Tag Archives: Green Village Initiative

Spring Into Wakeman Town Farm

With the arrival of spring — hey, that’s what the calendar says — Wakeman Town Farm has organized a series of get-your-fingernails-dirty workshops on gardening and sustainable living.

Anyone can farm at Wakeman.

On Saturdays (10 a.m.-noon) from now through September, Westporters can learn about every stage of the growing process — from seed to harvest — with the farmer-friendly folks at WTF (134 Cross Highway).  Resident farmer/teacher Mike Aitkenhead heads the program.

Among the more intriguing topics:

  • Weeding, mulching and pest control
  • Chickens and bees
  • Green lawn care
  • Harvesting and food safety
  • Tomato sauce
  • Harvesting and food safety
  • Jams and jellies
  • Canning
  • Putting the garden to bed

Last weekend, participants got down and dirty — literally.  They talked about soil, took samples for testing, and built a raised garden bed.

All programs are free, but with space limitations advance registration is required.

For more information on each session, click here.  To register, email mjaitkenhead@yahoo.com (indicate which sessions you’d like to attend).  For a blog about the workshops by a participant, click here.

Feelin’ Green

Earlier this year, the Green Village Initiative sponsored a survey.  The topic — home energy efficiency — is not exactly sexy.  (Actually, it’s pretty frumpy.)

Nonetheless, 213 Westporters responded.  64% say that energy efficiency and conservation is their most important “green” issue.  That was followed by land and water use (54%).

The most common energy-reducing actions taken by Westporters was the installation of programmable thermostats (62%).  Other popular measures include scuttling old appliances for Energy Star ones; replacing old boilers, furnaces or windows with more energy-efficient; adding insulation, and installing compact fluorescent light bulbs.  Only 3% said they had taken no action.

The survey also assessed Westporters’ knowledge of, and interest in, CL&P’s Home Energy Solutions program — a visit that includes on-the-spot improvements, including caulking and sealing of critical air leaks, and additional benefits.

Of the 70 respondents who have already had an HES visit, the biggest reason (61%) was to reduce utility bills — followed by lowering carbon footprints (45%) and fighting climate change (37%).  Those are also the 3 reasons most cited by homeowners who say is it “very likely” they’ll have an HES audit done.

However, survey co-chair Alan Abramson says, the biggest benefit reported afterward is comfort.  Many homes are drafty, and the difference is immediately apparent.

This was not, GVI realizes, a random sample.  “It was sent out to people who were probably inclined this way in the first place,” Alan Abramson admits.

Only 8% of the respondents lived in a home that was less than 10 years old.  The majority — 29% — lived in a house at least 75 years old.

Still, the survey results are real — and important.  GIV is now figuring out how to pass the word about Home Energy Solutions (and address those Westporters uninterested in energy efficiency).

GVI might want to remember the adage:  “Strike when the iron is hot.”  Or, in our case, “when we still remember how cold and miserable we’ve been this winter.”

Alan Abramson’s Energy

When the oil embargo hit in the 1970s, Alan Abramson was energized by environmental awareness.  But he was just starting his career as a bond trader; he was just married, had his 1st kid — you know how it goes.

But Alan never stopped wondering why America used its resources so inefficiently.  And he could not understand why we bought so many resources from our enemies.

Alan Abramson

Alan, his wife Lynn and their young family moved to Westport 20 years ago.  “It’s the best thing we ever did,” he says.  “We absolutely love the community.”  He had a successful career in bonds — but he never truly loved the industry.

In 2007 hooked back up with his alma mater.  Duke’s online master’s program in environmental management was aimed at environmental professionals.  Alan wasn’t one — but as an expert in market-based solutions, he was in.

“It was a great experience,” he says.  He graduated in May 2009 — a horrible time to look for a new job, let alone change careers.   But Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions needed a carbon markets fellow, so 2 months later Alan moved to Durham for a year.

Lynn stayed here.  She was attending Columbia University’s Teachers College — getting a master’s in English education.

“People on Wall Street think they’re the smartest people on the planet,” Alan says.  “Well, there’s incredible talent in academia too.  And the energy level there was like being on the bond trading floor.”

When his year was up, Alan returned to Westport.  Soon, Gordon Joseloff asked him to co-chair the 1st selectman’s Green Task Force.  Simultaneously, Dan Levinson asked Alan to co-chair a Green Village Initiative to help local homeowners become more energy efficient.

At Duke, Alan had become intrigued by the low rates at which people take steps to reduce energy consumption.  A result of his interest is a survey currently making its way around town.  The questions are designed to understand local knowledge and interest in home energy efficiency measures.  (Click here to take the survey.)

