Sustainable Tompkins Hosts The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies

Yeah, it’s been hot. Really hot. And before that it was dry. Really dry. It’s enough to make a person nervous about what will happen next. What’s the climate going to be like in the future? How will we cope?

James Leonard tent

Perhaps you would like to talk about it. Sustainable Tompkins is hosting Brooklyn-based artist James Leonard on the Ithaca Commons this Thursday, August 18, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. James will be in The Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies offering free, private “readings” on climate change. Everyone is invited. Readings last approximately 15 minutes each and are given on a first-come, first-served basis.

Divination has been used by cultures throughout the world to help people navigate difficult futures. James has adapted Tarot cards to help others process what he calls “overwhelming climate anxiety.” This summer he’s traveling the country, making one-day stops to give climate change divinatory readings inside a special, hand-sewn tent. (Read more here or watch the video.)

From the outside, the tent looks like a cross between a post-apocalyptic wigwam and a children’s blanket fort. The rainbow interior is made out of brightly colored recycled clothing. It required over 500 hours of hand sewing to complete. Detailed tea-colored ink paintings of different plant and animal species—each reportedly affected by climate change are pinned to the outside. Read the rest of this entry »

Natural Investments Joins as Sponsor for Neighborhood Mini-Grants Program



Good news for all the citizen activists in Tompkins County! Natural Investments has joined our team as a sponsor for the Neighborhood Mini-Grants program. Natural Investments has been a leader in socially and environmentally responsible investing for over two decades, actively seeking to balance the need for financial return with the desire to improve life for others and the Earth.

They donate ≥1% to nonprofits of their choice and Greg Pitts of the New York branch picked Sustainable Tompkins mini-grants program to sponsor. Natural Investments is a B Corporation “Best for the World” winner in 2015 and a Green America Certified Green Business.  The latest book by their principals, The Resilient Investor, looks at more than how we use and invest or money – it also focuses on how we direct our time and attention.

The next deadline for applications to our Mini-Grant program is September 1. Thanks to the sponsorship of Natural Investments and Finger Lakes Wealth Management, we will be able to support the good ideas our local residents have for making this community more resilient, just, and sustainable.

Climate Fund Grant Helps Schuyler County Farmer

Mary Wessel sitting


Peace is kept in the barnyard at Wildwood Farms by 5 white nanny goats supervising the dozens of ducks, chickens, guinea hens, and cats rescued by farmer Mary Wessel. After living in Norway for most of her adult life, Mary returned to the States to rejoin her family in upstate NY. She purchased a 6-acre homestead on the ridge above Queen Catherine marsh in Schuyler County and began the hard work of creating a sustainable refuge for humans and animals alike.   Watch Mary Wessel talk about her farm.

Like many rural dwellings, the farmhouse consisted of a series of additions tacked onto the original cabin with its massive stone hearth – none of them insulated or tightly constructed. When Mary’s elderly mother needed to move in with her, the utility bills skyrocketed as Mary tried to keep her mother warm with electric space heaters and DIY attempts to reduce the drafts. Finally she turned to Snug Planet for help. Read the rest of this entry »

Dish Truck: A Viable Alternative to Compostables

Tompkins Weekly      3-7-16

By Joey Diana Gates

Since October 2014, a small, focused team has been meeting to strategize providing a service at festivals, farmers’ markets, conferences as well as to restaurants and others whereby instead of food and drinks being served in traditional disposable take-out ware, durable dishes are used. The dishes are then collected, washed and returned to the original purveyor. In short we call it Dish Truck. The idea has attracted great energy, ideas on how to implement and potential donors to the cause.

The initial idea behind Dish Truck was to further lessen the life cycle impacts of getting take-out food through the use of durable dishes. The main bi-product of using durable dishes is gray water, a potentially nutrient rich resource. Compostable to-go dishes, while a welcome change from products of yore, still have significant environmental impacts, including the fact that many are imported from China. Read the rest of this entry »

The Many Benefits of Compost

Tompkins Weekly 4-20-15

By Elizabeth Burns

Composting turns food scraps, grass clippings, and dead leaves into a garden resource. By reusing all the nutrients in organic matter, the compost process diverts refuse from the landfill and creates a reusable byproduct in the process, beneficial to your garden and the planet. Much of the waste we produce every day can be turned into a useful soil amendment for your lawn or next year’s tomatoes. Read the rest of this entry »

Dryden Town Board Hosts Our “Alternatives to Expanding Fossil Fuel Infrastructure” Seminar


Thursday, Feb 19  6-7 pm, Dryden Town Hall

Hosted by Dryden Town Board, the Town Planning Board and the Town Conservation Board

 We often hear the refrain that clean energy technologies hold much promise but are not sufficiently developed for use in today’s markets. This presentation will demonstrate that these technologies are currently viable AND cost effective.

