It was on the first Earth Day in 1970 when Valerie Robertson found her calling as an environmentalist. A junior at John Burroughs High School in St. Louis, Robertson was out of class, partaking in an all-day campus-wide symposium with students from all grades, faculty and invited guests. They shared ideas about the Earth and discussed a wide range of environmental issues. While Robertson’s peers were so busy congratulating themselves on a job well done, Robertson confessed she couldn’t submerse herself in the sense of accomplishment. “I felt like I hardly accomplished anything at all,” she remembers. Really, it was merely her beginning.
Today, when Roberston isn’t learning about the cypress swamps or green buildings, she’s hard at work running Cape Fear’s Going Green magazine, a free-to-the-public quarterly. Its mission: To help readers make every facet of conservation and sustainability stress-free to include in their daily lives by offering information on eco-friendly activities, products and services accessible right in their own backyard.
“(In 2006) I started hearing people express an interest in being more sustainable at home,” Robertson shared. “I’d be out walking my dog [Macy] in the park, and someone there would say, ‘I want to buy a tankless water heater, but nobody around here carries them.’ Or I’d be at a conference and the woman seated next to me would say, ‘I’ve been trying to buy a rain barrel, but I can’t find out where to buy one.’ Often I could tell them who they could call right here in Wilmington. I was a magnet for that sort of information. It would happen at least once a day. That’s when I decided I needed to start my magazine.”
Circulating 8,000 copies around Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover counties, Cape Fear’s Going Green features a list of local environmental organizations, as well as the area’s first calendar of green events. Also, online through January 7 there’s a mindful holiday gift guide section that highlights a unique assortment of alternative gifts for loved ones. It shows readers what they can give rather than what they can buy.
“It helps you take it easy on Earth,” Robertson shares. “My mom is a master knitter, but has never had an online presence for her work. As her main Christmas gift this year, I’ll establish an Etsy store for her, so she’ll have a place to display and sell her beautiful, hand-knitted garments.”
Despite the wealth of information found in Cape Fear’s Going Green, on their website or even on their Facebook page, reading can be an inherently singular activity. Already immersed in environmentalism in the Cape Fear area and maintaining a strong-rooted readership for the magazine, it made sense to nurture the secondary kind of environment—a book club.
“Gwenyfar Rohler [owner of Old Books and encore contributor] and I discussed the possibility of an environmental book club four years ago,” Robertson explains. “I loved the idea of an environmental book club. I thought it would be great if we could have a forum for people who wanted to discuss green ideas with others. The focus is to make sustainability mainstream. A book club seemed like one way to do that on a modest scale.”
However, there’s hardly anything modest about Robertson’s life accomplishments or her ambitions. For the past 20 years, she has been a resident of our Port City, but, really, Robertson could live comfortably anywhere in the world. As a young girl, her family traveled becaus of her dad’s job as an actuary, hired by companies to solve business problems. Missouri, Maryland, Barbados, and even Switzerland were just a few of the places Robertsonresided. After her father finished one job, they moved on to the next challenge.
“Why did I settle in North Carolina, when I know I could live anywhere in the world?” Robertson ponders. “The air smells good. There are rivers and marshes and marvelous critters. People say, ‘hello.’ Once, my car was sideswiped in my own neighborhood, and before the police arrived, 21 people who knew my name had stopped to find out how they could help me. We look out for each other. And more and more, we’re learning to look out for this beautiful place we call home.”
The book club meets the first Tuesday evening of the month inside Old Books on Front Street. And, really, what arena more fitting than a local book store that sells, as Robertson teased, “recycled” books. Social time is at 5:30 p.m., discussion begins at 6 p.m. and runs approximately 90 minutes. The read for January: “Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Seige” by journalist Will Potter. Noted by the fastidious Kirkus Reviews as a, “hard-hitting debut,” Potter equates the Justice Department labeling of environmentalists today akin to McCarthyism in the 1950s.
Book club members receive 15 percent off when they purchase any book on the book club reading list from Old Books. Visit Going Green Magazine at www.goinggreenpublications.com and follow Robertson on Twitter, @GoGreenILM.
Environmental Book Club
Meets first Tues. of each month
Tuesday, January 6, 5:30 p.m.
Old Books on Front Street
249 N Front St.
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