After the results are tabulated, GVI will organize a focus group to find out how best to market energy efficiency to  Westport.  Alan knows energy efficiency is not a long-term solution — as a recent New Yorker story pointed out, the more efficient energy usage becomes, the more energy is used — but he calls it “a bridge to the eventual answer.”

An energy analysis unearths plenty of information about heat loss.

As environmentally aware as this town is, there are still obstacles to more efficient energy usage.  Many homeowners don’t realize, for example, that a CL&P Home Energy Solutions analysis costs just $75 with co-pay — and that we pay for the audit program anyway, through a utility bill charge.

We don’t have a lot of time to pursue energy efficiency solutions.  And although a 10% reduction in energy bills sounds nice, for many Westporters the actual dollar amount is not significant for many.

“The key is to get lots of people to do it,” Alan says.  “Then the reductions in use would be enormous.  And the payoff for the community would be huge.”

Surprisingly, Alan is “not a big advocate of ‘green’ and ‘sustainable.’  I think those words have been marketed very poorly.”  He is no marketing expert — but he knows there are plenty of Westporters with expertise in that field, who can help market the energy efficiency cause.

“It’s important for people to be aware of their consumption habits,” he says.  “We’re a consumer society, and we measure our success based on GDP.  Our perception is that consumption equals lifestyle.

“We have to find other ways to measure success.”

Homeward Bound

Growing up in Westport is one thing.

Coming back here to live is something else entirely.

That was the consensus, a couple of weeks ago, at a Green Village Initiative event attended filled with students from Staples’ Advanced Placement Environmental Science classes.

They were skeptical — if not downright incredulous — that anyone could ever return to Westport without first making incredible amounts of money in the materialistic world.

So GVI organized a meeting with Westporters who had done just that  — that is, came back home without a pit stop on Wall Street.

One of the panelists was Justin Miller.  The 2001 Staples graduate described why he left Westport after college — and why it was important to return.

It’s tough to make a career as a choral music performer, he said.  He got his start as a choral director in California.  And while he knew that teaching music was the way to go, the Golden State was not the place to do it.

He also knew he wanted to eventually raise a family here.  When the Staples choral directing job opened up last spring, he went through the rigorous application process — and got it.

“You should go away,” Justin told the students.  “Get a grasp on the rest of the world.

“I was excited to leave.  As I went, I learned and appreciated what Westport has to offer.”

When GVI leader Dan Levinson opened the floor to questions, the discussion veered to money.  Because the classes had been discussing sustainable local economies, the issue of mom-and-pop shops arose.

Justin pointed out that many small businesses exist — but are often overlooked.

And Mitchells — the high-end clothing store — is actually a grandma-and-grandpa business.

Driving home later, Justin said, he realized that the town is filled with places like Fortuna’s, Angelina’s and Westport Pizzeria.  Even Planet Pizza and Bertucci’s are small chains.

In any other town, he noted, the equivalent of the Post Road would be lined with Olive Gardens and Red Lobsters.

“The world has changed,” he said.  “In some respects, Westport has had slower change — in terms of a close-knit community aspect — than many other places.”

He was impressed with the thoughtfulness of the students’  questions.

One of the harshest young critics of the ability to return to — and sustain — your hometown came from a boy who recited statistics about average incomes and tax structures.  He said he’d love to come back after college, but knows he must go elsewhere first, to acquire wealth.

“We talked about different kinds of finances,” Justin said.  “It can be done.  I’m a music guy.”

Another student declared that he’d go somewhere else, learn about the world — and maybe not want to return.

“When I went away,” Justin replied, “that’s when I realized how special Westport was.

He paused.  “And still is.”

RSA Takes Root

Farmers like to grow things.  They don’t like to market, advertise and transport them.

Bill Taibe likes to cook.  He loves using local ingredients — the fresher the better.

The convergence of area farmers and Taibe is good news for diners — and not just fans of Le Farm, Taibe’s Colonial Green restaurant that earns raves for showcasing market-based food cooked and presented in a homey, comfortable and very sustainable atmosphere.

Bill Taibe wears his convictions on his chest.

Thanks to RSA — “Restaurant Supported Agriculture,” a concept that Taibe knows needs a zippier name — 5 local restaurants now offer the best in local products.  Banding together, they guarantee farmers a market for their goods.

Promising to buy takes pressure off the farmers.  They reciprocate by planting what the chefs request.  Make no mistake:  It’s not just lettuce, tomatoes and corn anymore.