Over the past several months a group of about 40 community members have come together to analyze the need for a new, 7-mile natural gas pipeline through Dryden as proposed by NYSEG. Before committing to such an increased dependency on methane and locking our region into more fossil fuel infrastructure, home owners, contractors, developers, and public decision- makers should become familiar with the current benefits of alternative energy strategies.

This community group has done modeling to compare the costs of space heating and domestic hot water for residential and commercial buildings, fueled by gas versus renewable sources of energy. They will present relevant portions of their analysis.

Join us for a presentation by Dr. Brice Smith, Graduate Program Coordinator in Sustainable Energy Systems, SUNY Cortland.  Melissa Kemp, Program Director of Solar Tompkins, and Gay Nicholson, President of Sustainable Tompkins, will also provide contributions to the program.

This should be of interest to home owners, contractors, developers, and public decision- makers interested in how we will meet our local energy needs now and in the future.

Multi-Faith Award Goes to ‘Safety’ Creators

Tompkins Weekly 2-16-15

By Eric Clay

Sarah Chalmers Simmons and Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. have been named the recipients of this year’s Multi-Faith World Award. They are the leading forces behind the community-based play SAFETY, which examines community and police relations in Ithaca and Tompkins County. Read the rest of this entry »

Environmental Racism: 1987 to 2007

Tompkins Weekly 1-26-15

By Richard Franke

In our introductory column on environmental racism and sustainability published here on 8 December, 2014, we noted that a key moment in the movement for environmental justice came in 1987 with the publication of the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice’s Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. This report put the issue of environmental racism before the public in a way it had never been before. There was another significant environmental report that year, the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, published by Oxford University Press under the title Our Common Future. This is more informally known as The Brundtland Report, after its chairperson, Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway. Because of this report the word “sustainability” entered mainstream scientific and academic circles. Read the rest of this entry »

Clean Water Act Celebrated

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Cayuga Inlet Sustainability Corridor

A Vision for a Cayuga Inlet Sustainability Corridor:  May 2006

 The elements of community sustainability are typically undertaken in a piecemeal fashion.  One town might invest in solar panels while another town creates bike paths.  Rarely have we deliberately sought to redesign and integrate infrastructure for living, working, shopping, and playing in a more sustainable manner.  Sustainable Tompkins has been involved in a number of proposed development projects over the past two years that are coalescing into a unifying vision for making sustainability a reality within a specific geographic location.  Although the Cayuga Inlet Sustainability Corridor will serve a specific geographic locale, it may also become a model for other communities and regions that are trying to solve the challenge of integrating the elements of a sustainable community.  This is a wonderfully stimulating intellectual and social challenge. If successful, the co-creators of the Sustainability Corridor will become informants to the rest of the world, sharing our vision and lessons learned.

While our plans may seem ambitious, they are not outside the realm of feasibility; nor do they simply act to encourage environmental awareness. Ithaca loses many young people to urban centers.  If we can create a new employment hub around sustainability that creates decent incomes while also giving people an excellent living standard, perhaps the youth will stay on.  A focus on economic development, while also embracing sustainability, will be key for Ithaca’s future population diversity.

Along Rt. 13 in Ithaca, NY there is every type of strip development typical of towns across America. A coalition of partners from Sustainable Tompkins, Cornell University, Ithaca College, Cooperative Extension, local green builders, government agencies, and other groups are exploring how to use sustainability principles to develop and redevelop adjacent lands between the “franchise strip” and Cayuga Inlet, a major tributary into Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.  This natural corridor along the Inlet from the south entry point of the City of Ithaca to the waterfront of the lake has several large undeveloped parcels as well as a mixture of relatively light commercial/industrial development.

