Tanya Denckla Cobb was trained as a mediator in 1991, when she began mediating community, landlord-tenant, and family cases with the Community Mediation Center in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Learning mediation skills was a game-changing life-turning event. It was a revelation to learn that conflict can be approached and managed. Irreconcilable differences may not always be resolved, but with the help of an independent facilitator people can often reach a better understanding of how to move forward in a way that satisfies their own needs while meeting others’ needs as well. As a beginning mediator she was able to see that a seemingly simple process can have profoundly positive impacts, empowering people to move on with their lives. She also learned that, as much as she detests being in conflict, she could begin to apply these same skills to her own life as well.

To this day, she continues to be passionate about bringing people together to discover common interests, develop their own solutions, learn from each other, forgive, heal and grow. She has learned that outcomes can be unpredictable and she expects to be surprised.

Here is a small sampling of some ways Tanya has worked to bring people together for sustainable solutions:

Farms, Food and Health

  • Virginia Food Heritage Project – inspired by the work of Gary Nabhan, Tanya convened a local community-based advisory committee to develop an approach for documenting central Virginia’s food and agriculture heritage in a way to inform the region’s future. The project has several goals – to identify threatened and endangered heritage foods, to map heritage food sites and production areas, to document stories through interviews and community outreach – all to inform the region’s economic and cultural future.
  • Virginia Food System Council – following the strong mandate of the 1st Food Security Summit for a statewide food council, Tanya convened a multi-stakeholder working group to consider the Summit outcomes and decide how to move forward in creating a council. She facilitated the working group for over a year, during which the group met several times with the Secretary of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to discuss a range of options. Following careful consideration, the working group decided to found the Virginia Food System Council as an independent consensus-based nonprofit. Tanya facilitated the first founding meetings of the broadly representative Council in spring 2009, and the Council has continued to work collaboratively to advance Virginia’s food system. In 2011, the hard work of the VFSC resulted in a launch of Virginia’s first statewide food plan at the 2nd Food Security Summit, which Tanya helped to plan and facilitate.
  • Waste Solutions Forum – this unusual collaborative has brought together environmentalists, farmers, poultry and dairy associations, academics, state regulators, and others, to map out collaborative practical strategies for managing excess animal manure in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Tanya worked with a steering committee to design and facilitate the first and second Waste Solutions Forum.
  • Virginia Food Security Summit – Tanya worked with colleagues at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech to convene this landmark event in 2007, which brought together 146 stakeholders in Virginia’s food system – farmers, local governments, state agencies, academicians, farm suppliers, food buyers and distributors, public health managers and nutrition experts, and, of course, consumers. Speakers provided the “big picture” of Virginia’s current food security and participants developed recommendations for next steps to advance Virginia’s local food system. The Summit report is available online, and was submitted to the Governor for consideration, and led to the development of the Virginia Food System Council. Final Report | Summit Website
  • Nutrient Management Regulations – Tanya facilitated a stakeholder advisory committee convened in 2004 by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to identify areas of agreement for new nutrient management regulations, which moved Virginia’s farmers away from Nitrogen-based to Phosphorous-based nutrient management planning.
  • IEN projects on land application of biosolids – Tanya has designed and facilitated different kinds of public involvement meetings in Virginia concerning the permitting of land application of biosolids. Earlier, in 1997, at the request of the Virginia Department of Health, Tanya co-authored a report with community-based recommendations for ways to improve the VDH biosolids land application program.


Community Resilience and Sustainability

  • Sea Level Rise in Hampton Roads – Funded by a Virginia Sea Grant, Tanya launched this project in partnership with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Wetlands Watch and the City of Virginia Beach, and UVa’s Department of Urban and Environmental Planning. By 2100, the projected relative sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay region is projected at 2.3 to 5.2 feet, which scientists attribute to the “double whammy” of global oceans rising and the southeastern Virginia region subsiding. Hampton Roads is rated second only to New Orleans as the area most vulnerable area to sea level rise in the U.S. This project was designed to elicit information from the community while also helping residents gain an understanding of the complex topic. At four Listening Sessions over two days, participants learned and shared information and ideas about next steps. The project has produced community-based maps of sea level rise impacts as well as a report on key community concerns and recommendations.
  • Shenandoah Community Dialogue Project – Sponsored by the Shenandoah Community Dialogue Project, Tanya facilitated a community dialogue to develop specific community-based recommendations for ways to improve county ordinances so that its Comprehensive Plan “vision” could become an implemented reality.
  • Governor’s Leadership Summit on Natural Resources – Tanya and her colleagues at IEN facilitated two invitation-only Governor’s Summits. The first was convened by Virginia Governor Mark Warner in 2004, and the second by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine in 2006. Each Summit brought together high-level stakeholders to identify priorities and potential solutions for protecting Virginia’s natural resources.
  • National Forest Plans for Accommodating Multiple Uses and Best Practices for Their Public Involvement – Tanya and her colleagues at IEN conducted an assessment for the U.S. Forest Service of its “travel management” planning process. Through more than fifty interviews with different stakeholder groups, IEN identified key issues and challenges common to national forest travel management planning, and developed recommendations for best practices to ensure sustainable approaches to national forest planning.

For more information about Tanya’s environmental facilitation and mediation work – which includes land conservation, watershed planning, facility siting, heritage planning, water and air quality, and more – visit the Institute for Environmental Negotiation at:

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