Taibe — who built 2 previous restaurants on the barter system, and admits he “may have been born in the wrong century” — explains that RSA is based on the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model currently enjoyed by many Westporters at the Wakeman Town Farm.

RSA is less structured –shares are not bought in advance from farmers — but the concept is similar.

Once a week — via the Green Village Initiative — 5 restaurants (Le Farm, the Boathouse and Dressing Room in Westport, plus Wilton’s Schoolhouse and Fat Cat Pie Company in Norwalk) receive a list from local growers of whatever’s ripe.

By 4 p.m. each Monday the chefs respond with their own list:  what they want.

The farmers pick the crops on Tuesday morning; by 2:30 that afternoon GVI volunteers have gathered it, transported it back to Wakeman Farm, and it’s ready for pick-up by the restaurateurs.

“We sit around there for half an hour talking, eating each other’s tomatoes, and sharing ideas,” Taibe says.  “It’s fantastic.  Do you know how hard it is to get 5 chefs together any time?”

Then they head back to their restaurants, to cook.

Taibe enjoys working with RSA partners. “There’s a lot of jealousy and competition in this business,” he admits.  “But people don’t eat at just 1 restaurant.  They go to other places.  I prefer they go to places with like-minded owners and chefs.”

Taibe gives huge props to GVI.  “They get nothing out of this, other than fulfilling their passion.  I only wish to be so good-hearted.”

He also loves the “circular economy” that RSA helps develop.

“This gives hard-working farmers a guaranteed place to sell their products,” Taibe says.  “If we can get them delivered to us, they can stay and do what they do best.  And not worry about the rest.”

The Hickories in Ridgefield and Stone Gardens in Shelton are RSA’s 1st mainstay farms.  Soon, Taibe hopes to add milk, cheeses — and maybe protein and livestock — to the list of farms.

Right now, he says, “We need farmers to trust us, so they can plant what we want.  Everyone today grows a lot of the little stuff — kale, bell peppers, whatever’s safe.  We want to branch out.

“The key is for us to guarantee we’ll purchase what they buy.”

He hopes to continue the concept through the winter.  “Farmers have greenhouses,” he notes.  “We’ll keep getting products from around the state.”

RSA is, Taibe says, “a really simple formula.  It’s sure to grow.”

And, like all the food prepared and served so freshly and creatively at the 5 RSA restaurants, it will grow with love, care and goodness.

Creating A Local Foodshed

“Foodshed” sounds like a word from the Onion (ho ho).

“Decavore” could come from a New York Times crossword puzzle (probably a Saturday).

But they’re legit words, fresh from foodland (which I just made up).  They’ll be sliced and diced discussed and explained tomorrow night (Tuesday, 7 p.m., Westport Public Library) by a panel of experts, at a discussion called “Creating a Local Foodshed.”

Panelists include local food experts Sal Gilbertie, Amy Kalafa, Dina Brewster and Sherri Brooks-Vinton.  Dan Levinson, co-founder and chairman of the Green Village Initiative, will moderate.

Among the topics:

  • What is the local food movement?
  • Why is it important?  What are its goals?
  • Is there an “enemy” of it?  If so, who?
  • Are people doing this because they love it, or because they want to survive?
  • Is Westport ahead of or behind the rest of the country and world?
  • How did we get here?
  • What’s better:  local or organic?
  • Is there enough food?
  • How much food can be grown from a small garden?
  • What might this look like in 10 years?

The press release did not indicate whether food — organic, decavorous or from a foodshed — would be served.

Staples Students Face Spectacular Challenge

Nothing — not a formal dance, a major track meet or massive hunger pangs — deters Westport teenagers.

More than 4 dozen Staples students spent 12 hours yesterday — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — researching, analyzing, synthesizing and solving one of the nation’s biggest problems.  They did it voluntarily — and made it 1 of the most memorable days of their lives.

A few days ago, “06880” previewed the Staples Spectacular Student Challenge — the 1st-ever school-wide contest for attacking a real-world issue, with a $10,000 prize at stake.  “06880” knows a lot — but we didn’t know the issue.  Nor did we have any idea how complex the instructions would be.

Staples Challengers Emily Cooper (left) and Rachel Myers, hard at work. (Photo by Julia McNamee)

At 9 yesterday morning, 9 teams of 4-5 students each were handed a 10-page packet.  Basically — and this is waaaay simplified — they were charged with making Westport a greener community.

Considering “the culture of our particular community, the history of progressive movements in America, the nature of political systems, current philosophical strands in the Green movement, and the quantifiable impact of proposed changes,” they were asked to determine which of 3 strategies — or combination — would most benefit the town:

  • Growing or sourcing food locally
  • Initiating household strategies to reduce environmental impacts
  • Implementing photovoltaic systems at Staples and Bedford to generate electric power.

