Local Organizations Show Their Care for Earth

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Tompkins Weekly    4-27-22

By Eric and Cathleen Banford

We visited the Ithaca Farmers Market (IFM) during the beautiful spring Earth Day Celebration to hear the perspectives of the eco-minded individuals working for the benefit of all. It was a beautiful spring day, good food smells filled the air, and the dock was filled with people enjoying being by the water. There was a strong sense of community.

We were interested to hear the perspectives of each Earth Day volunteer, including what they’re most passionate about regarding building more resilient and ecologically sound food systems.

We began our day at the composting table, where we met Adam Michaelides, Marissa McKown and Abby Aitken. McKown mentioned noticing wasteful things such as individually wrapped candies and said, “I wrestle with an internal sliding scale of what can I practically do something about, what am I going to actively worry about today.”

Joey Gates of Dish Truck. Photo by Eric and Cathleen Banford.

“I have a dear friend who moved very seriously towards a zero waste lifestyle about 10 years ago,” she said. “She’s done some presentations that have been really effective to me and helped me reframe and just really again be able to see, ‘oh that plastic fork is wrapped in plastic,’ and so I have my little bamboo set that I take everywhere with me now. Practical tips like that.”

For a positive change moving forward, she is hopeful that a more circular economy would help.

“I suppose to me, a clearer thing would be if we could move toward more of a circular economy rather than the linear because then you’re taking care of people, thinking about the value of things, like if someone built a house, thinking about all the labor, all the hours, etc.,” she said.

Aitken, a junior at Ithaca College, when asked about positive change, replied, “I think one thing that is really important is for people to connect with their local environments and to be aware of what’s happening around them. I think getting to know the plants and animals in your area is very important because then you can begin to notice changes and you begin to care a lot more about what’s happening in your community.”

“People tend to forget about that and focus on individual changes and individual actions when there also needs to be more of a collective political movement as well,” she said. “It’s funny because recycling is lovely, of course, but it’s also the strategy that oil companies use to divert people’s attention away from their actions.”

Joey Gates’ table had information about Dish Truck, an initiative she started to divert waste from events where food is served. For positive solutions, Gates shared, “I think the transition to a circular economy is really important as we look at material flows, extraction, refinement, manufacturing and use. Ithaca ReUse and the Dish Truck are key to stopping the first part of that process that has a serious impact on the environment.”

For priorities, Gates would love to see infrastructure support for things like Dish Truck.

“It’s one thing to have reusable dishes, but it’s another thing to be able to wash them,” she said. “Releasing pressure on one system creates pressure on other systems.”

She described ways to sustainably meet hot water needs, use nutrients in gray water for plants and soil and use heat exchangers to heat more water.

Yayoi Koizumi is the founder of Zero Waste Ithaca and the main steward of the West Village Gone Green Garden. Her passion is obviously Zero Waste, and she shared, “It has to be all community encompassing, zero waste that includes everybody. Zero waste has a long history. There’s the old-school zero waste. Then, there’s new zero waste consumer trend type of thing, and that can be a bit exclusive and only for people who can afford it.”

Judy Ward is the Zero Waste project coordinator at IFM.

“My job is funded through the Park Foundation, so it’s a unique opportunity for the market to introduce reusable dishware,” Ward said. “I’m exploring opportunities to have teens working in the height of the market season to help us deal with this reusable dishware. And we’re exploring a pilot with Dish Truck, which will tell us a lot about how vendors and customers adapt and what sorts of kinks we need to work out of the system.”

Ward continued.

“When we think about Earth Day and about reducing our impact, we often make it about individual education,” she said. “How can we recycle better or bring our own dish or compost better? But to really change our systematic problems, we need to address them both from a bottoms up and a tops down perspective. Changes at the organization level are important.”

Marissa McKown, Abby Aitken, and Adam Michaelides. Photo by Eric and Cathleen Banford.

The Tompkins County Farm to School program had a table with activities for kids to learn about their program while also educating parents to its benefits. Program Coordinator Tara Morgan is passionate about education and its impact.

“Today, we came out bringing posters about teen climate change activists,” she said. “We thought it would be nice for youth to see people their age who are taking action in ways that you can do that, no matter how old you are or how much systemic power you have, you can always educate people, you can always bring more information to the public.”

Young people give Morgan hope for our future.

“I see a generation after us who is a lot more open to change and to new ideas,” she said. “I think there’s a little bit less of a fixed mentality among the newer generation, so I do feel hopeful that they’ll be able to work together in ways that maybe our generation or prior generations haven’t. I think there’s a lot more openness to diversity and a lot more openness to understanding other people’s experiences.”

Vanessa Barragan is a Cornell University student studying English and biology and working with Farm to School. As far as being hopeful, Barragan said,

“Programs like this — seeing that the youth do care, and even just now, one of the kids was saying that they want to live in a city someday so that places are walkable so they don’t have to contribute to climate change by using a car — so, small things like that, seeing kids be aware and how advanced they can think about these things, is really amazing.”

Ashley Reilly is a Cornell student studying nutrition and working with Farm to School.

“[We support] reducing the amount of trucks on the road transporting food from farms to kids, and also through the program, we do some nutritional education, which teaches the kids to diversify their diets, which also helps our agricultural fields become diversified, helping the soil and all that good stuff,” she shared.

Lastly, we caught up with Michaelides, compost educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

“My passion? Compost, man!” he said. “It’s part of the cycle of life, people taking responsibility for their organic wastes and turning it into a valuable product to use on their plants and improving their soil, working with nature.”

When asked about hope, he mentioned a composter’s new daughter.

“She’s already playing on the Earth, which makes me hopeful about new generations,” he said.

Hopeful indeed.

Signs of Sustainability appears in the second and fourth edition of each month in Tompkins Weekly.

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