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Greensburg GreenTown is a charitable nonprofit organization working in Greensburg, Kansas to rebuild the town following the devastating tornado in May of 2007. The town has made a remarkable comeback, reinventing itself as a model for sustainable building and green living now recognized around the world. GreenTown works to make green building and living easily understood, appealing and accessible to all.

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GreenTown to Present in Moore at REBUILD Expo

Greensburg GreenTown and GreenTown Joplin were asked by the City of Oklahoma City Office of Sustainability to help with the REBUILD Expo on Saturday, August 3 in Moore. We've assisted with putting together the agenda and offering suggestions for the event, which is free and open to the public. If you know folks in Oklahoma who might benefit from the Expo, please share the program info with them.   

A delegation of four from Joplin will staff an informational table and will make presentations: Willy Crane, a green building expert and home energy rater; Frank Schaffer, a builder whose family lost their home in the Joplin tornado and who has rebuilt a house that is a durable model of energy efficiency; Andrew Whitehead, Chair of GreenTown's advisory group; and Catherine Hart, General Manager of GreenTown Joplin and Co-Founder of Greensburg GreenTown.

Expo organizers have assembled two dozen exhibitors who will be on hand with free informational materials for homeowners. (The expo is educational in nature rather than being a commercial venue.) In addition, there will be consultants on hand (architects, green building consultants, energy efficiency experts, etc.)  to meet with folks one-on-one to answer questions about their individual rebuilding needs. GreenTown is also preparing new handouts on the topics of: How to Find a Green Builder, Low- and No-Cost Sustainable Building Strategies, and Incentives.

The Expo will run from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Presentations will get underway at 11 a.m. and will include information about improving a home's durability and energy efficiency, water quality concerns, how to select a  homebuilder and an architect, insurance issues, personal stories of recovery from Greensburg, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri, and other pertinent topics. The agenda lists speakers and their time slots.  

Program content has been to tailored assist people who are rebuilding in areas affected by the May storms, but the Expo is open to anyone who is considering building a home and wants to learn how to do so with energy efficiency and durability in mind.    

GreenTown looks forward to doing whatever we can to assist with the recovery of the good folks of Moore, Oklahoma City, and the other Oklahoma communities affected by tornadoes last spring.  


Saturday, August 3 - Expo - 9:00 am-3:30 pm - Presentations - 11:00-3:30 pm

Westmoore High School, 12613 S Western Avenue, Oklahoma City, OK

City of Oklahoma City Office of Sustainability
Jennifer Gooden, Director, (405) 297-3686
T.O. Bowman, Program Coordinator, (405) 297-3168

Greensburg GreenTown
Daniel Wallach, Executive Director, (620) 388-5558
Catherine Hart, General Manager GreenTown Joplin, (620) 549-3752


Transitions - From the Personal to the Global

Editor's note: This is Sydney Menees' last column for Greensburg GreenTown in her role as AmeriCorps fellow. Today she heads out on vacation before starting law school in the fall at Georgetown University. Her talents have been a great asset to the organization this past year and we are deeply grateful to Sydney for her time in Greensburg. She has been instrumental in making many projects a success, and has helped countless visitors learn about the community and its big vision - in person, on Facebook and Twitter, and here on the website. As we told her, she joins the other illustrious alumnae in our AmeriCorps "Hall of Fame".

Sydney recently studied the inspirational book, Cradle to Cradle, which has had a big impact on her way of thinking. We hope you enjoy her analysis of the book's message and its implication for the future of the Earth.

Daniel Wallach, Sydney Menees, Ruth Ann Wedel & Jason Culbertson smile for the camera during Sydney's last week in Greensburg

Transitioning Away From Sustainability by Sydney Menees

Since I started working at GreenTown in August of 2012, I have been happily surprised by the amount of sustainable products and practices available today. There are so many innovative green building products on the market and renewable energies are getting better all the time. But thinking of the actual definition of sustainable (“capable of being sustained”) doesn’t make it sound like an especially appealing lifestyle.  

As I hear politicized rhetoric surrounding sustainability, I gather that a lot of the pushback comes from people disliking feeling guilty.  Some of the dialogue of environmentalism encourages people to cut back: use less gas, produce less waste, have fewer children....  Why should I cut back if my neighbor isn’t?  Previous generations didn’t worry about cutting back; why should we? It’s a natural inclination, but the sustainability of earth depends on us cutting back and restricting ourselves...or does it?

