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Retirement community has a Green Team with residents, staff

Mary Beth Shinn, a farmer, leads the Green Team.


By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

The Rockwood South Hill Retirement Community made a big deal about Earth Day 2024 on April 22, as they do each year. They had an extensive celebration with 300 attending, largely because of the efforts of a unique group of its residents and staff—the Green Team.

The group guides Rockwood's plans for recycling, water and energy conservation and preservation of its green spaces. In short, it guides Rockwood's concern for the care of the environment.

The celebration of Earth Day began in 1970, particularly among students, to mobilize the environmental movement when industrial pollution was still taken for granted. Today it is celebrated around the world.

This year Rockwood's Earth Day celebration featured Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown talking about the Spokane Sustainability Action Plan and the city's commitment to implement environmental programs.

In the two-hour event for present and wait-listed residents, the day provided 16 educational tables on such topics as ways to save energy, green cleaning supplies, electric cars and the City of Spokane Waste and Recycling program.

Other agencies in the city that collaborate with Rockwood's Green Team, also provided educational tables to make the event informative. Among the presenters were Gonzaga University's Institute for Climate, Water and Environment, the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy, the Spokane Riverkeeper and Spokane Zero Waste.

Rockwood's Green Team, made up of residents and two staff members, was formed in 2007, 43 years after the retirement complex was founded and after its second major building was constructed. It then seemed important to have ongoing oversight of recycling and other conservation efforts.  It still serves as a think tank for ways Rockwood can develop with more sustainable designs for expansions or renovations.

Lisa VanMansum, the corporate communications manager for Rockwood Retirement Communities, describes the impact of the Green Team for their South Hill campus: "The Green Team has been instrumental in the campus becoming a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary, in changing all to-go food containers to either reusable or compostable and, just recently, assuring that we start recycling food waste. They have an impact on our community."

Mary Beth Shinn, the president of the Green Team, is passionate about the contribution the group makes to assure that Rockwood is earth friendly.

It has about 25 resident members and two staff who provide environmental oversight for the 90-acre campus of 250 staff members and 500 residents in independent and assisted living apartments in two buildings and stand-alone homes and duplexes.

She said the group functions as a partnership of residents and staff and she praised the general manager, Andy Gorton, who comes to meetings to inform members of action. 

"He supports our efforts," she added.  Rockwood gives us a budget for our activities."

Mary Beth's passion for the environment comes from being a farmer and master gardener.

She wasn't always a country girl. She grew up near Olympia and taught economics at North Idaho College. When her husband decided to become a farmer and move near Moses Lake to farm 200 acres in the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, she resisted at first and stayed in North Idaho. 

Eventually she joined him on the farm and learned what it takes to farm. This became more necessary when her husband died about 15 years ago, and she chose not to hire a farm manager but took on the task herself.

As part of her research, she became a master gardener.

"I learned a lot from the Washington State University (WSU) program," Mary Beth affirmed.

The program involved horticulture training, completing a WSU online training and a willingness to volunteer 40 hours or more each year.

Because of that program and other research, she asserts that on the farm they have not plowed the soil in the last 10 years. They use a type of seeder and a technique that is less harmful to the soil than traditional plowing and makes for a more uniform crop. 

"We plant all kinds of crops," she explained, mentioning alfalfa, field corn and sweet corn. "We don't grow potatoes. They are too hard on the soil. Healthy soil is my passion!"

A few years ago, she contracted her land to Willow Drive Nursery to plant 1.8 million rootstocks onto which different varieties of apples were grafted and sold to commercial orchards.

Mary Beth's research, exploration and action has a foundation in her faith. 

"I hear people talking about the incarnation of Jesus and how important that is but what we don't talk about enough is the first incarnation—creation," she said.

"I have a Trinitarian view of the world, understanding God as the creator of heaven and earth, the Holy Spirit as the Lord and Giver of life," she explained. "It is a Franciscan understanding as explained by Father Richard Rohr of the Center for Creation and Contemplation in New Mexico and underlies my work for the earth and our environment.

"We don't honor creation enough in our society," she said.

Mary Beth, who moved to Rockwood four years ago, is proud of the accomplishments of the Green Team. One of their most effective activities was partnering with the City of Spokane in a review of their older irrigation system, which had poorly functioning sprinkler heads and leaky pipes. Because of their efforts, all sprinkler heads were replaced, and Rockwood became a Water Wise Spokane community contributing towards Spokane's transition to sustainable urban water use.

"Almost immediately we could see the result in conservation of water and a decrease in the water bill for the complex," said Mary Beth.

Besides the activities they initiate at Rockwood, the Green Team members also submit articles to Rockwood's monthly newsletter to inform the community of ways they can all be better stewards.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May 2024