Sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties grow­ing fast

Or­ga­ni­za­tion cer­ti­fies 22 state towns in in­au­gu­ral year

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ran­dall Beach

WOOD­BRIDGE — Steve Munno calls him­self a “stew­ard of the land,” not sim­ply a farmer.

Munno, the farm man­ager at Mas­saro Com­mu­nity Farm, where he also lives, is a key part of why Wood­bridge has been cer­ti­fied as a sus­tain­able com­mu­nity by the or­ga­ni­za­tion Sus­tain­able CT.

Un­der this vol­un­tary pro­gram, 22 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the state ap­plied for and re­ceived cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in 2018, the in­au­gu­ral year of the ef­fort. Other com­mu­ni­ties in Connecticu­t in­clude Fair­field, Green­wich, Ridge­field, Stam­ford and Westport in Fair­field County; Madi­son, Mil­ford and New Haven, also in New Haven County; Bris­tol, Glas­ton­bury and Hart­ford in Hart­ford County; Middletown and Old Say­brook in Mid­dle­sex County; Roxbury and New Mil­ford in Litch­field

County; West Hart­ford and South Wind­sor in Hart­ford County; Coven­try and He­bron in Tol­land County; New Lon­don and Wind­ham.

In ad­di­tion to cer­ti­fy­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for their work, Sus­tain­able CT aims to pro­vide them “with a menu of co­or­di­nated vol­un­tary ac­tions to con­tin­u­ally be­come more sus­tain­able; to pro­vide re­sources and tools to as­sist them in im­ple­ment­ing sus­tain­abil­ity ac­tions and ad­vanc­ing their pro­gram for the ben­e­fit of all res­i­dents,” the pro­gram’s web­site says.

In this time of cli­mate change and its dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences, that mis­sion is more es­sen­tial than ever, noted Jon Gorham, who heads the Wood­bridge Ad Hoc Sus­tain­abil­ity Com­mit­tee. He is also pres­i­dent of the Mas­saro Com­mu­nity Farm.

“We would like to have a fu­ture for our chil­dren,” Gorham said. “We’ve got kids who are ask­ing: ‘What the hell are you old folks do­ing, hand­ing over a planet to us that’s go­ing to die?’ They’re an­gry be­cause we’re pos­si­bly giv­ing them an un­sus­tain­able world.”

But Gorham said younger peo­ple aren’t wait­ing for their el­ders to do some­thing.

“Stu­dents at Amity Re­gional High School’s Amity Global Warm­ing Club spear­headed ef­forts to get so­lar col­lec­tors in­stalled at their school,” he said.

Af­ter years of ad­vo­cacy, the so­lar pan­els were in­stalled in 2010.

Wood­bridge has a half­dozen ma­jor build­ings that now have so­lar pan­els, Gorham noted. These in­clude Beecher Road El­e­men­tary School, the town li­brary, the barn at the Mas­saro Com­mu­nity Farm and the Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter of Greater New Haven, where Gorham was in­ter­viewed for this story.

“The so­lar col­lec­tors on this build­ing,” Gorham said, point­ing up­ward, “saves the JCC $35,000 per year in en­ergy costs. They were in­stalled for free by a com­pany from Ger­many.”

The Mas­saro Com­mu­nity Farm was able to be­come a demon­stra­tion piece for good en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices be­cause peo­ple in Wood­bridge saw an op­por­tu­nity when the town ac­quired the aban­doned 57-acre prop­erty in 2007.

“The barn had col­lapsed,” Gorham re­called. “But we set up a non­profit, got a $5,000 grant, fixed up the barn and house and leased the prop­erty from the town. By 2009, we were in busi­ness!”

The res­i­dents raised $1.1 mil­lion be­cause, Gorham noted, “It costs that to keep a farm up and go­ing.” He added, “That farm is a big piece of what we’re do­ing with sus­tain­abil­ity.”

“Lo­cal farm­ing is the fu­ture,” Gorham said.

Munno, now is his 10th year work­ing the Mas­saro Com­mu­nity Farm, pointed proudly to the eight so­lar pan­els atop the re­stored barn.

“They help re­duce our car­bon foot­print,” he said. “We’re try­ing to do as much as we can in an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way.”

He noted, “We’re sen­si­tive to the needs of the soil, keep­ing it cov­ered and pro­tected. We’re not killing off weeds with pes­ti­cides. It’s all about: what kind of stew­ard of the land do you want to be?”

Munno is also pleased the farm creates a habi­tat for bees, but­ter­flies, birds and all sorts of mam­mals. “A black bear walked by here about 20 min­utes ago,” he said.

Munno en­joys liv­ing in the small farm­house with his wife, Jac­quelin, and their daugh­ter, Vivian, who is not quite 2 years old. “We love it and our daugh­ter loves it, ex­plor­ing the wildlife.”

The farm is also open to the pub­lic, ac­cept­ing vis­i­tors dur­ing day­light hours to check out the op­er­a­tions and walk the trails. On the day Munno was be­ing in­ter­viewed, An­to­nio Li­brandi stopped by with his grand­chil­dren, Max­imus and Gu­lia Figueroa, to feed the hens.

“We’ve got an af­ter­school pro­gram, a sum­mer camp and work­shops,” Munno said. “And we’ve got about 200 sub­scribers who [for a fee] pick up our pro­duce. We grow about 50 dif­fer­ent kinds of veg­eta­bles. We also sell to restau­rants in the New Haven area and we sell at farm­ers mar­kets. We do­nate about 10 per­cent of our pro­duce to hunger-re­lief or­ga­ni­za­tions and soup kitchens.”

