Monarch on swamp milkweed in Eleanor and Jay’s pollinator garden

When Eleanor and Jay moved to Needham in 2001 with their two teenagers, they were surprised.   They were coming from West Lafayette, Indiana (home of Purdue University), where Eleanor in particular, had been part of a very active environmental community and many local projects — the most exciting of which was the conversion of a soybean farm back into native prairie and seeing it become part of a new State Park. Both Eleanor and Jay were looking forward to getting involved in the more liberal East. To their surprise, they found that – at the time – there was little environmental activity in our town. (Happily, this has changed a lot since then.)

Well, Eleanor is not one to sit on her hands, so she transformed part of their lawn into a pollinator-friendly mini-mini prairie with native perennials. She worked with the local League of Women Voters to reduce pesticide use and energized the green committee at First Parish in Needham, but generally, climate change was not on her radar.

Until the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006.   That was a wake-up call, says Eleanor.  Since then, she has felt that there is simply no more time to waste.  Green Needham had just been founded, and Eleanor became a lead organizer of the “10 percent challenge,”  The on-line carbon reduction tool resulted in 900 Needham households and organizations pledging actions to reduce carbon emissions by 7 million pounds annually (!).  Eleanor was also a key member of the group that led First Parish to commit to being a Green Sanctuary.

At home, utility bills were pared down with extra sweaters in winter and minimal air conditioning  in summer. Jay taught college courses about the Green Movement in Germany. The new sense of climate urgency spurred Eleanor and Jay to aggressively look for ways to put solar panels on their east-west roof.  In 2008, they were one of the first homes in Needham to have solar panels.  Those 12 panels covered much of their electric need

When they added a sunroom for light and solar gain, they made sure that it was super-insulated,  made with a reclaimed wood floor, and used non-toxic finishes.  They also added a second solar system as part of Needham’s 2014 Solarize campaign, and now they are producing more electricity than they are using.  What to do with it?  Lease an electric vehicle of course! Yet with all the exciting new technology, Eleanor still finds the most heart-warming sight to be her half-wild garden alive with bees and butterflies.

Babette Wils is a Needham resident and active Green Needham volunteer. Babette is stepping down from a career in international education consulting and stepping into a career as a food forest farmer. This article is adapted from a post on Babette’s BigFoot Gardens blog.

Neighbor spotlights: From the prairie to the East
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