Building a Healthy Community, One Cause at a Time

building a healthy community

Remember the old saying from the ’70s, “Think Globally, Act Locally”? Nothing could be a truer description of Pat McGovern – Lebanon resident, environmental activist, and cofounder of the Canillas Community Garden, the Upper Valley Localvore movement, and numerous community and environmental action blogs.

Years ahead of the current and ever-present climate-change conversation, Pat has been advocating for the proper care and feeding of soil, air, water, trees, plants, and humans for decades. A woman of deep wisdom, broad intellect, and a lifetime of taking right action for people and the planet, Pat has inspired newcomers as well as longtime residents to join her in taking small steps to affect positive change.

“My focus right now is protecting our soil, air, and water from pollution, pesticides, and plastics in particular,” says Pat. How does one take on such a tall order? Pat’s devotion to her work has a strong foundation. As the oldest of six children, she has a strong sense of responsibility to the earth and its inhabitants. Coming of age in the ’60s, Pat was introduced to the writings of Helen and Scott Nearing (Living the Good Life), Donella Meadows (Limits to Growth), and other environmental activists. Her organic vegetable and flower gardening practices date back to the ’70s, and paralleled her concern for the environment. Pat recalls, “I had a growing concern about pollution and a lack of trust in what was in our food and water. It seemed no one was really looking after the welfare of the people and our planet.”

In Lebanon, Pat’s early community activism involved cofounding the Canillas Community Garden at CCBA in 2009, named after Frank and Janet Canillas, who had owned nearby Emerson Gardens. During soil testing for the planned organic gardens, lead was discovered in the soil, and volunteers quickly changed course by building raised beds with clean soil, donated lumber, borrowed equipment, and volunteer labor. This experience was a pivotal point for Pat, and galvanized her commitment to working for cleaner air, water, and soil, both locally and globally. “I have learned to keep asking questions, because we can’t really assume anything. My own growing awareness of natural connections and how amazingly diverse our world is enhances my curiosity and leads to learning more, which leads to deeper engagement.”

canillas garden founders

Canillas Garden Founders and Garden Girls: Becky Perkins, Pat McGovern, Polly Gould, and Helen Brody

Pat began to explore the damaging effects of chemicals in food production, landscape maintenance, and drinking water, which led to her contributing input to the Natural Resources and Land Use chapters in two versions of the City’s master plan. “I loved that so many people came together to envision what they want for their city, and that the City did not just put the plan on a shelf, but is actually acting on it.”

One of the many bright spots at the Canillas Community Garden is the power of regenerative agriculture to sequester – or store – carbon according to Pat. “Plants and trees have a pivotal role in making our planet healthy and able to sustain life. We have planted oak, maple, arbor vitae, birch, espaliered apple, and magnolia trees. We use organic practices.” The City provides water and shredded unsprayed leaves to mulch the raised beds, and educating gardeners is part of the garden’s mission. “We have guidelines encouraging minimal tillage,
chop-and-drop addition of nutrients to the soil, and mulching to add organic matter and create a better soil sponge.”

Pat considers a large part of her effort to be about raising awareness on issues relating to building a healthy environment. “After Canillas gardener, Suzanne Church, and I presented our pesticide concerns to the Lebanon Conservation Commission in 2017, city manager Shaun Mullholland sent a directive to department heads to put a hold on pesticide purchases until there was a review of the whys
and consideration of alternatives.” This led to more conversations about beneficial insects and other green solutions for landscape
maintenance, including using goats to manage poison ivy in the City’s parks instead of herbicides.

Here’s a snapshot of other healthy community initiatives Pat has been involved in:

Pollinator Habitat

Mascoma River Greenway Pollinator Garden

Mascoma River Greenway Pollinator Garden

Food supply researchers have learned that the earth needs more pollinators to maintain a healthy food supply. To build awareness, Pat
and Lebanon Conservation Commission member Sarah Riley sent out the call and gathered a group of volunteers to create a ‘Pollinator
Corridor’ of fruit trees and shrubs, for bees, butterflies, and birds along the Mascoma River Greenway in partnership with Upper Valley Apple Corps, funded by the Robert F. Church Charitable Trust.

No Plastic Pollution Challenge,
Farmer’s Market Waste Reduction,
Refill NOT Landfill

Pat’s blog No Plastic Pollution offers tips for reducing plastic use on a personal level, such as bringing your own containers to the grocery store, reusing travel mugs for take-out coffee, and skipping bottled water. The Lebanon Farmers Market piloted a new waste-reduction effort with compost/recycle/trash bins at exits, and compostable containers. Every April, the Lebanon Solid Waste and Recycling Facility invites residents to make a personal commitment to reuse, refill, and recycle, awarding prizes donated by the Lebanon Co-op.

Upper Valley Localvores

Pat founded the Upper Valley Localvores with a challenge to eat food that’s produced or grown within 100 miles of home. The movement has introduced many Upper Valley residents to local growers and food producers, and supports the local agriculture economy.

Websites & Blogs: LebEnergy, Mascoma River Greenway, Canillas Community Garden, UV Localvore, No Plastic Pollution

For Pat McGovern, a commitment to a healthy community provides an endless source of interesting opportunities. “I try to focus on what’s happening locally… and so much is good news!” So, if you find yourself inspired by Pat’s efforts to “Think Globally, Act Locally,” the options are varied and many, and the benefits to people and the planet are seemingly endless.