Raíces EcoCulture Community Action Team Meeting Notes – April 30, 2017

Raíces EcoCulture Community Action Team
Meeting Notes

Attendees: Nicole Wines, Linda P., Liz T., Chris T., Kira H., Rocio H., Paul A., Paul S., Mark L., Ana P., Adrian P., Karlos B., Susan E., Lowell E., Amanda H.

Everyone introduced themselves and spoke briefly about why they were attending and what other environmental groups and projects they are a part of.

Purpose of group – To identify initiatives and projects that can be taken on a local level to effect change in environment, ecology and sustainability, make a plan for the projects and take action to put them in place.

II. BRAINSTORM SESSION – These were some of the ideas and areas that we identified that could be worked on.

Gardening – School gardens, garden tours, year-found food production (extremely critical issue for us in NJ), crop sharing/exchange, education, canning groups. This is a huge issue and one of the most critical that we spoke about. On a larger, local food production scale this is a large undertaking, but we can all start small, right at home by planting some of our own food this season, whether in a garden or in a container. Adrian pointed out that the school gardens he has helped to plant end up being removed or uncared for through the summer.
ACTION ITEMS: Mark might be able to work with Adrian and other students who are interested in taking care of the school gardens during the summer and will follow up to find out if the High School and Middle School gardens are shared or separate. Nicole can follow up with Irene Chan Marx of the schools’ green team. Anyone who wants to plant is invited to participate in the Raíces Seed Library to grow and save seed with us.

Composting – This is separate from gardening even though it’s related because it is also a waste reduction issue. This is something everyone can do, and many group members already do it, through some expressed concern about whether or not they do it “correctly”. Community compost collection and/or drop off would be ideal. This was of huge interest to most attending meeting, and we decided on creating a composting cooperative as one of our main action items/projects to move forward on.
ACTION ITEM: Next meeting we will begin to create a plan for forming a composting cooperative. In the meantime, members should research worker-owned cooperatives and find examples/models of other community based, cooperatively owned composting solutions in other cities and towns.

Localized bartering group – It was pointed out that there is currently the infrastructure available for a local time bank, but at this point it is not being used. If the group decides to revive and use this time bank in the future, it is already in place for us to use.

Environmental Education in schools – Ana volunteered to act as liaison between group and school board for the remainder of the school year if needed. During school board elections, pressure needs to be put on candidates who are running in order to work for platform items that address sustainability.

Plastic bag reduction – Mark is already working with the Trash Free Waters Partnership of NY/NJ leading the bottles working group. This group might have resources. Sustainable Highland Park is currently awaiting a decision on a grant application for a plastic bag reduction initiative in Highland Park. Our team could join or augment this effort if the project is put into place. Additional research about other cities, states and even countries who have banned plastic in some form (bags, single-use utensils, styrofoam take out containers, etc) needs to be done, including researching ordinances from similarly sized towns.

Political action and pressure – Everyone can write letters, make calls, speak to elected officials, show up for rallies and demonstrations, etc, including the youth members of the group. This is an action step that all group members can take consistently, and without much time or effort being put in, on top of the action items and initiatives we will undertake. This will not be the main focus or activity of the group, just something we can all do on our own time and help each other to figure out how to do for those who aren’t sure. Group members who participated in the meeting represent Highland Park, New Brunswick, Somerset/Franklin and North Plainfield (Middlesex and Somerset Counties).
ACTION ITEM: Someone in the group can create a quick resource list/guide for members that lists the elected officials we should all be putting pressure on and contacting, and the issues we can contact them about. Any volunteers?

Arts – Addressing Ecology and Environment through the arts. Art can reach and educate people who would not otherwise seek information, education and action on environmental issues.

Mill Brook in Highland Park – Surrounded by so much impervious cover that when it rains the water that drains to the brook makes it run so fast that it is devoid of life. Susan suggested a neighborhood campaign to educate surrounding residents about the importance of running their stormwater downspouts to absorb into the ground versus draining it to the street, and/or creating rain barrel systems. Most surrounding residents currently run their downspouts out to the street. It was mentioned that at about four other local groups have been involved in ecological work on Mill Brook and that we may be able to combine forces.
ACTION ITEM: Identify all groups working on Mill Brook recovery and action steps they are taking. Identify gaps/additional work that can be done on this. Create action plan.

