Hi Julie, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved with natural products? I've now spent more than half my life in NYC — and I love the magic and energy of this city. I spent the first half of my life in a small town, though, so I've experienced both kinds of community. I consider myself lucky that I was born into a family that embraced a natural and sustainable lifestyle. I grew up in a small town in NH and spent a lot of time outdoors, swimming, camping, in the forest, in the fields, in the garden. We would pick blueberries off the bushes, press leaves in the fall, try sap out of maple buckets, skate on the pond in the winter. We were (and are) big fans of rummage sales and yard sales and believe that you reuse items like furniture, housewares and clothes that are already in existence. We had chickens, everyone grew food, you picked wildflowers for bouquets — it's a privilege and an advantage to grow up with a "use less" philosophy and an appreciation for nature. When you spend time in the natural world, using and consuming chemicals and processed items seems unnatural and unappealing. But I'm aware that I had the great good fortune of a situation that built an early foundation — that's one reason I like the work I do because I want to help other people learn about the natural options that are out there.
You work for GrowNYC. What does GrowNYC do and what is your role there? GrowNYC is an environmental nonprofit that has been in existence since 1970. It helps New Yorkers access education, opportunity, tools and services via the following efforts: operating Greenmarket farmers markets and other food access projects, building and maintaining community and school gardens, providing hands-on education to young people, providing training and resources to encourage more and better recycling across the city.
GrowNYC is a resource for any New Yorker who wants to create a healthier city, for themselves, for their neighbors, and for the next generation.
Learn It, Grow It, Eat It
New Yorkers can learn about environmental issues — get trained on recycling rules, understand why buying local food is better for the environment — and then take advantage of opportunities GrowNYC provides to take sustainable actions. Shopping at the Greenmarket. Starting a new garden. Dropping food scraps for composting. Actions that improve quality of life and create a better city.
Youth Farmers Market
Some three million residents each year participate in our programs. And we are leveling the playing field. We make sure our programs reach those who need them most: community gardens in the South Bronx, food access programs in Central Brooklyn and East Harlem, hands-on education for children with little or no access to green space at their schools.
I serve as GrowNYC's Assistant Director, which means I get to interact with all our programs, project, staff, funders, board and those we serve. I love my job because it falls in line with my value system — it's less about individual ambition and more about a collective effort to help effect change.
Is there a challenge in being a part of a sustainability project in NYC? There are people who think "urban environment" is an oxymoron but all you have to do is spend a little time in the city to realize just how much of an ecosystem it is: from the changing seasons reflected in the Hudson River (seals in summer, ice floes in winter), to pollinator gardens located deep in densely populated neighborhoods that are home to butterflies, bats and birds, to rooftop beehives to chicken coops which have sprung up in school gardens and my two favorite goats who live at Earth Matters compost site on Governors Island — there is nature everywhere in NYC.
I also hope (and believe) that people want to lead lives that reduce our negative impact on the earth — and on our bodies. My colleagues and I try and encourage people to make just one change and stick to it. It might be drinking more water (versus sugar sweetened drinks), eating more whole grains and vegetables rather than processed foods, swapping out your chemical cleaning products for white vinegar, lemons and baking soda, composting your food scraps, going meat free one day a week — the list goes on. Find a positive change that feels right and go from there. People are usually persuaded as they see benefits right away: food that tastes better, cost savings in many cases, improved health, and maybe most importantly a sense that you are part of something bigger — and part of a solution.
What is your favorite herb and why? Hard to pick just one! I really do love Echinacea, though. It looks so beautiful when it's in bloom and it has a long wonderful history of healing .