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It’s garbage and it’s art: Montclair Film Festival’s Spotlight Project, the Climate Campaign Partnership

in Environment/Montclair Film/Montclair Film Festival/Uncategorized
Students stand behind the art made of plastic bags and water bottles. It will be installed at Montclair Film’s new building at 505 Bloomfield Ave.
Courtesy Neil Grabowsky.


This year, for the second time, the Montclair Film Festival sponsored a Spotlight Project for local teens. Last year’s project focused on immigration and was geared to high school students. This year, Montclair Film (the organization’s new name) sponsored the Climate Campaign Partnership, an integrated STEAM program with the Montclair Cooperative School and National Geographic’s series on climate change, “Years of Living Dangerously.” The program kicked off in February with screenings of the series. In March, participating students received a Student Action Kit containing scripts and templates to help them contact representatives about climate change.

In April, students began attending a series of workshops, led by MFF Director of Education Sue Hollenberg and art teacher and activist Debbie Harner, to create a giant public art installation using plastic bags, bottles and refuse. The art will be installed in MF’s new building at 505 Bloomfield Ave.

Harner said in an email, “The beauty of art is its power to involve people. In this case, our Climate Campaign art installation worked on two fronts. Over the last few weeks it brought kids from our community together to bring this work to life. It was an ongoing process and conversation. The second event will be its debut which will engage viewers to come closer, learn more about this important issue and, hopefully, get involved.”

Students make Earth Day signs. Courtesy Sue Hollenberg.

The conceptual art work students create, Harner wrote, uses plastic water bottles to represent air, and plastic bags and plastic mesh bags to represent water. “Both air and water absorb CO2. These plastics are the tangible things that are being used to illustrate CO2. The innocence of these vernacular objects creates a powerful message when forced to understand its underlining reality. Many students will come together during a series of workshops to add to the size of the piece. The plastic water bottles become unrecognizable due to the sheer number of bottles diminishing its original form.”

Hollenberg said that people will look at the art at first and see it as “really beautiful, then realize it’s all garbage.” The three workshops held to create the art were an open invitation to the community, she said. The program had targeted high school students, then the leaders discovered that parents brought younger children and “kids of all ages were into it, and found stuff to do.”

The workshops had different stations set up. At one station, students made signs for Earth Day. Hollenberg said she was impressed by the students’ focus and the social relevance of the signs they made. At another station, students made art out of plastic, with “the hammering, the squishing of the bottles.”

Students were not surprised the materials could be made into art, Hollenberg said. “They just started hammering away. The little ones were jumping in bags of bottles.”

Though the Student Action Kit suggests some political action, for Hollenberg, climate change “shouldn’t be a political issue. This is about their future.”

Debbie Harner, standing, assists students making art out of plastic bags and bottles. Courtesy Sue Hollenberg.

It’s all happening at the zoo: Montclair artists plan Earth Day kindie rock music festival

in Arts/Environment/Music
Zoo attendees jump with the Jungle Gym Jam onstage at the Turtle Back Zoo’s amphitheater on Saturday, April 15, in advance of their appearance at the zoo’s Party For the Planet Earth Day Celebration on Saturday, April 22. 


Plants and animals and children just seem to go together. That’s one reason Montclair’s Jason Didner wanted to hold a “kindie rock” concert at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22. Five New Jersey artists, all independent musicians who make children’s music, will perform in “Party for the Planet” in front of the Reptile House at 11 a.m.

“I’m encouraging families to enjoy nature, enjoy the animals and being outdoors,” said Didner, the leader of Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam. “Hopefully they will hear some songs that get them thinking about ways to help the environment, and about ways to unplug from their gadgets for a while and just enjoy nature and live music.”

Didner gained statewide fame in 2013 when The New York Times spotlighted his 2001 song “You Can’t Get There from Here in Jersey,” about New Jersey jughandles, where you have to “turn right to turn left” off the highway. There was a bill proposed in the New Jersey Senate to ban their future construction.

Caitlin Sharp, of Essex County Cultural Affairs, worked with Didner on the space and date. Music with Molly, starring Molly Dorsman, will play at 11. Baze & his Silly Friends, who mix up nursery rhymes until a young audience member corrects them, will perform at 11:35 a.m.

