Signs of Sustainability

Reclaim Earth Day

Tompkins Weekly    3-27-24

By Dan Antonioli and bethany ojalehto mays

On April 22, 1970, one of the world’s most significant environmental movements, Earth Day, was launched. Earth Day set in motion an ecological focus to highlight the vulnerability of Planet Earth in the face of Anthropocene ecocide.

In 1970, social protests were raging. The “ecology movement” was born out of the radicalism of the anti-war movement and a host of other social movements that were inextricably linked to the organizing of the 60s. Earth Day thus had punch, drama, and made bold statements.

At the time, there was no Environmental Protection Agency, no penalties for corporate polluters, and little impetus to address environmental problems.

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Neighborhood Mini-Grants Build Sustainability, Equity, and Resilient Communities

Tompkins Weekly          3-13-24

By Sasha Paris

Humans and “the environment” that sustains us are not separate. Environmental damage, economic inequity, and social injustice are interwoven in many ways, and their solutions must be as well. This is the philosophy of Sustainable Finger Lakes, carried out in our work, including our Neighborhood Mini-Grant program.

Since 2008, we have awarded 224 Neighborhood Mini-Grants (NMGs) to individuals, community groups, organizations, and micro-businesses throughout Tompkins County, that are making our communities more sustainable, equitable, and resilient. As much as possible, we strive to fund projects that address multiple problems, such as providing more equal access to resources while reducing environmental impacts:

The Finger Lakes Toy Library, established in 2016-17 with NMG assistance and now flourishing in the Ithaca Mall, reduces the buying and disposal of toys while broadening access to toys and fostering a culture of sharing and social connections.

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First Learn How to Love Them

Tompkins Weekly    2-28-24

By Patricia Ladley

In her beautiful article “There is no companion like a tree” (Ithaca Child, Fall 2023), Lara Johnson writes: “So how do we save the trees? First, we learn how to love them … We plant trees and watch them grow … and remember how to be in relationship with them.” This insight describes the coming together of eight tree-loving strangers at the 2019 Project Drawdown Workshop hosted by The Museum of the Earth in Ithaca. That meeting eventually evolved into Trees Up Tompkins (TUT), a community group dedicated to planting native trees in Tompkins County. In the year that followed, we met monthly, shared readings and studies about trees, interviewed tree experts, took field trips to nearby nurseries and a Cayuga Bird Club restoration site, invited input on land availability from local municipalities, participated in a guided planting – and grew excited about contributing to the well-being of our community through the planting of native trees!

TUT’s first planting project was an ambitious one – clearing invasive privet from a 1250 square foot swath of city land on Cayuga Lake inlet at Lighthouse Point. With the generous help of volunteers and the support of Jeanne Grace, Ithaca City Forester, we planted 50+ native trees and shrubs in Fall 2020. TUT cleared more land in 2021and planted an additional 60+ trees. Work continues there; the weeds are persistent, but so are we! To date, 200 native trees have been planted at Lighthouse Point including white and red oak, river birch, basswood, hickory, bladdernut, maple and birch.

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Trees, Glorious Trees: Ancient Solutions Coupled with Modern Innovations Make for a Climate Resilient Practice Worth Spreading

Tompkins Weekly, 2-21-24

By Erika Frenay

Of all the strategies farmers could employ to both sequester carbon AND shield their farms from climate-changed-induced weather chaos, what do you think is at the top of the list? Silvopasture! Livestock + trees + pasture = silvopasture, and it’s ranked by Project Drawdown as the #1 agricultural strategy to sequester carbon. It’s so powerful that Project Drawdown ranked it 9th overall to reduce climate chaos across all industries, not just farming.

And it’s so versatile that it can look hundreds of different ways. Skillfully thinning a forest to create pasture in the understory is silvopasture. Planting shrubby willows to feed sheep is another form of silvopasture. Planting massive nut trees into an existing pasture to shade the animals during increasingly hot summers is silvopasture. As in so much of farming, it is both art and ancient science that we in the United States are only just beginning to tap.

