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Does someone who makes house calls to check on Valparaiso-area residents' worm bins sound like a person who thoroughly embraces the Earth Day spirit?

How about someone who notes that she has learned “a heckuva lot” from plants, is haunted by the fact that a high percentage of waste in the Newton County landfill — which serves this area — is food and paper, and thinks it's crazy one of the nation's leading exports reportedly is soil?

“I see us as a people garden,” says Kathy Sipple, the master of ceremonies for the Recycling & Waste Reduction District of Porter County Northwest Indiana Earth Day Celebration from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Porter County Expo Center.

Sipple, who founded the 219 Green Connect Podcast after serving as a coordinator for Green Drinks — an international self-organizing network — frequently connects green dots across the Region through her podcasts to “create an Earth-Day-every-day type of opportunity,” she said.

Listeners can find something of interest in an episode and connect to the people mentioned, much as they might connect with like-minded folks Saturday.

The second Reuse Fair at the event features a wish list of more than 100 items, everything from pillowcases and shoe boxes to DVDs and hot glue guns, that can be repurposed.

“Washington Zoo is looking for shredded paper,” noted Donna Stuckert, public education coordinator for the Porter County Recycling and Waste Reduction District and an event organizer. “It can't be recycled because the paper is too small to go through the process. It falls through the conveyor belts, unlike newspapers.”

Competitors can win a scholarship for their school in the Rain Barrel Design Contest; visitors vote for the winner from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Silly Safaris are a hit with the kids from 10 a.m. to noon. The Re-Think Art Competition, which requires reused and repurposed materials exclusively, is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Entertainment and information will be provided by Dumpster Drummers from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

And Sipple, who is a social media coach, will dispense advice on the environment and ecology from a table near the main stage. One of the first graduates of Stuckert's master recycler classes, Sipple is one of the “central environmental connections in Northwest Indiana,” according to Stuckert.

Cultivating knowledge 

The Valparaiso resident is a master naturalist certified by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, is a regional coordinator for Sustainable Indiana 2016 and is certified in hugelkulture, a permaculture design technique. She also has been recognized by the Society of Innovators for launching CoThrive, a time bank where people trade that which they know for what they don't know, creating a community currency based on time, not money through sharing skills.

Her contributions, for instance, include using her skills as a wild edibles guide (think morel mushrooms, among other items) and conducting worm composting workshops (followed up by those worm bin house calls).

Sipple, 50, who has resided in the area for the past 14 years, got into vermicomposting after a field trip to the Newton County landfill and learned what it contained.

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“Why inter this in a landfill?” she asks. Composting it, she notes, allows worms to work their transformational magic so it is “not just diverting it; it's transforming it into a soil nutrient.”

The Green podcasts soon followed as she reasoned that “Green builders don't know Green farmers,” and it's a logical supposition that there could be “some cross-pollination if they did.”

Her most popular podcast was an interview with Mitch Barloga, the nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The podcast drew some 4,500 listeners.

“The word CoThrive means so much to me,” Sipple said. “It means not one person thriving on their own, but figuring out ways to thrive together.”

That philosophy means environmentalism is more a mindset than a movement for her and Stuckert.

The logo Sipple devised for her CoThrive group embodies what Native Americans refer to as the Three Sisters … corn, beans and squash.

“They're all planted in the same place and you might think, 'Geez, if they're planted in the same place wouldn't they compete for nutrients? Or how would that work?' But no, they're actually in a system where the corn provides a natural trellis for the beans that need something to climb. The beans can feed nitrogen from the air that both the corn and the squash need to live. And then the squash acts as a natural mulch that keeps the roots cool for all the other plants.

“So they really co-thrive in that space. And that's why I say I get my best lessons from plants. We just need to figure it out, like everybody doesn't need to be the corn … everybody doesn't need to be earning the crazy money. … And then I couldn't let the symbolism go without the worms. They have to figure out how to fit into the people garden.

“ … There are all kinds of creative and interesting ways that we can work together if we're just willing to map that energy and create more of a sharing community.”

Stuckert also addresses a state of mind when assessing where the Region stands on the environment.

Much as she is heartened to see more people “seeing what they can do personally … realizing they themselves can make a difference,” she's also discouraged when she drives up to recycling drop and sees it overflowing with trash, “things that should be thrown away.”

They'd do well to listen to the Republic waste hauling representatives who will be educating visitors Saturday on what to put in recycling bins and what not to, as well as people like Sipple, who'll counsel them on how to make saving the environment a priority.

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