means moving assets off Wall Street and into local food businesses.” Examples include MOO Milk, Somerset Grist Mill, and Northern Girl, an organic vegetable processing facility in Aroostook County. Kinney also helped found the No Small Potatoes Investment Club, which provides micro-loans to Maine farms and food enterprises.
As her parents fostered a love of giving, Kinney is reaching to the future with her three children, instilling in them the values of giving and doing. Her 13-year-old daughter Eloise dives into the frigid New Year’s ocean to raise money for the Natural Resources Council of Maine while her 11-year-old son Ridgely has been interviewed on “Maine Things Considered” about Save the Nautilus, an organization he and a friend created that raises funds to help protect this ancient sea creature from over-harvesting.
Among Kinney’s many plans is turning her own land into a productive farm, a dream that is now being realized as a young farming couple moves into her barn and begins readying her fields to graze sheep and grow organic produce. These days, her boots are not only on the ground, they’re getting muddy -- and for her, that is a very good thing.