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Who We Are

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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Joplin Media Feature 3 Sustainable Building Stories in 4 Days

image credit: walltowalltruckers.com

We are pleased to share with readers the recent flurry of media coverage related to local sustainable building projects and to the resources offered by GreenTown Joplin. Saturday's Joplin Globe featured a story by reporter Debby Woodin, Residents Use Green Building Techniques to Conserve Utilities, which showcases three families who lost their homes in the tornado who have chosen to rebuild very durable, high performance residences.

  • Good Will Builders is constructing a SIPs home with ICF foundation for Hugh and Ramona Shields. It's projected that heating and cooling their living space will run them about a dollar a day. Camdenton-based Alternative Real Estate has designed the home's energy efficient features. The pre-fabricated walls went up in under three hours!
  • Bob and Julie Sheldon are building a beautiful ICF home. Based on the great experience they have had with their detached ICF garage, they expect great things when the energy bills on their new home come due.
  • Frank and Erika Schaffer and their three young children will be living in a very energy efficient home that Frank, a builder, has designed. He owns F.E. Schaffer Construction, which rebuilt over a dozen homes immediately after the tornado; now he is turning his attention to the family home. Frank's dream is to demonstrate to other local builders how simple it is to incorporate energy efficiency features into new construction, and he will use his own home as a living laboratory, documenting every step of the way and offering training on-site.

GreenTown Joplin has provided support and assistance to both the Shields project and to Frank Schaffer, and we are eager to show the public the whole range of what's possible with various building systems. (In addition to the projects featured in the Globe, we helped publicize a local open house being built with ICF from Stitt Energy Systems, based in Rogers, Arkansas. And we've promoted the Convoy of Hope project constructed from the TF Forming System, an innovative concrete-based wall system.)

TF Forming Systems, Stitt Energy, and Alternative Real Estate are GreenTown sponsors, and Will Perkins, owner of Good Will Builders, and Frank Schaffer are part of our local committee.

In Sunday's Joplin Globe, editor Carol Stark characterizes green building and living as "common sense" and "a way of life that makes sense for our future". Carol is a wonderful, passionate writer and we encourage readers to check out her editorial, Green Makes Sense When It's Common Sense.

Monday found Will Perkins, home energy rater Willy Crane, and GreenTown's Catherine Hart on-site at the Shields home for an interview with Melanie Huonker from Joplin TV station KSN. Will described the many energy efficiency features of the home, Willy (our GreenTown committee's energy efficiency guru) demonstrated a blower door test, and Catherine described some of the free services and resources offered by GreenTown Joplin.

Awareness is rapidly growing in Joplin and elsewhere about the many benefits of incorporating energy-saving principles into homes and commercial buildings. If you are building a new structure, retrofitting an existing home, landscaping a yard, or looking to incorporate other sustainable features into your life and want someplace to start with your research, click on the RESOURCES tab at the top of this page.



Paying It Forward, Continued

image credit: William Lemaster

The beautiful Kentucky town of West Liberty was struck by an EF3 tornado in March of this year, taking the lives of 6 people and leaving a mile-wide path of devastation.

A week after the tornado event, Tom Eblen, a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, wrote a piece in the newspaper offering advice gleaned from community leaders from disaster-damaged areas throughout the country, including former Greensburg Mayor John Janssen. Eblen wrote that Greensburg's "experience seemed to offer a good model for West Liberty. Several people in West Liberty thought so, too." Their local leaders studied Greensburg's comeback and arranged for GreenTown's Daniel Wallach to meet with local officials and speak at a public meeting. Daniel spent August 14-15 in this charming Kentucky town (population 3,435) nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.

On August 14, Mr. Eblen accompanied Daniel and his hosts, Bobby Clark and Jason Delambre, as they went from meeting to meeting. (Mr. Clark and Mr. Delambre are consultants from Lexington-based Midwest Clean Energy Enterprise, who are helping with the town's revisioning and reconstruction.) His column, After the tornado, West Liberty explores a "green" recovery, gives a good overview of Greensburg's bold experiment and GreenTown's role in the Green Initiative. In addition to individual meetings with the representatives from the local Chamber of Commerce and elected officials, the evening presentation on August 14 drew 50 interested people from the community.

There are a lot of ideas being considered for West Liberty's comeback, including geothermal and adventure eco-tourism, and there is a great deal of enthusiasm for a bright future. Writes Mr. Eblen: "As horrible as disasters are, they can provide a clean slate for renewal if leaders seize the opportunity. Wallach stressed that the best hope for small towns such as West Liberty is to create authentic, innovative visions for economic development that will generate excitement and investment from locals and outsiders."

The Greensburg community sends its best wishes as the folks in West Liberty recover and re-imagine their town. Greensburg has always been about paying it forward and, in its position 5+ years out from the tornado event, continues to serve as a beacon of inspiration and model of possibility.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/08/19/2304032/tom-eblen-after-the-tornado-west.html#storylink=cpy



The Greenest Greensburg Resident

I began working for Greensburg GreenTown on Friday, August 3rd. Before moving here two weeks ago, I had been to Greensburg twice: once just passing through and the second time in June for my interview with GreenTown. It would seem that I knew what I was getting into when I decided to move here, but there are some intricacies you discover only when you live in a place full-time.

I’m originally from Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City which is about five hours east of Greensburg with a population of just under 200,000. Though I’ve claimed Kansas as my home state, I now feel as though I’ve been misrepresenting myself. Overland Park, despite the fact that it lies within the borders of Kansas, isn’t the heart of the state in the way that Greensburg is. Greensburg has a population of about 800 and it takes no longer than 20 minutes to walk to virtually everywhere in town from my house. True to Greensburg’s legacy, the weather can be extreme. During my second night here the power went out for about an hour and a half as howling winds invaded the town. Though I tried to be brave, I couldn’t help fearing that a repeat of May 4, 2007 was on its way. Thankfully it wasn’t, but tornado awareness is constant; Greensburg tests its tornado sirens four times per day (7 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., and 6 p.m.). Dodge City and Pratt, the two closest good-sized towns, are 45 minutes and 30 minutes away, respectively, and the closest big city, Wichita, is two hours away. The towns are separated by vast expanses of tree-less agriculture. Luckily there is a grocery store in town where you can shop for the necessities; for more exotic ingredients like feta cheese and oregano you need to visit one of the larger towns. Another truism that is unique to towns with a small population is the lack of anonymity. Sometimes people know who I am simply because I’m new, but everyone I’ve met has been friendly and welcoming when I introduce myself.

While the core of this experience ostensibly holds true throughout many small towns in America, Greensburg’s focus on sustainability sets it apart from small towns and major cities alike. Though I obtained my respect for Greensburg’s green endeavor before I moved here, the magnitude of sustainable rebuilding didn’t hit me fully until I started experiencing Greensburg from the inside out. From most locations in town you can see wind turbines taking advantage of the copious wind. Solar panels also adorn many buildings on main street. Easily observable features like the wind turbines and solar panels capture one’s attention at first, but even more incredible are the underlying sustainable features. The more discreet design concepts like rainwater harvesting, which reuses rainwater for irrigation, and reclaimed materials, which preserve resources by reusing old ones, make a big impact on the sustainability of Greensburg. The GreenTour Book has a full list of the sustainable features in Greensburg and has been instrumental to my knowledge of the community. I came to realize that the most remarkable aspect of Greensburg, however, is the people themselves, who made a sustainable community their mission. They didn’t pick the easy way out by choosing either not to rebuild or to rebuild hastily. The town has been carefully planned with the green focus at the forefront, making it a sparkling example in the middle of America. I’m excited to be working for GreenTown and to become a regular contributor to the GreenTown blog. Here’s to a great year!

Here I am in the city, but thinking about Greensburg!


Some Recycling Tips You Might Not Know About

By Stephanie Culp


image credit: witt.com

Hi everyone! I know there is a lot of buzz going around about the environment and what we can do to help it out. . . and whether or not it even needs help at all is a topic that offers a lot of debate on both sides. I’m here to offer my best recycling tips, tricks, and ideas—some of which I’ve learned myself from recycling here at home, and some that I’ve searched high and low for on the internet. Please enjoy them!

  • Use outdoor trash cans! I purchased four large outdoor trash cans and liners to go in them. I have one each for cardboard, plastic bags, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans. This way I can store my materials without them being in the way, and because the containers are large, I don’t have to make as many trips to the recycling center, saving CO2 emissions at the same time! However, if you don’t have a large household or don’t discard that many things, small crates (like milk crates) would be a nice and attractive way to store recyclable materials.
  • We throw out more than we realize! 84%....that’s how much of typical household waste that can be recycled. That includes food scraps, yard waste, paper, cardboard, cans, and bottles. Just think—if each of us recycled just 50%, we could significantly reduce the amount of waste heading to our landfills and incinerators each day, improving our land and air quality exponentially!
  • "Biodegradable" doesn’t necessarily mean what you might think. In the quest to make the environment a better place, many manufacturers are looking at making their packaging biodegradable. It sounds wonderful, but what most people don’t know is that packaging doesn’t magically break down in a landfill. Biodegradable packaging needs to be taken to a composting facility, which keeps a proper temperature and moisture levels for long enough periods of time. In a landfill, biodegradable containers will probably sit there just as long as other plastics do, and some may end up releasing methane, which is worse than other greenhouse gases. 
  • Think about what you buy. When purchasing products, look for items that come with as little packaging as you can; there’s no reason deodorant needs to have a box. Try to buy recyclable containers. Those with a #1 or#2 logo on the bottom in the recycling triangle are the most widely-accepted plastics to recycle. Again, every recycling center takes something different, and should be checked with before making your haul down there.
  • Check with your local recycling center! In Greensburg there is single-stream, curbside recycling so that makes things easy. Each community is different, but no matter what the situation is where you live, we hope you'll recycle as much as possible. Every little bit makes a difference.

Good luck and happy recycling!


Great Water-Saving Tips from Joplin-Area Kids

At Saturday's Shoal Creek Water Festival, GreenTown Joplin staff and volunteers talked with hundreds of visitors about water conservation. We offered our Top 10 List for Saving Water at Home, displayed several water-saving fixtures for the bathroom (courtesy of Joplin Supply Company), gave away a couple of reusable bottles (including a very cool glass bottle with a bamboo sleeve that we bought at Suzanne's Natural Foods), and solicited the advice of children of all ages for their best water saving tips. We promised them we would share their wisdom on our website.

By an overwhelming margin, the tip we heard most often was "turn off the water when you're brushing your teeth". This is a very simple thing to do, and it can save you a LOT of water (and money) in the long haul. It's been calculated by people who undertake this sort of research that the average session of tooth-brushing at the bathroom sink takes from 2-5 gallons of water. Let's go with the conservative number - 2 gallons - and multiply that by 2 times a day - 4 gallons - times 365 days a year for a grand total of 1,460 gallons of water. That's for one person who brushes twice a day. Multiply that by family of 4 people and you get 5,840 gallons. Here in Joplin that's $58.40 worth of water spent on tooth brushing alone.

How to get this number down to a more reasonable level? Put the toothpaste on your brush, add the tiny bit of water you need to get your foam going, TURN OFF THE FAUCET, brush to your heart's content, turn on the faucet to get enough water in your hand to rinse. To save even more, keep a drinking glass in the bathroom and fill it up with just enough water for your oral hygiene functions, and you can get your figure down to a few OUNCES per session.

Here are some of the other great tips we heard from our visitors:

Fill up a bucket when the shower is heating up. (Autumn, age 9)

Save rain in a barrel. (Aiden, 6)

Run dishwasher when full. (Kimberly, 9)

Take a bath and use [the water] to water plants. (Cora, 8-1/2)

Save air conditioner's water for flowers. (Gaylon, 7)

Make sure your water hose is turned off 'cause even a tiny drop is a big waste. (Gatlin, 9)

Nina, 12, drew a beautiful picture of rain water catcher. And Shelby, 13, shared a wonderful drawing of a person standing under the moon, watering their yard - reminding us that you can conserve by watering during the cooler times of the day.

But, hands down, our favorite piece of advice came from 12-year old Lance: "never flush toilet".

In addition to our Top 10 List, you might be interested in our new handout The High Cost of Bottled Water, which was also on display at the GreenTown booth. The statistics found here are eye-opening.

Many thanks to our hosts, Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, who organized this wonderful event for the community, and to the Missouri American Water Company and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma (our neighbors at the festival) for generously sharing their water conservation handouts for distribution at our booth. 

We'll be back this Thursday evening, August 16 from 5:30-8:30 at the Third Thursday event in downtown Joplin. Look for the GreenTown booth in the 300 block of South Main Street. We'll be there collecting even more water-saving tips, so if you're in the neighborhood be sure to stop by and share your ideas with us.

photo credit: Catherine Hart


Finding [Re]purpose in Greensburg

Recycled crayons, a pan light, and a refurbished typewriter table--just a few of the items found in Revival.

A fun and innovative new business is in the process of finding its way into Greensburg!  The store Revival will be opening its doors in the SunChips Business Incubator on Saturday, August 18th.  Sarah Thompson, a native of Liberal, Kansas, will be bringing her quirky style in the form of refurbished and repurposed furniture and decor.

