A project that started in 2013 as a Greenwood School fundraiser has evolved into so much more than that, with a group of students turning the marsh on the Goodman Building Supply property near Hwy. 101 into a real-life environmental laboratory.

“This partnership with Greenwood School is exactly in line with our philosophy of working with the community to help protect our environment and is something that our founder and patriarch Richard Harris instilled in us since we opened in 1955,” Goodman general manager Zviki Govrin says.

The collaboration between hardware store and Greenwood, which seeks to inspire its students “to evolve into creative thinkers who are self-directed and strongly connected to the environment and humanity,” spawned from Greenwood Nature/Environmental Studies (NEST) teacher Julie Hanft’s efforts to identify community service projects for her students.

Hanft was searching for community service projects to be part of the school’s “Minutes for Mill Valley” fundraiser, in which Greenwood parents and families would sponsor students 15 cents a minute on a variety of projects, all to raise money to bring the Spirit of Uganda music dance troupe back to town as part of its biannual fundraising tour.

Hanft was connected to Goodman, the first hardware store in Marin certified as a County of Marin Green Business, via local resident Maureen Parton, an aide to Marin County District 3 Supervisor Kate Sears, and Marin Clean Highways, an organization founded in early 2013 “to rid our county of the eyesore the litter creates on our highways,” according to its website.

Hanft’s fifth grade students turned out in December 2013 to fill up 12 large garbage bags full of trash from the Goodman marsh, collecting leaves to use for compost in their garden on the Buckley Estate in the process.

The “Minutes for Mill Valley” program, which also included campaigns to remove invasive blackberry plants on Horse Hill and weeding common areas of the Community Garden, raised nearly $20,000 – more than it needed – and was so successful that it received a Proclamation from the Mill Valley City Council in March.

Rather than rest on the success of its marsh cleanup, Goodman’s and Greenwood doubled down. Goodman’s proposed to support the Greenwood garden in the form of equipment, including pruning shears and loppers, work gloves, pliers, vise grips, hose nozzles, garden trowels, potting soil, as well as tool kits and space heaters for the classrooms and much more. In return, Greenwood agreed to have its students clean the marsh on a regular, long-term basis.

The students, mostly last school year’s fifth graders and current sixth graders, returned to the marsh in February and were joined by Parton and Mill Valley Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, posting signs in the Goodman’s parking lot urging customers to keep the lot and adjacent marsh free of litter, and again in April and September.

At each visit, the students have documented their alarming findings. In one hour at the marsh in April, they gathered 2,206 styrofoam and pieces of plastic, 154 beer and tequila bottles, 47 aluminum cans, 115 pieces of wood, 215 cigarette butts and 91 “strange items,” including balls, shoes, cement, a sword, car parts, batteries, keys and blocks of tar.

It was at that moment that Hanft and her students decided to expand the project, deepening their ties to Marin Clean Highways and Clean Mill Valley, a local organization focused on “creating public awareness about litter and its impact on our community and the environment.”

“I can’t just have these kids just going out and picking up trash over and over again,” Hanft says. “The kids are really becoming aware of all the potential sources for trash and are very interested in how to deal with it. So we expanded it to include litter prevention: where is it coming from?”

Now the students are writing letters to merchants around the area who were identified as sources of the litter, including Goodman, McDonald’s, Cable Car Coffee, and 7-Eleven, among others, as well as the management at the Shelter Hill Mill Valley housing development nearby. They produced a pie chart to show the “point source polluters,” helping those businesses do outreach to their customers about the litter problem.

And they’re not going to stop there. Over the next few months, the Greenwood students, along with Clean Mill Valley, will be working with the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce on a merchant program that will ask business owners to sign an anti-litter pledge that will then certify them as a “Clean Mill Valley” business.

Stay tuned…

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