Middletown Area School is Green Through and Through

You can’t describe the Lucy School, a preschool-through-8th grade private school midway between Middletown and Myersville, without talking about the boots. To me, the boots symbolize the approach this school takes to its educational mission, which

founding director Victoria Brown began in 2002 to embody the values of arts and the environment in secondary education. Don’t get the wrong idea—they follow the required Maryland State Department of Education requirements and mirror many Frederick County Public Schools logistical practices (closings, holidays etc.).

Yet putting emphasis on the arts and on outdoor exploration (the reason every child has boots at the school, for woods play and for regular lessons in the “waterfall”—on a pond that teems with life the students study for science and other lessons), sustainability and art is an approach that appears to pay dividends when you watch the curious, engaged students. (There are currently 120 students at the school, with preschool, elementary and middle school occupying a farmhouse, former milking parlor, a barn and undoubtedly one of the most sustainable secondary school buildings in the US.) “How can you hope that children will grow up to care about the environment, if they have not had the opportunity to play, explore and learn in nature?” says Brown.

  • Cork floors, bamboo cabinets with wheat board shelves (all sustainable building materials)
  • Recycled blue jean/newspaper insulation in the walls
  • Rainwater used to supply plumbing
  • Reuse of beams and barn wood in a renovated barn
  • Green roof
  • School powered by solar panels, geothermal energy
  • Environmental education (including a biodiversity day)
  • Lessons from local farmers on local food and growing blueberries, figs, apples, pears and paw paws as well as a student nurtured school garden
  • Composting
  • Tea tree oil for cleaning instead of harsh chemicals
  • Natural lighting enhanced by solar magnification

Along with being a prestigious US Department of Education Green Ribbon School, Lucy School built one of the few LEED Platinum secondary schools in the country. LEED is a national certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to encourage energy and resource-efficient buildings. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Platinum is the highest level, earning 90 points for various construction and building practices. See Lucy School’s scores here.

Lucy School’s first preschool students are just beginning to emerge from college now, and while not everyone opts for the arts or environmental science or sustainability, the staff feels assured that their “sustainable” education and surroundings will increase their resiliency. “In situations of stress, these kids know how to turn to arts and nature” for strength, says Amy Bolstridge, a teacher at the school.

To read more about Lucy School, click here.



The Comeback of Water Fountains (and the going-away of plastic water bottles)

The marketing campaigns by bottled water companies have won the hearts and minds of Americans during the past few decades.

So imagine that now, as we wean ourselves off the single-use bottle, xx of which are thrown away each hour, we now have to create publicity campaigns to convince people to use public water again.

It’s happening–I heard about it most recently at the 2019 Green Sports Summit when a soldier turned corporate marketing executive turned public affairs expert talked about the campaign in Philadelphia going on right now. After Philadelphia Water Department surveys found that 40% of the population was drinking bottled water instead of city tap water, they began a campaign, Drink Philly Tap. The campaign began last spring and is aimed at getting pledges from 15,000 city residents to migrate to tap water from bottled water. They have installed a “water bar” at City Hall, chosen 60 community leaders as “ambassadors” for city water, and are in the midst of a large publicity campaign.

Their goal is to decrease usage of water bottles.Their research showed that the messaging was not around reducing waste; the messaging also needed to be around trust of their own water system.

Remember, Philadelphia is a historic and industrial city, in the mode of Flint, MI,  where residents had good reason to distrust their water system. While Philadelphians did not have a similar calamity (in Flint, it is estimated 100,000 residents were affected), the research of Perfecto Sanchez’s Journey One (a human resources social engagement impact company) ( found that residents opted for bottled water because they had a vague feeling that it was cleaner than city water. (Photo, left; the author heard Perfecto speak at the Green Sports Summit in Philadephia).

So their campaign is all around the trustworthiness of city water.

Here in Frederick County’s schools, the research has been done as a result of Maryland HB270 passed in 2017, which required testing of all school water systems. Facilities Director Laura Olsen says that stands true for all 931 of the water fountains in the county’s schools. The number of these is set by building and health codes in place at the time of construction; typically, she says,  it is at least one in every major corridor and also large gathering areas such as gym and cafeteria.

FCPS is not waging a war on single-use water bottles, though the number of water fountains has increased in the past few years giving students more access to non-bottled water. Its a school-by-school policy as to use of water bottles, and some schools, like Oakdale High School, which placed bottle filling water fountains like this one in their hallways, have gone to great lengths to make water-bottle fillers available to their students and staff.

You know, it really hasn’t been that long in the history of mankind that the plastic water bottle became ubiquitous–just three decades, in reality. Perrier first began marketing bottled water in 1977. Let’s hope the campaign to turn away from single-service plastic water bottles goes faster.

How Many Paper Towels Does It Take?

Does anybody remember the animated Tootsie Pop commercial?  “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

Strangely, I thought about that commercial the other day while in a public restroom.  I know, how odd!

Anyway, what made me think about this was, “How many paper towels does it take to dry your hands after washing them?” One, or two, or even three?

As I try to use less and less in my daily life, I am watching other people.  They make me think, how can we do better by our environment?  I see people quickly grab two or three paper towels give a few swipes on their hands and throw the half dry paper towels in the trash and walk away.  Do they give a thought as to what went into making those paper towels?  The raw resources and manufacturing energy needed?  Then there is the resources and energy that goes into disposing of the now little used paper towel.

No, they don’t.  It is just something to use for their convenience.  It has always been there.  So why give it any thought?

Well my conservationist brain has thought about it.  Just like avoiding plastic water bottles, straws, and plastic bags, we should avoid unconscious use of more paper towels in public restrooms than we really need.  I can dry my hands in one paper towel.