Miss Nina, a YouTube star well known for her “Brown Bear Rap” based on the Eric Carle/Bill Martin Jr. book, will play at 12:10 and 2:10 p.m. The Fuzzy Lemons, who combine rock, funk and blues, will play at 12:45. Didner himself will perform at 1:20.
All of the bands are from Essex County except for The Fuzzy Lemons, who are from Hoboken.

Didner’s 6-year-old daughter, Holly, who sometimes performs with the band, will probably be in the audience dancing, he said, but his wife, Amy, will be on stage.

A zoo attendee checks out Amy Didner’s seal puppet during Jungle Gym Jam’s warm up at the Turtle Back Zoo amphitheater on Saturday, April 15, in preparation for their appearance at the zoo’s Party For the Planet Earth Day Celebration on Saturday, April 22. 

Some of Didner’s songs are connected to the zoo: the kiddie train that runs around the zoo and the sight of the water sparkling on the reservoir gave him the idea for the chorus of “Window of the Train,” he said. The catchy earworm “Five Sea Lions” was inspired by the zoo’s getting a sea lion exhibit in 2013.

An Earth Day festival isn’t overtly political, but for Didner there’s an undercurrent of activism: “I hope that by going to events like this, parents will make it a priority to demand that their politicians take climate change seriously, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans.”

Party for the Planet
Saturday, April 22, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
The Reptile House, Turtle Back Zoo, South Mountain Reservation, 560 Northfield Ave., West Orange
11: Music with Molly
11:35: Baze & his Silly Friends
12:10: Miss Nina
12:45: The Fuzzy Lemons
1:20: Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
2:10: Miss Nina

The ABCs of CSAs in Montclair

in Environment/Food and Nutrition
In the fall, CSA shares may include heavier-weight produce like apples. PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH FORREST


For families in Montclair, and elsewhere, shopping for fruits and vegetables tends to involve one of two options: the nearest grocery store or the Montclair Farmers’ Market when it’s in season, early June to mid-November.
But a number of families have been getting their vegetables and fruits from a third source: community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs.
Lynley Jones is a food writer and blogger who runs the site, and she teaches cooking classes for children.
She and her family have belonged to the Montclair Food Co-op and CSA for four years. The family had been encouraged to join a CSA by a friend who was already involved.
“It seemed like such a smart and good way to do it all around,” she said. The family has definitely noticed a change in their grocery bills, she said, but certain items, including staples like ginger, garlic and most kinds of fruit, still require a trip to the grocery store.
“We definitely eat more of a plant-based diet when we’re in the CSA,” she said.
Sometimes there is more in the share than they could possibly eat, so they have to parcel some of it out among family and friends. “We got so many peppers,” Jones said of one season’s offerings. And in one box, there was a vegetable that she and her family didn’t recognize.
Jones wrote about her experiences in a blog post called “The CSA Survival Guide.”
According to the Jersey Fresh website, there are at least 58 CSA-supported farms in New Jersey.
With a CSA, members pay a fee upon joining, which goes to the farmer’s wages and other expenses. Members are also traditionally expected to do a work shift on days when the produce is delivered to the pick-up sites in Montclair and neighboring towns.
Sarah Forrest works with the Montclair Food Co-op and CSA, which has been in existence for about 10 years. Its supplying farm is Hepworth Farms in upstate New York.
Forrest said many people join because of the financial savings: “We’re getting whatever the farm has to offer that week and is ready to be eaten,” Forrest said. “A lot of people, we explain to them how much of a savings it is.”
Asa Miraglia is one of the group administrators of the Bloomfield-Montclair CSA. “Since our CSA is all organic, I think they like the access to the organic … over the 24 weeks [of the growing season],” Miraglia said, when asked about the reasons people give for joining.
Organic food appeals to longtime Bloomfield-Montclair CSA member Katherine Joyce, and she also appreciates CSA’s benefits to the environment. “There’s often a huge carbon footprint associated with buying organic food from supermarkets,” Joyce said in an email. “CSA affirms our farmer’s commitment to (and underwrites his risk from) growing organic produce locally, reduces the fossil fuel impact of our groceries, and supports cleaner farming in our pretty industrialized state.”
The Bloomfield-Montclair CSA’s supplying farmer is John Krueger of Circle Brook Farm in Andover, who also sells at the Montclair Farmers’ Market during the growing season.
The up-front costs of joining a CSA may be a little expensive, though some offer an installment payment plan. “If you use the produce, and you buy that much produce [at the store], it’s a real savings,” Miraglia said.
CSA participants learn that what is in the shares is what the farmers have; there generally isn’t any picking and choosing of what vegetables will be in the boxes that week. And the offerings are heavily dependent on outside conditions, including weather.
“You have to sort of be flexible with what is harvested,” Forrest said.
Miraglia said there is a regular conversation with members asking what to do with the odd-looking vegetables they find in their boxes. “Oh! Jerusalem artichokes. Oh! rutabagas — what do I do with them?” So she will post something on the CSA’s blog or Facebook page, explaining what’s in the boxes for the week, and she often posts a recipe as well.
Miraglia said that the CSA is conscious of the fact that while many families in Montclair are fortunate enough to be able to afford a CSA membership, there are families who are unable to do so. Any vegetable shares that go unclaimed are donated to Toni’s Kitchen, the food ministry of St. Luke’s Church, which serves a hot lunch three days a week and on Christmas. Additionally, during the winter, the Bloomfield-Montclair CSA will buy a few extra bulk shares or stock shares (produce that is left over from the growing season) and donate it to Toni’s Kitchen as well.
“I try to convince everyone to just try it once,” Forrest said of encouraging people to try a CSA. “I think even five more members a year, that’s five more families we’re reaching out and touching.”
There’s also a sense of camaraderie among the members. “I think we all have shared values and we all have shared goals…it’s also a way to know people that you wouldn’t have,” Forrest said.