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Incorporating Equity into the Ithaca Green New Deal with Justice50

Tompkins Weekly        1-31-24

By Fenya Bartram and Sunrise Ithaca

In 2019, after years of community organizing, the City of Ithaca passed the Ithaca Green New Deal. Inspired by the Green New Deal proposed to Congress by the national Sunrise Movement, it sets two main goals. One is to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030, given the urgent need to slash emissions to meet internationally agreed upon targets for a safe planet. The other main goal is to ensure that the benefits of the Ithaca Green New Deal are shared among all local communities to reduce historical, social, and economic inequities. These are both ambitious and broad goals, and it is crucial that the City follow these up with a sustained commitment.

Although it’s been four years, the City still hasn’t committed to any comprehensive plan for incorporating the aforementioned equity component; the proposed framework known as Justice50 seeks to serve this role. Modeled after the federal Justice40 program, it requires that at least 50% of investments involved in the Ithaca Green New Deal will go to “climate justice communities.” This will help to ensure that funds go to those who will be most impacted by climate change, including BIPOC, low-income, unhoused, disabled, and other disadvantaged communities. While there are various definitions for “climate justice communities” at different levels of government, the City of Ithaca has developed its own definition to best serve Ithaca’s needs. The definition is based on household-level criteria such as income, food insecurity, education level, and eligibility for needs-based assistance, among others.

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Recruiting Tompkins County Master Composters

Tompkins Weekly     1-24-24

By Adam Michaelides

Several years ago, a Tompkins County Master Composter said, “Composting is the ultimate sustainable action.” Although his statement seemed a bit bold at the time, it also stuck with me.

Composting involves the transformation of once-alive items back into the organic part of the soil. By using finished compost to grow plants, we help to complete the cycle of life. This is a sustainable practice because the building blocks of life are sustained. Material is transformed from waste to resources.

Compare this to the unsustainable practice of hermetically sealing organic discards in an airtight plastic bag, trucking them to the landfill, and burying them in toxic debris. It’s as if we have done our very best to prevent the cycle of life from being sustained. However, nature wins in the end. Eventually, even the most impervious of plastic landfill liners crack, gasses seep out, and plastic bits make their way into the waterway.

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Climate Hope

Tompkins Weekly, 1- 3-24

By Miranda Phillips

Like many of us, I’ve struggled with climate despair. This came to a head one winter when, hearing about the death toll of an intense Christmas ice storm, I said to my husband, “How many more people have to die senselessly before we do something.”  My husband replied, “I wish you wouldn’t get so angry about it.” I asked, “You wish I wouldn’t get so angry, or that I wouldn’t tell you about it?” My husband (a sweet, thoughtful guy) backpedaled: “You’re right to be angry.  I just remember a time when you were more hopeful, and it makes me sad.”  What to do with that?

Over the next few weeks I started exploring my options. I had heard from several people, including climate scientist James Hansen, that they respected a certain volunteer organization, Citizens’ Climate Lobby.The “lobby” part made me nervous; I wanted no part in politics.  But their values appealed: nonpartisan (across the political spectrum); focused on solutions; respectful of everyone regardless of background; and optimistic (not head in the sand, but allowing for the possibility that if we do the hard work, we can make things better). I also liked their policy aims: robust bipartisan climate solutions, which lower emissions at the pace and scale needed, without hurting low- or middle- income Americans. They didn’t yet have a chapter in Ithaca, so I started one. This was in 2014.