I recently finished reading the book Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The book introduces a new paradigm for sustainability: eco-effectiveness. The idea behind eco-effectiveness  is that environmentalism and capitalism necessarily go hand-in-hand. This harmony is achieved by ditching the current paradigm for sustainability, which is making products, buildings, and emissions less bad.  Eco-effectiveness means making products, buildings, “waste,” emissions, etc. that are actually GOOD for the environment.  To illustrate how creating good waste/byproducts is possible, McDonough and Braungart use the analogy of a cherry tree. By living and growing, the tree purifies the air and its “waste” (blossoms) enriches the soil and provide food for other animals.  Why use chemicals that make us sick when we have the possibility to use materials that are harmless?  Why be less bad when we can be 100% good?  Though the switch to eco-effectiveness will require a restructuring of current practices throughout industry, it is possible and a few companies (the book specifically mentions Ford and Nike) have been reaping the benefits of enhancing the environment.

The ideas presented in Cradle to Cradle make so much sense to me.  It personally relieves me to know the future will not necessarily hinge on humans restricting themselves for their survival. But it will require thoughtful, diligent planning, to which I am excited to contribute.


"Fueled by Mother Nature"

Editor's Note: We at GreenTown were pleased to find the following article online last Friday. Author Kevin Richberg does a great job of capturing Greensburg's post-tornado vision and inspiring folks to come visit.

GREENsburg: A Town Reborn by Kevin Richberg - for the Huffington Post

Mother Nature is unquestionably one of travel and tourism's biggest draws. The power produced by the distribution of energy around the Earth causes travelers to venture thousands of miles to witness her wonders, bask in her comfort, and escape her harsh realities. Majestic waterfalls, stunning auroras, pristine beaches, swarming animals, devastating blizzards, or gigantic superstorms, they're all under the influence of her churning energies. Mother Nature is one of our closest companions and occasionally the worst of our enemies.

On May 4th, 2007 an enormous area of low barometric pressure stalled out over the midwestern Great Plains states abutting against an area of high moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting meteorological supercells spawned 123 separate tornadoes in just 56 hours. One in particular, an EF5 tornado 1.7 miles in width, annihilated the small Kansas town of Greensburg leaving a mere 5 percent of structures intact and taking 11 lives.

It only took Mother Nature a few minutes to utterly destroy what over a thousand residents spent lifetimes building and nurturing, and it would take years for those individuals to rebuild their lives, homes, and businesses. But this was not a routine rebuilding effort, quite the contrary. It would become one of the most radical transformations any city had ever attempted.

The citizens of Greensburg came together, deciding that their rebuilding efforts would focus on harnessing the same power Mother Nature used to destroy their town, this time, to ensure its survival. They set out with a motto; "Stronger, Better, Greener!" Their town was to be a model of energy efficiency, sustainable living, and ingenuity based on the natural energies of the Kansas plains.

Their plans weren't brought about by government mandate or corporate greed; they were the organic efforts of townspeople who saw a future based in renewable energies. Mother Nature would be an integral partner in their second chance.

Greensburg had been founded in the 1880s based partially on an enormous hole in the ground. The Big Well, as it's still known, was dug without the aid of machines (the world's largest hand dug well at a depth of 109 feet) in order to secure water for the advancing railroad lines penetrating into the west. Almost immediately after its decommission the Big Well was opened as a historical attraction in 1937, and by the time the May 4th tornado reached it, the well was a national landmark. Being completely underground it was the one thing in Greensburg the tornado could not touch!

Tourists had been traveling to see the Big Well for decades before the tornado; it was Greensburg's major claim to fame. But during the "Green" rebirth of Greensburg the residents decided to widen their vision of what could attract tourism to their small piece of flat Kansas. Putting all their efforts into creating the "Greenest" town in America (in name and in function) would give them a unique perspective to share with their visitors. Their story would become a tourist draw in and of itself, the ability to illustrate the power of Mother Nature to destroy, the ingenuity of the American spirit to adapt, and the resulting model for a sustainable future to be exported -- all fueled by Mother Nature.

Today Greensburg has more LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified structures per capita than any town in the world, and a visit to Greensburg is now far more than just a Big Well (which is an amazing structure in its own right). The public face of Greensburg's transformation is GreenTown, an organization helping to export the ideas that utterly transformed a community to the rest of the world. And since seeing is believing, they encourage each and every visitor to walk the GreenTour, a map and booklet of where all of Greensburg's innovations are located and descriptions of how they work.

With Mother Nature back in a warm embrace with the people of Greensburg, she would now be able to work her magic to draw in visitors and travelers from around the world. Greensburg shows us a glimpse of what's possible for a future more in tune with the earth's ability to provide for us, and more responsible to upcoming generations.

Visit Greensburg and see how it was done!