Thompson, who was always known as "the crafty friend", was urged by friends and family to sell her creations.  After doing some research on repurposing projects, she found that these were the type of items she was already making and the type of items that she would want to purchase.  However, she saw there were no stores that focused on selling locally made green items in the south central Kansas area.  So, Thompson thought to fill that void and attempted to set up a store in her hometown of Liberal.  The store was not able to materialize in Liberal, but that was not the end for Thompson's vision.

With an interest in sustainability, Thompson and her sister took a tour of the Silo Eco-Home last fall.  While in Greensburg she made connections with our very own Ruth Ann Wedel and Dee Chandler, the director of economic development in Kiowa County, in search of job opportunities.  As time went by, Thompson's sister returned to the Silo Eco-Home with a friend and Ruth Ann inquired after Thompson.  Upon learning of the roadblocks for Thompson's store in Liberal, Ruth Ann immediately let her know that Greensburg would be a perfect fit.

"All the pieces came together... this just seems like it was meant to be," said Thompson.  Her sustainable store, Revival, coincides with Greensburg's commitment to going green.  By taking old, used items that are unwanted and finding them a new purpose, Thompson is keeping a variety of things out of the landfill in an innovative way.  The items in Revival range from big to small.  As big as a garden bench made from an old truck's tailgate to as small as melted down crayon stumps reformed into fun shapes.  Thrown out trophy tops find new life as wine bottle stoppers or coat racks.  Baking pans that are past their prime transform into lighting with character.  Thompson finds her materials from thrift shops, auctions, garage sales, friends, and landfills.  She says she feels like she is on the TV show "American Pickers"--sifting through unwanted things to find treasures.

You can attend the Grand Opening of Revival on Saturday, August 18th in the Business Incubator during Greensburg's Summer Soiree.  There will be homemade cupcakes, free crayons for the kids, and a give-away of a $25 gift certificate.  Also, Thompson says that for every pan light sold, $5 will be given back into the Greensburg community and the recipient will be announced at the Grand Opening.  You can see more images of Revival's goods on its Facebook page if you click here.  Welcome to Greensburg, Revival!


What's Your Water Usage "Footprint"?

The folks at H2O Conserve have come up with a clever, easy way for people to assess how much water they use day-to-day and they offer a ton of suggestions for reducing your water "footprint". (This is one time I felt grateful to fall in the "below average" category.) See how you do and be sure to click on the "learn more" button on each page.

You may be surprised at how quickly water usage adds up. Here are a couple of the many tidbits of information you can glean from the survey:

If you use a low-flow showerhead, you can save about 15 gallons of water during a 10 minute shower! After a year of daily showering, that adds up to almost 5,500 gallons—not just a drop in the bucket!

[It seems there is a common misperception that a "low-flow" showerhead equals an unsatisfying shower. Technology is such that the typical "low-flow" models provide a satisfying, if not stronger, water stream than do conventional showerheads.]

Did you know that turning off the water when you brush your teeth saves 2 to 5 gallons of water each time you brush? For a family of four this could add up to over 10,000 gallons per year!

These are some impressive numbers. Water prices vary widely across the country, but if you take an average cost of a penny a gallon, the amount of water you could potentially save on just these two suggestions adds up to $155! Think of what you could do with that money, rather than watch it go down the drain.

Water prices are also expected to shoot up dramatically, perhaps even triple, over the next 25 years. It will pay to get in the habit of paying closer attention to how you use the precious resource that flows from your faucets.


Mixing Up Some DIY

Our process for making a concrete table top.

A couple of weeks ago we shared how we made a vertical garden from a used wooden pallet and how you could make your own.  Now, we're going to give you another little lesson, this time it's on how to make a concrete table top.

Here at the Silo Eco-Home we had been looking for the perfect table top for a tall, outdoor table we keep on our deck.  The previous top had been made out of a fiber board and did not stand up well at all to the elements.  After much searching, we decided to make our own table top out of concrete, which we knew would resist the sun, rain, and ever-present wind.

To start, we needed to make a form to pour our concrete in.  [1]  We built the form on the deck where the table is kept so we would not have to move the table top a long distance.  We used a piece of Melamine board for the bottom of the form to give the table top a smooth finish.  Then, we used recycled wood for the sides of the form.  We then put caulk along the seams of the form to give the corners of the table a smooth finish and to make sure the form was tightly sealed.

