Sustainable Tompkins is a citizen-based organization working towards the long-term well-being of our communities by integrating social equity, economic vitality, ecological stewardship, and shared responsibility.

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Neighborhood Mini-Grant Applications Due October 1

Do you have an idea for a project to make our community more sustainable, resilient, or inclusive? Need a little help in covering the costs? Sustainable Tompkins is accepting applications for our fall 2021/winter 2022 round of Neighborhood Mini-Grants.

The Sustainable Tompkins Neighborhood Mini-Grant program supports initiatives improving environmental sustainability, equity, and environmental, economic, and social justice in Tompkins County. Since it began in 2008, it has awarded more than $81,000 in 205 grants for innovative grassroots projects throughout the county.

Grants range from $150 to $750 and support initiatives promoting sustainable food systems, alternative transportation, waste reduction/reuse, energy conservation/fossil fuel use reduction, and environmental education, and addressing social and economic inequality.

Proposals are reviewed biannually by a team of community members. The program is sponsored by the Park Foundation, Beck Equipment, Natural Investments, Fingerlakes Wealth Management, Craig Riecke, and local donors.

Individuals, organizations, and neighborhood groups are welcome to apply, as are local microbusinesses seeking to green their operations or extend their products or services to low-income clientele. Priority is given to new and/or small entities with relatively few sources of support.

 Successful initiatives supported by Neighborhood Mini-Grants in recent years include the founding of the Freeville Farmers Market, establishment of the Finger Lakes Toy Library as a lending collection of environmentally-friendly toys, creation of an Ithaca Murals equipment lending library for artists and community members creating murals that reflect the demographics, values, and stories of Ithaca’s residents, and restoration of a disused and overgrown trail in Dryden.

Applications must be received on or before October 1, 2021. To request an application form, or if you have questions, please call (607) 272-1720 or email

Neighborhood Mini-Grant Funds Observation Board Celebrating Six Mile Creek

Photo by Sasha Paris.

Flowing through forested gorges and farmland, winding through the City of Ithaca to Cayuga Lake, Six Mile Creek is the city’s water supply and a part of home for people in diverse communities. Titus Triangle Park in Ithaca’s Southside now hosts an observation board celebrating the creek and those who live along it, created as a collaborative project led by Southside resident Adrianna Hirtler and supported by a Neighborhood Mini-Grant from Sustainable Tompkins.

Along with new materials purchased with the grant, the board and its supporting structure are largely built from donated and repurposed materials, including a border of stones gathered along the length of the creek from headwaters to mouth.  Anyone may contribute to its ever-changing collage featuring observations and photos of plants and animals, stories and kind messages to the community, and more.

The board was presented to the public in a gathering on August 28, 2021, attended by roughly 30 people. Adrianna thanked the many neighbors and community members who contributed materials and time to its creation, and Gayogohó:nǫˀ (Cayuga) Faith Keeper Stephen Henhawk gave opening words.

Visit this website for more information about the board and a growing gallery of photos.

The Neighborhood Mini-Grant Program provides seed money to diverse initiatives to build environmental, economic, and social resilience and well-being in Tompkins County. The program is sponsored by the Park Foundation, Beck Equipment, Craig Riecke, Natural Investments, Fingerlakes Wealth Management, and local donors. Please donate today and help us support more wonderful citizen-driven projects to improve life in our community.

Summer Survey on Home Energy and Comfort Issues

Maggie interviewing a homeowner about their tenants.

Our Finger Lakes Climate Fund awardees have nearly all been homeowners who qualify for our grants based on their income: 80% or less of the county’s median. Over the past 10 years, we’ve helped dozens of families in Ithaca and surrounding counties to become climate heroes by providing gap financing for insulation, air sealing, and high efficiency equipment. But in a city where nearly 75% of the population rents their living space, it requires a bit more effort and outreach to replace outdated, dangerous, and inefficient HVAC equipment in rental properties. This summer, our team at Sustainable Tompkins is conducting a door-to-door survey focused on lower-income neighborhoods to capture the reality of residents’ energy cost burdens and related health, indoor air quality, and home comfort issues.

Our summer survey data will help give us a sense of the energy challenges tenants are facing as well as identify homes that may qualify for local and state grants. Some respondents may be connected directly with grant funding to install insulation, air sealing, or clean energy heat pumps and water heaters. We’re also aiming to connect with those willing to be neighborhood block leaders who can help educate their neighbors to take next steps.