Just in case any of you don’t remember or are too young to know how many licks it does take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, Mr. Owl stated three before he bit into it.

Leann lives and works in Frederick and is passionate about cleaning the earth and sustainable energy.

The Coffee Makers Funeral

The other day I heard a man brag about giving a worn-out coffee maker a ‘Viking funeral’.  For those who are not familiar with the Vikings, they would set their dead on a boat and light them on fire.  Then they would sail off to Viking heaven. Back then, of course, everything was biodegradable.

The man bragging about this is in his mid-thirties.  He has grown up spending the majority of his leisure time at the beach fishing and boating.  But like so many people, he only

sees the surface of things.  He doesn’t think about or maybe doesn’t want to think about what lies beneath, to see the consequences of his actions.

In this case, what he sees is a creative way to dispose of a no longer working coffee maker and a cool story to tell his friends.  But if he looked a little deeper, he would see the harm that he is doing by adding to the overwhelming collection of trash that already litters the sea floor.  He would see the marine life that will eventually eat the microplastics that is the future of this coffee maker, but he doesn’t. He was raised in a culture that is told to ‘get the most out of life’ and ‘do what makes you happy’.  “Enjoy the ride and do not think about anyone or anything else.”

Does he understand or even care that someday the ocean that he takes such joy in will no longer have fish in it or be so dirty you cannot swim safely in it? Or how about the food shortage that the lack of fish will cause?  Of course, one coffee maker will not produce these side effects.  It is the countless people not looking deeper to see the future consequence of their actions and not taking responsibility for them.

After all, he recycles.  He has solar panels. Which he brags about how he can fool the system in to giving him more credits from his utility company.  But that is another story. He is doing his part to help the environment, isn’t he? Is he?

This man just had his first child.  A little girl, with beautiful big eyes.  I wonder if he thinks about what type of world he is leaving her.

Do you think about the type world you are leaving your children?  I do. All the time.

Leann lives and works in Frederick and is passionate about cleaning the earth and sustainable energy.

The Grocery Story: Our Food and Co-ops in the age of Big Grocery Retail

The Grocery Story: Our Food and Co-ops in the age of Big Grocery Retail

grocery storyI walked in the C. Burr Artz Library expecting a large crowd gathered in the community room. There were a couple of tables set up, chairs lined in their rows, and an elderly crowd making
chit chat as we were waiting for Jon Steinham to begin his discussion on his new book: AGrocery Story. Once we all gathered at our seats, the lights dimmed and Steinham took his
place behind the podium.

The talk began with Steinham thanking his sponsors and the various co-ops he visited along his trip from Canada to most of the East Coast. Before starting his book tour through North America, Steinham worked in radio and television as a journalist and was a former elected director of Kootenay Co-Op from 2006 to 2016.

Jon Steinman

The important question that comes into play is, how and where do we get our food? It’s not something we really think about in our day-to-day lives, but Steinham took this question into a much deeper thought. Today, we have left our food in the hands of corporate giants such as Wal-mart, that shape price perception on food prices, our environment, health, and local economy.

Why have we left this enormous responsibility to the private sector? With only a handful of corporations running the grocery store market, collusion and fixed pricing can occur along with monopolies leaving local grocery stores little room to fend for themselves. This issue was first seen in the early 1900s, but there were efforts to combat this with legislation and people actively shopping at independent retailers. Once we hit the 1980s during the Reagan Administration, one can see the drastic and rapid increase of corporate grocery stores due to lax regulations in trade.

This is where the co-op comes into play! While looking into alternative grocery stores, Steinham not only discussed co-ops, he brought up stores such as MOMs and Whole Foods. Unfortunately, natural grocery stores are not free from the hands of corporate money; Amazon recently purchased Whole Foods.

As organic and local food started becoming more popular among our growing and environmentally aware population, you can now walk into any store and see aisles of these foods. “Local” was no longer local as they were once advertised. Grocery stores could label something as local, but actually produced 200 or more miles away. The value and meaning of local and organic was slowly diminishing.

Co-ops generally adhere to an upstanding value of good, healthy, and local food/ wellness products. When Jon Steinham was working at Kootenay, the board of directors coinedthe term, “TRUE local” foods meaning that those were produced 0-150 miles away. Not only do co-ops support local farmers, they stimulate the local economy. With the head office located in your town/city, big decisions are made by people who live in the community, not by a headquarters located out of state. This cotnributes to economic development when co-ops use local legal services, construction companies, etc. to keep business running. In my opinion, co-ops follow the public sector model in a way. Not only are they run by community members (and not by a major corporation), they act as community centers for wellness classes and workshops.

Also a fun fact, co-ops are three times more likely to give back to the community by donations and investing in the economy, Steinman said.. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Vanessa at the Common Market, which sponsored Steinman’s talk.

When I attended college at the University of Maryland, I lived in a co-op called CHUM (Co-Op Housing of the University of Maryland) so I am very familiar with how co-ops generally run.

I love the idea of grocery store co-ops, but the issue that still boggles my mind is: How can we
make this food affordable for EVERYONE to purchase? A member of the audience asked Steinham this question and he admitted that it is a tough issue to address. You are paying a higher price to support your local farmer and have that food readily organic, but that doesn’t appeal to every person. There are some co-ops that offer discounts if you are at the lower end of the income scale, but aside from that, prices are going to be a little higher. I hope that one day we can address this issue as it would be amazing if one day everyone could buy from a co-op and stop supporting these corporate giants.

Author: Vanessa Moreno, urban planning and sustainability enthusiast while always trying tofind the best place to support my local grocery store. This is her first blog post!