It's great to help out the environment, but this year's Earth Week events at Joint Base Lewis-McChord also helped build community.

People from across the installation came together last week to volunteer a tree planting and work day at the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation community garden and a cleanup at Solo Point. The events were jointly hosted by JBLM Public Works Directorate and FMWR teams from both Lewis and McChord Field.

"It's a great group of people to be out here," Valerie Elliott, a natural resource planner at Public Works, said of the workers at the community garden on April 19.

Elliott came to help out, but soon she'll have her own garden plot to use for vegetables or anything else she might desire. She lives in a town house, and is looking forward to putting flowers, instead of tomatoes, in her pots at home.

It's an approach that can help both your health and your pocketbook. Vegetables begin losing nutrients as soon as they're picked, sustainability outreach coordinator Miriam Villacian said, so eating them straight from the vine is a huge plus.

"Being able to pick it fresh off and take it home and eat it, it's going to taste a lot better ... it's going to be a lot better for you and it's going to be a lot cheaper," she said.

For Villacian, the community aspect was also key. Getting a plot in a community garden can lead to connections you might not make in your own back yard.

"You have people you can garden with who might share some of your same interests," she said.
Some volunteers discovered common interests, but others were given the chance to discover a whole new place.

"What we found out is a lot of folks don't even know this is here," McChord Field Community Center community activity specialist Colin Brooks said at the Solo Point clean up on April 20.

By participating in the event, Brooks said, many volunteers found a great new spot to enjoy firsthand and gain appreciation for the importance of taking care of it.

Staff Sgt. Michelle Cosgrove, 62nd Airlift Wing, was among them. Originally from Northern California, Cosgrove recently PCS'd back to the West Coast. She spent the afternoon picking up plastic bottles and other trash along the beach.

"I believe community involvement's important, the environment's important," she said. "I'm just trying to do my part."

The contributions are working. Last year's cleanup of the area resulted in a completely full trailer of garbage. This year there were only nine or 10 bags.

"It's kind of nice to see there's less trash here," Brooks said.

In the end, Earth Day is more than just a circled date on the calendar. For many, it's a way of living.
"Earth Day shouldn't be just a day or week out of the year," Elliott said. "It should be something you carry through the rest of the year."

Marisa Petrich: