By Katrina Godshalk
Ask any number of locals why they live on Bainbridge Island and you will likely receive a wide variety of responses. But among the answers—from the schools and caring community, to the arts and gardening, to the island’s natural beauty, to boating and recreation of all kinds—there is almost always a common thread: the earth, air and water that form this special place.
It raises a compelling question for the long term: How do we enjoy our island lifestyle without destroying what we value most about it? Inspiration can be drawn from a short walk in the Grand Forest, where on display is nature’s harmony: an interconnected, complex system of plants and animals where nothing is wasted and everything thrives in balance. How can islanders live like nature—in a sustainable way, a way that supports and regenerates the systems that provide for us?
For many of us, the word “sustainable” brings to mind the environment, but true sustainability is a broader construct with three primary pillars: environmental, social and economic. For example, if a product has a low environmental impact, but its workers are being exploited or the company can’t make a fair profit, it’s not sustainable. If the food we buy is organic, but the farmer isn’t making a living wage, it won’t succeed over time and is not sustainable.
Fortunately, Bainbridge is home to a wealth of innovative people and organizations working to create a sustainable future. Ten years ago, a group of islanders inspired to support sustainable solutions came together and founded the nonprofit Sustainable Bainbridge (SB). Today, the organization works to increase the community’s resilience by acting as an educator and incubator for groups working on a variety of issues. The reach of SB programs include areas such as sustainable food systems, safe and healthy non-motorized transportation, shoreline stewardship, waste reduction, control of invasive species, and watershed protection.
One of SB’s spokes, BI Zero Waste, has taken on waste reduction during Fourth of July celebrations by educating visitors and encouraging them to separate their discards into recycling, compost and trash. “We have been able to decrease the volume of waste taken to landfills from 40 cubic yards to around 15 cubic yards, a reduction of over 62 percent,” said its coordinator, Diane Landry. “At some events, we are able to recycle and compost over 80 percent of the waste generated. These results are possible by a collaboration of event organizers, enthusiastic volunteers, and vendors willing to invest in compostable supplies.”
What’s for Dinner?
Another nonprofit, Friends of the Farms, works to preserve and enhance local agriculture, increase farmland and support the farming community. It has programs that connect people who have land they’d like to see farmed with farmers looking for land to farm. Managing almost 60 acres of community-owned farmland, Friends of the Farms also works to provide affordable housing for farm interns and new farmers with the aim of creating a sustainable food network. “Maintaining and growing viable farmland can stem overdevelopment, increase available local food and sustain the proud history of Bainbridge farming,” said executive director Heather Burger.
Not only does good food positively affect health, its enjoyment is arguably one of life’s greatest pleasures. But at times, the cost of buying local organic food can seem daunting. “While food from industrial production systems may appear cheap, the cost to public health and our environment is high,” Burger said. “Transitioning to sustainable food production requires shifting from the mindset of bulk is better, to making food choices based on quality and nutrition. We can do that year-round on Bainbridge Island by purchasing local foods that are produced sustainably.” Islanders are fortunate to have access to an abundance of fresh, organic, locally grown produce, wine, eggs, meat and dairy products at their fingertips.
For those wishing to add more local foods to their menus, a superb resource for fresh food is the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market, where last year over $500,000 was spent on the homegrown fare. Bay Hay & Feed, the Heyday Farm Store and Town & Country Market, which grows and sell its local Middlefield Farm produce, are just a sample of the purveyors supporting a sustainable food economy. During berry season, picking fresh blueberries and raspberries from local fruit growers such as Bainbridge Island Blueberry Farm and Suyematsu Farm Stand is not only delicious, but fun too.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
“Each of us has a direct impact on the health of our earth with every action we take in our gardens,” said local horticulturist and garden designer Luba Fetterman. “We are part of a complex web, and everything we do affects a multitude of systems in ways we might not even realize. I encourage each of us to look for ways to do no harm, such as supporting a natural habitat, eliminating toxic chemicals and improving the health of our soil. Every choice we make can keep our groundwater clean, the wildlife able to sustain itself, and the ecosystem better than it was yesterday.”
According to a 2001 Swedish study, it was discovered that running a lawn mower for an hour pollutes the air more than a 100-mile car trip. Also thought provoking: during the summer months, 30 to 60 percent of the potable water in the United States is used for lawns. “Replace unused parts of a thirsty lawn with beds of drought tolerant native shrubs,” suggests gardening expert Ann Lovejoy. “In shadier areas where grass does not thrive, consider swapping out turf for paving stone paths and sheets of groundcovers that don’t need coddling.” Using nontoxic or organic products on lawns and gardens reduces pesticide and herbicide runoff that washes into streams, and eventually to the Puget Sound, affecting fish, wildlife and the quality of the water.
SB as well as Friends of the Farms invites interested islanders to learn more about fostering a sustainability mindset, creating solutions that protect and enhance the world we live in, widen our perspective, and pass on a legacy of stewardship, harmony and resilience.