Spring 2022

Going Green in Westchester

By Lauren Hurwitz

Located right in the middle of the county in Elmsford, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester County (CCE) spent last year making a tremendous impact on our community. For starters, they assisted over 12,000 people by providing them with nutrition education through the local food pantries during the most challenging times of their lives. But the CCE is works every day to ensure our county is greener and healthier beyond the pantry doors.  

Barbara Sacks, Executive Director at CCE for over17 years says the organization exists to “educate all sectors of the community – residential, commercial, and governmental entities in areas such as horticultural, environmental, agriculture, nutrition for low-income families and 4H youth development. Our job is to teach based on research-based information from Cornell University, but we are also connected with many other universities like Rutgers, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts, and the University of California at Davis where they’re also doing research and can document the latest information giving us the best guidance. We offer opportunities such as participating in a home gardening lecture series, tuning into a Zoom where we teach how to grow vegetables in limited spaces like containers or a small backyard.” Sacks added that the CCE is the main educator in the billion-dollar green industry that employs about 10,000 people locally sharing information on everything from pesticides to fertilizes to diagnostics to tips on working to decrease the amount of chemicals they’re using which can harm the environment. 

As a free service to the public, the CCE answers calls throughout the year on a variety of topics such as “What kind of bug is this in my house?,” or “Is this a rodent dropping, and how do I handle this issue?” Sacks says, “We respond to over 2,000 requests a year from local people. A common question is about pest management. We don’t want people to waste money on things that won’t help them, or things that might be dangerous to themselves or their families. We can help them deal with their problem in the greenest and safest way possible.” 

The CCE is also known for their Master Gardening program which consists of about 130 volunteers who last year gave over 6,533 hours of their time to the organization plus 1,212 hours of continuing education training to advance their skills and better serve the public, all of which was valued at $353,791 based on $45.68 per hour. “Our Master Gardeners cultivated and maintained demos, set up our lecture series, conducted site visits and provided some community engagements. Through educational programming, the volunteers helped professional staff members to provide horticultural best management practices and environmentally sound education to community members, local municipalities, and visitors throughout the county.” Anyone can apply online to become a volunteer and participate in great programs throughout the year at CCE online Extension of Westchester online or by mail.

Efforts to go green are also found on a hyper-local level throughout the county. The Bronxville Green Committee, which is part of Bronxville Village government, was formed about a decade ago and maintains the Giving Garden on the corner of Pondfield Road and Gramatan Avenue near Village Hall. Each growing season, the volunteer farmers at the Giving Garden raise hundreds of pounds of herbs and vegetables to donate to local food banks, in particular to the Eastchester Community Action Partnership (ECAP) in Tuckahoe. Children from nearby nursery schools, students from the Bronxville School, and kids from a Westhab program in Yonkers have visited and learned about organic farming, food insecurity, the names of unfamiliar vegetables and the overall importance of food, according to BGC Chair, Ellen Edwards.

The Green Committee takes on different initiatives, often at the request of the Trustees, doing research and making recommendations to improve the environment in the Bronxville community. For example, BGC put forth a 30-page analysis of the impacts of gas-powered leaf blowers–on residents, workers and the overall environment. The findings were presented to town trustees with a handful of recommendations. As a result, gas-powered leaf blowers are now banned eight months out of the year. “We help our local government’s efforts to implement environmentally sustainable policies and programs and then help to communicate them to the community,” says Maria Terjanian, GBC Community Engagement Chair.

Additional efforts from the BGC include their Healthy Yards program, which “helps residents restore natural systems in their yards that support plant and animal diversity with chemical-free care and maintenance,” says Edwards. “We’re also proud of our Pollinator Pathways group that links up pesticide-free native plant gardens to form pathways that pollinators, birds, and insects can follow in search of food and habitat. This helps support native wildlife and addresses the insect apocalypse issue and decline in the number of birds in our communities.”

Terjanian adds, “Anyone can join the committee. You can choose an issue that’s important to you and dedicate as much or as little time as you have throughout the year. Our goal is to give residents easy, local turn-key solutions so they can make a positive environmental impact. The recent launch of our Food Scrap Recycling program is a great example. We can all get overwhelmed with suggestions from so many sources. We want to provide helpful action steps that are bite-size and easy to implement in our daily lives– here are the issues, here is a small change you can do as a Bronxville resident to make a big difference.”

Anna Riehl serves as a member of the Village of Pelham Sustainability Advisory Board and Climate Smart Communities Task Force, as well as on the Board of Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams, EcoPel.  These entities collaborate closely with other organizations to make an impact on lower Westchester with compelling events like free movie screenings at the Pelham Picture House featuring “Game Changers” and “Wasted” followed by expert panels to discuss various environmental topics. They also sponsor Sustainability Series talks with the Manor Club to educate the community on everything from native planting, to ecological gardening to electric vehicles. “Another initiative we’re really proud of is our town wide residential Food Scrap Recycling program. Our committee did an exploration of the program, based on the guidance of the Village of Scarsdale, and then presented our findings to local government officials while lobbying to bring the program to life. It took about a year and a half for the municipality to launch the program, once funding for the site came from a generous grant from EcoPel. The program enables residents to collect their food scraps in a countertop pail that’s available as part of a starter kit for purchase from the Villages of Pelham and Pelham Manor for $21.00. Just transfer the food scraps into a larger 6-gallon pail a few times a week. When it’s full, bring the bin to the food drop-off site behind Village Hall and empty it into the large green toters on site and start the process over again. The food scraps are later composted at a commercial-grade composting facility and turned into a nutrient-rich soil.”

Whether you’re making changes to the way you plant, recycle, drive or consume food, it’s important to realize every little bit makes a difference. If you’re community doesn’t already have a formal environmental committee in place, Earth Day is the perfect time to consider making an impact for change that will last for generations to come.