Our Signs of Sustainability articles recognize the efforts of local businesses, organizations, and individual citizens to create a more sustainable community. But we know there are many individuals who are constantly expanding their repertoire of more sustainable ways of living their private lives. In particular, there are some very impressive Sustainable Tompkins members and other supporters who have adopted a wide array of practices for living sustainably. Below, they share those practices.

We invite you to share your stories of how you have been making changes in your home and lifestyle to increase or protect the well-being of all life in our region, and to become a supporter by donating to support our programs.

Contact sasha@sustainabletompkins.org if you’d like to be featured on this page. Help inspire others to take steps to reduce their ecological footprint and embrace healthy lifestyles! Big step or small step — it’s all about heading in the right direction!

Our supporters share their stories

Maryann Friend is a member and former board member of Sustainable Tompkins. She is the chief chocolatier for ST’s Chocolate Fix (hand crafted, organic, fair-trade chocolates that support our work.) She is also a caterer, writer and former Ithaca area restauranteur.

About her membership, Maryann says, “I am a proud member of ST because they are diligent and honorable in their pursuit of sustainability. ST spends wisely, I think, on their community.  Mini-grants, for example, are tiny parcels of money placed in areas where they can create a huge difference in one life, or an entire neighborhood. ST is involved in several of my pet passions such as the local food movement and energy conservation. I consider Ithaca to be one of the country’s centers for sustainability. Therefore, ST’s voice can truly make a difference in the direction the country takes in their sustainable future. ”

“My best practice for sustainable living is to prepare food the way my grandmother taught me. I use as much local and organic as possible. I tend to make everything from scratch. The end result is not only better flavor, but a more controlled nutrutional value. I rarely prepare anything that requires a canned good. So, not only do I eliminate the energy and resources required for can production, but also the unwanted metals that leach from the can into my children’s food. By purchasing local foods, my carbon footprint from food shipments is as small as possible. And I enjoy supporting our local farmers. My chickens (pictured) enjoy a local diet, too!”

Michael Smith, long-time supporter of Sustainable Tompkins and Associate Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Ithaca College, recently joined as a member. He and his students have collaborated with Sustainable Tompkins on the local environmental history project at The History Center. “I think these kinds of organizations are crucial for developing solutions to our ecological crisis, both at the local level (like ST) and global level (like 350.org).  I am especially encouraged by Sustainable Tompkins’ work in social justice.

”Michael and his family try to be sustainable in everything they do: “We keep our driving to a minimum, try to fly only vary rarely (our two boys, both under the age of 8, have probably logged more Amtrak miles and more TCAT miles than almost anyone else their age); we have an enormous garden and grow a significant number of the calories we eat (and we are vegetarian); we almost never use our dryer; we keep our thermostat at 60 during the day in the winter and 50 at night (we “heat with wool,” in the words of Bill McKibben); we try to donate 10% of our after tax income every year to social justice and environmental organizations and charities; we are about to become foster parents.”

Member Nicole Pion, former Director of Operations for Sustainable Tompkins, says “I’m a member of Sustainable Tompkins because I believe strongly in our mission to pursue the triple bottom line. I’m inspired by Sustainable Tompkins’s innovative programming that addresses social, environmental and economic justice – my background in human rights led me to see that these really are not separate issues, nor are there separate solutions. I’m proud to be part of an organization that takes a holistic approach to community well being.” Her  best practice for sustainable living comes from her maternal grandmother. As a talented seamstress, she often made clothing for Nicole’s family. And, she loved to buy clothing and fabric second hand. Nicole says: “I’ve adopted her wisdom as an adult, concerned with the pollution and health hazards associated with cotton pesticides and textile dyes. My favorite example of this practice in action was my wedding. I wore my mother’s wedding dress, handmade by my grandmother 35 years earlier. Here I am with my mom, wearing something borrowed!” This practice is easy to follow here in Ithaca – with second hand stores like Trader K’s, Junior League Thrift Store, and the Salvation Army there are many places to shop for great used clothes.  Or, for those who like to trade, Share Tompkins and Swidjit (an online sharing and trading platform designed by member Alex Colket!) are excellent resources.  And if you want to make your own clothes, Sew Green will show you how to get started!

Member Dale Bryner, Co-Director of Earth Arts, states that the mission of Earth Arts is to get children and adults outside, to feel comfortable in nature, and to enjoy it.  Earth Arts expects that participants will come to know the gifts of the land in all seasons, to develop personal relationships with the land, and to respectfully use and steward the natural resources that sustain us. Earth Arts became a member of Sustainable Tompkins because of a shared vision to create educational opportunities for residents to learn about, and connect to, the many natural resources that support healthy, expansive, and regenerative living.

