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Steps Toward Local Sustainabilityby Molly Jones

Sustainability. This is a term that’s been getting more usage these days, especially as we begin to realize that most modern industries and societies have been operating for some time now without sustainability being much of a consideration: generally extracting resources from the planet, replacing them with waste and pollutants. As we come to realize that the Earth’s resources are indeed finite, and can be damaged or even exhausted, “sustainability” will be a state we humans inevitably must reach as a species. Mother Nature is not known to play favorites.

It may take awhile for national—and international—large-scale changes towards sustainability to occur, with so many corporate business interests invested in the non-sustainable. We are constantly being reminded that it’s going to “cost more” to move away from petroleum, coal, and nuclear energy toward wind, hydro, and solar—and there’s no way the latter can meet our gargantuan energy needs. We are told that recycling costs more than disposal, good nutrition is too expensive to maintain, and that global warming is a hoax—despite almost unanimous agreement of its existence by the world’s top climate experts. Cost, cost, cost. That this recession/depression is no time to make any kind of drastic changes—we must stick with the status quo.

However, where some see only the short-term costs of switching to sustainability, others see opportunities for new industries to meet increasing demand for clean energy, construction, good local food, and the resulting increase in quality local jobs. Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) has been making this a priority, tirelessly working to bring these new businesses and technologies to this area, which has been hard hit in recent years by a declining manufacturing base and repeated downsizing at regional employment powerhouse IBM.

As a result, the Mid-Hudson Valley is ahead of the national curve in terms of progressive movement toward a sustainable future: energy, housing, and food production. Meet some of the good folks who are making it happen.

Here Comes the Sun

If Congressman Hinchey has his way, the Hudson Valley will become a major player in the burgeoning solar industry. In 2007, he helped launch The Solar Energy Consortium, which is working to promote the Hudson Valley as a producer and innovator of solar panels and materials, as well as a location for solar power plants, taking advantage of the region’s overall tech-savvy workforce.

One such international corporation taking advantage of the situation here is Se’lux, an interior and exterior lighting company based in Germany. The Highland facility specializes in outdoor lighting powered by small batteries, rejuvenated by small solar panels. Prism Solar Technologies—a maker of photovoltaic solar cells—took advantage of a $1,000,000 grant from the Solar Energy Consortium to purchase land outside of Highland for a manufacturing site that will employ up to 200 in the short term, and up to 400 in five years.

Another exciting new project being developed is the New York State Solar Farm, which has plans to install a solar power plant in Wallkill, NY. The plant will eventually power enough electricity for 3,000 homes and will prevent over 38,000 tons of carbon emission over 30 years, bringing much-needed high tech jobs for the area.

On the personal level, companies such as Hudson Valley Clean Energy are working with people to navigate the ins and outs of getting their homes and businesses up to speed with the best new energy technologies, including geothermal, solar thermal and photovoltaic energy systems. The time to invest in new energy sources for your home or business has never been better, as recent NYSERDA rebates, tax incentives and credits can reduce the cost of a system by over 50%. John Wright, owner of Hudson Valley Clean Energy, can attest to the incredible power of clean energy himself, as his entire warehouse and office was designated as the first commercial zero net energy building in New York.


A Home to Sustain Us

Green building has already become a big business here in the Hudson Valley, coinciding with the building and housing boom of the past 8-to10 years. Many builders are now familiar with techniques and materials that are lower-impact and less toxic for homeowners and the environment. With the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) programs and ratings, builders and buyers alike are signing on for cost efficient and lower-impact options for their homes and businesses. But a new refrain is now being heard across the country and in the Hudson Valley—it’s not enough to just build sustainable homes, we must also build sustainable communities.

Several of these sustainable, or “intentional”, communities are either in existence, or are in some form of planning stages of development. Such communities are usually built around a common area and common buildings, and some are shared housing. Unlike the old suburb developments of years past, the shared areas and buildings are meant to foster community interaction and involvement, incorporating large green spaces or shared wild areas and stressing building in an ecologically friendly way. Such communities include the Common Fire Foundation co-housing community in Tivoli and the Legacy Farm development in Rosendale.

William Johnson, of Will III Builders in New Paltz is also working on developing a community of affordable green eco-friendly new homes in Kingston. In a time of economic downturn, not to mention the lessening appeal of the old-style suburban sprawl method of housing development, the new approach to building with a commitment to shared spaces and green values may be what puts some needed juice back into the local housing market.

For existing communities and larger municipalities, groups and coalitions are forming to turn their towns “green”. One such group is the recently formed Kingston’s Green Trail, which is seeking to revitalize mid-town Kingston by creating a larger infrastructure for biking, green spaces, and green business development.

What We Eat

The third area of progress in green or sustainable living in the Hudson Valley is no less exciting or transformative. Films like Super-Size Me, King Corn, and Food, Inc are bringing a much-needed conversation to the national level, which is... “What has happened to our food system?” Our national diet has, in the last 50 years, morphed into a giant food-industrial complex in which our relationship to the food we eat has been removed many times over. Here in the Hudson Valley, thankfully, we are experiencing a farming resurgence, or even, dare we say, revolution.

This revolution toward a closer more natural relationship to the food we produce and eat may not have started here in the Hudson Valley, but driving along county roads throughout the area, you can still see small farms, wineries, orchards, farm stands, and farmers’ markets. The Greenhorn movement, born out of New York, is populating the region with fresh new faces in the agricultural scene. Old ideas have become new again as more and more people care about and make choices regarding our stewardship of the land and its resources.

Among the growing population of those propelling us further down the road to food independence and control is the Hudson Valley Seed Bank, which is working with area farms to preserve heirloom organic seeds for the area residents to purchase. With the large agribusiness conglomerates, seed saving is anathema to their business model. Seed saving, and preserving our heirloom vegetables, will not only ensure our right to control our food production, but will also take us back to the time when our food was special, tastier, and better for our bodies.

Locally, we can support these efforts by shopping at local farmers’ markets, local health food stores, and stores that carry local produce. Also, CSAs or community supported agriculture co-ops, are available to join at very reasonable costs, especially in that you can actually have a direct relationship with farmers themselves and the farms where the food is grown.

For local and organic foods, visit:

Adam's Fairacre Farms
765 Dutchess Turnpike, Poughkeepsie & 1560 Ulster Avenue
Lake Katrine, & 1240 Route 300 Newburgh

Beacon Natural Market, 348 Main St, Beacon

Mother Earth's Storehouse, 1955 South Road, Poughkeepsie
& 249 Main Street, Saugerties, & Kings Mall, Route 9W North

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