From Kevin's bio on the Huffington Post: Kevin is a freelance travel writer who recently transitioned from a career in molecular marine biology to pursuing his passion of “project” oriented world travel. Recent projects have included a 30 day, 12,500 km road trip through India and going on 30 dates in 30 days in 30 American cities. His travels have taken him to 89 countries on six continents and even included two trips to the bottom of the abyssal ocean. His current ongoing travel project involves visiting 30 places around the world having been invited by everyday locals who mail him postcards (www.30postcards.com).


The Inspirational Recovery of West Liberty, Kentucky

Former President Bill Clinton Visits with Morgan County, KY Judge Tim Conley

Readers may remember our story last year about the recovery plans undertaken by West Liberty, Kentucky after the community experienced a deadly tornado in March of 2012. Their leaders drew inspiration from Greensburg's re-identification as a model green community, and invited GreenTown's Daniel Wallach to town last August for two days of meetings with public officials and residents. After his visit, civic leaders have taken the ball and run with it, and their progress is nothing short of amazing.

In January, they issued a report, Rebuilding West Liberty, Kentucky, which lays out thirteen locally-inspired strategies that would make the town a a model not only for other disaster-ravaged communities, but also for all of rural America. Strategies include building the community back with eco-tourism in mind, celebrating its Appalachian history; affordable, energy efficient housing to replace homes destroyed in the tornado; a geothermal loop for the downtown area; green walking corridors and public spaces; compressed natural gas transportation and much more. They are actively seeking partners to aid in funding these visions via an online Rebuilding West Liberty initiative.

Representatives from West Liberty recently returned from Chicago, where they were invited to address the annual meeting of Clinton Global Initiative, June 13-14. Making the case for a sustainable recovery plan, Judge Tim Conley told members of the CGI America Residential Energy Efficiency Working Group that affordable and energy efficient housing is a key to helping break the cycle of poverty.

“Even before the devastating tornado fifteen months ago, many of our citizens could not afford to pay their utility bills. With this project we can demonstrate to all of rural America the extraordinary economic value of sustainability and energy efficiency,” Conley said.

Judge Conley provided insight on one of Rebuilding West Liberty’s most urgent stakeholder-inspired strategies and most critical needs: rebuilding roughly half of the 300 residential homes that were lost to the storm. To meet this dire need, Rebuilding West Liberty has committed to the construction and development of 150 affordable, highly energy-efficient factory-built and site-built homes. The three year project includes a $27 million investment of equity, grants, debt and operating grants to complete the project in West Liberty and scale innovations piloted for other disaster response efforts and affordable housing projects for factory-built homes across the nation.

The West Liberty folks are already paying it forward to other communities through their visionary work, even as they are knee-deep in the rebuilding process themselves. You are encouraged to read the press release issued by West Liberty about their presentation in Chicago. We'll keep you posted on their progress. Think about a visit to this beautiful little town with its giant aspirations.


The Surrounding Summer Smorgasbord

Greensburg is surrounded by farmland, but most locally grown crops aren’t directly available for purchase by locals. In order to take advantage of regional specialties, you have to do a bit of “digging.”

One way to sink your teeth into local produce is by joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). When starting a CSA, a farmer determines the number of shares of her produce she wants to sell. A share typically consists of a box of vegetables and is sometimes supplemented with other produce or foods.  We are lucky enough to have a CSA in Kiowa County run by Kathleen and Joe Blair of Haviland, Kansas. This year they are growing an impressive variety of produce including strawberries, spinach, lettuce, green onions, onions, potatoes, peas, Swiss chard, zucchini, yellow summer squash, pattypan squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, tomatoes (many varieties), peppers (hot and bell), cucumbers, corn, green beans, radishes, carrots, turnips, beets, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins, and gourds. Because these plants receive personalized care and are raised in their natural growing season, they are flavorful and nutritious in a way mass-produced food isn’t.

Last week’s spread: lettuce, strawberries, and spinach.

As a member of their CSA, you get a share of seasonal produce every week for 21 weeks from the first week in June until the last week in October. In order to join, contact Kathleen at kb82565@gmail.com. Kathleen normally likes to know who is interested by the beginning of April so she knows how much to plant, but it might be possible to join now.  A full share is $300 plus tax, but shareholders can pair up and split the cost if they are both interested in half shares. Shareholders aren’t expected to help with the harvesting, but one can help if one is interested.