This was not a true-false test.

Julia McNamee — a Staples English teacher who, with math instructor Trudy Denton, helped devise and administer the Challenge — updated “06880” frequently.  She said:

9:19 a.m. It’s fascinating how differently the groups configure themselves.  We hand out the questions, and kids race for their rooms.  A group of boys immediately form a circle of desks and chairs.  A group largely comprised of girls put desks together in a rectangular bank.  A group of very verbal boys reads aloud parts of the question; another group gets laptops up and running, and reads intently on their screens.  Another group is spread throughout the room, reading some and talking in between.

10:35 a.m. The teams are getting into the nitty-gritty of this!  An entirely sophomore team is considering quitting because the math may be too much; bags of junk food are opened all over their desks as they continue to work hard.  Another team is playing opera music over the room’s speakers as they work.  A couple of boys who qualified for FCIACs in track leave to compete; maybe that will end up helping!  An extra challenge is that many of the juniors went to Counties last night; 1 group of junior boys has taken off running around the 3rd floor to clear their heads!

2:28 p.m. We deliver heros from Fortuna’s and Calise’s.  We walk into 1 room with the cart of food, and not one of the 5 boys looks up. “We just had a breakthrough,” one mutters.  In another room, kids argue whether to include in their presentation the fact that if 1 person in a family pees into the shower once a day, 1500 gallons of water will be saved annually (something like that).  The team that was floundering found new life and is still in it, which is great.

3:45 p.m. Cookie and brownie consumption has quadrupled in the last hour.  A sophomore says, “Has it really been 6 1/2 hours? It’s going so quickly!”  Two kids on an all-senior team are wrapped in Snugglies; 1 has her hood pulled over her head.  A mom trudges in with a load of Starbucks drinks, saying:  “My son says I’m the only mom who hasn’t brought anything.”  A room of mostly boys looks like the aftermath of a frat party:  food, trash, clothing strewn everywhere.

5:13 p.m. A sophomore boy says, “Why won’t GE tell me how much their turbines cost?”  A room of seniors puts a sign on the door: “Don’t forget about us! We want food!”  Pizzas are on order from Arcudi’s and Angelina’s.

8:46 p.m. Two boys type away in tandem.  One says, “J. Robert Oppenheimer is THE man,” as they quote him in their paper.  Another group cites “06880” (ahem).  A trio of junior girls dance around the chalkboard, scrawling math on the board.  In every room, every wall surface is covered with equations, plans, proposals — blackboards, whiteboards, Smartboards.  Literally everything.  I hear:  “I’m freaking out, I’m freaking out, just 25 minutes left.”  One group writes advice to next year’s group:  “Time goes fast — make sure not to slack.”

Finally, at 9 p.m., it was all over.  All teams finished — which Julia McNamee called “amazing, considering 2 were all sophomore and another was 4/5 sophomores.”  Teams whooped, cheered and danced in the halls.

Each team’s 10-page paper — with quantitative report — was submitted on hard copy.  So was an electronic response, including links to websites for graphics.  The writing, they hoped, was “of the highest caliber” — I’m quoting the rules here — with a “complete and detailed solution,” including technical details, balance and consistency.

So are they done?  Nope.

A panel of judges convenes next week to determine the top teams.  They’ll be invited to present their solutions — and answer questions — at a public forum on Tuesday, Feb. 9.  Those presentations will be evaluated by a panel of community experts.  The top 3 teams there will divide scholarships of $5,000, $3,500 and $1,500 respectively.  (The $10,000 total was raised thanks to a private donor and Westport’s Green Village Initiative.)

And how did you spend your Saturday?

Food and drink fuel the brain for Matt LaBarre (left) and Ross Gordon. (Photo by Julia McNamee)

A New Environmental ‘Party’

Sure, they’ve helped ban plastic bags, prodded us into Priuses, and made us feel guilty every time we eat a Ring Ding.

But that doesn’t mean the men and women of Westport’s Green Village Initative don’t know how to party down.

This Saturday (January 16), they’re throwing a Winter Party at the Unitarian Church.  From 7 p.m. to midnight there will be a Big Band-style dance band, good food, silent auction — and open bar.

Tickets are $50.  GVI has underwritten the cost of the party, so all proceeds will go to 2 environmental groups:  Save the Sound-Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.

Al Gore may not show up, but it sounds like a fun night anyway.

(RSVP to Carmela: ci@mainstreetresources.com; 203-227-5320.)