Sunday, October 22, 2017 Elyria 50°


Environmental rock stars: Meet 10 Lorain Countians who've gone green


Motivated by lowering their electricity bills, beautifying their neighborhoods or creating access to locally grown foods, many Lorain County residents have become environmental rock stars. In honor of Earth Day’s 40th anniversary Thursday, we’re sharing stories from local people making big differences to benefit the entire planet. Here’s our nod to 10 environmental enthusiasts who are doing their part to make our county a self-sustaining, progressive shade of green.

The locavore

  • WHO: Sandy Kish Jordan, interim executive director of New Agrarian Center in Oberlin, which aims to create local food systems, especially in the food deserts of urban areas that lack grocery stores. The center’s George Jones Farm offers a 22-week community supported agriculture program where participants can buy weekly shares of organically grown produce.
  • EARTHLY WAYS: Civic-minded and passionate about eating locally grown foods, Kish Jordan created the Vermilion Local Market three summers ago. At the market, local growers and vendors sell their homemade and homegrown items to the public on Saturday afternoons, beginning in mid-July. She has been a member of the CSA with George Jones Farm since the program started two years ago. Last year, she volunteered to organize the program. For the next 12 months, she’ll lead the New Agrarian Center, looking to expand innovative food and growing systems in the area.
  • ON HELPING THE ENVIRONMENT: “It’s really important to me that my family eats wholesome foods as much as possible,” Kish Jordan said. “We also did our CSA membership as a participating membership so we would work the day of the harvest. So you get to see literally where your food comes from. You are getting food that is fresh and with life in it.”

The planter

  • WHO: Dana Corogin, a coordinator with Vermilion Bloom. The organization’s more than 200 volunteers plant beautiful gardens and hanging baskets around town. Corogin also works part time for the Vermilion Parks Department.
  • EARTHLY WAYS: Beyond the the dozens of colorful flower boxes and hanging baskets she helps plant around the tourist town, Corogin is interested in urban reforestation. She is part of a group working to create a collaborative tree commission in the city and has been involved in a tree-planting initiative that aims to plant native trees — black willow, sweet gum, locust, tulip, pear, maple, oak — in shade-deficient areas around town such as the community tennis courts and walking trails at Sherod Park.
  • PLANTING THE SEED: “My passion started with wanting our city to look better,” Corogin said. “For me, it was about creating some community pride, making our city more attractive to invite tourism, and also I thought, what better way to help the environment at the same time? People can plant trees in their own yards and that can help the environment more than anything because trees create oxygen, cool more than air conditioning, cut down on crime and absorb water.”

The worm guy

  • WHO: Maurice Small with City Fresh Lorain County. He’s been known as the “worm guy” since he started composting with worms 25 years ago.
  • UNEARTHING THE KEY: Small, of Elyria, learned that the key to a successful garden was in the soil. That led him to research red wigglers — a composter’s best friends and the workhorses of the garden. These little worms devour food scraps to produce rich compost. With a layered mixture of grass clippings, food scraps, newspapers and leaves, Small nourishes his urban gardens all around the region.
  • WIGGLE ROOM: “Composting takes food scraps out of the waste stream of businesses, hospitals and your home, but vermicomposting (with worms) can do it much faster. If I took a pound of compost, you would see the pound disappear in about three weeks with worms. But it would take about two months with a compost bin, and you would have to turn the compost around to get more air, whereas the worms in the vermicomposting bins take care of it,” said Small, who oversees the pickup and distribution of 2,000 pounds of compostable material a week. “I am constantly — wherever I am going — taking compost out of Cleveland or Lorain County and putting it somewhere else.”

The bicyclist

  • WHO: Gray Horwitz, community co-organizer of 4,000 More Bikes in Oberlin. The organization encourages community members to sign a pledge to bike more and drive their cars less. He also is a senior at Oberlin College, majoring in physics. He recently finished his term as president of the Oberlin Bike Co-Op, a cooperatively run bicycle repair, rental and education center.
  • TWO WHEELS AGAIN: Horwitz swore off biking after a serious accident when he was 14. But at Oberlin College, he rekindled his appreciation of getting around on two wheels. He found the bike culture and community on campus small but inviting, and he got back into riding mostly through working on bicycles. “I started to appreciate them more on a basic level as a very simple mode of transportation that uses only your energy,” he said.
  • A POSITIVE SPIN: “After I graduate, I am staying in Oberlin to continue to work with bikes in different capacities,” Horwitz said. “I have been applying for grants to get money to create a bicycle bus. So I’d take a school bus and run it on biodiesel and put a bike shop in the back of it and travel around fixing bikes for students and kids who don’t really have access to bike shops. And that will work in tandem with 4,000 More Bikes.”

