Small steps, big help for the environment (Gardening for Life)
Recalling the phrase “We do not have a Planet B,” we must act to protect our home. Each of us has an important role in maintaining the environment in a safe balance that allows us to secure our own existence.
As members of this community, individuals in Montclair have a duty to see that their actions do not pollute the environment; protecting the local environment cannot be left to the township government alone. If each individual substantially contributes, the effect will be felt not only in Montclair but at the county and state levels, the national level and finally around the world.
Our actions really do matter. Much of what we do at home has environmental consequences. Treating your lawn with pesticides and other chemicals pollutes the air, the soil and the water, harms the health of your family and even threatens the lives of your pets.
Our wasteful lifestyle also affects other communities. Most of the trash that we generate in town goes to the incinerator in Newark, where children are experiencing high rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions. The water we pollute in Montclair does not remain in town. Toney’s Brook and the Third River receive a large quantity of pollutants in the form of runoff of fertilizers and other chemicals from nearby yards, as well as discarded plastics and other trash. Our Montclair streams carry these pollutants to the Passaic River, which delivers them to the ocean.
It is time to do something for us, for our families and for the future generations. If your New Year’s resolutions did not include actions to protect the environment, it’s not too late. You still have the opportunity to be part of the solution for the good of your family, your community, our nation and the world.
Where to start?
Simple steps in your yard and garden can make a difference. Concerned about wildlife preservation? You could help fight against the extinction of pollinators just by making some changes in your landscaping.
Growing some of your own food is another simple and rewarding way both to improve your health and support the environmental cause. Supporting organizations that are building a legacy for your children and grandchildren is also a way to contribute to the protection and restoration of our environment.
Actions you can take at home
- Create a vegetable garden. Growing your own food is a very rewarding project you and your family can enjoy, and it reduces the use of chemicals and fuel involved in growing, transporting and processing industrialized food crops. If you do not have space to grow vegetables at home, join a local community garden. At least three organizations in town have community gardens: Montclair Community Farm, A Lot to Grow and the Northeast Earth Coalition.
- Start composting. Help reduce the amount of waste going to the incinerator and at the same time make quality natural fertilizer for your garden. The township sells compost bins at a discounted price for residents.
- Switch your garden and yard equipment (mower and leaf blower) from gas to electric. A 2011 study showed that a two-stroke gas-powered leaf blower generated 300 times the hydrocarbons emitted by a three-ton pickup truck and 23 times the carbon monoxide. Electric is cleaner. Even better, break out the rake rather than the leaf blower in the fall. Get some light, pleasant, emissions-free (and quiet!) seasonal exercise while saving on the cost of fuel and equipment.
- Conserve water. Take steps to limit water waste in your yard. Reduce the size of your water-guzzling lawn and replace it with native plants that evolved to withstand the New Jersey summer heat. You can also conserve water by watering the remaining lawn early in the morning instead of in the heat of the afternoon and watering occasionally and deeply rather than frequently and shallowly so that the grass develops deeper, more drought-tolerant roots.
- Make your yard pollinator-friendly. The world has seen sharp and scary declines in insect populations in recent years. You can make a real difference here by taking a few steps to support pollinators. Reduce your lawn wherever possible and use the freed-up space to plant pollinator-friendly native plants, including both host plants and nectar plants. Leave leaves on the ground so pollinators will have space to overwinter. And, of course, don’t use pesticides – you don’t want to kill the pollinators you are trying to attract.
- Planting trees. Coordinate with the town’s Department of Community Affairs, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board or the Environmental Commission to plant a tree in one of our public spaces. You could also donate the money to the township (a tax-deductible gift) to plant a tree or adopt a recently planted street tree.
- Being a mentor. If you are an experienced gardener or knowledgeable on environmental issues, become a community educator in gardening or environmental education. By teaching our youth, you plant the seeds for the future.
- Becoming a volunteer. Join one of the groups representing our parks. Anderson, Brookdale, Edgemont, Crane, Glenfield and Nishuane parks and Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve are always looking for volunteers. What about joining a friends of a park group for your favorite park and working with them to preserve the park? Interested in birds? Join the Montclair Bird Club or the Montclair Hawk Watch. Many other local environmental groups also welcome volunteers.
- Taking the initiative. Find the environmental initiative you are passionate about and start a local movement or community project.
Our environmental challenges seem daunting and discouraging when viewed on a global level, but taking action in our own homes and communities can bring the problems down to a scale where each of us can see the significant differences our actions make. These individual and community actions can add up to make a global difference.
Jose German-Gomez is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.