GVI leader: Everyone reaps benefits as 'green' initiatives grow

Dan Levinson, co-founder of Westport Green Village Initiative (GVI), was the featured speaker of Thursday evening's
Dan Levinson, co-founder of Westport Green Village Initiative (GVI), was the featured speaker of Thursday evening's "sunset lecture" at the Sherwood Island Nature Center. He talked about some of GVI's numerous projects, including the Wakeman Town Farm & Sustainability Center.Kirk Lang

There is strength in numbers. That was one of the messages delivered Thursday by Dan Levinson, co-founder of Green Village Initiative (GVI), at the Sherwood Island Nature Center. GVI works to provide funding, staff, support and partnership to individuals and groups committed to environmental and community action in town.

GVI has played a role in, among other things, banning plastic bags in Westport; creating a garden at Staples High School; constructing the Westport Senior Center garden; constructing three Ridgefield school gardens; creating a school garden at Fairfield Ludlowe High School and supporting the Westport Community Garden expansion. Its latest project however, is turning the Wakeman Farm property on Cross Highway into a the Wakeman Town Farm & Sustainability Center. It will be an organic demonstration homestead and farm open to the public.

Levinson said the bigger GVI gets, the more people that become a part of it, the more powerful it becomes.

"The only reason we're doing this is the value if it travels," Levinson said. One GVI member, Karen Sussman, has been the coordinator of a new garden in Bridgeport on Columbia Court near the Marina Village public housing complex.

"For very little effort and money, someone can feed their family and eat healthy," said Sussman, a Fairfield resident. "If you save a family $100, that's a meaningful sum."

The Bridgeport garden, which will be finished next week, is being created for the Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust. Do It Best Lumber, out of Bridgeport, is donating lumber for 26 raised beds. Westport-based Gilbertie's Herb Gardens is donating plants. If there is any financial shortfall, GVI will cover the remaining costs, according to Sussman.

Levinson said he's especially proud of two things GVI has done -- the Wakeman Town Farm & Sustainability Center as well as the general initiative itself.

GVI doesn't operate like an exclusive club. "We want to include everybody," Levinson said.

While GVI plans to support other projects going forward, it has so far focused most of its funds on farming, largely because Levinson and other GVI members want to do their part to lessen the pollution caused by trucks carting vegetables and fruits across the country.

"Moving food is a major contributor of global warming," Levinson said. "Most of that movement is based on oil." Levinson also said food grown industrially also contributes to a less healthy Earth, as many chemicals are used to make the food last longer before it is eventually purchased in grocery stores.

"They're bred to travel," he said, noting that tomatoes commonly sold in supermarkets have a thick skin "instead of being delicious."

Growing locally results not only in a healthier Earth and better-tasting food, said Levinson, but also, "We're trying to create community again."

Levinson said what's great about the local food movement is that it doesn't cost anything.

"If we can get local models working and get more people aware, then maybe we can have a movement at the national level," he said.

Someone in the crowd of 30 or so asked if GVI will, in the future, become an advocacy group at the state level.

"We're not political because you can be right one day and wrong the next day," he said. "We're also a 501-c3 so we can't be too political."

However, Levinson added, "If we can get five towns doing GVI, and talking to each other," the larger initiative would likely have enough clout to block proposed legislation that could have a negative environmental impact.

The movement has begun. Levinson said the town of Ridgefield recently established its own GVI.

For more information about the Westport Green Village Initiative, log onto http://westportgvi.org