Co-Founder; Executive Director
Dave Henson (He/Him) has been the Executive Director of OAEC since it’s founding in 1994, and is a founding member of the Sowing Circle intentional community. At OAEC, Dave’s responsibilities include strategic planning, fundraising, and overall organizational management. Programmatically, he works within sustainable agricultural, environmental and social justice movements to further the cause of regional scale, socially just and ecologically restorative systems of governance and economy. With a background in ecology, sociology and law, Dave has co-founded or worked for many social movement organizations over the past 35 years, and has lectured and led training programs around the U.S. and in over 20 countries.
On Staff Since: 1994 Email > Phone: x104
In Their Own Words
My work at OAEC:
My job at OAEC is to be strategic and collaborative in the urgent work of protecting and restoring biological and cultural diversity. I listen, teach, organize, write, speak, raise money, build alliances, work to legalize ‘right action,’ and deal with way too many emails. A big part of my work is to help each of OAEC’s amazing staff members develop their own strategies, budgets and work plans for achieving our collective organizational goals. I also consult with and facilitate other environmental, farming and social justice organizations and coalitions to become more effective in developing their social change goals, and in articulating clear plans of action to achieve those goals.
Some of the organizations I have recently worked with as a strategic planning consultant include Californians for Pesticide Reform, the Rainforest Action Network, Hawaii SEED, California Certified Organic Farmers, the Agrarian Trust, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Pollinator Protection Network, the Organic Materials Review Institute, the Threshold Foundation, and the Salmonid Restoration Federation, as well as facilitating many national strategy meetings that build new alliances on issues including halting genetic engineering in agriculture and food, restricting confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), building seed saving networks, dismantling the legal fiction of corporate personhood, coordinating research on sequestering soil carbon, and building an agricultural university in Rwanda.
I was raised in Ventura County, California, one of six children of working class parents. I recognize the race, gender, class, and sexual identity privilege that has given me much access and opportunity, and I have sought to leverage that privilege toward the cause of winning a more just and ecologically sustainable world. I studied ecology and sociology at UC Santa Barbara, and law at New College of California’s School of Law, and except for many years waiting tables to finance my schooling, I’ve pretty much been a full-time social change educator and organizer my whole adult life.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked for many great organizations over the years, including the Abalone Alliance, the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, Earth Island Institute, Greenpeace, the National Toxics Campaign, and the Highlander Research and Education Center. And I’ve co-founded and helped lead many others, including the Environmental Project on Central America, the Program on Corporations Law and Democracy, Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, the Wild Farm Alliance, the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, the California Climate and Agriculture Network, and the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.
I’ve had the chance to have worked in more than 20 countries (particularly in Latin America and in Eastern Europe), and travelled to another 25. I’ve given talks or done some organizing in nearly all of the U.S. states. In engaging with and learning from new people in new places, I’m always scanning for patterns: What works in efforts to make positive social change? What doesn’t? Why? What can I learn and put into practice in our work at OAEC?
Why my work matters:
I’m not fully optimistic about the fate of the human project, but I remain full of hope. My studied observation is that we humans are so out of balance with the natural systems we rely upon for long-term survival that we are most certainly in for a very hard crash. I don’t believe we humans will number nine or even seven billion people in 150 years. I think we will be many less than that as a consequence of having so thoroughly destroyed so many keystone ecosystems and ecological processes in just the past couple hundred years: top soil, clean fresh water, coral reefs, mangroves, stored carbon/fossil fuels, winter snow packs, forests and grasslands, biological diversity, a stable climate, etc. And while I believe we are in for a “collapse,” we are also in for a “transition.” The nature of that transition – and how much it will look like a collapse – is now a matter of life and death for billions of humans and nearly every other life form on the planet. We are all called, right now, to make our work matter.
I think my work matters because I, and the people with whom I work, are focusing on bending governance and economy away from collapse and toward the ‘necessary, just and restorative transition.’ On that, I am hopeful. Each act I and we do to preserve and restore biological and cultural diversity is an act of love and hope.
My favorite resiliency resource:
The Resilience Based Organizing framework developed by the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project.
My mantra for dealing with people:
Treat others as they aspire to be, not as they were when they were at their worst. Reach out to each person and help pull them forward.
I love my partner Kendall Dunnigan and my son Kelsey Henson Dunnigan. We are having a great time together. I love to be in the Sierra Nevada mountains and to raft wild rivers. I love to play music and share stories with the wonderfully diverse people who find their way to the fire circle at OAEC. At my core, I’m a biophiliac and a gaiaphiliac – I love life and the way Gaia holds it all together!