Another option to enjoy fresh, locally grown produce is to participate in a Community Garden. This is a plot of land gardened by a collective group of people. Community Gardens are becoming especially desirable in cities where residents can establish a connection with the land, have access to fresh food, and develop community. This is GreenTown’s second year of having a garden in the backyard of our Silo Eco-Home. We are growing strawberries, squash, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and a few flowers. We are very thankful to our volunteers who help us keep our garden watered in the unforgiving south-central Kansas summer! When our fruits and veggies are ready to pick, everyone is welcome to our produce free of charge; however, our volunteers will have first choice. People interested in volunteering should contact GreenTown at (620) 723-2790. Here’s to a bountiful harvest!

GreenTown’s garden is ripening up.


Green Town U.S.A coming soon to stores and on ebook

Green Town U.S.A. is a story of hope and opportunity—even in the face of obstacles and difficulties—and provides a real-world proving ground for sustainable solutions. Green Town U.S.A. takes you through the entire reconstruction process, from Long-Term Community Recovery planning for Greensburg, to the latest advancements in green materials and technology, to the leadership and teambuilding necessary to realize an achievement of this magnitude. 

"There was never a town with a truer name, though it didn't really discover it till tragedy created an opportunity that residents seized with head and heart!" 

- Bill McKibben, author Oil and Honey:The Education of an Unlikely Activist

"From the rubble of a tornado, a Kansas town becomes a model for environmentally friendly living"

USA Today



Reaching Out to Moore, OK

In the wake of the horrific tornado in Moore yesterday, Greensburg GreenTown and GreenTown Joplin staff have met to determine how we can be of service to the community there. We've been contacted by a couple of entities from Oklahoma seeking assistance with recovery planning. As the residents of both Greensburg and Joplin have experienced, it's difficult to know where to start when recovering from a disaster. Our Sustainable Disaster Recovery Handbook is a work-in-progress, but we are sharing completed sections with folks in Oklahoma and aim to have additional information ready for them soon. Resources related to debris removal, temporary housing, and insurance are being shared, along with our thoughts and prayers. If you have helpful information on disaster recovery for the citizens of Moore, please e-mail sydney (at) greensburggreentown.org or call us at (620) 723-2790.

Moore, OK after yesterday's tornado.


Drury U. Students Wow the Crowd with Their Eco-Home Design for Joplin

photo credit: Sydney Menees

If you've been following GreenTown Joplin's projects, you know that third-year architecture students from Drury University have been hard at work all semester designing a project for the Chain of Eco-Homes. Under the tutelage of professors Traci Sooter and Nancy Chikaraishi, they have painstakingly researched every aspect that goes into the Monarch Eco-Home - and last night they unveiled the results of their labors to a standing-room-only crowd at The Hive Business Center in downtown Joplin. The eager audience included not only GreenTown's sustainability advisors, but also several folks from the City of Joplin, most of our current partners on the project, the director of Drury's architecture program, builders, local leaders, a group of FEMA Corps members, and interested citizens. 

Our hats are off to this international group of Drury students for their remarkable dedication, skill and enthusiasm: Beatriz Juan Miranzo, Cesar Valdez Jimenez, Paul Clements, Jamie Lu, John Pennekamp, Joshua Warren, Juan Calderon, Rich Conyers, Tiara Hughes, and Zehua Jia.

The home is designed for net zero energy usage, which means that it will produce at least as much energy as it uses. It will achieve this through a myriad of technologies and design features, including a south-facing bank of windows, with a roof angle that will maximize heating from the sun in the winter and reduce the need for cooling by allowing only a minimal amount of direct sun in the summer. A photovoltaic array on the roof will capture sunlight and convert it into energy. And the high-performance concrete wall system, donated by TF Forming Systems along with with Joplin Concrete (part of the Monarch Cement family of companies), will offer not only energy efficiency and noise reduction, but also extreme durability and wind resistance.

With the design unveiled, we move into the fundraising phase of the project, seeking investment partners and sustainable product donors. We look forward to sharing the vision of the demonstration home, a place in Joplin where everyone will be welcomed to learn about all aspects of sustainability - from recycling to repurposing to saving energy through retrofitting to building affordable high performance homes. There will be something for everybody. Plus, a bed and breakfast suite will enable visitors to spend the night and experience green living firsthand.

Reporter Debby Woodin from the Joplin Globe wrote an excellent article about the evening. And television stations KOAM (Joplin) and KY-3 (Springfield) each sent journalists to record the event.

We'll keep you posted here and will upload more images of the home soon. Thank you for your interest in this project!