Storm Water Management in future planning – Permeable surfaces instead of impervious cover, especially for off-street parking.

Bicycle Parking

Pipelines & Fossil Fuel Resistance

Resource list creation – Examples: Current local and active environmental groups, political action resource list with info on who to contact about what issues, topical educational resource lists.
ACTION ITEM: Liz & Kira will head this up together and will ultimately create a wiki.

We went around the table to declare which items from the brainstorming session we were each most interested in pursuing. Here is the list from the members who were remaining at this point in the meeting. If you were not here for this part, but you want to add yourself to this, please email us and let us know your thoughts.

-Linda – Cooperatives, pipeline issue
-Kira – Resource lists, compost
-Rocio – Arts
-Paul S. – Mill Brook
-Chris – Mill Brook, stormwater management, composting
-Liz – Composting
-Paul A. – Fill in the gaps anywhere, outreach
-Mark – Mill Brook, gardening, composting
-Adrian – Gardening
-Ana – Educational initiatives, liaison between group and HP Board of Ed., composting
-Amanda – Cooperatives, resource list

After reviewing this list, the group decided to work on two main projects, the Mill Brook Initiative and creating a Composting Cooperative. In addition, Kira, Liz and Amanda will work to create resource lists and eventually create a wiki, and Rocio will work with Nicole and Raíces on an EcoArts Initiative. Most of the time at the next meeting will be taken in planning and creating an action plan for the two main projects. In the meantime, we can still dialogue, research, read, plan and start taking steps!

In order to be effective in planning and working between meetings, Raíces will create a google group. Please let Nicole know whether you would like to receive individual messages or digest messages. If you know anyone else who wants to be added, please let Nicole know.

Worker Owned Cooperatives. Here are three links that were shared by Raíces Director Francisco G. Gómez as an introduction to worker-owned cooperatives. Please browse  through these sites and articles before the next meeting and conduct additional research on your own about the formation of cooperatives and about community composting endeavors. This will be a huge undertaking, so if we come prepared with knowledge, information and examples, it will make the beginning of our work go more smoothly. There are many questions and issues to examine in brainstorming and creating an action plan. I will send another email over the new google group by some time next week to address some of these and get you thinking before the next meeting. Here are the three links to read:




Join the Raíces Eco-Culture Facebook group if you are on FB. This can be used as a message board for our working groups, as well as a place to share resources and ideas and ask questions.


River cleanups – Group member Mark Lesko holds clean ups along the river several times each week. Here is a link to his HP Environmental & Ecology Facebook group where he posts announcements about these cleanups as well as additional events and resources. All are encouraged to join this group and join Mark on his clean-ups. If you are not on FB but want to join the cleanups, we will be posting those announced with anticipation on our new google group: 

Raíces EcoCulture Sustainable Living Workshop Series – All are invited. This free series begins next week with an introductory beekeeping workshop at the Environmental Education Center, 20 River Rd., Highland Park. Full schedule for Part One of the series is available in link below. Please share these events with people you know who may be interested in attending as it helps with education in the community. If you have any ideas for future workshops or want to hold one yourself, please let Nicole know, Part Two of the series will begin in late August and is still being scheduled.

Link to full schedule:


Raíces Seed Library – For any gardener in the group who wants to join the Raíces Seed Library and start saving seeds with us, check out the info on the link below. This year, we have 217 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers available for “borrowing”

Sustainable Highland Park – Meetings are open to the public and recently underwent a change in leadership. We would like more public/community participation and we can probably get support and collaboration from SHP. Next meeting is May 24, 7:30-9pm at the Environmental Education Center, 20 River Rd., Highland Park. Website is coming out soon, I will share the link as soon as it’s ready.

OTHER – What other environmental groups is everyone on our team a part of? What groups are working on issues we mentioned and will be working? Which might we be able to link up with to share work and resources?


Date/Time/Location – Sunday, May 21 / 7-9 PM / Pino’s Gift Basket and Wine Shoppe, 13 N. 4th Ave, Highland Park, NJ

Introductions (5 minutes)
Review Last Meeting’s Action Items (5 minutes)
Resource Lists (10 minutes)
EcoArts Update (10 minutes)
Mill Brook Initiative (30 minutes)
Composting Cooperative (35 minutes)
Grant Writing (10 minutes)
Review New Action Items (5 minutes)
Electric Vehicle Initiative (5 minutes)
New Business (5 minutes)