Langley aligns sustainable living with career
By SUE WATSON
Langley and Hunter Taylor, with the Federal Land Bank of North
Mississippi, survey for emerging species just after the controlled burn
on her farm last winter
was about two years ago that Suzanne Langley moved to Holly Springs
from Little Rock, Ark., to work as director for development for Audubon
Since leaving Audubon to start her
own consulting and marketing business (Seine Communications, Inc.),
Langley remains an integral part of Audubon’s Coldwater River Watershed
Stewardship Cooperative - a project that supports sustainable land,
water and wildlife management practices in the Hudsonville area.
on 40 acres near the headwaters of the Coldwater River, Langley
launched a private consulting and marketing business, and she’s putting
her money where her mouth is by developing her 40-acre homestead in
Hudsonville using sustainable living practices.
grew up in Mobile, Ala., with parents, who still living the
old-fashioned way, planted a garden, raised chickens, pigs and cows to
put food on the table, and put the children outdoors in the middle of
it to work and to play. Her mother kept house and tutored at local
schools while her dad worked the civilian side of the ship building
industry for the Navy.
Langley’s interest in
journalism started budding in high school during a time when the
profession made little room for females. Her parents lent their
encouragement as she served as editor of her high school newspaper,
graduated from Auburn University with a dual major in
English/journalism, and went to work right out of high school as a
feature writer at the Mobile Press Register.
later wrote for "Neighbors Magazine” (Ala. Farm Bureau publication),
was editor of the Alabama “Farmers Bulletin” and was spokesperson for
the office of the Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries.
gravitated toward public relations early in her career, taking on the
management of public relations for the Alabama Medical Association, for
the Department of Communications for the University of Arkansas, Little
Rock, then moved into a career in communications and marketing
Langley developed marketing
strategies for Alltel Information Services (later Fidelity and Verizon)
and their clients before launching her first private consulting
business, The Big Sky Group in Little Rock, with her former husband.
group became a dedicated agency within the regional head injury
rehabilitation company built by her husband, where Langley acted as
vice-president of marketing.
Her next career turn
was spawned out of volunteer work with an Episcopal private school
after her divorce. She transitioned into development and foundation
work on behalf of the school, completed a graduate program in nonprofit
administration at the University of Arkansas and accepted a position
with the National Audubon Society in Arkansas.
Audubon in Arkansas, Langley was associate director of development and
supported fund-raising for conservation and outreach programs in
Central Arkansas. Audubon supported conservation programs in the
northeast area of the state in the Beaver Lake Watershed. She later
joined Audubon Mississippi as state director for development where she
wrote proposals to obtain funding for various conservation projects in
The remaining portion of
this article is presented in Q. & A. format to allow Langley, in
her own words, to discuss her career path and the development of her
current interests in sustainable habitats and living.
You worked with Audubon Mississippi two years then went back to
consulting. How is your consulting career related to what you did at
A. I served in the position with Audubon
Mississippi until last fall when I began consulting again which allowed
flexibility for me to devote more attention to our small farm in
Hudsonville. I’ve been working as a consultant through my new company
Seine Marketing Communications, Inc., on conservation projects in
Mississippi with clients in nature-based operations. I also speak on
sustainable practices. My current work is so compatible with the
conservation plans for the farm. I am having a great time! Some day I
hope to have other professionals working with me on sustainability and
Q. How did your work in Arkansas with Audubon compare with what you did here in Mississippi?
My work in Arkansas was focused on locating funding for conservation
programs and building relationships with individuals and organizations
committed to the completion of the new Audubon Center in Little Rock. I
also worked on conservation projects in Northwest Arkansas.
roles in Arkansas and Mississippi were similar in that I sought funding
to support programs and centers. Mississippi is fortunate to have three
established Audubon centers or locations (Holly Springs, Pascagoula,
Vicksburg) which meant learning and working to match the interest of
donors in three regions of the state. My work in Mississippi was
dedicated to development.
Q. In Arkansas, they
touted the ivory-billed woodpecker and tryed to determine if a sighting
of the illusive (possibly extinct) bird was authentic. Was that ever
A. It was a great project that
brought together academic institutions and conservation organizations
including the National Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy.
of the ornithologists explained to me that Cornell University announced
the rediscovery of the bird believed to be extinct after three steps
were completed: a visual sighting, evidence of habitat and an audio
recording of the woodpecker’s call. There has yet to be a good quality
photograph of the ivory-billed woodpecker, but the search goes on in
places like Arkansas, South Carolina, and other parts of the country
home to the habitat preferred by the reclusive bird.
was a great education for me to work on a grant that supported
nature-based tourism in six communities surrounding Brinkley where the
bird was reportedly sighted.
Q. Since working
with Audubon you have been learning about conservation and nature and
its importance to communities, societies, nations, and the world. When
you were working on the other side of the street (corporate America)
how did that contrast with what you are doing now?
The most significant contrast between my corporate and conservation
work has been the environment in which I’ve worked -- high rise
buildings or office complexes in urban areas with little connection to
nature. Audubon really does a great job of
individuals and organizations with nature through their education
centers. Spending time in nature has been demonstrated to provide
health benefits for adults and children and I’m always encouraged when
companies incorporate access to nature in work environments or employee
programs. I’m much more creative when I can watch birds at the feeder
outside my office or look at beautifully wooded areas while I ponder a
Q. At Strawberry you met some
interesting characters who are interested in bringing back natural
species of plants and habitats for wildlife and that led you to
purchase land to homestead and to put some of these conservation
practices to work. How is that playing out?
One of the richest experiences I’ve had was working with Audubon staff
in Mississippi and, particularly, with the staff at Strawberry Plains.
Chad Pope, ecologist, and Kristin Lamberson, interpretive gardener,
have been great teachers in recognizing the diversity of species and
beauty of native plants around the farm. Their commitment to
conservation in the Coldwater River Watershed has greatly influenced my
farm management plan to build habitat for quail and other wildlife,
supplement native species that are bountiful already in areas
recovering from a tree harvest about 10-15 years ago, and manage new
structures or land development in the best way to avoid impact on the
headwaters of the Coldwater River that are close by. The house, or
barnominium as the Land Bank staff call it, is a passive solar design
and uses less energy. We hope to add solar panels or wind power later
this year if possible. The education coordinator for Pascagoula Audubon
Center, Mozart DeDeaux, was a great resource when we were planning and
building our sustainable building. We’ve met the criteria for being an
Energy Star qualified home; we just need to go through the
Q. You participated in
controlled burning to try to reestablish natural grasses on your land.
Talk about that practice which relates back to the native American
management practices and which populations of grasses and birds you
farmers hope to restore. Do you believe these grasses and populations
of wildlife should be restored?
A. We burned
about a third of the farm this year which was mostly native grasses and
plants that had grown without cutting for the past couple of years. I
am one of several landowners who have adopted land management practices
facilitated by Strawberry Plains Audubon Center to benefit the
Coldwater River Watershed. By planning a controlled burn on a regular
basis, about every three years, our farm will work toward restoring the
native grasses that prosper after burns. These grasses don’t require
fertilizer and are drought tolerant. We hope to
our population of little blue stem, Indian grass, sugar cane plume
grass, and others. We’re also learning some of these grasses provide
quality protein for livestock. These are also the same grasses that
provide habitat to quail and other grassland birds.
I grew up with a grandfather who loved to quail hunt and trained
pointers. Nothing would make me happier if area landowners all
cooperated in restoring habitat that supported healthier local quail
populations for hunters.
These fields also
include wildflowers that provide critical habitat for pollinators and
wildlife that all contribute to a balanced ecosystem.
is frightening to learn the number of species we and our children will
lose to extinction over the next few decades. It’s even more
frightening when you learn the role these species in decline carry out
that benefit each of us.
Q. Is this the first
time you have lived on the land? Are you doing these projects because
of love for the land or do you expect to farm eventually? Or, is this
more of a hobby for you, for now?
A. I grew up a
“country girl.” I’ve lived in rural and agricultural settings several
times during my adult life and was happy to find sanctuary in
Hudsonville after living in a dynamic urban setting for several years.
