Northeast PA gives Planet Green Props

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My local paper, The Times Tribune, gave me a sweet write-up. It was great to hear back from all my PA peeps and have yet to read and write back to everyone. This is just a holler out to everyone, "A big thank you," and can't wait to come back July and organize some great programs back home.

(image is from shooting the "G Word" on a farm that captures methane from cows to power 2,500 homes)

Here's the article below:

Former Montdale resident, model and activist becomes environmental reporter for new Discovery channel


Summer Rayne Oakes’ criteria for being an environmentalist is pretty broad.

“If you drink the water and breath the air, you’re an environmentalist,” the former Montdale resident said.

“It’s those of us worried about putting food on their plates. It’s those of us worried about getting their kids to school and putting gas in their tanks.”

Ms. Oakes worries about all of those things, and then some. And she just got a bigger platform for airing her views.

A few weeks ago, the environmental activist and model devoted exclusively to sustainable, eco-friendly fashion, began her tenure as an on-air personality, or “resident expert,” on Discovery Planet Green, a new cable channel devoted completely to environmentally conscious programming.

Right now, Ms. Oakes, 24, can be found serving as a correspondent on “G Word,” a magazine show geared toward environmental trends. Early episodes will find her getting down and dirty on a methane recapture farm, climbing windmills and swimming in the Pacific Trash Vortex, a swirling cauldron of plastic and other debris that’s twice the size of Texas.

“I’m kind of like the Mike Rowe of Planet Green,” she said with a laugh, referring to the host of the popular Discovery Channel program, “Dirty Jobs.”

Then, in August, she’ll be featured on “Battleground Earth,” an irreverent reality show that will pit rocker Tommy Lee against rapper Ludacris in a competition to find out who’s the greenest.

“It’s just off-the-wall funny,” said Ms. Oakes, admitting she at first had some reservations about doing the show.

Other duties

It doesn’t end there. Her duties also require her to file eco-related reports on “Access Hollywood,” write on fashion and beauty tips on the channel’s Web site and maintain a blog on the political Web site Huffington Post, which will be similar to the one she does for the popular eco blog, Tree Hugger.

“I’m just having an awesome time,” Ms. Oakes said. “It’s great, because I’m just using my knowledge and my passion and my sense of humor.

“I think it’s really going to be a hit,” she said of the channel. “I think they’ve got some great talent and great people to build some buzz.”

On top of that, she believes her presence on the channel will go a long way toward “enabling and enhancing my platform.”

Ms. Oakes’ eco-conciousness first surfaced during her early years, trudging through the fields and forests of Scott Township. She was one of those kids whose idea of fun was lugging a gallon jug of caterpillars to school or growing mold in the refrigerator.

“I was probably always the most environmental kid in the bunch when it came to school,” she said. “It was always just a source of inspiration for me. I was always a curious kid. And I wanted to get into things.”

By her teenage years, she was actively involved in community environmental affairs. At Lakeland High School, she was a member of the school’s award-winning environmental club. She helped coordinate Scott Township’s recycling program and established a newsletter called Buzzworm. And she checked the water quality of area streams and worked on the Grassy Island Mine Reclamation project for the Lackawanna County Conservation District.

“Having a leadership position at a young age, for any kid, that’s a lot of positive reinforcement,” she said. “Kids want to be involved. They just need a little more direction.”

Studied bugs

It was at Cornell University, where she majored in natural resources and entomology (the study of bugs), that she first came upon the notion of using fashion and media to communicate her environmental passions.

By her second semester there, Ms. Oakes had already gotten published in a science journal. Still, she quickly came to the realization that “no one reads those things.” And she wasn’t getting through to her friends at all.

“They’d make fun of me. ‘You’re a park ranger,’ they’d say. They didn’t get the environment,” she said.

Frustrated, she started to think of other approaches, eventually landing upon the rather unconventional idea of using her All-American good looks for green purposes. She began taking trips into New York City, and in little time was landing jobs modeling eco-friendly clothing. What she came to realize was, though superficial in many ways, fashion “uses the media brilliantly.”

To this day, Ms. Oakes has been exclusively devoted to designers and companies that emphasize sustainable and organic fabrics and fair- trade agreements.

Her niche approach has resulted in a fair bit of press, including a two-page photo spread in Vanity Fair magazine last year. She’s come to be known as “the eco model,” a term she at first thought was somewhat “goofy” but has since come to embrace.

“There’s really no one else at this nexus,” said Ms. Oakes, whose everyday wardrobe tends toward organic-blend cotton shirts and vegan shoes.

The modeling has allowed Ms. Oakes to promote and write about the myriad environmental issues near and dear to her heart, including the concept of green jobs, a subject she wrote about in a recent op-ed column that ran in The Times-Tribune. In the piece, she discusses the impact “green-collar” jobs like installing solar panels, reclaiming mine sites and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency can have on Northeastern Pennsylvania’s economy.

“I think there’s a real opportunity for Scranton and the other areas to be leaders,” she said. “I love the idea of green jobs ... green jobs reinvigorating people in other areas. We know this is a viable business.”

Speaking of NEPA, Ms. Oakes said she gets back to the area “a fair amount.” She plans to be home for a few days in July to visit her father, Robert, of Dunmore, and grandparents, Erwin “Smitty” and Lilian Schmitt, of Olyphant. Her mother, Diane Oakes, now lives outside Cleveland.

“Pennsylania’s such a beatiful state, and summer’s a good time to come back,” she said.

So what do her parents make of her career?

“I think they dig it. I don’t think they completely get what I do,” Ms. Oakes said with a laugh.

Which is fine. So long as she can keep promoting the gospel of green, she’ll be content.

“This is a real national movement that’s underway. It’s about connecting people and strengthening them,” Ms. Oakes said. “Once people start getting involved, you can’t stop. It enhances your life. It gives you a sense of purpose.”

Learn more about Summer Rayne Oakes

Age: 24

RESIDENCE: A former resident of the Montdale section of Scott Township, she now lives in New York City

FAMILY: She is the daughter of Diane Oakes, Lakewood, Ohio, and Robert Oakes, Dunmore. She has a brother, Travis, Philadelphia. She is the granddaughter of Erwin “Smitty” and Lilian Schmitt, Olyphant; and Walter Oakes, Florida; and the late Jessie Oakes.

EDUCATION: A Lakeland High School graduate, she has a bachelor’s degree in natural resources and entomology.

OCCUPATION: A model specializing in sustainable, eco-friendly fashion, she is an on-air personality and resident expert on the new cable channel, Discovery Planet Green, which is devoted entirely to environmentally conscious programming. She currently appears on the show “G Word,” and in August will be featured on the reality show, “Battleground Earth.” She also files eco-themed reports for “Access Hollywood” and writes blogs for the Web sites The Huffington Post and Tree Hugger.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit her Web site, For more on Planet Green, visit: http://planetgreen.

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