Next, we took flowers and leaves that we had picked from our garden and pressed, and glued them to the bottom of the form.  [2]  The plants then left an imprint on the top of our table.  We used spray adhesive to make sure that the plants would be securely fastened to the form before we poured in the concrete.  You, of course, may leave the top smooth if you desire.

After preparing the form, we then mixed our concrete.  [3]  We used a 50 pound bag of counter top concrete mix that we purchased from a home-improvement store.  We followed the instructions on the bag for mixing the concrete, but ended up using more water than the bag called for so that the concrete had a smoother texture and poured more easily.  As you can see from the picture, we used our hands to mix the concrete.  If you do this WEAR GLOVES.  We found out the hard way that mixing concrete with bare hands does a number on your skin.

We then poured the concrete into the form and spread it out evenly.  [4]  We vibrated the form by pounding on it with a hammer to make sure that there were no air bubbles left in the concrete.  We placed a piece of sealed wood into the concrete so that we would have a way to fasten the table top to our existing stand.  After letting the concrete set for 24 hours, we pried apart the form and cleaned the bits of caulk and plants from the table top.  We fastened the wood piece into the concrete with caulk.  After that dried we were able to attach the concrete table top to its base!  [5]

Now the Silo Eco-Home has a unique table gracing its deck!

We found the concrete table top idea and modified the step-by-step instructions from the website The Family Handyman.


A Fond Farewell to a Delightful Soul and "Charming Gardener"

Barbara Summers and her "broccoli bouquet"

Once again at GreenTown, it's that bittersweet time of year when we say farewell to our current AmeriCorps staff and get ready to welcome the new folks. We bid a fond farewell to Barbara Summers, whose year-long tenure came to an end July 30. After a send-off party last night, she is getting ready to hit the road, taking a bit of time off before starting a masters program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Barbara will study City and Regional Planning with an eye toward a career in helping cities become more sustainable. There is no doubt that she will excel at whatever she undertakes.

Readers of this blog are no doubt familiar with Barbara's contributions, as she has posted 20 interesting and well-researched articles during her tenure. She has introduced us to international models of sustainability in her series, Living Green Around the Globe, shared tips on such topics as energy conservation and indoor air quality, and offered updates on a variety of Greensburg projects. You can check out her entire list of featured articles here.

Barbara and fellow AmeriCorps staff person Sarah Thyparambil have been an amazing team this past year. (We are fortunate to have Sarah's services for several more weeks, so you will get to read more about her accomplishments in September.) Barbara moved to Greensburg from Ohio and Sarah from Nebraska, and they hit it off immediately. The synergy of their work together has been an enormous gift to the organization and the community. Coming from the Cleveland area, Barbara had some trepidation about moving to a small rural town where she didn't know anybody (imagine that!), but she quickly became a beloved member of the local community. In addition to her work at GreenTown, she has been active in her adopted church and has made friends with people in town of all ages. She is a delightful soul, full of enthusiasm and zest for life, with a commitment to making the world a healthier, happier place to live.

Barbara is an avid craftswoman and has added her creative touch to many projects this past year, from making decorations for GreenTown's "Recycle Christmas" to repurposing old fabric into jump ropes for our visiting Girl Scouts in April. We really can't talk about Barbara's service to GreenTown without greater mention of her work on the Girl Scouts project. She and Sarah did a yeowoman's job of organizing the community garden project and the countless details associated with hosting over 1,200 Scouts and their leaders in April. Keeping the garden healthy and watered once the girls departed has been a huge job in and of itself and has consumed a lot of Barbara's time and energy.

Every job Barbara has taken on has been done so with good cheer, great kindness, and enormous talent. From giving tours, answering phone calls, and helping Site Manager Ruth Ann Wedel with myriad projects, to traveling to Joplin to help out with our work in that community - she has made an enormous contribution to many areas of our work. We are grateful to her and for her and look forward to seeing what unfolds for Barbara in the next phase of her life.



Twilight Theatre Fundraising Campaign

Check out the video above annoucing the Twilight Theatre fundraising campaign. The original Twilight Theatre was a major icon in Greensburg prior to the May 2007 tornado. The new theatre will provide a much needed multifunctional community gathering space. The Twilight Theatre will serve as a traditional movie theatre as well as a space for school functions including plays, concerts, programs and award shows. The exterior of the building is currently complete, but significant funding is still needed to finish the interior. The main goal of this campaign is to raise $75,000 for the auditorium seating.

To learn more about this fundraising campaign check out the Twilight Theatre's website.