Wakeman Town Farm, 134 Cross Highway / Photo by Jarret Liotta

By Theresa Prangley

WESTPORT — How can Westporters help sustain life on planet Earth as threats to the environment grow increasingly dire?

Answers to that question, often complex, can be as simple as focusing on buying local and cutting back on personal waste, according to a Wakeman Town Farm panel discussion examining how individuals can take everyday steps to support sustainability.

The Monday evening program, “Attainable Sustainable: A Moderated Discussion,” featured five experts in various fields of sustainability. A crowd of about 30 people turned out for the farm event, moderated by state Sen. Will Haskell.

“I love sustainability, especially food rescue and want to share this with my daughter and friend,” said attendee Susie Kowalsky. “Less food waste and using resources carefully,” she said, are practices that support the cause. 

“Great topic, so important, a nice community and a nice way to spend an evening.  Water, food, life, it’s our world,“ added Valerie Giglio, another audience member.

The Sundance Film Festival documentary trailer, “No Impact Man,” kicked off the program, highlighting a Manhattan family’s year-long experience of trying to live an environmentally low-impact life.  

Sustainability is “not about depravation, it’s about seeing if it’s possible to have a good life without wasting so much,” Colin Beavan, whose experiment to cut 1,600 pounds of waste a year generated by the average American, is featured in the film. Beavan also lost 20 pounds without going to the gym, among other benefits of the endeavor. 

What can individuals do to support sustainability?  

“If one billion people do just one thing, it’ll make a difference,” said panelist Brad Kerner. His goal of producing less waste began as a New Year’s resolution after watching “A Plastic Ocean” on Netflix.  

“Progress over perfection by buying local,” Kerner said is an effective way to take action. He chronicles his efforts to cut back on plastic waste in his family’s life and related advice on the website, theecodude.com. He also has launched a mission-driven business, EcoEvolution.co, promoting locally sourced, earth-friendly products.    

Westport native Haley Schulman, educational coordinator at Wakeman Town Farm and Fairfield County Food Rescue program associate, told the gathering that 30 percent of food is wasted, which produces methane gas when dumped in landfills. Fairfield County Food Rescue delivers surplus food from 100 restaurants, grocery stores and businesses to people in need of food assistance.  Its farm-to-table initiative for the hungry aims to ensure food equity for those without access.   

What about eating meat? “Is it better to buy sustainable meat from local suppliers or is fish better? I worry about overfishing,” an audience member asked the panelists. 

People “don’t need to be vegan — eat intelligently and as locally as you can and incorporate vegetables,” Schulman advised.

“What are the alternatives to spraying lawns?” another member of the audience asked.

Alice Ely, gardens chair at Wakeman Town Farm and University of Connecticut advanced master gardener, suggested garlic spray as an effective tick repellant. Getting rid of barberry bushes will also reduce ticks.  

Panelist Andrew Colabella added, “possums eat ticks,” noting that a single possum can eat 5,000 ticks in a season. 

For a healthier garden, make your own compost. “Leave the leaves,” said Ely, adding that they make the best compost. Native plants and trees should comprise about 70 percent of a garden, she added.  

Colabella, the youngest Westport RTM member, championed the ban on single-use plastics in town, and also is co-founder of P3 = The Plastic Pollution Project, a community advocacy group funded by Earthplace. “Reduce, reuse and refuse,” he said sums up his approach to cutting back on waste. 

Rounding out the panel was Peter Boyd, a lecturer at the Yale School of the Environment and Yale’s School of Management, as well as founding director of REDD+ through which carbon credits can be purchased to provide economic value for nations that agree to preserve rainforests. 

Addressing how businesses can be a force for good, Boyd said, “Nudge children to avoid working for ‘dirty companies’ and shift your investments.”

“Educating children,” he added, “can change the parents.”