MKA unveils its new green roof

in Education/Environment/Montclair Kimberley Academy
Thomas Nammack, left, headmaster of Montclair Kimberley Academy, speaks during the public unveiling of the green roof at the upper school campus on Tuesday. At right are Ben Rich and Laura Zimmerman, the sustainability directors for the upper and middle school campuses. PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

Montclair Kimberley Academy had the grand opening of its new green roof just in time for Earth Day.
The school held an opening reception on Tuesday for members of the media and the public on the roof of the upper school campus on Lloyd Road.
The event included a short talk from Thomas Nammack, MKA headmaster; Ben Rich, the sustainability director for the upper school campus; and Laura Zimmerman, the sustainability director for the middle school campus on Valley Road.
The roof is on top of the school’s new academic center, and the project itself has been three years in the making.
Rich said that some of the inspiration for the roof had come from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s facility in Morristown, which is outfitted with a green roof. Zimmerman said the school had also sent some of its faculty to visit to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s facility on Randall’s Island.
The roof features include 11 wooden planter boxes. Seven of the boxes are used for growing produce such as herbs, strawberries, spinach and romaine lettuce, and flowering plants to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The remaining four are being used for an experiment on soil nutrients.
The other features include rainwater-trapping patches of sedum, a drought-resistant plant; tube lights to allow sunlight into the rooms below; a WeatherBug weather station and a sundial.
The entire project is estimated to have cost about $7 million. Nammack said funding for the roof and academic center came from various grants, including from the Hyde and Watson Foundation and the Edward E. Ford Foundation.
MKA’s goal is for all the academic disciplines to be able to use the roof. The English classes had just presented a play using the runway over the sedum trays as a mini-stage, the science classes were carrying out experiments with the planter boxes, the astronomy classes use the sundial, and the physics classes had just done a series of experiments on trajectory. “They used it to throw water balloons at the teacher below,” Rich said.
Students  from the middle and primary school campuses have started taking field trips to visit the roof with their teachers. Nammack said the weather station has been especially popular with primary school students.
“The kids are really excited to be up here,” Zimmerman said.
Nammack said that feedback from the school community had been very positive, and that the school hopes to use the roof stations to help develop more partnerships with the community and with other schools and groups in the region. “Obviously we’re in the early stages of taking it for a test drive,” he said. The school is hoping to add birdhouses, vertical gardens and hydroponics systems in the future.

