Signs of Sustainability

New Volunteer Program: Climate Stewards

Tompkins Weekly 2-24-21

By Margaret Royall

This March, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) will begin recruiting for the Climate Stewards volunteer training program. Application materials will be available in March on the CCE-Tompkins website at

Climate Stewards builds upon the successful models of CCE’s existing Master Gardener and Master Composter volunteer programs. In each of these models, individuals who volunteer are trained in the details of specific subject matter and, in turn, share their knowledge with the community by leading workshops and discussion groups, sharing materials and information at community events and other creative outreach efforts of their choosing.

Climate Stewards will have the additional opportunity to use what they have learned to help drive change in our local government.

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Project Documents Sustainable Farming

Tompkins Weekly 2-10-21

By Graham Savio

Agriculture is a relatively minor contributor toward greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for 9.9% of total U.S. emissions in 2018 according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, the sector has substantial capacity to contribute toward climate change mitigation efforts by offsetting emissions from other sectors as well as taking steps to further limit existing emissions from farming.

Conservation and sustainable land management practices can reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide associated with crop and livestock production and can increase the quantity of carbon stored in soils and above-ground vegetation.

Agriculture educators at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) work closely with farmers across the county who have adopted sustainable farming practices to reduce nutrient runoff, improve soil health and lower on-farm energy use, but a broad understanding of the extent of those practices has been limited.

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Composting for Food, Economic Security

Tompkins Weekly 1-27-21

By Adam Michaelides

With temperatures hovering around freezing and the ground blanketed with snow, it is hard to remember the lush green of spring, the heat of summer and the bounty of fall. However, they are coming. The days are growing longer and lighter, and before we know it, warm days will return.

Last weekend for kicks, I stuck a long-stemmed, compost thermometer in my bin and found that it was at 60 degrees! Even with no visible growth in the yard and daytime temperatures in the 30s, my compost continues to actively work away. Hopefully by spring, the compost in my bin will be mature enough to use in the garden.

Composting and gardening go together — each activity supports the other.

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Food, Social, Climate Justice for All

Tompkins Weekly 1-13-21

By Cathleen and Eric Banford

In a time when life looks more like an emerging dystopia than a healthy society, many of us are motivated to reexamine our part in it all. If we are aware enough to understand what’s really going on outside of this surge of divisiveness, we understand one important truth: social justice and climate justice are intrinsically interconnected, and both are crucial to sustainable living.

In a year that has challenged all of us, especially people of color, we find ourselves asking a lot of questions. Our current systems are not only being questioned; they are being reimagined and reinvigorated.

Food is one of those universal relationships with life that we all must tend to as a community. Food justice encompasses environmental concerns when we look at farming practices, but it also extends to equal access to healthy food for low-income families and the ability of different ethnic groups to access traditional foods.

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Farewell From Tom Shelley

Tompkins Weekly 12-23-20

By Thomas Shelley

As some of you may know, I am retiring from my current role as an environmental activist at the end of December to pursue other life goals. I have been managing the Signs of Sustainability series for Sustainable Tompkins for 12 years.

Over this time, scores of local sustainability-related organizations and authors have used the SoS series to promote sustainability-related ideas, the programs of their organizations and events they offered or supported. As of January 2021, Cathleen and Eric Banford will take over the management of the SoS series for Sustainable Tompkins.

I have been an activist of one stripe or another for 25 years, one-third of my life. I spent 10 years, from ’65 to ’75, in the student power/SDS/anti-war movements and as a community organizer in San Francisco, back in the bad old days.

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Businesses Lead Way in Climate Action

Tompkins Weekly 12-9-20

By Sustainable Tompkins

The heat is on! Typically in our climate-change-fueled work, this would not be a great phrase to hear. However, for our 2020 Finger Lakes Enterprises for Climate Action campaign (FLECA), it’s music to our ears.

This fall, Sustainable Tompkins launched our very first local-business-focused offsetting campaign for our Finger Lakes Climate Fund. The FLECA campaign has already welcomed a host of new climate-ready local businesses. We are delighted to celebrate our top offsetters: Halco Energy, Beck Equipment, Paddle-N-More and Snug Planet.

It has been incredible to witness local business leaders step up and invest in tangible climate action that both reduces emissions and works to achieve economic equity. Each of their contributions is fueling our ambitious goal of $12,500, equivalent to six Climate Fund grants, which will offset at least 100 tons of CO2.

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Replace Windows for Energy Savings? It’s Not That Simple

Tompkins Weekly 11-25-20

By Phil Cherry

When you ask someone what energy improvement they want to make in their home, the answer you often hear is “windows.” People want replacement windows because they often look nicer, work better than the old ones they want to replace and they think they can save energy with new windows.

You will save energy on new windows, but the problem is they don’t always pay for themselves in energy savings over the life of the window (usually about 30 years). These windows may look nicer and open easier, and maybe even be less challenging to clean, but don’t replace your windows just because you think you’ll save money on energy costs in the short term. In some cases, you won’t realize a cost savings for decades.

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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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