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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: On the green path toward celebration with Valerie Robertson

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Going Green publisher Valerie Robertson reflects on 10 years of “going green” in the Cape Fear and plans for the next decade.

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“The days creep and the years fly.” Every now and then I get a stark reminder of that truth. It feels like just yesterday my friend Valerie Robertson and I were having one of our thrice weekly update phone calls to chat about (among other things) the progress on “the green pub,” which was the placeholder she was using to describe the environmental magazine she was planning to launch. We talked for days and days and months and months about it. Staples or no staples? Height? Width? Publication calendar? Features? Reccurring columns?

CELEBRATING A DECADE BEING GREEN: Valerie Robertson, publisher of Going Green, represents the publication at the Native Plant Festival. Courtesy photo.

CELEBRATING A DECADE BEING GREEN: Valerie Robertson, publisher of Going Green, represents the publication at the Native Plant Festival. Courtesy photo.

I don’t think I will ever forget the radiance on Valerie’s face the day she picked up the first issue of Cape Fear’s Going Green from the printer. Pride of accomplishment, delight of content (it even had a centerfold—a belly shot of a spider on her web), but more than that, the sense of settling into one’s niche in the world. Then came the real delight for me: watching other people react to the magazine. The Kuuskoski family of the Troll store called and offered to draw an environmental Troll cartoon for Going Green. Columnists offered services, and a distribution system that is the personification of a “web of connection” on steroids developed. (Drop an extra stack off with “Person A,” who will take them to a meeting for distribution the following week. Also drop two stacks off with “Person B,” who will deliver them to two coffee shops on the furthest edge of the county. In addition, drop an extra stack off with…)

Cape Fear’s Going Green is a premiere guide for eco-friendly resources and lifestyles in the lower Cape Fear River basin of North Carolina. It’s free and covers topics designed to help us make choices that save money, contribute to healthier living, and assist in being kind to our planet (stormwater management, green building, alternate energy, using native plants, protecting our wetlands, recycling).

Along the way Going Green and Valerie have become staples of Earth Day, the Native Plant Festival and the Going Green Book Club. It all seemed perfectly normal and still very new. So Valerie made my jaw hit the ground when she called to invite me to a 10th anniversary party for “the green pub” we talked about so often. It seemed like maybe I needed to take a moment to reflect a bit on the journey with her. It feels like it is such a ubiquitous part of our friendship and my daily life that maybe I haven’t been asking the right questions. Valerie was kind enough to take the time to answer.

encore (e): What made you decide to start Cape Fear’s Going Green magazine?

Valerie Robertson (VR): I’ve always had a strong, personal interest in the concepts of solar energy and the kinds of projects I learn about at Earth Day. I love simple solutions that solve a problem without causing undue harm.

In 2006 I noticed a lot of people in our Cape Fear community were starting to talk about incorporating greener, safer products into their lives, but finding it really hard to track down the green products and services they wanted locally. I decided the community needed an information resource on where to find the eco-friendly products and services. I started the magazine so people could learn about eco-friendly approaches available in our own community—things that would make them feel they were keeping their families safer and healthier, and perhaps be good for the environment as well. I soon expanded this to include an online calendar of green events so people could come together and meet like-minded people.

e: What did you hope to accomplish? Have you succeeded? How or how not?

VR: I wanted to help sustainable living become mainstream in my own community. I wanted to be sure that anyone with an interest in finding eco-friendly versions of what they were going to buy, would be able to find them rather than giving up. I wanted to help remove obstacles for anyone interested in pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle.

I think I have succeeded in a couple of respects. I write about local people, businesses and projects that show my readers what others in the community are doing to lead greener, more environmentally friendly lives. I think it has inspired people to follow suit and think outside the box a bit more when seeking products and services they’re going to use themselves. I also think I’ve increased people’s awareness of environmental activities taking place in our region, which leads to more people getting involved.

e: What do you wish you had known then that you know now?

VR: I wish I’d realized sooner how disconnected from nature most of us have become and all the problems it introduces.

My favorite quote is from Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac”: “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

I really enjoy writing about local programs to get children outside to enjoy nature, or learn first-hand that broccoli comes out of the ground instead of a shrink-wrapped package at the store.

e: How are you celebrating your 10-year milestone?

