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How the Greenwich Sustainability Committee is on the frontlines dealing with climate change

By Anne W. Semmes

The wonder was how a talk by a farm manager from upstate Connecticut on, “A Farmer’s Perspective on Food & Climate Change,” to be given at Coffee for Good last week, would draw 70 people, requiring a relocating to the nearby Second Congregational Church. The turnout amazed Ali Ghiorse, who arranged the talk for the Greenwich Sustainability Committee as she chairs the Committee’s Food Systems Sector. “I think people understand that climate change has a big impact on our food system,” she shares.

“Climate change is changing our farming practices,” she continues, “or I should say it’s impacting farming.” Hence her speaker, Farm Manager Steve Munno of Mossaro Community Farm in Woodbridge, CT talked of how he “practices sustainable, organic, regenerative practices.”

Ghiorse, a former chef, had then joined Munno, to tell of her transitioning into being a food system advocate. “I’m really advocating for transforming our food system into a system that is more regional and equitable and resilient,” she tells. “We have to support farmers…we need more farmers’ markets…The solutions are things like the Greenwich Community Gardens and Urban Farms and making sure that everybody has access to locally grown food through different policy initiatives such as SNAP and school meals.”

First Selectman Fred Camillo’s initiative

It was First Selectman Fred Camillo who brought the Greenwich Sustainable Committee into being with his election. “I was looking at sustainability,” he shares, “How could we be more green, and also be more efficient and help the taxpayers by being more green?” He points to the first electric vehicle charging stations having been installed at Town Hall last year.

And found on the Sustainable Committee website is the sorry fact that Fairfield County has the worst air pollution in the New York metropolitan area. “We have a lot of vehicles,” tells Camillo. “And we’re close to New York, so you’re getting a lot more people moving here to work in New York. And they have lots of vehicles.” He remembers growing up, “You could only drive when you were a senior, and you couldn’t have more than one car per family. Today, you could have three or four kids in high school, and they could have three or four different cars.”

“And there’s a lot more big SUV gas guzzlers,” he continues, “and it’s a challenge.” But he believes “a majority of people in society now are recognizing that you can do these things smartly and invest in technology.” Like his switching to an electric leaf blower for his back yard instead of a gas blower.
Camillo wants to give “all the credit in the world” to the efforts of the Sustainable Committee to address his wish for the greening of Greenwich. “They’re really working hard. There’s too many to name, but they’re really active. They’re smart, they do their research.”

Overview of Sustainability Committee operations

“So, if you look at this year’s Town Operation Plans,” says Janet Stone McGuigan, co-chair of the Sustainability Committee, “The top goal of the office of First Selectman is to expand on the success of the Sustainability Committee.” And there it reads, “Grow Town’s green footprint as a Sustainable CT Silver Community through the efforts of the Greenwich Sustainability and Enhancement Committee to further identify and expand initiatives such as the food scrap and textile recycling programs, waste management, and community engagement.”

So how is that food scrap program kicked off in 2020 coming along? “It continues to make gains,” tells McGuigan. “It would be fabulous if we had curbside pickups, but until we get there, I think that the program works quite well. And don’t forget many people in Greenwich compost in their backyards.”
As to community engagement McGuigan points to that talk on, “A Farmer’s Perspective on Food & Climate Change.” “We are working on a plan to come up with more speaker events,” she says, “so stay tuned.” And check out their impressive first newsletter online. “We’re very excited about that,” she says. “That should be a regular feature going forward.”

As a member of the Board of Selectmen, McGuigan makes it her business she says “to go to all of the neighborhood association meetings.” And when asked to speak, she says, “I’m so happy to talk about the Sustainability Committee…We’re really working on trying to elevate our profile on many different platforms. We have a Town Proclamation in April for Earth Day. And new this year we will be awarding sustainability awards to town residents who promote sustainability in town. So be on the lookout for requests for nominations.”

Checking out those Committee Sector initiatives

So, the Sustainability Committee lists eight Sector focuses, each with a chair or co-chair, The focuses include Business, Community Culture, Climate Resiliency, Food Systems, Land & Water, Legislative & Advocacy, Transportation & Air Quality, and Water Reduction.

McGuigan suggests checking out each Sector’s New Year’s resolution in the online newsletter. But her colleague Myra Klockenbrink’s, who co-chairs the Sector on Land & Water was ready to share what they are up to. “The Land/Water Sector is planning a discussion on prioritizing our trees and forests. Greenwich is lucky to have intact forests within its boundaries, many fragments between properties and of course many parcels as part of properties. Our trees provide many services to our community — most obvious is shade that cools our landscape in what is becoming a longer, hotter warm weather season. They also help us mitigate flooding, an ever-present threat. Even a single oak tree is a huge repository of biodiversity unmatched in the most pollinator friendly of herbaceous landscapes.”

Klockenbrink’s Land/Water Sector she says “wants to inspire residents to husband their trees and become actively educated on how to preserve this precious resource. We are exhorted to plant trees as a mitigation against climate change, but the trees we have now are doing the work now and we need to preserve as many of them as we can.”

Serving as Committee Co-chair with McGuigan is Beth Evans, wearing two hats in the Town as director of both Environmental Affairs and Inland Wetlands. For someone who was “about ready to retire” she says, “One of the things that made this an appealing job was that the town of Greenwich not only had the words sustainability and resiliency and adaptation, they clearly were working to make those things a reality and part of the town’s fabric. So, in addition to wetland permits and environmental review, one of the things that excites me about this job is being able to work with people at a ground level, if you will, and see if we can help shape a little bit of the future in terms of the direction the Town is going. So that’s pretty broad, but it’s why I’m pretty excited about working with the town for the Town.”

Postscript: As of last August, the Board of Selectmen approved its climate resolution that commits the town to a plan by December 2023, with a working group starting to draft that plan, with help from members of the Greenwich Sustainability Committee.

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