Rescheduled after a snowed-out prior attempt on March 2, the Climate Smart Gardiner Taskforce held its first big volunteer recruitment event last Friday at the Gardiner Library: a community potluck. About 40 town residents mingled, shared dinner, learned about the Taskforce and signed up for subcommittees that will focus on a variety of projects intended to shrink the town’s carbon footprint.
“We’re trying to plug people in where they want to be plugged in,” said Climate Smart Gardiner coordinator Jason Mayer, who served as master of ceremonies for the potluck, which he characterized as a nonpartisan “community-building type of event.” Mayer, a psychologist, and his wife Kim, who is organizing a tree-planting project for the Taskforce, moved to Gardiner to raise their family in 2010. With son Max, 8, and daughter Ruby, 6, now in school full-time, the couple started feeling a need to get more involved in local grassroots activism for the environment. “Something I’m really hungry for is community,” Mayer said. “This is something practical that we can do.”
The volunteers and merely curious who showed up were hungry for the potluck as well, but found a “teachable moment” attached to the vegetarian spread. At one end of the long table Mayer had set up what he called the Small Garbage Bucket Challenge, inspired somewhat by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral on social media in 2014. Debris from dinner was to be sorted into three separate bins: one for recyclables such as cans, plastic cups and cardboard; a second for compostables, including food scraps, paper plates and wooden utensils; and in the middle, a third, much smaller bucket for non-recyclable garbage.
That challenge was just a warmup for the serious business of the evening, when several Taskforce members gave presentations about the work of the subcommittees that were forming. Mayer gave an overview of the Climate Smart Gardiner program, which the Town Board endorsed back in January by signing onto the New York Climate Smart Communities Pledge, qualifying Gardiner to receive escalating levels of grant funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Approval is expected soon for the town’s first NYSERDA grant application, seeking $5,000 for an education campaign by the Solarize Gardiner subcommittee. Franco Carucci spoke about the campaign already underway to create a community solar project in the town, which will enable local residents who are not able to have their own rooftop solar arrays — because they are renters, or live in places without ample direct sunlight — to benefit from discounts on their electricity bills.
Repair Café organizer John Wackman, who is not a Gardinerite, spoke about the need for more volunteers to keep the town’s Repair Café happening on a regular basis. Other Taskforce members seeking recruits included Tia Mitsinikos, who is organizing volunteers to survey hemlock trees for the presence of invasive wooly adelgid beetles; Aimee Spring-Cecil, whose subcommittee is working on switching Gardiner streetlights to LEDs; and Rebecca Carucci, who is creating a Youth Climate Smart Taskforce.
A former preschool teacher, Rebecca Carucci said that her youth group would be “inclusive for all age groups” and focus its work on the Wallkill River and its shorelines. Stormwater gardens, native plant habitat restoration, pollination projects and study of the Wallkill’s algae bloom problem are all possible projects, as well as participation in the 2018 Riverkeeper Sweep cleanup scheduled for May 5. “We have to start local, and hopefully it spreads,” she said.
The event wound up with attendees breaking up into subcommittee groups and planning their next steps. The Climate Smart Gardiner Taskforce will be meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at the Gardiner Town Hall. To find out more, check the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/climatesmartgardiner. A website is currently under development.