By Miriam Landru
Sustainable Sandhills is quickly becoming a household name around Fayetteville thanks to the popularity of their “pop up dinners” held in local food establishments. However, Sustainable Sandhills is more than just these local dinners and has been in existence since the early 2000s. It was then known as Sustainable Fort Bragg. SFB was created to acknowledge their own environmental “footprint” and then to establish goals on having clean water, air and energy in order to diminish that footprint.
In 2003, a steering committee met to establish the following four conditions that a sustainable society must meet:
Do not rely on nonrenewable resources.
Do not systematically increase synthetic products that don't biodegrade.
Do not degrade nature’s services (trees that create oxygen, wetlands that provide habitat and filter water).
Make sure everyone’s basic needs are met.
Sustainable Sandhills is now a full-fledged independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization led by a volunteer board of directors and staff. In 2005 it expanded to two counties, Lee and Montgomery, plus the original six, Cumberland, Hoke, Harnett, Moore, Richmond and Scotland.
The vivacious and knowledgeable Hanah Ehrenreich now leads the organization. She is a transplant to Fayetteville from Syracuse, New York via her husband’s military career. Her role is to make sure that Sustainable Sandhills continues to provide environmental goods to the community, engage with green business and also to make sure our green schools continue to run and have a strong presence in the community.
Though Sustainable Sandhills certainly gives a lot to the community in terms of “green knowledge,” Ehrenreich maintained that it’s also about what the consumers and residents of Cumberland County get. “It really is more about what we get with a clean and healthy environment that’s beautiful and pristine. It sustains us,” she said.
The Green Schools program, started in 2009 by the organization, also sustains the Cumberland County STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Math) learning schools. Sustainable Sandhills does waste audits at each school and the principal who saves the most money gets a “slush fund” that can be spent on teachers or put back into the school. This program is all about energy efficiency.
The improved Green Business program is designed to meet a variety of criteria. It examines how a business serves their customers, the office environment and what a business is doing to make their break rooms less wasteful, etc. A few Green Businesses include: Worldwide Language Technologies, PWC, Elliotts on Linden, American Movers and and the Fayetteville Regional Airport.
But as was mentioned previously, Sustainable Sandhills is really getting their name out through their sought after pop-up dinners. A brainchild of Ehrenreich, she is leading the Slow Food Fayetteville movement, which is all about fresh, local meat and produce all sourced no further than 80 miles away. Three pop-up dinners have been held thus far at Sherefe´, Moore Exposure Center and Marquis Market, with each one being sold out to Fayetteville foodies. Ehrenreich believes that through these dinners, a food culture can be recognized and that people will come to this area for the local cuisine, in time, and not associate the Fayetteville/Fort Bragg area with its myriad of chain restaurants. “Where our food comes from is important and we need to support our agricultural heritage. We struggle to embrace our identity when we have a transient population with a 30-percent turnover rate every year. It’s a lot of change for a community to accommodate,” she expressed.
Through the Slow Food Fayetteville movement, Ehrenreich is hoping that locals experiment and design the local food culture themselves.
“Not only is fresh food necessary and important to our region, happiness is created through place and identity.”
And happiness is something that sustains us all.