Perhaps it’s not just my upbringing but also my age that influences my
love for land and open spaces. This is definitely not a hobby, but a
willing commitment to a farm that will produce at some point in the
future while providing great habitat for wildlife.
We were talking about sustainability, and that can mean a sustainable
economy, community, habitat, ecosystem, society, but I think you are
emphasizing restoring natural habitats. Do you care to talk about how
these listed above are all interconnected from your point of view?
We have all become accustomed to many conveniences that impact the
resources needed to provide the same quality or life for
our children and families. We can live more sustainably by how we
choose to clean our homes, recycle our waste, travel, shop, and conduct
There are simple steps we can all take
to be more sustainable, including taking reusable shopping bags to the
store when we shop, by combining our shopping, errands and trips to use
less fuel, and by answering the question, “Do I really need this?” I
learned how to live simply from my parents and grandparents who lived
through the Depression, but I forgot many of these
lessons as I became busy with my career and family and relied on less sustainable conveniences.
the farm, I’m working on sustainability through conservation and
building an energy-efficient home. Through my consulting business, I
don’t use a fax (saves paper waste). I patronize companies that do
business in a sustainable manner and have completed third-party
certifications, and I shop locally first and elsewhere second.
Can you say something about how you have been led to join in the
Coldwater River Watershed Stewardship Cooperative as one of several
landowners and as a friend of Audubon? Would you like to speak to the
importance of protecting this habitat which you say is still pretty
healthy? What could this mean to quality of life and life issues here
in north Mississippi and particularly in Marshall County in the future?
We are fortunate, as I have learned, that the headwaters of the
Coldwater River near Holly Springs are pretty healthy. That’s not
always the case. Along with several of my neighbors who own and manage
property around the headwaters, we have made a commitment to help keep
the headwaters healthy. It is a great natural asset for our community
and one that should be protected. In this part of the state and in our
county we still enjoy open space and adequate
water that many communities like ours envy. It’s encouraging to have
neighbors who understand that in our community everything runs
downstream and who are careful in their management practices.
During our conversation this morning, we were kind of talking about
life decisions and making changes and how less can often mean more. Is
this relevant to your story and would you be interested in sharing your
view about this concept with our readers?
believe there is always a positive side to life’s challenges. One of
the benefits of the current economic downturn we’re all dealing with is
we are being forced to reexamine priorities and how we live daily. We
can have much more by simplifying our lives - more time for family and
friends, reconnect with and improve our communities and neighborhoods,
and enjoy improved health and income. I still have talks with myself
about simplifying as I try to build a business, start a farm and get to
know my new neighbors and Holly Springs.
an interview with Langley, The South Reporter staff talked with Bubba
Hubbard, executive director of the Audubon Center in Holly Springs. He
detailed how Audubon became involved in the Coldwater River Watershed
“It just started out as
a TogetherGreen innovative grant with Audubon,” Hubbard said. “We use
the money to work with landowners and started in the Coldwater
headwaters at Hudsonville. Langley’s land is right at the springs.”
acquired 178 acres of wetlands from the Mississippi Department of
Transportation that are set aside for a wetland mitigation bank. The
178 acres is the actual springs of the Coldwater River headwaters and
is adjacent to Langley’s property.
our ecologist, is working with all property owners to do some land
restoration - implement management plans to restore native grasses,
reforestation along the river and prescribed burning.”
contributed $65,000 to the project and Audubon matches grant monies
from various sources and partners with other agencies such as the
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks that has an
interest in reestablishing quail populations.
interest is quail and so is ours,” Hubbard said. “And we want to keep
water quality up in the Coldwater River and help protect wildlife. The
springs at the headwaters is a wide area with springs all up in the
hills. The owner had drained it for cattle, but it was not working, so
he sold it to MDOT and they gave it to us to restore.
one of the best projects MDOT has had for a long time because it was
impacted wetlands. We all have a vested interest in all this stuff. The
Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Wildlife,
Audubon, the Extension Service - all are in our plan (TogetherGreen).
“Our hope is to grow this (project) downstream and get the big landowners to join in.”