The Split Incentive: Who invests vs. Who benefits? 

So why are we focusing on renters? Month-to-month, many tenants grapple with poorly insulated older homes and outdated equipment. Replacements often happen only when a system completely fails. Because their tenants either directly or indirectly cover the utility bills, landlords can be slow to make improvements and often lack an incentive to buy higher quality equipment that reduces energy bills. The cost of installing a new high-efficiency heat pump system represents an additional barrier for landlords to update their rental properties, and they’re often unaware of the financial assistance available to them if their tenants are income-qualified. As a result, cheaper fossil-fuel powered furnaces continue to be replaced by more of the same, delaying the home’s transition to clean energy by the additional 15-year lifespan of the replacement. Read more…

Signs of Sustainability
NY Potential in Perennial Nut Crops

Tompkins Weekly        9-22-21

By Eric and Cathleen Banford

New York State has a long history of nut growing and harvesting, dating back at least 6,000 years. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in this nutritious, perennial crop as part of our agricultural systems. Samantha Bosco, a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University’s School of Integrated Plant Science, recently gave an inspiring and informative talk on the history and potential of nuts.

The talk was titled “Nut Production in New York: Past, Present, Future” and is available on the Cornell Small Farms YouTube Channel, along with other talks from the current series. Bosco covered the history of nut tree cultivation in the area and how their local production can help meet climate resilience and social justice goals.

Cornell’s Agroforestry website explains that “Agroforestry describes a wide range of practices that integrate trees, forests, and agricultural production. These systems preserve and enhance woodland and tree landscapes and are an important solution to climate change and in developing healthy farm economics. Agroforestry is rooted in both Indigenous knowledge from around the world and in the work of numerous individuals who have conducted research and engaged as practitioners over centuries.”

Read more…

Tompkins Food Future Hosts Gathering

Tompkins Weekly        8-8-21

By Katie Hallas and Don Barber

Food Policy Council (FPC) of Tompkins County is a grassroots Good Food advocacy group created in 2016 with representatives from all facets of our food system: production, food access and security, retail, consumption and waste.

In 2020, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, we embarked on the development of a communitywide planning process to develop Tompkins County’s first-ever Community Food System Plan (FSP).

This two-year planning process, titled, “Tompkins Food Future,” aims to lay the foundation for a more sustainable, equitable, affordable and healthy food system for all residents of Tompkins County.

Read more…

Effective Methods of Keeping Your House Comfortable

Tompkins Weekly   8-25-21

By Becca Harber

Through the years I’ve lived in my one-story house, I’ve gradually made various changes to it that make my home cooler when it’s hot outdoors and warmer during cold weather. With the increases in very hot days and higher temperatures, keeping myself cooler inside is more important than ever.

So many people worldwide continue to die at home during extreme weather events and more so during power outages. Some of the actions I’ve taken to help with both heat and cold are simple and require little money, time or effort.

Luckily, after I moved in, I heard about how Tompkins Community Action (TCA) could possibly insulate one’s home better at no charge if one’s income was below a certain amount. I qualified to receive these services my first autumn here.

Read more…

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Energy and Equity Go Hand in Hand


Extreme income inequality, persistent racism, and increasing climate disruption are undeniable plagues of our time. We are fortunate that many people in Tompkins County are working on these issues. Some are advocates for racial and economic justice, such as creating living-wage jobs, removing barriers to reentry from the prison system, and ensuring affordable housing for all. Many others are involved in initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, such as, stopping gas infrastructure development, switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources, and conserving energy in housing, transportation, food, water, and waste. Read more…

Home Rule and the Greater Good

After hours of discussion at the June 16th county legislative meeting, the vote on the fate of the Old Library ended in a stalemate of 6 in favor of a large apartment complex for seniors (TravisHyde), and 6 in favor of a smaller adaptive reuse condo project (Franklin Properties) which had hundreds of petition supporters and inspired dozens of citizens to show up and speak in favor of the Franklin proposal. Read more…

How to Get Active on Climate? Even More Locally

By Miranda Phillips

With artic ice melting at great speed, and climate disruption happening a hundred years sooner than expected, climate change is promising to be the biggest challenge of the 21st century.  Not often talked about, at least in mainstream media, are the psychological and spiritual aspects of this challenge – among them, fear, guilt, and grief that make it difficult for us to act and act fast. Read more…