Like any farmer, Munno has learned to con­tend with dif­fi­cult and un­ex­pected weather pat­terns. Last year was un­usu­ally wet.

“We got about 8 to 10 inches of rain per month, dou­ble what we usu­ally have,” he said. “The soil got sat­u­rated; our car­rots were get­ting flooded out. The fall was par­tic­u­larly tough on our spinach and car­rots.”

Gorham called it the worst grow­ing sea­son the farm had ex­pe­ri­enced since it was re­vived 10 years ago. “We had ex­treme heat and mas­sive rains; 6.4 inches of rain in one day. So we’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing cli­mate change here in Wood­bridge.”

Given the stakes for the planet, Gorham is im­pa­tient with the pace of other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties par­tic­i­pat­ing in Sus­tain­able CT.

“We’ve got 169 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Connecticu­t and only 22 cer­ti­fied,” he said. “Some towns have risen to the oc­ca­sion. Let’s get ev­ery­body go­ing on this!”

But Lynn Stod­dard, who helped launch Sus­tain­able CT, said 83 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are now reg­is­tered, in­clud­ing the 22 who have been cer­ti­fied. Be­ing reg­is­tered means a res­o­lu­tion has been passed stat­ing the mu­nic­i­pal­ity wants to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram and lo­cal of­fi­cials have des­ig­nated a li­ai­son to work with Sus­tain­able CT.

“That’s al­most half the state,” Stod­dard said of the

83 fig­ure. “We’re see­ing a lot of great mo­men­tum.”

Stod­dard noted Sus­tain­able CT is not a state agency. It’s run by the In­sti­tute for Sus­tain­able En­ergy at East­ern Connecticu­t State Univer­sity; she is its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Sus­tain­able CT’s web­site doc­u­ments how Madi­son earned its 230 points to get cer­ti­fied. Ex­am­ples: 15 points for sup­port­ing re­de­vel­op­ment of brown­field sites; 15 points for wa­ter­shed pro­tec­tion and restora­tion; 10 points for de­vel­op­ing an open space plan; and 25 points for de­vel­op­ing agri­cul­ture-friendly prac­tices.

Stam­ford was cer­ti­fied in Oc­to­ber with 535 points, in­clud­ing 30 each for en­gag­ing in wa­ter­shed pro­tec­tion and restora­tion and im­ple­ment­ing low im­pact devel­op­ment; 15 points for as­sess­ing cli­mate vul­ner­a­bil­ity, de­vel­op­ing an open space plan and map­ping tourism and cul­tural as­sets, among many other ini­tia­tives, ac­cord­ing to Sus­tain­able CT.

Also in Fair­field County, Green­wich was cer­ti­fied in Oc­to­ber with 410 points. This in­cluded 40 points for cre­at­ing a plan for re­cy­cling ad­di­tional ma­te­ri­als and com­post­ing or­gan­ics; 35 points for pro­mot­ing ef­fec­tive park­ing man­age­ment,

25 points for im­prov­ing air qual­ity in pub­lic spa­ces and

10 points for en­cour­ag­ing smart com­mut­ing, among other ini­tia­tives. An ex­am­ple in Green­wich in­cluded a 2018 ini­tia­tive in which the Green­wich Pub­lic Schools’ PTA Coun­cil Green Schools Com­mit­tee con­ducted a pilot pro­gram at Cos Cob School to in­sti­tute “Foam-Free School Lunch” to ex­clude the use of “poly­styrene food trays, aka Sty­ro­foam,” ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion avail­able from Sus­tain­able CT.

Dur­ing this pilot that lasted about two months, “With re­us­able trays and the sort­ing cen­ter, re­cy­cling dropped 60% and trashed dropped 86% by vol­ume,” the Green­wich dis­trict re­ported to Sus­tain­able CT.

Fair­field was cer­ti­fied with 560 points, and Westport with 345 points, both also in Oc­to­ber.

New Haven’s 555 points in­cluded: 20 points for cre­at­ing a wa­ter­shed man­age­ment plan; 25 points for sup­port­ing arts and cre­ative cul­ture; and 50 points for high en­ergy per­for­mance for in­di­vid­ual build­ings, such as pub­lic schools.

In Ham­den, the town’s en­ergy ef­fi­ciency co­or­di­na­tor, Kath­leen Schomaker, has been lead­ing the ef­fort to get the town cer­ti­fied this year in time for the Aug. 30 dead­line.

Asked why it’s im­por­tant for Ham­den to pur­sue this work, Schomaker replied in an email: “Eco­nomic devel­op­ment ben­e­fits; broader com­mu­nity en­gage­ment with na­ture and eco­log­i­cal stew­ard­ship; en­hanc­ing so­cial eq­uity and com­mu­nity re­silience — all are de­sir­able out­comes from this process.”

Stod­dard said 13 states now have sus­tain­abil­ity pro­grams, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives meet oc­ca­sion­ally to talk about each state’s ef­forts and progress. “We learn from each other.”

Stod­dard noted the psy­chol­ogy in­volved in en­cour­ag­ing towns to amass points as they work to get cer­ti­fied. “We’ve set up a com­pe­ti­tion. They like to brag they’ve got­ten cer­ti­fied, com­pared to their peers.”

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Connecticu­t Me­dia

Farmer Steve Munno in front of the so­lar-pow­ered barn at Mas­saro Com­mu­nity Farm in Wood­bridge on April 11.

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