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Green Community Projects are Everywhere!

…well, at least in one city in Massachusetts…

northampton green community projectsNorthampton, Massachusetts is only one of 351 towns and cities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States.  It's in the oft-forgotten western part of the state, far away (in relative terms) from the gold dome of the State House in Boston, nestled in the Connecticut River Valley and not far from the bucolic colleges like the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Smith, Amherst, and Mount Holyoke.

Its population is 28,500 and it seems as if 28,420 of them are activists.

This yields a maelstrom of ideas, especially in the area of green projects.

In Massachusetts, 110 cities and towns have received more than US$21M from the state's Department of Energy and Environmental affairs, in what is called the "Green Communities" program.  Remember, a program is a collection of related projects, managed together to achieve benefits not possible if they were managed individually.

These projects are exemplary.  Here we'd like to point you to an article from the Boston Globe Magazine and highlight a few of these projects.  Why?  Because Northampton, like the colleges nearby, has a lot to teach the rest of the Commonwealth, the rest of the USA, and the rest of the planet.  Perhaps this is why the article was titled, "Green Lessons from Northampton".  And perhaps we're featuring it here on EarthPM because green projects need green project managers.

1. Northampton's Community Farm

"What if a city could grow enough food to provide for all of its residents? A few years ago, a group of Northampton citizens, with support from the city, commissioned students at the nearby Conway School of Landscape Design to look at the issue. So-called food security brings lots of environmental benefits, such as drastically reduced fuel needs for shipping, as well as protection in a time of crisis, and the group wanted to know where Northampton stood.

The resulting report, published in spring 2010, showed just how precious local farmland was. If all available open space in the city were devoted to agriculture, Northampton could feed only about 47 percent of its residents.

The school's findings came out as local-food activists had begun working to save a farm that the city was planning to convert to sports fields. Lilly Lombard ran a listserv that helped marshal the troops. "We quickly organized our eaters under the name of Grow Food Northampton to protect that prime land for organic farming," she says. After a few weeks of political battling with the city, Grow Food turned to the Trust for Public Land, which came up with a solution to the tug of war: Buy an adjoining farm as well, providing for both sports fields and agriculture. The Trust, a national land conservation group, used grant money to purchase both farms, with the intention of selling the 185 acres to the city and Grow Food."

2. Bicycle trash collection?

"When it comes to trash, some Northampton residents go one step greener than recycling. They have their household waste — including recyclables for sorting — hauled to transfer stations by bicycle. Pedal People, a company started 10 years ago by cycling enthusiasts Ruthy Woodring and Alex Jarrett, uses long flatbed trailers hitched to bikes not just to remove their customers' trash but also to distribute local farm shares, make diaper service deliveries and pickups, and even move furniture. After tens of thousands of miles, Pedal People has grown from a two-person operation into a flourishing worker cooperative with 13 partner-owners serving more than 500 customers. It is one of the city's officially recognized trash-hauling services. Northampton's David Narkewicz says, "I may be the only mayor in the country signing a trash and recycling hauling contract with a bicycle-powered company.""

3. Malting their way towards greenality

"Humans have been producing beer for thousands of years, and until the Industrial Revolution, it was brewed where the grains were malted. Today almost all American beers, even locally brewed craft beers, are made from grains that have been malted — the term for germinating and drying — in the West or Midwest, according to Slow Tractor Farm owners Andrea and Christian Stanley. She and her husband have sought to change that, says Andrea, by "bringing malting home." When they opened Valley Malt in Hadley, one town over from Northampton, in 2010, they couldn't find any record of wheat or barley having been commercially malted in Massachusetts for over a century.

The Stanleys hope to brew their own beer eventually. But for now they cultivate grains on land leased from Grow Food and use them, along with grains from other Northeast farms, to produce malt for customers such as the Wormtown and Cambridge breweries in Massachusetts and Good Nature Brewing in New York. So instead of drinking beer brewed from ingredients hauled thousands of miles, Northeasterners can enjoy truly green beer — and not just on St. Patrick's Day."

4. A green 'point person'

"A full-time employee charged with helping city residents and businesses become more energy-efficient is a luxury for many communities. But by participating in an innovative state program, Northamptonites earned the money to pay for it.

In 2004, the Renewable Energy Trust, a state-sponsored public benefits fund, partnered with National Grid to offer Massachusetts residents an incentive to support green energy. Through the Green Up program, customers could opt to pay a premium toward electricity that came from renewable sources. In return, they could get a tax deduction, and their city could qualify for grants to be used for local green energy initiatives. Some 6 percent of Northampton households opted in, and the city received more than $253,000 in bonuses through the now defunct program. The city used some of that to establish a full-time energy officer. Chris Mason, who holds degrees in electrical engineering and resource management, came on board in 2007.

One of only a handful of full-time city energy officers in the state, Mason helps city government, local businesses, and residents become affordably energy-efficient. The city has a $6.5 million budget for renovations of 33 city buildings, from libraries and schools to the mayor's office, and Mason helps oversee those projects and works with community groups and business leaders to reduce their energy consumption.

According to Narkewicz, businesses' efforts to save on energy and protect the environment pay off in more ways than one: "City residents are supportive of businesses that strive to be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly." The Taco Bell has stepped up to the plate, so has River Valley Market, a co-op grocery store; they've both earned a LEED Gold rating — a building-industry designation for environmentally friendly structures. Other businesses are on the same path. Homeowners, too, are doing deep energy retrofits, and Mason can direct them to rebate programs and other financial assistance.

If Northampton is greener now than when he came on board, "the town's the hero,'' Mason says. "They were all gung-ho to be energy-sustainable, but they needed more tools. I just help them find the tools."

To Lilly Lombard, Mason's work and all of Northampton's green initiatives are most significant when they spread and seed new ideas beyond city limits. "There's so much cross-pollination going on within the Commonwealth — that's the real take-home," Lombard says. "The adaptations we have to make to face climate change are so huge that none of us can tackle them as mere citizens or isolated towns. We have to, all of us, inspire, share, and collaborate.""

We encourage you to read the full article.  And if you're ever in western Massachusetts, visit Northampton – it's getting greener every day thanks to these great projects.