Earth Art’s best practice is a simple and powerful habit called “Sit Spot” that connects people to the outdoor world and themselves.  This age-old practice was passed down by native cultures and involves simply going to one natural spot to sit quietly and observe, connect with nature, and notice the changes going on day-to-day and through the seasons.  Ideally, a sit spot should be close to home and offer a view wildlife, but it can also be an urban backyard or park. It is a place to feel comfortable, to abandon personal thoughts and to-do lists, and to simply relax and observe.  This practice, over time, helps people to connect with nature and experience learning, grounding, and insight. It gives greater perspective into the role that humans have in the large, intelligently designed web of life.  Earth Arts has found children and adults alike benefit greatly from the  “Sit Spot” practice. In April of each year Earth Arts co-sponsors a 30 day “Sit Spot” challenge. The stories and impact from the experience are substantial.

Sustainable Tompkins member and treasurer Dick Franke and his wife , Barbara H. Chasin, reside at Ecovillage at Ithaca, an intentional community concerned with living connected to nature and to each other while reducing their carbon footprint. “It seems we have reduced our energy and water consumption by about 40% and our overall ecological footprint by a little over 50%…one approach is to grow as much of our own food as possible,” says Dick Franke. The community plants more than 20 new fruit and nut trees per year to develop the 175 acres gradually in a way that promotes biodiversity while enhancing output of food and fiber. Over 80% of the land will be left natural or managed according to permaculture thinking. “After writing about farming for over 40 years, I felt it was time to do more of it,” Dick shared. The new FROG neighborhood berm garden, a ¼ acre deer-fenced plot includes seven private family plots and “guild” plots. The latter – for onions, potatoes, blueberries and peaches – are worked jointly. The harvests for the guilds will be divided approximately according to work input with some held over for members of the larger community. “It’s a lot more work than a backyard tomato patch, but it feels good and I’m ready for tasty tomatoes, cucumbers and other rewards later in the year.” Dick also cited Lester Brown’s recent book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, which claims that during World War II, Americans produced 40% of the nation’s fresh produce on Victory Gardens. That, perhaps, illustrates the potential of home and community gardens – and they don’t require an Ecovillage to set them up.

Sustainable Tompkins member Peter Bardaglio is the coordinator of Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative. Peter became a member recently, stating: “Having helped Sustainable Tompkins get off the ground financially in 2004 when I served as provost at Ithaca College, I’ve watched it grow into the premier organization in Ithaca and the county for engaging citizens in the all important conversation about how to build a more sustainable future. It’s done terrific work since 2004 and I’m proud to be a member.”

Committed to reducing his energy footprint, concerned with the rising cost of energy, and living in an early Greek Revival house, Peter and his wife Wrexie focused on making their home more energy efficient. Snug Planet “buttoned it up” with insulation to reduce energy use associated with heating and cooling, Hubbard Plumbing installed a high efficiency hot water system, and Seneca Heating put in a high efficiency boiler. In addition, they purchased new Energy Star kitchen appliances from Thayer Appliance Center and have purchased 100% wind power through NYSEG’s “Catch the Wind” program. And, through their energy renovations, Peter and Wrexie have provided support for the local green energy economy!

Challenge became an organizational member of Sustainable Tompkins in February of 2011. Emily Parker, Director of Development for Challenge said: “Challenge became a member of Sustainable Tompkins because we share your goal of working toward the long-term well-being of our community.  We believe in taking a thoughtful and responsible approach to the way we manage our agency and the programs we run. Socially, economically and environmentally sustainable efforts are in the best interests of our clients, our staff and our community.”

Challenge is making community sustainability more accessible for all of us here in the Finger Lakes.  Finger Lakes Fresh, a division of Challenge Industries, uses a workforce of employees with disabilities or other employment barriers to provide delicious, high quality, local vegetables to our community year round. Grown in a zero discharge hydroponic greenhouse, their produce is an environmentally responsible and healthy alternative to large-scale products shipped from distant locations.  Proceeds from sales support Challenge’s mission to provide employment opportunities to individuals with disabilities or employment barriers. This enterprise is an ideal combination of Challenge’s social, economic and environmental missions!

Ed Marx, Tompkins County Commissioner of Planning and Community Sustainability became a member of Sustainable Tompkins in December of 2010, saying: “Sustainable Tompkins has been a leader in involving ordinary citizens in sustainability activities in the community.  It is important that there be active private organizations dedicated to such citizen engagement.”  And, as an engaged citizen, Ed is literally walking his talk.  He shared his best practice for living sustainably – it’s alternative transportation!  By walking or biking whenever possible – to work, to the park, for shopping, wherever possible – Ed has taken a simple measure to reduce his carbon footprint.

