BETHLEHEM — Cynthia Rabinowitz, a member of the town’s Conservation Commission, spoke with Voices on Wednesday, May 29, about Sustainable CT and the commission’s efforts with the program.
Ms. Rabinowitz said that, while the program does have environmental sustainability built into it, it also focuses on community cohesiveness and resilience.
The town joined Sustainable CT on Tuesday, February 5, with a Board of Selectmen resolution. The resolution gave responsibility of the program to the town’s Conservation Commission.
The program was developed by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, municipal leaders, residents, nonprofits, businesses and the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University.
It delineates 10 categories of tasks to help municipalities become more sustainable. Each category has various action items a town could do to earn points. With enough points, a town could earn either a bronze or silver ranking.
Completing tasks is voluntary and there is no cost for the town to be involved with the program. The program also offers grants to towns that would like to complete various action items.
“Right now, we’re just trying to document what’s been done to date,” Ms. Rabinowitz said. “There are things that are done in town, throughout the year, that I think could qualify for some of the action items.”
She added, “I would love to work through those levels and get acknowledgements for what we’re doing, but I think, as I said, our first step is to get credit for what we’ve already done.”
For example, Ms. Rabinowitz said the already existing community garden would likely grant the town points for food sustainability, as well as being a strong community-building project.
“There’s a lot of good offshoots, benefits, from the community garden,” she said, noting a large amount of the produce is given to the Food Pantry.
Ms. Rabinowitz added that the town has an Open Space Committee, some solar power and a watershed management plan for the Pomperaug River Watershed, which are all tasks listed under various categories.
Ms. Rabinowitz said the Conservation Commission, the Bethlehem Land Trust and an ad hoc group have also been talking about supporting and recognizing local farmers and farms, such as through Community Supported Agriculture groups.
CSAs are subscriptions to a farm season. Customers purchase a subscription usually in late winter or early spring, that entitles them to a weekly produce box during the growing and harvest season.
“It’s a really good way for the farmers to have a sustained income, because a lot of money goes out on a farm before the growing season even gets started,” Ms. Rabinowitz said.
She added that weeks often occur between when a farmer fronts money at the beginning of the season before actually having produce to sell.
Ms. Rabinowitz said a CSA agreement helps provide insurance to the farmer if a crop fails, as the burden of a crop failure would be spread out among farmer and consumer alike, rather than just on the farmer.
She added that a crop failure often times wouldn’t affect the entirety of the farm’s crops and those with a CSA would likely just have more of the successful crops in their weekly produce box.
“That also is a way of building community as well. People who subscribe generally don’t have gardens of their own, or only small gardens. This really brings people together, and they get to know the farmers and they have more support for them, more understanding of what goes into food production,” Ms. Rabinowitz said.
She called CSAs a win-win situation all around, noting that supporting local farmers through CSAs could earn the town points under the thriving local economies category.
Along with her initial goal of documenting what the town is already doing in terms of sustainable practices, Ms. Rabinowitz did mention a planned rain garden.
“I received a grant from the Connecticut Community Foundation to do rain gardens. We’re doing two rain gardens this year, one in Watertown and one in Bethlehem,” she said.
Ms. Rabinowitz said she wanted to put the rain garden behind Town Hall, but would wait for the town’s Americans With Disabilities Act compliance plan to be completed to be sure the land is available.
“I have a feeling it’ll be fine, I think it’s far enough away from what they need to do, so I have my fingers crossed,” Ms. Rabinowitz said.
She said rain gardens are designed to catch the first one inch of storm water runoff from impervious surfaces, as that’s the most polluted runoff. After the first one inch, the surface is generally cleaned.
“[The rain garden] is something that will get the town points under management of soil and water,” she said.
Speaking about the program in general, Ms. Rabinowitz noted that sustainability has been “banded around” as of late and could confuse the purpose of the program.
“[Sustainability] has taken on a more ecological, more environmental meaning. But in terms of Sustainable CT, I think sustainability is also drawing in from community cohesiveness and people getting along together in their communities and having outlets for socializing and enjoyment,” Ms. Rabinowitz said.
While good environmental practices are built into the program, Sustainable CT promotes environmental, economic and community resilience.
She said community involvement and energy would be crucial, and said community would take a central role after the initial documentation of current town practices.
“We want people to read this for themselves, go on the [Sustainable CT website], browse it and say, ‘oh, yes, I would love to work on that!’” she said. “That, I think, we definitely need.”
She continued that, though the Conservation Commission is running point for the program, it could not implement the entire Sustainable CT program on its own, nor should it.
“That’s really not the point. The point is that the town should come out and work together,” she said.
Ms. Rabinowitz said she encourages residents to attend Conservation Commission meetings or get in touch with the commission if they want to help with Sustainable CT efforts.
“We will help residents think through their projects. It may not be a Conservation Commission project that they want to do, it might be under economics or tourism or something else,” she said.
“Since we are the point people, we could at least point them in the right direction and let them know who in town to contact for help with their project,” she continued.