WINCHESTER — Sustainability is a hot word these days. In light of recent recycling issues — not just in our area, but nationally — a light now shines on our dependence on plastic and glass and the need to live a more sustainable lifestyle, one that has less impact on the environment.
However, sustainability encompasses much more than recycling and relying less on plastic. There are many ways we can become more sustainable in our lives, and that’s something that Sustainability Matters, a regional nonprofit organization based in Shenandoah County, seeks to do.
“It began as an ad-hoc thing... We felt like there was a need to formalize it a bit more and put together a structure, to do community programs that emphasized sustainable living — gardening, agriculture, farm to table sourcing,” said Sari Carp, a founder and current chair of the organization.
Carp said the organization strives to educate others how to live as non-toxic to the environment as possible, while still being realistic given modern lifestyles. She and other founding members of Sustainability Matters felt there was a vacuum in the northern Shenandoah Valley area for information like this, especially “programs that were fun without preaching to people,” she said.
Since the organization was created in January 2018, they have organized 80 events in eight counties, from large events like this year’s Earth Day Shenandoah which drew more than 1,000 people, to small workshops at Hedgebrook Farm in Winchester about making cheese.
“Cheese making, what does that have to do with sustainability? We work with Hedgebrook Farm, which is the only animal welfare-approved farm in the area, and in the process attendees get to tour the farm, learn about animal welfare, the conditions of those animals, why you should buy local and know where your produces are from, if they are humanely sourced,” said Carp.
“It’s sustainability through the back door, and people love the events and have a lot of fun.”
Carp said they didn’t foresee doing this many events when they started out. But what grew from a plant swap in Woodstock has grown due to the quality of the events, the interest from the communities, and attendees getting involved as volunteers, who in turn bring more ideas to the table. Carp sited examples — two art shows the group has organized thanks to an art curator joining their ranks, and a new band, the Plant-Based Jam, due to a volunteer who is a professional musician.
Besides educational events, Carp said they seek to host fun events like the upcoming environmental trivia at Backroom Brewery and new Sustainability Socials that take place monthly at Sexi-Mexi.
“A big part of it is not just education, but community building. So we like to build something social into our events,” she said.
“Environmental trivia, sure people will learn a lot, but will also listen to music by a new band, have dinner, have a herb-infused beer. There’s a picnic at Blandy Farm after the Bad Bugs workshop, or you can go to Ashire pub after (that event). We end up with a lot of people coming back, and some become volunteers and become a part of what is happening. The Sustainable community has grown, we have grown, in a very grass-roots way.”
There are several events in the Winchester, Frederick and Clarke counties area this summer.
The first Winchester Sustainability Social is Tuesday at Sexi-Mexi on Boscawen Street in downtown Winchester at 5:30 p.m., born out of the need to create a social event after work hours in the area, which Carp said will bring in a different demographic. The gathering is for Sustainability Matters members, volunteers, and anyone interested in joining the conversation. Socials will be informal and topics can include environmental issues, sustainable gardening, farm-to-table sourcing, and more.
“It’ll be what the group wants it to be,” said Carp.
“Certainly, the first time we would go around introduce people, find out what interests are, tell them a little about the organization for those who don’t know. We’re not going to steer the discussion, there are different things different people are interested in. It may kind of organically break out in groups, that’s what our social events normally do.”
On July 19, Sustainability Matters will host an Environmental Trivia Night with the debut of the Plant-Based Jam at Backroom Brewery in Middletown. A farm-to-table dinner will be served at 5:30 p.m., followed by trivia at 7 p.m.
Fellowship of the Sip Tea House on the Loudoun Street Mall will host a Tea and Tai Chi on Aug. 17 at 5:30 p.m. Attendees will enjoy organic tea, followed by a twilight Tai Chi class, which is suitable for all skill levels, led by Sustainability Matters volunteer and Tai Chi instructor, Adrian VanKeuren. Registration is required for this event and it costs $20 for non-members and volunteers.
On Aug. 10, Bad Bugs: A Backyard Bestiary takes place at the State Arboretum in Boyce, from 9 a.m. until noon. Scientists from Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension will introduce key garden and agricultural pests, and share an update on the latest research regarding those bugs. Focal bugs include spotted lanternflies, emerald ash borers, stinkbugs, and periodical cicadas. Attendees will learn about ID, life cycles, and cutting edge developments, like the wasp that’s taking down stinkbugs. You will also meet live insects, view preserved specimens, and bring your own securely contained mystery bugs for identification. The workshop will end with a walk to observe insects and insect damage. Registration is required, and the event is $25 for non-members.