Community garden takes root on Pine Street

in Community/Environment/Food and Nutrition/Fourth Ward
Planter boxes outside the 73 See Gallery await planting. PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF


There is a new project taking root on Pine Street.
With the closing of the Pathmark grocery store in Lackawanna Plaza, many nearby residents were concerned about the neighborhood having a local source of healthy, affordable food. Mary See is the owner of the 73 See Gallery, at 73 Pine St. In response to the Pathmark closing, she worked with other residents and business owners in the area to establish the Pine Street Community Garden.
The garden consists of a series of raised beds and planter boxes near the gallery and around the neighborhood. To help expand the garden, the group has applied for a grant from the organic food company Seeds of Change, which awards grants annually to school and community gardens. The 50 applicants that receive the most votes will be announced on April 24, and the grant recipients will be announced on May 8.
“When Pathmark closed, my neighborhood has been struggling with groceries,” See said. “It was a really symbolic thing, that we didn’t have access to a grocery store.
“I think that the town is unaware of the pressure it’s been putting on people, not being able to walk to a grocery store,” she said.
For many households, who may not have access to a car, a trip to the grocery store often requires public transportation, which poses additional complications, See said.
“You can take a bus or a train to Foodtown in Bloomfield,” she said. For customers who spend $25 or more, the store’s owner will arrange for a ride home if the customer needs it. But for other grocery stores, it gets more difficult, usually involving a taxi trip or a bus ride. “And you can only carry what you can carry, because you can’t take a grocery cart on the bus.”
If someone runs out of something during the middle of the week, See said, their only options are the CVS or local convenience stores.
According to data from the United Way of Northern New Jersey, about 23 percent of households in Montclair are either below the poverty level or are classified as ALICE households: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.
Stephanie Hoopes is the director of the United Way’s ALICE program. “Having enough food is a basic challenge for ALICE and poverty-level households. In 2015, the food budget for the Household Survival Budget is $612 per month for a family of four in Essex County (based on the USDA Thrifty Food Plan, the most minimal of the USDA’s four food plans and requires skill and time for cooking and shopping),” she said in an email on Monday. “In Montclair, 23 percent of households do not earn enough to afford even this basic budget. And the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES) estimates that a family actually spends $924 on average per month on food.”
The Pathmark in Lackawanna Plaza closed in November 2015, after A&P, its parent company, declared bankruptcy.
In the garden’s first season, See remembers, they grew items like cucumber, dill and garlic, and used them to make pickles.
All of the neighborhood children were involved in the garden’s first season, she said. And in the garden’s profile on the Seeds of Change website, it is noted that the garden was also used as a small park by the community, and as a venue for special events and small concerts.
See said the next step is to install the framework for a vertical garden, in which plants and vegetables are grown from containers on a climbing frame rather than on the ground.

Montclair continues work with Green Business Program

in Business/Environment/Montclair State University/municipal government
A Montclair Green Business decal is seen in the window of Culture Couture on Church Street. The township and Montclair State University’s Institute for Sustainability Studies are hoping to encourage more local businesses to apply for green certification this year.

