One of Sustainability Matters’ flagship initiatives this past year has been its pilot program, Making Trash Bloom, a pollinator habitat the organization has planted at the Shenandoah County Landfill in Edinburg.
With plans of eventually expanding to other landfills, Executive Director Sari Carp said the effort made the landfill “kind of a pandemic destination” as people have stopped by to see what’s been blooming.
“Things are actually coming up, so that’s exciting,” she said. “We are planning to expand that project significantly this year.”
Another initiative is the upcoming Backyard Food Bank, a pilot program to teach food-insecure families to grow vegetables at home while mentoring them throughout the process.
Carp plans to launch the project on May 22 and has limited it to households making $40,000 or less annually. For more information or to donate to the effort, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carp said the idea started more than a year ago but became even more urgent during the pandemic.
“This can mean the difference between having fresh food for your table and not,” she said.
She hopes it also will be a bonding experience for families.
“They garden as a household,” she said. “It’s something that’s healthy on so many levels.”
Like other area nonprofits meeting during the pandemic, Sustainability Matters had to rethink how it connects with the community while its volunteers and community members couldn’t gather in person as usual.
Before COVID-19, the conservation-focused organization would host more than 50 in-person events throughout the year, Carp recalled.
“Like everyone else, we were panicking in the beginning,” said Carp, the organization’s only paid staff member. She recalled thinking, “What are we going to do?”
The pandemic, which prompted school and business closures and stay-at-home orders starting in mid-March 2020, came as the organization was planning its biggest event of the year, Earth Day, which takes place each spring on April 22.
“We were expecting 3,000 people,” Carp recalled.
With no experience hosting virtual events, they shifted their focus online to see how they might still connect with people.
Though Carp recalled their “incredibly fussy” standards for the quality of their in-person programming, she said they learned to be more forgiving of the mishaps that can occur in a virtual climate of Zoom workshops, Facebook Live streams and prerecorded videos.
They also had to rethink their strategy for attracting and engaging the public, she said.
What makes a virtual event work “is not what makes an in-person event work,” Carp said.
Ultimately a success, their Earth Day event featured a Zoom team to host Q&A sessions and later attracted a wider group of volunteers than it typically would have in with attendees from as far away as California.
“We now have some volunteers we have never met in person,” Carp said.
One of those new volunteers runs the organization’s Zoom events and helps with the website.
Another, who lives in Denver, is the nonprofit’s “data guru,” handling internal databases, contact lists and other technological details.
The team rehearses each online event to iron out any details and avoid technology fails wherever possible. They also have a professional videographer to shoot and edit their videos before posting.
It’s been challenging to navigate the potential issues that crop up with online programming, Carp said, “but sometimes you just have to let go.”
Another challenge has been continuing fundraising efforts during a time when people are struggling financially.
Now gearing up for another Earth Day, as part of a bigger effort she’s calling Earth Month, Carp is planning “a virtual celebration of sustainable business” from 1 to 4 p.m. on April 22.
It’s “an honest examination of how environmental sustainability intersects with economic sustainability,” an event description says.
The Earth Day Sustainable Business Summit offers three one-hour discussions, each led by different area business owners: “The Manufacturer” Sarah Cohen of Route 11 Chips with Carp as moderator; “The Retailers” Randy Andes of Randy’s Hardware and Jon Henry of Jon Henry General Store with moderator Debbie Irwin of the Staunton Creative Community Fund; and “The Locavores” Cara Mroczek and Shane Waller of Star in the Valley Estate Winery and David and Lynn St. Clair of Swover Creek Farm Brewery with moderator Nikki Grant of the Woodstock Cafe.
Tickets are $15 with early registration by April 12, $25 for standard registration and free for 2021 Sustaining Members of Sustainability Matters.
Another part of Earth Month is a month-long auction of area experiences that include wine tasting, area tours, a coffee roasting class, and a vegan dinner from a local chef and musician Amanda Scheetz with signed cookbooks by vegan cookbook author Robin Robertson.
For more information, visit 32auctions.com/earth.
Other April events include a Greener Than Grass sustainable landscaping webinar at 3 p.m. April 18 (tickets are $10) and a free “What’s Up With Recycling?” panel to answer questions on what can and can’t be recycled locally, and why.
For more information, visit smatters.eventbrite.com.