For Montclair Local

Locals interested in finding out more about local food sustainable communities, renewable energy and clean air and water found answers to many of their questions this past Saturday, Jan. 19, during the 4th Annual Northeast Earth Coalition (NEEC, conference held inside Immaculate Conception Church.

Networking, information and demonstration opportunities were available to conference attendees from 45 participating individuals and groups, including the Montclair Environmental Commission, Meredith Taylor from Rutgers University Hunger & Food Insecurity on Campus and Aidan’s Butterflies (film and discussion). A panel led by Lindsay Kayman discussed Urban Ecology in “All Its Power and Beauty: A Manifesto Under Our Feet,” with a Q&A session closing the conference.

People who wanted to learn about composting could buy Do-It-Yourself composting kits from WHO. Vendors sold free-trade jewelry and jams. Information about water conservation and other issues was available from Americorps NJ Watershed group, Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, and others.

At the conference, community leaders and groups from northern and central New Jersey gathered together to network about environmental issues, including local food, sustainable communities, alternative transportation, renewable energy, clean air and water and climate change activism.

About 100 people attended the conference, which lasted from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The NEEC’s mission is to work at the community level to protect the environment, and promote local sustainability and food security, said Jose German (“Gardening for Life” columnist for Montclair Local). German founded the NEEC in Montclair four years ago, as the continuation of “being an Eagle Scout as a teenager, and came up with an environmental restoration project to qualify for a badge.”

Gomez is particularly proud of The Crane Park Demonstration Garden. Its yield from 65 varieties of plant products grown at Lackawanna Plaza and Glenridge Avenue is donated to Toni’s Kitchen and Salvation Army; an example of a local food solution for sustainability. More than 250 butterflies are raised there each summer, and bees have also discovered the garden as a pollination gathering site.

He also talked about other gardens, including the Walnut Street Parklet Garden, which uses two parking spaces to grow pesticide-free plants, and 73 See Community Garden, 73C Pine St.

Debra Kagan, President of Bike & Walk Montclair, talked about the steps the township is taking to create the first pedestrian and bicycle paths.

Kagan said that after receiving a grant from the Department of Transportation in 2015, the Complete Streets Policy calls for improvements to meet 2009 standards while working with members of the planning board. Bike & Walk Montclair works in conjunction with Partners for Health Foundation, one of the conference co-sponsors.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Rachel Emas of Rutgers University-Newark talked about looking at local solutions for sustainability, with food grown, raised, produced, processed and distributed in the same area where it is consumed. Farm-to-table, farm-to-school and farm-to-hospital eliminates the middleman and is “grown nearby to where it is eaten. If you don’t have food equity, you really can’t do anything else,” she said, adding that keeping it local also keeps money in the community, where dollars multiply themselves to the economy. This increases employment, entrepreneurial and business knowledge as well. However, she said, “maintaining, supporting and continuing to ensure success with community food systems is a difficult goal to work for.”

Township Sustainability Officer Gray Russell told Montclair Local the importance of making policies that take into account economic responsibility and environmental stewardship for social equity and justice. People, planet and profit are used as a way to “provide for the needs of the current generation without taking away from future generations’ ability to fulfill their own needs and be cognizant of years to come.”

Ten township-owned buildings received energy efficiency upgrades and improvements, some as simple as replacing incandescent lights with LEDs that use fewer kilowatts and energy, Russell said. Overall, the message of the conference was that acting together locally as a strong community can help to achieve a more sustainable world.