BEC’s new boss
Chico native takes the reins at Chico’s preeminent environmental organization
Spend just a few minutes with Natalie Carter and you’re bound to notice traits that might seem contradictory. She’s energetic yet tranquil, passionate yet practical, creative yet methodical, extemporaneous yet reflective.
Perhaps this stems from her background—an aspiring filmmaker turned biologist—or perhaps it’s just her makeup. Whatever the reason, her distinct qualities have propelled Carter to prominence in Chico’s green scene the past few years, most notably as general manager of the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market (where she’s also a grower-vendor).
So, imagine her surprise at a passing comment, which stung despite all she’s accomplished.
“I had this woman tell me, ‘Oh, no one takes you seriously until you’re 30,’” Carter recalled Tuesday (March 15), during an interview downtown.
The very next day, in December, Carter turned 30. Soon she heard through the grapevine that Robyn DiFalco would be stepping down as Butte Environmental Council’s executive director.
“Very quickly after, I was applying for the job,” Carter continued, “and I was like, ‘Well, maybe they’ll take me seriously now!’”
She let out a hearty laugh—and, indeed, she’s gotten the last laugh, because March 1 she began her tenure as BEC executive director. Carter applied because she cares deeply about the environment and making a difference locally, in her hometown, but the timing of it all proved a delicious coincidence.
A nonprofit headquartered in downtown Chico, BEC is an advocacy and educational organization focused on air, land-use and water issues in the North State. The group formed in 1975. Mark Stemen, a professor at Chico State and chair of the city’s Sustainability Task Force, is president of BEC’s 13-member board.
Stemen said BEC considered 17 applicants, including six from out of state, before selecting Carter.
“She’s wise beyond her years; she’s experienced beyond her years,” he said. “Who else do you know who’s just turned 30 who’s been president of a huge, successful nonprofit [Chico Natural Foods] and been the general manager of another successful nonprofit [the farmers’ market]?
“We didn’t see age in that at all; we saw experience.”
Stemen said the board values the connections Carter has made in the community and local government, particularly during the farmers’ market’s fight to retain its Saturday morning location at the city-owned parking lot at Second and Wall streets. While she may not have expertise on every issue or contacts in every jurisdiction BEC works, board members do—and the board doesn’t expect Carter to chart BEC’s course alone.
“We’re right where we want to be as an organization,” Stemen said. “We want to do what we’re doing better, and we want to do what we’re doing more, but I don’t think we really need to change anything—and I think Natalie fits right into that.”
She will continue to serve on the Parking Access Resource Committee, a private group tackling downtown transportation issues. Otherwise, Carter will stay on the same track as DiFalco, who let BEC know well ahead of her departure that she planned to spend more time with family.
“I was excessively fortunate that I got my first two weeks [overlapping] with Robyn,” Carter said. “That was the perfect introduction to this.”
Carter grew up in Chico but planned to move to Los Angeles for college—she got accepted to the renowned film school at USC, she said. Instead, she decided to stay home and attend Butte College. A biology class there transformed her from an artist to a scientist, and she graduated from Chico State in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in general biology.
She worked in Reno as a biologist and surveyor at the Great Basin Bird Observatory until her hometown beckoned. Along with serving on the CNF co-op board, she’s put in a two-year stint as treasurer of the Honey Run Covered Bridge Association.
She and her husband, Eric, farm a small patch of land in Chico. They are parents to a 2-year-old daughter, Aria, whom Carter credits with shifting her perspective.
“I’ve always had my finger on the environment and community preservation,” she said, “but having Aria put more emphasis for me on impacting the future….
“Caring about her entire lifetime makes long-term planning a little more long-term, so it changed my perspective that way … but it didn’t change my focus on having a healthy environment, a healthy community, preserving everything that’s wonderful about Chico.”