Sustainable Living in the Lehigh Valley

By Maya Rodale

The “green” movement has its roots firmly planted in the Lehigh Valley. In 1940, J.I. Rodale (my great-grandfather) purchased an old farm in Allentown. This plot of land on Cedar Crest Boulevard was where he tried out his organic farming ideas—and from where he subsequently launched the organic farming movement in America. Since then, life in the Lehigh Valley has been getting greener and greener.

What does green have to do with organic? And for that matter, what about local and sustainable? Green, sustainable and even local are about living in a way that is good for the planet—and good for us. Going and growing organic is the best way to do that.

Organic food is grown without synthetic chemicals or pesticides, sewerage sludge, irradiation or genetically modified seeds. Organic is, instead, a system that mimics nature and relies more on biology, harnessing rather than battling the natural world to create healthy food and a healthy environment. Organic farming can produce just as much food as chemical farming but actually results in cleaner water and improved soil quality so we can farm well now and feed future generations.

While you may not be a farmer, everyone is an eater. I remember riding for over an hour to get to a supermarket that stocked organic when I was growing up. Now, health food  stores and farm markets are tucked away all over the region.

I grew up going to the Allentown Farmer’s Market, and these days I love to swing by Carl Fisher’s Fairgrounds Poultry Market for organic meat like grass-fed steaks or heritage ham. But there are so many more to choose from  and it’s a great opportunity for folks to support their neighboring farmers. The more you know about your farmer, the more you know about your food.  Area restaurants have also embraced organic foods and feature local farmstead products prominently.

Community gardening is blossoming in the Lehigh Valley, too. SUN*LV is establishing, training and supporting community gardens across the region to bring people together in an effort to improve landscapes, neighborhoods, diets, environments, air quality and more.

Organic isn’t only about food, and sustainable green living encompasses more than just eating. “Walkable” downtowns like Bethlehem and Emmaus mean less driving (and, therefore, less fossil fuels) to get to the things you want and need. And events like First Fridays encourage everyone to support local artisans, shops and businesses. Even your manicure and highlights can be eco-friendly!

You can visit the Rodale Institute to see organic in action through our walking tours, or to sign up for a workshop on organic gardening or farming. Our farm is also home to the Farming Systems Trial, which is America’s longest running side-by-side comparison of chemical and organic agriculture.

Keep an eye on the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Network which is drawing together local businesses, industry leaders and grassroots groups to strategize how we in the Lehigh Valley can make a model of sustainability.

Consider volunteering. It’s free, it’s often an afternoon in the sun, and you’ll make friends and connections. Or, even easier, talk about sustainability with your friends and family. If you’ve found a great source for organic food or local crafts, for example, go shopping and spread the word!

The best thing about going organic, local and sustainable is that we reconnect with our neighbors and communities. It also bolsters our local economy and it feels good. It’s all kinds of green. Where do we go from here? Let’s continue to build on this rich tradition by supporting the organizations working toward a greener Lehigh Valley.

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