Signs of Sustainability

Farming From the Heart

Tompkins Weekly 4-28-21

By Mothers out Front

We have learned much in the last year about the importance of our health, our community and our environment. We are more keenly aware of the availability of food and unequal access to it. As we take in the big picture, the magnitude of the climate change crisis is also finally becoming clearer.

There are many ways to address this problem, and each of the solutions has its challenges. Perhaps the one with the most staying power in our region is small-scale regenerative farming, whose practices increase organic matter in the soil, drawing down and sequestering carbon in the process.

This rich soil, in turn, produces healthy food, which makes for healthy people and, ultimately, a healthy planet. These small farming businesses also strengthen the local economy. What more could you ask of a solution?

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Acknowledge Progress, Strive for More Change

Tompkins Weekly 4-14-21

By Anna Marck

In January of 2019, when Greta Thunberg said “I want you to panic,” I decided to lace up my shoes and get to work, panicking. I panicked to everyone I talked to. I panicked to myself. Unfortunately for the fifth-graders I was working with at the time, I panicked to them. And I panicked to my parents, blaming them for everything from paper towels to capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong. I think panic can start revolutions — Greta striking fear in our hearts certainly sparked an awareness that I had never seen before — but as I went about my life panicking, I quickly learned that this emotion is as unsustainable as fossil fuels. It was exhausting.

In his book “Factfulness,” Hans Rosling describes “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things are Better Than You Think.” When I first saw the cover, I was offended.

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The Giving Nature of Plants

Tompkins Weekly 3-24-21

By Eric Banford

One of the issues that this pandemic has made very clear is how precarious our food system is. As soon as businesses started shutting down, there was a general panic, and people started stockpiling food and other essentials.

Shortages quickly became apparent as the sight of bare shelves appeared at every grocery store. This served to heighten people’s anxiety, causing them to hoard even more stuff. Would we run out of food?

Luckily, these shortages didn’t last long. Stores limited the number of certain items that could be purchased at one time, manufacturers kicked into overdrive, and essential workers stepped up their heroic efforts to get needed supplies to the public. Shelves slowly were restocked, and life returned to “normal,” at least as normal as life can be during a global pandemic.

But the lessons laid bare are important for us to pay attention to going forward. When one learns that there is only a three-day supply at any grocery store (the Just In Time theory of supply), how should we prepare for the potential breaking of our supply chains?

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Understanding the Impact of Relationships

Tompkins Weekly 3-10–21

By Cathleen Banford

Signs of Sustainability (SoS) is a twice-monthly column that aims to promote sustainability in our community. Mothers Out Front, self-described as being “unified by the drive to protect all children from the climate crisis that impacts their health today and a livable climate for them tomorrow,” recently asked if there was a framework or parameters for contributing to the SoS series. This feels like a good time to convey more about the purpose of these articles.

SoS is an opportunity to recognize what we are doing as a community to further the progress around ecological responsibility and respect for our natural world. It’s also a place to honor the importance of nurturing relationships in community and creating the space necessary for trust to grow and for growing the courage to face challenges, especially the ones that pull us out of our comfort zone.

The University of California, Los Angeles Sustainability Committee phrases the concept of sustainability as: “the integration of environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse, and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come.”

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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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