Earth Week Wrap-Up: Arbor Day & Shopping Local

The following article is by the Association for Sustainability's Development Director, Ama Hapke:

Friday, April 26 marked the 141st annual Arbor Day! To celebrate Arbor Day and Earth Week, Kansas State Extension Agent Barrett Smith collected cedar trees from CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) fields around Kiowa County and donated them to Greensburg GreenTown to distribute to community members. We still have a few trees left! Trees are first come-first serve, and all you have to do get get one of your own is sign up at the Silo Eco-Home: either stop by (402 S. Sycamore Street) or call us (723-2790). Greensburg is experiencing some beautiful spring weather (finally!), so celebrate a late Arbor Day by enjoying a walk, reading a book under a tree, taking class on tree or plant care, or taking a look at the trees currently on your property and plan for the future.
Cedar seedlings available for planting.
Another way GreenTown celebrated Earth Week was by promoting local businesses. There are many reasons to shop locally.  Shopping locally helps to ensure more money will stay in the community and be reinvested there.  For every dollar spent locally, 45 cents is reinvested in the community - compared to only fifteen cents when spent at a corporate chain. Purchasing locally increases the tax base (which contributes to city improvements and community development), creates jobs, and increases overall community well-being.

Shopping locally can also significantly reduce your environmental impact.  Products bought locally often require less packaging and do not have to travel as far.  Local business are also more likely to provide products produced locally; these products have a significantly smaller footprint than products that travel farther distances.  Businesses set up in a centralized downtown or town center help to reduce community sprawl, habitat loss, and pollution. Local businesses also contribute 250% more, on average, to local organizations and community projects than do larger corporate businesses. We would like to thank the local artists and businesses who invested in our community through supporting our events during Earth Week. 

Dillons (Greensburg, KS)

Greensburg State Bank (Greensburg, KS)

Duck Salt (Greensburg, KS)


These donations were prizes for the entrants into the Nuisance Weed Roundup.  We will be determining the winners within the week! Here's a picture from the weigh-in on Saturday. That's right, there are 19 pounds of dandelions on that scale. Way to go Kiowa County Residents! We enjoyed your participation this Earth Week.

19 lbs of dandelions collected during the Nuisance Weed Roundup



GreenTown's Nuisance Weed Roundup!

In honor of Earth Week, GreenTown hosting a Nuisance Weed Roundup to encourage controlling weeds in an ecological way. Our target this year is dandelions. Here is the brief version of how to participate:


  1. Sign up as an individual or team any time between now and April 27th.
  2. Get a biodegradable bag from Greensburg City Hall or GreenTown.
  3. Pull dandelions by the root using a screwdriver-like tool from April 20-27.
  4. Bring your biodegradable bags of weeded dandelions to the Southern Plains Coop on Saturday April 27th at noon for a weigh in.
  5. The three people who collect the most dandelions by weight will all win prizes, including two cash prizes ($50 for first place and $25 for second place).
  6. If you didn't collect enough dandelions to win, everyone can enter to win door prizes!


Stop by the Silo Eco-Home this Saturday April 20th from 9 am - 3 pm to learn more about the Nuisance Weed Roundup! We will be showing Little House on the Prairie, Wall-E, and the Planet Earth series. You can also sign up to get a cedar tree to plant!





Origin: Europe. In Roman times, they were used as a medicinal herb.  Today, people still use dandelion leaves in salads if they are free of chemicals because they are a good source of Vitamins A, C, and K, folic acid, calcium, and iron.  

Crimes: Dandelions grow easily taking over turf, which causes lawns to look less uniform. When they take over fields used for sports, it can make for uneven footing.

How to help: Pick up a bag or bags from the City of Greensburg or GreenTown and help the community reduce the number of weeds in town from April 20-27! In order to remove dandelions, one needs to eliminate the seed head and roots (see picture below).  Pulling out dandelions and using a tool like a screw driver to unearth the taproot is an effective way to remove a dandelion plant.  Tip: It is easiest to pull dandelions when the soil is moist.  Inorganic herbicides are not an ecological way to get rid of dandelions.  Herbicides can be harmful to humans and animals, and when organic methods for removal are available they are preferable and beneficial to our natural environment, especially to our water.  Use of inorganic herbicides also leads to herbicide-resistant plants.

Reward: Bring your collection to the Southern Plains Coop Saturday April 27 at noon.  Those who collect the most dandelions by weight will win prizes (see GreenTown’s Facebook page for details). Community Service hours are also available at 4 hours per bag collected. Participants can compete individually or in teams and can sign up online, by calling (620) 723-2790, or by visiting GreenTown. You can sign up anytime before April 27th. Good luck and thanks for keeping Greensburg green!

You will need:

  • Biodegradable bags provided by the City of Greensburg (at GreenTown or City Hall)
  • Screw driver-like tool
  • Gloves (optional)

A properly pulled dandelion.