Protecting the environment protects our community

To start and end one’s day at Millbrook Marsh, a 50-acre boardwalk accessible natural area, is a gift. Our final educational day with Leadership Centre County would weave together site visits, lectures and side conversations with an eye toward the environment in Centre County.

We started with the role of wetlands. Meeting just days after an intense spring storm had disrupted power and left neighborhoods littered with downed trees, our interest in Mother Nature was piqued. The timeliness of the storm provided a teachable moment as we paused to think about the important job wetlands fulfill in absorbing floodwaters, with a capacity to hold about 30,000 gallons. Wetlands also provide support for local biodiversity, opportunities for education and recreation, as well as endless inspiration for the arts. It became very clear that protecting our natural areas is integral to protecting our community.

Our next stop was Tait Farm. Certified organic by Pennsylvania Certified Organic for the past 10 years, Tait Farm is a role model in simultaneously protecting the land while cultivating produce. These farmers have fine-tuned their craft to support the soil without pesticides and bring the healthiest produce to the table while protecting the soil, our drinking water and surrounding natural areas.

Inspired by the care and consideration given to farming at Tait, we headed to the Military Museum in Boalsburg, where we ate a lunch packaged in entirely recyclable materials.

This was a great transition to our next destination, the recycling center, where the packaging from our lunch would be recycled and/or composted. The staff members at the recycling center are passionate and strategic as they move toward a goal of zero waste, while Centre Country currently sends 400 tons of trash to the landfill each day. Fundamentally, they believe that recycling only happens when materials are turned into new products. Our curbside recycling process is a direct reflection of the fastidious approach at the recycling center. Sticking with a hand sorting method, our recycling center has intentionally stayed out of the single-stream approach and allows materials to be marketed and sold at the highest price.

Our glass is transformed into baby food jars and concrete, while milk jugs are transformed into park benches. So when you read the note left in your recycle bin with all of your rejected items know that these men and women are working hard to turn our recycled items into new materials because only then will recycling work.

We ended the day with staff from the Clearwater Conservancy who shared the exciting news of their new program, Centered Outdoors, which is funded by a $100,000 grant from Centre Foundation. The goal of this new initiative is to get families outdoors learning about the natural areas and resources of Centre County. This summer, nine program sites will be available to the community on Sundays and Wednesdays to educate and connect people in our community to natural resources.

We concluded the environment day with a discussion about ways to bring positive change through our own decisions and choices as leaders. I have no doubt that members of the Class of 2017 will be looking for ways to get involved, raise awareness and protect the natural environment that makes Centre County so special. We hope the readers of the Center Daily Times will join us as we take these steps forward. Let Centre County not be like the ubiquitous story of the Lorax and instead may we all speak for the trees, the wetlands, the organic farms and engage with our friends and neighbors in programs like Centered Outdoors to explore local treasures.

Siri Newman is a member of the Leadership Centre County Class of 2017. For more information about Leadership Centre County go to leadershipcentrecounty.org.