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-Grants Support Outdoor Initiatives

Through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people continue to grow food, explore the outdoors, bring aid to their neighbors, and vote in elections. In October 2020, five Neighborhood Mini-Grants were awarded to Ellis Hollow Nursery School, the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, The Village at Ithaca, Khuba International, and Parents2Polls Tompkins.

Yael Saar, cofounder of Parents2Polls offered childcare while parents voted on Election Day.

Parents2Polls Tompkins is a nonpartisan volunteer-run initiative launched in fall 2020 to make in-person voting more accessible for all in Tompkins County. During the early voting period for the 2020 general election, volunteers at the two poll sites offered child and pet supervision, chairs, information, parking guidance, and other assistance to voters waiting in line. On Election Day, they provided voters with free drop-in childcare at the Southside Community Center. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant funded publicity for the project.

Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming is creating a pond on their Incubator Farm at EcoVillage Ithaca, with a solar-powered pump transferring water to an irrigation system and ending the farm’s costly dependence on municipal water. Created to provide short-term access to land and support for growers who face systemic barriers to starting businesses, the farm is currently used by 11 businesses — mostly ethnic Karen refugees from Burma — to grow vegetables, by Challenge Industries for the flower CSA run by the Ability in Bloom workforce development program, by the Groundswell Center to grow a “solidarity garden” of produce distributed to residents of West Village Apartments, and more. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant will support the purchase of the solar pump.

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A Platform for our Regional Movement: Sustainable Finger Lakes

While Ithaca certainly has a reputation for being progressive and eco-conscious, there are exciting things happening on the sustainability front all over the Finger Lakes Region!  Progressive-minded people continue to move into the region, working to overhaul our food system, promote democracy and justice, protect the air, land, and water, and build conscious communities. This wave of influential people inspired us to build Sustainable Finger Lakes, a platform to weave together the regional movement.

On the Sustainable Finger Lake website, you can find updated regional news on the latest strides in the movement, calls to action to support, and a calendar of sustainability-related events. Learn about the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, which helps low to moderate income families afford energy-saving home upgrades. Browse our regional Map to discover the sustainable entities in your community, or see our ‘Signs of Sustainability’ – stories of local businesses, organizations, growers, nonprofits, and other pioneers.

Recently, we highlighted the CNY Solidarity Coalition, a grassroots group dedicated to tearing down the walls that divide and impoverish people. We also featured the Coalition for Healthy School Food, a nonprofit that introduces plant-based foods and nutrition education in schools through interactive classroom visits and after-school cooking classes. Coming soon: Regional Green Tips! Learn how you can use local resources to make small but effective lifestyle changes that protect the environment, and could even save you money. Stay tuned!

ST Expands Access to Information with Digital Solutions!

On a mission to help more people understand our various programs (and how they can benefit from them!) we have unveiled two new online tools. As a portal to the most relevant programs, we created which can be easily accessed by texting ““sustainable” to 31996.

The portal leads users to our regional HeatSmart partners to learn about incentives for home heating, our Finger Lakes Climate Fund website for making carbon offsets, and our Sustainability Map for the Finger Lakes region and its associated Sustainable Finger Lakes website.

The second tool is an interactive augmented reality phone app called “My Green FLX.” While its future applications are limitless, we are currently using it to share easy-to-digest video content about our low-income home heating and cooling programs on posters and brochures. The app allows users to quickly view relevant videos on the spot and then leads them to a link with more information about incentives and signing up. Retrieve our free app at the Apple App Store or Google Play, or just scan the QR code to download it easily!

Signs of Sustainability
Centering Sustainability, Justice in Farming

Tompkins Weekly 11-10-20

By Groundswell Center Staff

At a moment in history when critical mass feels essential to make change, we are reminded of the words from the late Grace Lee Boggs, “In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”

At the heart of sustainability is connection. Sustainable communities can be defined as the action of people, animals and the environment connecting to one another and depending on that connection for survival. Many farmers, gardeners, educators and activists deeply understand this concept. Our survival depends on one another.

As an agricultural agency in the Finger Lakes supporting beginning farmers for the past 10-plus years, Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming believes it is impossible to train the next generation of farmers without addressing issues of equity and justice.

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Nitrogen Cascade Harms Vegetation, Human Health

Tompkins Weekly 10-28-20

By Richard W. Franke

Plants appear to require about 18 essential elements to thrive. Some of these — zinc, iron, manganese, cobalt, nickel, etc. — are needed in small amounts called micronutrients. Carbon and oxygen, however, each make up around 45% of the dry weight of a plant, while hydrogen adds another 6%.

Despite their relatively small 1.8% total contribution to plant biomass, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur are critical to plant growth. And while plants can get most of their nutrients — micro or macro — from soil, nitrogen has proven to be a major limiting factor in ecosystem productivity worldwide.

The problem with nitrogen at first seems surprising. After all, it makes up 78% of the earth’s atmosphere in the zone up to 11 miles from the surface. As an atmospheric gas, nitrogen may be performing a sort of “calming” effect, keeping in check possible side effects of too much oxygen, which makes up about 21% of the atmosphere.

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Trees Up Tompkins: Working for the Common Good

Tompkins Weekly 10-14-20

By Patricia Ladley

Do you remember your mother’s instruction, so often repeated: “Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you”? Mother Earth also has something to say to her children: “Plant trees. They’re good for you!”

These amazing beings we call trees not only provide beauty and support biodiversity, but they also filter air pollution, help manage stormwater runoff, lower temperatures and draw down CO2 from the atmosphere. In short, trees improve the health and well-being of the local communities in which they are planted, valued and nurtured to maturity.

In the spring of 2019, the Museum of the Earth hosted a course presented by the Pachamama Alliance, a global community with the goal to create a sustainable future for all, called “Drawdown — the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The course was based on the book of the same name, edited by Paul Hawken. (Learn more at the Project Drawdown website.) At the completion of the course, eight of us decided to continue the conversation.

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ST Blog

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How to Get Active on Climate? Even More Locally
Fracking: What Are We FOR?
Sustainability is a Society of Systems Thinkers

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Help ST Finish What We Started on Dryden Pipeline

Everyday you are probably getting 2 or 3 calls to action to help stop some new outrage. It’s important to help wherever you can, but it’s also important that our movement follow through on earlier efforts to make positive change and head toward greater stewardship and justice in our communities. We’re asking our supporters to take a minute today and help us complete a critical step in our community’s shared commitment to protect the climate and stop new fossil fuel infrastructure from being built in our county.

Three years ago, in the early summer of 2014, we began to hear about a proposed new gas pipeline to run through West Dryden to provide heating fuel for new development in Lansing. The large capacity of the pipe would mean that Tompkins County would be unable to meet its goal of 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

ST helped organize local opposition to the project and teamed up to present several workshops on viable alternatives to the pipeline to meet Lansing’s energy needs. A countywide task force on energy and economic development eventually came to the same conclusions and recommended to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that NYSEG address reliability concerns for existing Lansing gas customers by adding pressure boosters to the current pipeline. In addition, NYSEG would provide incentives to developers to build new structures in Lansing using smart design and ultra-efficient heat pumps to meet commercial and residential heating loads. (Many industrial processes can be powered with electricity rather than gas as well.) Read more…

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…