The vision for the Cayuga Inlet Sustainability Corridor began with an early working group of Sustainable Tompkins focused on creating a Green Resource Hub in the light industrial zone along the Inlet, where one of their members owns land and other renewable energy businesses are already established.  The Hub would feature a facility for educating consumers on green building, renewable energy, and green products. A showroom of green materials would give customers and contractors a chance to see some of the new green design materials firsthand. There would also be classroom space for seminars on renewables, energy efficiency, and green building, as well as on-site professional help for people interested in learning green building techniques or ways to improve existing homes. The Hub would also offer workforce training and professional development opportunities such as certification in green building, home performance, and installation of sustainable technologies.  With nearby trails and possible bike/electric scooter rentals, the location would also serve as an easy way to access other destinations in the Corridor.

Other proposed elements of the Sustainability Corridor include a Reuse Center for the area—similar to what Significant Elements (a local historic architectural salvage business) has done, but on a larger scale and with more components of the waste stream.  Tompkins County Solid Waste Division is leading the group that is investigating the potential flow of materials in the surrounding area, and this project is scheduled to be built over the next 2-3 years.  Associated with the Reuse Center is the possibility of creating small micro-enterprises that create products directly from the materials entering the reuse facility.  The possibility of training seminars on repairing or reconstructing goods is also being discussed.

At the north end of the Cayuga Inlet Sustainability Corridor is Inlet Island, not far from where the stream’s waters meet the lake.  The City of Ithaca owns 2 acres of the island and has recently put their development out to bid.  Local businessman Jeff Furman (one of the cofounders of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream) and his partners hope to persuade the City to let them develop it as a green retail or “eco mall” complex that might have small shops featuring green products, local wines, an organic café using local foods, and senior housing.  They see great potential for this to be part of the eco tourism draw of the region — such that a visit to the eco-mall is an education in itself in green building technology.

A key component of the Sustainability Corridor will come from the development of the last large undeveloped parcel within the City of Ithaca.  The Southwest Park tract of 70 acres is sandwiched between the commercial/industrial area to the north, big boxes to the east and south, and the Inlet on the west.  It has been slated for development for several years, and the received wisdom was that market forces would dictate further big box development of the land.   Another Sustainable Tompkins working group called PLUS (Planning for Land Use Sustainability) persuaded the City to respond to the growing shortage of affordable housing by focusing on residential development with definite guidelines around sustainable design and infrastructure.  The goal is to have residential development that is affordable, low ecological footprint, and integrated into the fabric of the community.

A neighborhood filled with energy efficient, affordable healthy homes supported by renewable energy technologies such as solar panels and geothermal heat pumps would be an excellent model for future developments.  A City-appointed advisory committee, with several Sustainable Tompkins members, has now shared its vision of design guidelines for Southwest Park.  These include developing the site according to new urbanism and green building principals of high density, mixed use, mixed-income workforce housing, passive solar design, decreased vehicular traffic, and alternative transportation in the form of multi-use trails, bus routes and car-share operations.  In the future, we may be able to incorporate the railroad into these plans.  In the coming years, as peak oil becomes more of a consumer reality, transportation will once again include practical systems, such as a tram or trolley infrastructure.

The Cayuga Inlet Sustainability Corridor also includes a vision for developing an Innovation Center somewhere along Rt. 13. While no site has yet been determined, we imagine the Innovation Center as something along the lines of “Yankee tinkerer meets Cornell high tech.”  Upstate New York was the source of an amazing number of agricultural innovations during the Civil War because of the labor shortage.  What will we invent due to the energy shortage?

At the Innovation Center, individuals could take their innovative ideas or inventions and gain professional assistance from engineering all the way to marketing. These ideas might lead to low-cost solutions to help families transition to a new energy economy.  Engineers for a Sustainable World and several centers at Cornell University have joined with Sustainable Tompkins to pursue this vision.

All of these projects are at the earliest phases of development.  The Green Resource Hub, Reuse Center, and Innovation Center will all be excellent places for service learning by students at Cornell, Ithaca College, and the local community college to work with local businesses and residents.  All of the elements of the Sustainability Corridor offer a chance for the next generation to work together in a practical way to create the living and working systems of a sustainable future.