Sometimes to ‘Live Wildly’ Means to Slow Down

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From sitting in nature to cooking a new, fresh meal, this month’s Wild Floridian shows us there are ways for each and every one of us to Live Wildly

In seventh grade, Janessa Fara co-founded an environmental club at her middle school. She spent her free time fundraising and cleaning up beaches, and even convinced her parents to start recycling. 

Now, Janessa works as the director of partnerships at SWARM, an event agency in Miami, where she helped plan Live Wildly’s HIVE Wynwood activation at Miami Art Week. Little did she know, her advocacy work as a young teen would come full circle more than 10 years later.

We talked with her about what that advocacy looks like today as a busy, working adult based in Miami. From taking small moments to sit with nature to bringing her early passion for the environment to life in her career, Janessa shows us how everyone can cultivate the Live Wildly spirit and play a role in protecting Florida each day – you may just need to slow down. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Live Wildly: What was it like growing up in Florida?

Janessa Fara: I was born and raised in Miramar in South Florida and lived in the same house my entire life. I stayed in Florida for college and went up to Florida State University in Tallahassee, and that was honestly completely different for me. Miami is very landlocked with the seasons – it’s always hot and sunny, no leaves change. Tallahassee gave me a little bit more of Florida’s seasons. I got to see leaves change, and it would get cold and icy. There were more little hills and mountains.

I’m also Cuban, so I was surrounded by a Hispanic community all the time and my schools were always very diverse. But going up to Tallahassee, I got the opposite of culture shock where there was a lot less diversity. For once, I actually felt like a minority.

The funny thing we say about Florida is that the further north you go, the more in the south you are, and the further south you go, the more in the north you are. I didn’t really realize how much diversity I grew up with or the culture of South Florida until I went to college. For the first time, I was with people who had never been surrounded by such diversity. 

LW: How has growing up with that much diversity shaped who you are today?

JF: That’s something that took me a while – really until I got older – to be very grateful for because I learned so much about so many cultures. As I’ve grown up, I’ve been so much more open-minded about things, and I feel like it’s really opened my eyes to the world. I know there are not many other places outside of South Florida specifically where people can be exposed to that much diversity and acceptance of so many different cultures.

LW: How did you first get exposed to the Florida Wildlife Corridor?

JF: My dad is a very big exploration person – he likes to get out there. He never liked to stay home and do nothing, so he took us to the Everglades every couple of months to explore, and we’d rent little canoes, or we would go on the airboat rides. There’s also something called the 15-mile strip where we would bike ride and there would be alligators pretty much in the middle of the Everglades, three feet away from you! We’d also go to the beach a lot. Being 30 minutes away from the beautiful beaches was always A+.

LW: When did you start to understand how vast Florida’s natural opportunities are? 

JF: In college, I would tell my friends who were from the middle of Alabama, South Carolina or New York that growing up, I’d go to the beach or bike in the Everglades, and all these different outdoorsy things, and they would think that’s awesome. For them to get to a beach, they’d have to drive an hour and a half or more. They usually didn’t have such quick access to a lot of the natural opportunities we have in Florida. And I never really appreciated that until I realized it’s not as common as you would think.

That’s the crazy thing about Florida — it’s a big state. For me to drive from Tallahassee up in the Panhandle to South Florida may take about 8-9 hours. I think sometimes people – especially those who come from smaller states, at least in length – don’t realize there’s so much to be traveled. Even in Florida, a lot of people may not get to experience the diverse sceneries because many people don’t just pick up and drive 8 hours from South Florida to the Panhandle or Jacksonville. There are a bunch of things that I didn’t know existed in Florida until I got out and explored – even near Gainesville and Tallahassee there are springs, these really cool caves that you can tour, and countless other adventures to take on.

LW: How do these places make you feel?

JF: I love it. I love being outside, being outdoors and connecting with nature. I need to be grounded and outdoors – literally sitting on the ground connected with nature – that’s what fully brings me peace, and that’s when I can shut off my mind and just relax and enjoy for once. We all need sunlight and vitamin D. We don’t realize how much going outside for an hour a day can actually help our physical and mental health.

LW: What does Florida mean to you?

JF: For me, Florida’s home. I’ll never leave here. It’s where I’m going to be until the day I die, and I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. It’s home for many different reasons – one being that it’s a melting pot. That’s something I really enjoy, and that I want my children to be able to experience one day. Also, I love the proximity to so many things like the beaches and the Everglades. One day, I want to be able to take my family on little trips to see the springs or caves. Plus, having access to so many different adventures all year round – these are all things that are really important to me.

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LW: That’s something we always talk about at Live Wildly – how we need to protect Florida for future generations.