Last year, Montclair rolled out a new program, in partnership with Montclair State University, to encourage local businesses to adopt eco-friendly practices.
This year, the partners hope that the Green Business Program will expand, with more businesses joining.
The Green Business Program is one of several projects that Montclair has carried out in order to achieve bronze certification status with Sustainable Jersey; other sustainable projects have included installing charging stations for electric vehicles, green energy policies for all municipal buildings and a farmer’s market voucher program for low-income residents.
Last spring, Environmental Affairs Director Gray Russell had a meeting with Amy Tuininga, director of the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies at Montclair State University. They discussed ways to get the center’s students involved with the township’s green initiatives, and the Green Business program was one outcome of that discussion, Russell told the Montclair Local earlier this month.
The Environmental Affairs office and the students assembled a checklist of action items that businesses could meet in order to be certified as a green business. For example, a restaurant would have to show that it was offering healthy options on the menu. Other suggested actions include installing low-flow toilets and motion-sensitive faucets in the restrooms, using biodegradable plastics and recycled paper for packaging and using hybrid or electric vehicles. The checklist also encourages offering job training or apprenticeships for local employees and buying supplies and products from local and regional suppliers.
Businesses that achieve certification also receive a redbud leaf decal, designed by the students, to display in their windows. Additionally, businesses have to identify goals for improvement, do an assessment of their green practices at work and submit an annual report to the township.
The institute put out a call last spring for students interested in working with the township on the green business program. Tuininga said that Russell and a representative from the state Department of Environmental Protection came in to meet with the students and to do some training. Of the 12 students who participated in the first round of training, eight signed up to go around to the businesses, and of those eight, a core group of six has been especially involved, she said, adding that having the students explain the Green Business Program made it easier for business owners to seek certification, but that business owners were still expected to do their share of the work on the certification process.
Currently 21 businesses participate in the Green Business Program. Of those, at least four are also listed on New Jersey’s Sustainable Business Registry, which is the state-level equivalent of Montclair’s program.
Most of the businesses now participating in Montclair’s program are concentrated around the Bloomfield Avenue corridor, Watchung Plaza, Walnut Street and Valley Road.
Tuininga told the Montclair Local on Wednesday, Feb. 15, that the township, the Institute for Sustainability Studies and the students were hoping to start three new phases of the project within the next few weeks. One is to make a follow-up visit to the businesses that are already on the list and see how they are doing. The second is to visit businesses that for whatever reason had not been able to sign up in the first round. She also said that the Institute for Sustainability Studies is starting to work with Verona Township, which is setting up its own green business registry.
“We’re hoping this might branch out to other towns that don’t have an academic institution,” she said.

Solar trash compactors installed in Montclair business district

in Environment
This solar panel garbage receptacle is newly placed on Church Street. Staff photo by Erin Roll.



The next time you need to throw away your crumpled-up food wrappers or chewing gum while you’re walking along Church Street, there will be a different receptacle to drop your trash in.

Montclair has started installing a series of solar trash compactors — produced by Needham, Mass.-based company Bigbelly — in the downtown business district, to replace the open-topped black metal trash cans. The township had 40 of the devices installed along Bloomfield Avenue and Church Street over the Presidents’ Day weekend.

Communications Director Katya Wowk said on Tuesday that the initial suggestion for installing solar compactors came from Craig Brandon, the operations supervisor for the township’s community services department. Representatives from the solar compactor manufacturer Bigbelly delivered a presentation about the devices to the council in June.

The bins have a capacity of 150 gallons, which the Bigbelly website claims is five times the capacity of more conventional bins.

The township put the project out to bid last year, and Bigbelly came in with the lowest bid at $72,474.84, she said. The cost includes the one-time installation fee of $3,852; $335 for 10 cases of bags for the compactor bins; and an annual service charge of $68,307.84, or $5,692.32 per month.

Wowk said that it was expected that the solar compactors would lead to a savings in overtime costs, since sanitation crews would likely have to make fewer trips to empty the bins. She said that Montclair has entered into a three-year contract with Bigbelly, and it is estimated that the overtime savings will amount to $15,000 a year, or $45,000 over three years.

Israel Cronk, the chair of the Montclair Center BID, told the Montclair Local that there had been concerns about hygiene, graffiti and illegal dumping related to the open trash cans.

“We found out that any trash cans in a business district are only for pedestrian and shopping trash like wrappers, napkins, cups, newspapers, etc.” He said that Brandon had told the BID staff that there had been problems with residents and businesses using the on-street trash cans to dispose of household trash or commercial trash. “We hope businesses and residences will dispose of their trash properly in the future,” Cronk said.

He also noted that Montclair Center was working with a local company to have a water-repellent coating applied to the bins, in order to deter graffiti and vandalism.

Both Cronk and Wowk said that the feedback from pedestrians and merchants had been positive, even though the project was still in its early stages, though Cronk noted that one or two of the businesses had asked that the compactors be moved away from the front doors.

“We, at Montclair Center BID, are as curious and optimistic as anyone else. We hope the Bigbellys will help keep our district clean if not cleaner. We will be open to feedback, so we can help the township make a well-informed decision at the end of the test cycle,” Cronk said.

Cronk said that the old garbage cans would be inventoried and put into storage until the trial period was completed.

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