VR: I plan to celebrate the whole month of October! I started out with a party at Halyburton Park, to celebrate the advertisers and other supporters and contributors who have made the magazine possible throughout the years. Through October we’ll offer online contests, so people can win tickets to events or gift certificates or memberships in local environmental organizations. We hope people will come visit us at Halyburton Park’s “Fire in the Pines” Festival on October 14 (

e: What has been the biggest surprise of the last 10 years?

VR: The biggest surprise, for me, is the depth of community appreciation for what I do. Almost every day I receive a thank you in an email or a positive comment from someone I see at the grocery store. I’ve never before had a job where I received this much positive support and affirmation for my efforts.

Another surprise, which I love: People walk up to me on the street, and instead of saying “hello,” they volunteer information, like, “I have a really hard time growing carrots, too,” or “All the new houses built where I’m from in India are required to have green roofs.” [Since it’s out of context,] sometimes it takes me a minute to realize they’re responding to something I’ve written on one of these topics—perhaps months earlier. It’s gratifying to know people really do read the magazine cover to cover.

e: What do you have in mind for the next 10 years?

VR: I plan to keep the magazine available in print and online, while expanding the variety of ways people can receive and share our information. I want to make it easier to enjoy our articles on phones and other portable devices. I interview and write about so many fascinating people; I’d like to videotape interviews with people doing interesting environmental projects and make these available on a YouTube channel—or whatever the coming thing will be. Ten years is a long time; the ways we share information 10 years from now are really going to be different from what we can now imagine.

Our Environmental Book Club discussion group is still going strong—it of course meets monthly at Old Books on Front Street. We’ve just launched an Environmental Book Club Lending Library! For now it may live in my station wagon, and we’ll alert people when and where it’s going to be available for borrowing books—sort of a pop-up environmental bookmobile or environmentalmobile.

e: What environmental issues currently face the Cape Fear Region?

VR: Water quality, of course, has been on everyone’s mind, with good reason.
Thoughtful development that balances economic gain with environmental stability.
Agricultural practices and pollution.
As a coastal area, impact of generally warming oceans and higher-intensity storms as we’ve watched this summer.

e: What are three steps to effect positive change that people can take at home right now?

VR: Eat more beans. No, I’m serious. Moving toward a more plant-based diet is not only good for health but the environment as well. About a third of the earth’s arable land is used to produce meat and animal products, which are heavy users of water and chemicals. If each of us replaced one beef burger or steak a week with a serving of beans, we’d make an immediate impact on the environment.

Be thoughtful about where your money is and goes. Find out how responsible your bank is to the environment, and write them with any concerns. If you don’t like the answer, switch to more environmentally-aware bank or credit union. Same goes for your insurance company.
Buy and eat locally when you can. Resilient communities are made up of people who know one another. Keeping money in our community while cutting down on transportation miles is a simple, concrete step we can all take. Plus, you get to meet your neighbors!

Use less packaging, especially plastic. I’m getting more accustomed to taking my empty glass jar to Tidal Creek or Lovey’s to refill it with peanut butter instead of using yet another plastic single-use container. I even keep containers in the car in case I eat out and want to take the leftovers home—so I don’t wind up going home with styrofoam.

Keep learning about the environmental matters that are important to you, and talk to your elected representatives and local officials about them. Tell them when they are doing a good job, urge them to do more, and hold them accountable. We are all in this together, and local government is the key to any changes we want to see. Go to a meeting or town hall, write a postcard, support your local environmental advocacy group.

e: What would you like to see change in our area in the next 10 years?

VR: I’d like for a greater number of environmentally conscious people to run for office, and I’d like for us to elect them—locally and across North Carolina. I’d like to eliminate legislation that encourages us to downplay the degree to which sea-level change could compromise our buildings.

I’d like to see the growth in solar panels continue. I’d like for us to start following the precautionary principle: Instead of following a behavior until we’ve proven for certain that it’s harmful, prohibit the behavior unless we’ve proven it harmless (discharging industrial chemicals, for example).

I’d like to see a greater appreciation for the benefits of trees: We should increase and enforce the penalties for cutting down trees, so developing an area doesn’t necessarily mean clearing the land completely before construction starts.

I’d like for us to treat barrier islands as barrier islands, letting them move as they want to do naturally.

I’d like to see everyone spending more time enjoying the outdoors.

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