“New Jersey is the armpit of America” is a pretty common expression. (Sorry Garden Staters. At least you've got some nice malls!). This saying might not be totally off base ... 

John Dragona, a 69-year-old resident of Cliffside Park, N.J., tries to keep his backyard eco-friendly. He composts and plants all kinds of veggies so he can eat locally. Adding to this already commendable effort, Dragona is totally blind, having to weed and plant by touch alone. Oh how that tugs at our little, green heartstrings!

But apparently his Jersey neighbors are stones you can’t squeeze blood from. The health department received numerous complaints about foul odors from Dragona’s compost heap wafting over to other yards, eventually bringing him to municipal court over the charges. Luckily, an anonymous donor gave Dragona an Earth Machine, a composter that keeps all materials contained, and the case was dropped.

Dragona isn’t the only one being chastised for his eco efforts. According to a story in today’s Star-Ledger, Dragona is one of a number of New Jerseyites who have gotten some serious flack for going green.

From an article in the Star-Ledger:

“The irony is that these are the people trying to do the right thing, and the people criticizing them are probably getting (chemicals), which puts more toxins on their lawn and into the environment than a golf course,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.
Tittel attributes many battles to a tidy “suburban mentality” that aims for perfect lawns and landscapes. People who do things differently, be it a compost pile, natural grasses, solar panels or wind turbines, can find themselves in trouble, he said.

The article goes on to cite other examples of people suffering persecution for their environmental efforts. One man is currently caught in a battle with the township over a wind turbine he wants to install on his property. Another person installed solar panels on his home, only to be told by his homeowners’ association that the panels needed to come down. These are all strange responses to eco deeds, especially considering that New Jersey made a commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

It’s sad to hear that both citizens and courts are giving people heat for going green. Perhaps nosy New Jersey neighbors should spend more time hitting one of the state’s many malls, and less time sending old, blind, organic gardeners to the county courthouse. Props to whoever donated the Earth Machine, though.

Story by Sarah Parsons. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in September 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

It’s not easy being green in New Jersey
Citizens trying to "go green" may end up in trouble with their community.