The solar supporters

  • WHO: Robert and Ellen Bair, of Vermilion. The couple built their dream home on Lake Erie in 2008. They were committed to make their two-story, 2,500-square-foot structure as energy-efficient as possible.
  • WHAT AN ARRAY: The result was a stunning, super-insulated and all-electric home with one of the largest residential solar installations in Ohio. The Bairs hope to generate as much electricity as they use by harnessing the sun’s rays.
  • A SHINING EXAMPLE: “We wanted to minimize the amount of electricity that we had to purchase, and that sort of works here in Northern Ohio. It works very nicely in the summer, and in January it kind of stinks,” said Robert Bair, who will be 65 in a week. “The solar panels make zero electricity when they are covered in snow. We send or sell electricity back into the grid, so the idea is to sell enough electricity in the summer that it kind of offsets in the winter. We didn’t do that last winter, but on really good days, I will sell more electricity than I use. In the first 10 days of April, we generated 86 percent of the electricity we used in the house.”

The rain man

  • WHO: Jerry Gubeno, of Elyria. The retired elementary school principal is embracing more and more green practices. He has recently combined his love of gardening with water conservation.
  • ONE BARREL LEADS TO TWO BARRELS: Last summer, Gubeno participated in a rain barrel seminar with the Erie County Soil & Water Conservation District in Sandusky. At the end of the day, he left with a

    55-gallon barrel, which previously held olives from Italy. It had all the parts he needed to hook it up to his downspout and start collecting rainwater. Gubeno was hooked. He quickly enrolled in another seminar to make an additional barrel. His two-barrel system, set up behind his house, can harvest up to 110 gallons of rainwater that would otherwise run off his property and into the sewers and streams.

  • FILL IT UP: “If you have a 500-square-foot roof, for 1 inch of rain you get 280 gallons,” Gubeno said. “You are really getting a lot of water. Having the rain barrels saves on my water bills, it’s cost-effective, and it’s kind of unique and novel.”

The future of alternative energy

  • WHO: Josh Labonte, 25, of Elyria, will be the first graduate of Lorain County Community College’s Alternative Energy Technology Degree — Wind Turbine. The associate’s degree program trains students to become installation and maintenance professionals. He graduates May 27 and has accepted a job in Cleveland where he will repair industrial-scale wind turbines.
  • CHANGE IN DIRECTION: Originally in the First Energy program to become a lineman for the utility company, Labonte said he walked away from the guaranteed job with a great starting pay to be on the other end of the energy spectrum. “The more I actually do hands-on with alternative energy … the more meaning it has for me, the more I feel I have a purpose,” Labonte said. “Overall, my professional goal is to do my part in helping wind turbine off its feet.”
  • COOL BREEZE: “Wind is the future, it’s not about if it’s going to take off, I think it’s just when. We’re all hoping it’s sooner than later,” Labonte said.

The advocate for local

  • WHO: Brad Masi, founder of the New Agrarian Center in Oberlin. Masi served as executive director for the past 10 years before stepping down to become a freelance consultant. He is an avid gardener, CSA participant and frequent buyer of local goods.
  • RECYCLING MONEY: To Masi, 39, of Oberlin, buying local is a way of using your dollars to help support businesses in your community. For one, it’s more sustainable to buy goods that are produced locally because less fuel is used to transport them. Plus, those dollars multiply when they are invested locally, as they support local jobs for people who are then are able to spend in the community.
  • A BIG WIN: “You are helping farmers stay on their land, keeping those dollars local and reducing the amount of carbon that’s going in the atmosphere by keeping those linkages local,” Masi said.

The recycler

  • WHO: Kristen Davis, of Sheffield, who started recycling last summer.
  • HER INSPIRATION: In June 2009, Sheffield, along with a few other Lorain County communities, joined RecycleBank, a rewards program that offers households incentives to recycle. Each household received a 68-gallon wheeled recycling cart with an ID tag that matches to an account number. The more a household recycles, the more points they earn. Those points can be redeemed for gift certificates, groceries and various products. Davis said she is thrilled with her redemptions so far: two restaurant gift certificates for Champps.
  • ON HELPING THE ENVIRONMENT: “It is amazing to me how much I can recycle — and I used to throw it all away,” said Davis, who is the public relations specialist for EMH. “It’s as easy as throwing away trash. Now not only am I being environmentally friendly, I am earning rewards.”

The sustainable businessman

  • WHO: Brian Sooy, president of Sooy & Co., an Elyria-based brand development and design firm.

    HIS INSPIRATION: Sooy embraced the sustainable business practices that accompanied his company’s move into the Silver LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Entrepreneurship Innovation Center in the Great Lakes Technology Park at Lorain County Community College.

  • HOW HE GOES GREEN: Sooy, who on nice days rides his Vespa scooter on his six-mile commute to work, is mindful of the type of paper and printing methods his small firm of three chooses for its clients’ marketing collateral. He partners with IT providers who are powered 100 percent by renewable energies, recycles outmoded hardware and invests in Energy Star equipment.
  • ON HELPING THE ENVIRONMENT: “There’s that ripple effect. I have carefully considered who we are working with and what their practices are as well,” Sooy said. “No matter how small you are, you are able to make wise decisions about sustainable practices. If every small business did that — that’s when it adds up.”

Contact Chrissy Kadleck at 329-7155 or

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