For many years, board member Tom Shelley has been removing all types of plastic items from his household waste steam that are not currently acceptable for collection for recycling by the Tompkins County Solid Waste Division.  Most of these items are packaging materials of one kind or another.  Almost all plastics are made from oil and Tom can’t stand seeing oil go back into the ground in the form of a landfill!  He packs these items in garbage bags, boxes and paper shopping bags and stores them in a garage he owns in Collegetown.  Eventually, when the price of oil goes up high enough, additional recycling markets will open for materials not currently accepted locally and Tom will be able to sell these materials to a vendor.

Sustainable Tompkins member and former board member Alex Colket has lived without a car for many years, getting around everywhere using a combination of walking, biking, TCAT and carpooling.  While this is easy enough to do downtown, Alex does not live there and has managed without a car in spite of living several miles from town and off the bus route.  In any given week he will walk between 15-60 miles to get around between meetings, errands and social events.

In addition to the environmental benefits that arise from this lifestyle choice, Alex also finds the time commuting to be refreshing, reflective and excellent exercise.  Here Alex is pictured making the 2.7 mile walk down Nelson Rd to pick up the bus along 96.

Solar panels power member Gay Nicholson‘s home in Ludlowville, with power to spare for an electric car (someday!). An open shed does double-duty supporting the panels on the south roof, while keeping firewood and lumber out of the rain.

In the foreground are fall and winter greens kept frost-free by the thermal mass of an old stone foundation facing south. The plants are watered from a rain barrel filled by the downspout from the shed. There are five raised beds nearby made from black locust boards salvaged from a damaged fence. The locust was locally harvested using a team of draft horses and a portable mill. The raised beds provide a bountiful harvest of fresh, organic vegetables. It’s fun to connect several systems together for greater self-reliance and a healthier planet!

For many years Tom Shelley has been removing a variety of materials from his household waste steam that are not currently acceptable for curbside collection for recycling by the Tompkins County Solid Waste Division.  Many of these items are metals and other “durable” materials of one kind or another that add a lot of weight to the waste stream relative to the amount of space they take up in the trash can.  Examples include anything made of iron/steel, lead, die cast zinc, copper, brass, plus batteries of all kinds and printed circuit boards (from disassembling electronic devices).  Many of these items are high-value commodities on the recycling market and can be sold for scrap. Tom saves these items in a set of boxes and bags in his cellar.  When he gets enough of a particular item, he takes it in for recycling or sale to a scarp vendor.   The less that goes to the landfill the better off we are!

For the past couple years, Marian and Michael Brown have purchased 100% wind power for their home through NYSEG’s “Catch the Wind” program. This is the photo of the renewable energy certificate they received for 2008’s purchase of 3,600 kWh. NYSEG invests these “clean power” purchase funds in Community Energy which, in turn, uses the money to develop wind farms in and around New York State.

Drying clothes by the woodstove in the winter saves plenty of energy for Jan Quarles and her husband Michael Dineen.  Washing clothes in cold water saves about $200/yr, and using a drying rack in lieu of a dryer saves another $100-$200/yr, depending on how many loads you do. Both methods will help your clothes last longer too.Jan and Michael hang their clothes next to the wood stove overnight, and they’re dry in the morning.

An alternative location used by their Amish neighbors: hang clothes lines above your stairwell, since heat rises.  And of course, in warmer weather, nothing beats the smell of clothes dried outside on a clothesline!


Every year Kitty Gifford and her partner Mark Sarvary pledge to support a local farm by purchasing shares in advance of the growing season. As shareholders they share the risks and the benefits of harvests whether they are decreased by poor weather or pests or have a surplus.

But the benefits don’t stop there, as a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) you enjoy ultra-fresh fruits and vegetables and the knowledge of where and how your food is grown. Typically members pick up the produce at a central distribution point in Ithaca, and for Kitty or Mark they can usually manage to transport their share home by scooter!

Tom Shelley composts the cat litter generated by their 6 cats. Tom switched from a clay-based cat litter to an organic, wheat-based litter. This litter clumps readily and the clumps and stools are composted with leaves, straw, shredded paper and other materials. The resulting compost can be used on non-food plants in your yards.

This has reduced the weight of their trash by 80 percent, which results in a reduction of waste in our landfills. Home composting of organic waste such as cat litter also reduces the number of trips to landfills and lowers greenhouse gas emissions coming from both transportation and landfills. They are also saving over $500 per year on trash tags, so this is a win-win situation for the environment and for them!