Foundation focuses on local and global environmental issues
By Nedra Morrell
For BG Magazine
A publication of The Lane Report
When John Kelly McKnight (better known as JK) was 14 years old, an article in National Geographic about global hot spots changed his life. Global hot spots are areas of the world that, at the time, represented more than 3 percent of the Earth’s surface but accounted for more than 50 percent of all known species. Without protection, these areas would continue to disappear around the world.
“It struck a chord with me, so I tried to do something about it,” JK said.
He started with, as many would, writing letters to legislators and political leaders, including the White House. One reply he received was from none other than environmentalist Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States.
“(His office) connected me with the office of the United States Ambassador to Brazil, and I began communicating with them about how I could make a difference,” JK said.
JK realized he would need significant financial resources to forge strong partnerships with conservationists around the country and protect the land he had read about. But given his young age and limited resources, he put this dream on the back burner. It was never far from his thoughts, though.
Fast forward 15 years, and JK decided it was time to launch a foundation with the mission of protecting the ecological jewels of the world. After all, he had seen great success with the music and art festival he had created, the Forecastle Festival. The festival, which had started as a small gathering of local musicians in Louisville’s Tyler Park, had grown to a national attraction that included renowned musical and craft artists.
In 2011, the Forecastle Foundation was born. The environmental nonprofit’s mission was simple: Rebuild and protect “the world’s natural awesome.”
The foundation focuses on the remaining hot spots left on the planet that now cover only 2.3 percent of the Earth’s land surface. These hot spots, however, still account for more than half of all plant species and 42 percent of all terrestrial vertebrate species worldwide.
“These are the richest areas on the planet,” JK said. “They play a major role in regulating global weather patterns.”
The Forecastle Foundation has found its sweet spot in thinking globally, but acting locally. Following its passion and leveraging existing relationships gave the foundation clarity on what its key projects should be: the Guyaki Foundation and the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust.
For 15 years, Guayaki Yerba Mate has pioneered a model of sustainable development that empowers indigenous communities in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to regenerate and protect the Atlantic rainforest while earning a sustainable income for their labors. According to JK, it was the work creating a new socio-economic model for the Latin American region that inspired the foundation to work with the organization.
The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust is a statewide land trust committed to preserving, restoring and connecting the state’s remaining wild lands. These lands embody Kentucky’s natural beauty and heritage and are home to a myriad of plants and animals that require undisturbed areas.
Unfortunately, these areas are being lost at an alarming rate with more than 120 acres of forest clearing on a daily basis in the state.
“The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust partnership came about through Greg Aberthany, who was a friend of a friend,” JK said. “He shared with me the projects they were working on in Eastern Kentucky and the funding needed to complete the Pine Mountain Corridor.
Similar to Guayaki, I was really impressed by the groundwork they had already laid and wanted to help them complete the project.”
Since its creation, the Forecastle Foundation has been a vibrant part of the Forecastle Festival, which drew more than 65,000 visitors from 48 states and seven countries last year. The festival gives patrons the opportunity to meet environmental organizations from the region and learn more about their projects. In 2013, the Guayaki Foundation and Kentucky Natural Lands Trust had exhibits inside the foundation area.
“Ten years of grassroots brand building have garnered a loyal, passionate following as well as nationally recognized brand partners,” he said. In addition to the more than 500 bands that have performed at Forecastle, national speakers such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from the National Resources Defense Council, Rob Caughlan from the Surfrider Foundation and Christopher Childs of Greenpeace International have also taken center stage at the festival.
For his efforts, JK has won numerous awards in the past few years, including the 2010 “Global Visionary Award” from the World Affairs Council and the “Fleur-De-Lis Award” in 2009, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Greater Louisville Inc. and the business community.
What began as a childhood ambition for JK has become a realized dream. So this year at the Forecastle Festival, be sure to take a minute to meet the man behind not just a concert, but a movement that will impact the global community for years to come.
How can you get involved?
To become a foundation member, email [email protected]. An application will be available online soon.