Jennie Garlington
Photo by Squire Fox

Jennie Garlington

Reprinted from Garden and Gun Magazine

Jennie Garlington, a journalist and former CNN environmental reporter, says children are missing out on experiences like hers, spending their time indoors, in front of TVs and computers. "It's an epidemic," she says. So she's decided to take on the cause, bringing attention to what's known as nature-deficit disorder, detailed in Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods. She focuses on the issue in the second installment of her television series, EcoSense for Living, airing on PBS this winter.

Tell us a little bit about nature-deficit disorder and the movement to "leave no child inside." What inspired you to pursue this story?

I'm a mother, and I see my own children gravitating toward the television. These days, there are more and more kids being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, and more and more kids going on medication to treat this malady. Research shows that one of the best ways to calm children down is to get them outside for unstructured play. It's where they develop their brains. Research also shows that kids who spend a good deal of time outdoors do better on standardized tests. As Richard Louv says, if you want your kid to get into Harvard, the best way is to let him have some unstructured play outside. It's really an old-school way of raising our children, and you don't need a farm to do it.

Is it strange to be getting this message across through a medium that's perhaps most responsible for keeping kids indoors and away from nature?

I see this as a tool for parents, just like reading Louv's book. I hope they can learn something they can use for a lifetime.

Do you attribute your love of nature to your father?

Definitely. When we were teenagers, just about the time the malls started beckoning, Dad moved us all to Hope Plantation near Jacksonboro, South Carolina. We fished, sailed, rode horseback, chased snakes, and got stung by bees and were outside all day until dinner. Dad kept it interesting. We raised black bears and cougars on the plantation, and we swam with the bears when they were cubs. Dad was even pounced once by the cougar. We all thrived there.

Were your four older siblings also affected by your father's love of the outdoors?

We're all trustees of the Turner Foundation, which has given away 5 million to environmental causes since 1991. It's in our blood.

Has the Turner Foundation been involved in any Southern causes?

One is Tall Timbers, a northern Florida organization involved in restoring longleaf pines through easements on eighty thousand acres. Another is the Coastal Conservation League, which is an advocate for sustainable growth in the Lowcountry. We were so blessed to have the outdoor opportunities we had growing up in the South.

You're also on the board of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. What kind of work does that organization do?

The foundation focuses on private easements to restore and protect fish and wildlife populations. I think one of the best ways to protect land is through these easements. Aside from national parks, they are the only way we can make sure habitat won't ever be developed. One of our biggest projects has been restoring the runs of Pacific salmon in the West. And I like to fish for salmon!

So what was it like growing up the daughter of such a high-profile man?

We wore hand-me-downs and we carpooled to school with the neighborhood kids. My dad drove this little Toyota and we all crammed in. Our parents were very involved in our childhood. Dad's high profile just seemed kind of normal. We went to [Atlanta] Braves games after school, did our homework there, then ran around the stadium. During his sailing days, we'd stay at this little beach shanty. It was like a Pat Conroy novel, all these little blond kids running around on the beach. Except Dad was out winning the America's Cup.

Your father has an autobiography coming out. Are you worried about what it might reveal?

Not really. I don't think he has anything to hide. He took the unusual step of allowing significant people in his life, like former wife Jane Fonda, to write a chapter in his book. I think he's a very trusting man.

You live on a horse farm in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Tell us about it.

We live in a historic home built in 1815 and raise American Saddlebreds, a fairly new breed that's been around for less than two hundred years. Saddlebreds appear in the movie version of Gone With the Wind. They are very fast and have a smooth gait. They were originally bred to transport plantation owners across their entire property in a quick and comfortable way. Now they're primarily performance horses. After twenty-five years of showing them, I finally won a World Grand Championship this year. We raise about fifteen horses a year. I have some help. The four kids come before the horses!