JF: Exactly. I think I’m part of that generation that’s still kind of on the borderline, where, yes, we had phones around fifth grade, but we also still played outside and rode bikes before technology fully took off. If I ever have kids one day, I want to make sure that they’re doing the same activities – playing outside, riding bikes and not just inside watching TV or on an iPad. I want them to be able to enjoy the world.

In Florida, everything is literally right here. It’s a little easier than other states. You’re not blocked in by snow. You can go outside and have the outdoors so accessible pretty much any day of the year. It’s probably about 75 degrees right now.

LW: Let’s talk about HIVE. You helped us plan our activation at Art Basel in Miami this year. Can you tell us about that?

JF: For HIVE, activation and interaction are very important. We really want brands to come in and bring experiential aspects to the event, interact with the consumers and have them walk away with something new – a cool experience, good memory, fun photo or education.

When Live Wildly came to us and told us what they were doing, they fit all those aspects. With the conservation initiative at the forefront, we started thinking with the Live Wildly team about how we can make the story cool and exciting to the consumer vs. just telling consumers about it and giving them flyers about Florida. We thought, “How can we make it different? How can we make it unique? How can we make people actually care, relate it to Miami and art, and make it really personal?” I thought it could be a really nice, big interactive activation where people will walk away with something. My favorite part about my job is seeing all my hard work over a couple of months physically come to life and people interacting with it and enjoying themselves. I can look at it. I can touch it. I can take pictures of it. That’s one thing that’s kept me in this industry for such a long time, and is always the most rewarding part.

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One of the several creative assets Janessa helped manage at Live Wildly X HIVE.

LW: Did working with Live Wildly spark something in you, or have you always been passionate about the environment?

JF: In middle school, I was one of the founders of a club at my school called “Go Green Global.” Once we did a beach cleanup for a specific area that had a bunch of turtle nests, so they let us come in and watch the turtle hatch and run to the water. It was a really cool experience.

I remember being a young student and busy, so it was hard for me to do as much as I would like, but I tried to find the things I could do and contribute as much as possible. Back then, my parents didn’t want to recycle because it was too much work –  but I was actually able to get them into recycling. It’s about starting small, it’s the little things and just trying to implement all that stuff in my day-to-day life. Whether it’s recycling or trying to reuse – everything from Tupperware to food containers – and trying not to throw away as much as possible. That’s currently my biggest contribution because life gets busy.

Working with Live Wildly definitely made me slow down and think, “Okay, I need to get back into doing all my recycling, going outdoors more and spending more time exploring vs. just being locked up on a computer working.”

LW: What advice do you have for other people who are interested in environmentalism and conservation, but don’t know how to get started?

JF: The first step is to research. Learn general and specific things you can do in your state to help. Research all the different opportunities because everyone’s different and will find joy in different aspects. Some people might want to find a way to help save the environment by being social – maybe they join a community, or they go to a beach cleanup. Other people might just want to do things at home. Find out what avenue is best for you.

Live Wildly Tip: Check out our ‘Events’ and ‘Explore’ page to find ways you can Live Wildly and get involved!

You can’t change the world in a day, so it doesn’t mean that tomorrow you need to say, “I’m going to decide that I’m going to recycle and not use plastic, or I’m going to do this or that, and I need to change my whole world.” You can do one thing at a time. It takes time to create a habit, and perhaps habit number one is deciding to recycle. Work on the first thing for a couple of weeks. Once you feel it’s part of your life, move on to the next thing and find different little day-to-day things that will make a difference in the long run. You don’t have to overwhelm yourself all at once.

LW: How do you Live Wildly in your daily life?

JF: This is probably going to sound contradictory, but honestly, it’s by slowing down. That’s something that I’ve been trying to work on recently – to slow down and live in the moment because life goes by so fast and there is so much going on. Especially being in South Florida where it’s a constant “go, go, go” culture. Taking a moment to slow down and enjoy life and the things that make me happy is how I try to Live Wildly. I want to be able to look back in 20 years and feel like I’m satisfied with the way my life looked, and not that I was just rushing to get to the next thing and missed it all.

And to remember things like, “Wow, I love to cook.” When was the last time I fully made a meal for fun? That was three months ago because it’s just been so crazy. I haven’t stopped and thought about what makes me happy. It’s asking myself, “How can I slow down and incorporate this more into everyday life?”

Missed us at HIVE Wynwood this year? Follow along @LiveWildlyFL on social media to see where Live Wildly will pop up next and keep an ear out for events near you.

“Wild Floridians” is a monthly original series that highlights Floridians across the state who embody the Live Wildly spirit and support conservation in unique ways. Do you know a Wild Floridian? Submit them for consideration here!