Since then, our chapter and hundreds like ours across the country have helped to pass great climate laws meeting the above policy aims:

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Youth Farm Project: Fortifying Our Communities

Tompkins Weekly, 12-13-23

By Katie Church

The Youth Farm Project is a local organization entering its 15th year. Since 2010, we have been mobilizing the next generation of leaders towards transformative actions for food sovereignty. Our programs encourage young people to build loving relationships with the land, themselves, and each other while growing nutrient rich food for the community. By providing free produce to neighborhood food pantries, we fortify local food and address food insecurity. The Youth Farm Project offers young people a sanctuary where they can feel free! Free to discuss real issues affecting us, free to connect to the land and to their own power. Our programs train the next generation of farmers, improve civic engagement, empower young activists, support mental health in young people and center the experiences of black and brown youth.

Our farming is centered in soil-healthy practices, which in turn are animal and human healthy practices. We acknowledge that these practices and techniques were born, developed, improved upon, and then stolen from indigenous communities. White colonial settlers adopted farming practices from the people who were already here, generations of Haundenosaunee farmers, and also appropriated the Haundeosaunee knowledge and skills.

The word “resilience” has been used so frequently in recent times. The awareness that existence as we know it is tenuous is burgeoning to the forefront, and in the scramble to preserve ourselves as humans, we are grasping at what could be possible. The Youth Farm Project sees sustainability and resiliency as an interactive process that includes the physical health of the soil, water, and forests, and the fabric of our communities and the systems that care for them.

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Aren’t We Nature after All?

Tompkins Weekly, 11-22-23

By Cathleen Banford

Recently I was asked to develop an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion outline to share with our newest Sustainable Finger Lakes board members. Building Bridges provided us with a “Walking Our Talk” workshop a few years ago and this outline will also explore overlapping content, but there is always more to learn.

“Working to create justice is a gift to the land,” noted author Robin Wall Kimmerer as she visited Cornell’s Ithaca campus to share insights about Restoration and Reciprocity and Land Justice. She eloquently highlighted important ideas about land restoration and the need for “Re-storyation: historical and contemporary,” including the importance of “Engaging with Indigenous people to identify stories, names and relationships with land” to better understand Indigenous world views.

We listened to Kimmerer’s story about a plant called “tortoise eats it,” which teaches how “Indigenous languages are a repository of ecological knowledge. “She emphasized the importance of a two lens perspective, Western science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. TEK is an Indigenous world view of “land as home, land as source of knowledge, land as sacred, land as moral responsibility, land as inspirited, land as identity, land as sustainer, land as residence of non-human relatives, land as ancestral connection, land as healer.” Kimmerer reminds us that the most biodiverse spaces in the world are homelands of Indigenous peoples who have lived synergistically with local ecologies; by example they provide vital teachings in the face of our climate crisis. Kimmerer adds, “It’s not only the land which is broken but the relationship to land.”

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A Love Story for My Country

Tompkins Weekly      11-8-23

By Sargent Joey Diana Gates

Patriotism is defined as love, pride and devotion one feels towards one’s land and country. Environmentalism is to be concerned about and to work for the protection of the environment, i.e. the land, air and water, and hence the health of all beings, to include humans. There are strong historic links between these two concepts, notably in the birth of the conservation movement. I will discuss these below in tracing my own trajectory and looking at the origins of the conservation movement.  My journey as an environmentalist began as an exchange student in Sweden but was cemented in my experiences in the US Army in the late 80’s to mid-90’s and has led me on a life journey of love, care and protection of the environment, and by extension, my country.

In the spring of 1986, while living in Sweden, I witnessed the horror of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident unfolding. It was April 26, the world was waking up from winter and farmers were preparing for spring plantings and allowing their cows to pasture. This spring however, they were advised not to let the animals graze as radioactive fallout had gone up into the atmosphere in Ukraine, traversed manmade boundaries, and fallen on the land across Scandinavia. In Lapland, the Sami people were advised to butcher huge swaths of their reindeer population, and not consume the meat due to the bioaccumulation of radiation in their bodies for the same reason. On a recent, 2018 visit to Sweden, friends told of giving up a recently hunted elk as it had too many becquerels in its body. Environmental damage to the land severely impacted the livelihood of the farmers and nations’ abilities to feed themselves.

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