It is a quiet March Thursday evening in the Hopewell Township Municipal Complex. Around a rectangular wooden table in a conference room sit five representatives from the Hopewell Valley Green Team, a sustainability group that has worked to promote recycling, combat food waste and coordinate green events, among other things, since 2009.
For an hour and a half, the group discusses the details of a new logo, plans for an upcoming environmental festival, and improvements that can be made on the website. Every so often, someone mentions the “worm bin” owned by Scott, the woodworker who has recently learned the Latin name for his worms. Carol, who works at the Princeton Public Library, reveals that the Hopewell colors are black and “Vegas gold,” not “yellow.” The group chuckles.
The Hopewell Valley Green Team comprises people from Hopewell Township, Hopewell Borough and Pennington who share not only an interest in helping the environment, but also unique relationships with the planet. For the people on the Green Team, often, committing to doing what’s right for the environment is more than a philosophy: it’s a way of life.
On Tuesday, April 17, at 7 p.m., members of the Green Team will be at the Hopewell branch of the Mercer County Library to give a presentation on green cleaning products.
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Joann Held spent her childhood surrounded by lakes, farms and open spaces. Now a resident of Pennington, Held was born in raised in rural McHenry, Illinois.
“Nature was kind of there,” she says.
Held represents Pennington Borough in the Hopewell Valley Green Team. She earned her bachelor’s degree in meteorology from St. Louis University before she received a masters in air pollution control at Harvard’s School of Public Health. She developed an interest in air pollution after stumbling upon an old meteorology textbook from college.
“I was just paging through it when I got to the chapter on air pollution meteorology,” she says. “I found myself reading every word and thought: this is fascinating. This is what I want to be able to do.”
Her husband, Isaac Held, works for the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab at Princeton University. Their son, Joshua Held, currently lives in Evanston, Illinois.
As the oldest of four children, Held — who retired 12 years ago after working with statewide air pollution initiatives — diagnoses herself with “oldest daughter syndrome,” a condition that motivates her to always stay involved. Besides her work with the Green Team, she serves as a coordinator at Pennington’s St. James’ Church, helps organize the Pennington Farmer’s Market, and volunteers on a regular basis.
Her passion for the environment is reflected in her commitments.
“I grew up with the message that the earth is a gift,” she says. “Now the church is articulating that we are stewards for the earth.”
Her interest in the environment, however, is most evident in her love of hiking. Held, 66, is a frequent hiker: she hikes the Mercer Meadows route at least once a month, and once a year she embarks on a longer hiking trip with one of her sisters, Deb.
Their latest trip took them to Mohonk Preserve, New York, where they spent hours walking and catching up on family affairs, their mutual passion for exercise, and trivia. Their next adventure? In the summer of 2019, Held and her sister are planning on hiking the Glacier National Park in Montana.
Her most interesting hiking story, however, is hard to beat.
“[My husband and I] were in Colorado and we’d hiked this trail up in the mountains one weekend,” she says. “We took a shortcut back down by just gliding down the glacier.
“A week or two later, my sisters were visiting, and we did the same hike. We were about to take the same way, and before I got a chance to explain the technique, my younger sister just sat down, started sliding and disappeared off a little edge,” Joann laughs.
Fortunately a rock stopped her sister’s fall before the worst could happen. “My first thought was, what am I going to tell mom and dad?”
Looking to the future, Held plans on visiting more national parks around the United States.
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Molly Reinero, from Princeton, never drives. The current Pennington resident opts for a bike instead, a habit that formed halfway through her undergraduate years at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
“I really loved Portland,” she says. “I was exposed to a lot of people who would get around solely by bike and they’d have a lot of fun doing it.”
Reinero’s interest in sustainable transportation led her to join the Hopewell Valley Green Team as its newest member last summer. Her penchant for biking was partially inspired by her childhood in Princeton, where the town’s walkability never gave Molly a need to drive.
Her current bike — a Bianchi — was a gift from her parents, who purchased it from Kopps Cycle Shop in Princeton. She enjoys cycling by the Delaware and Raritan Canal, although she hasn’t made the trip in a while: Molly and her husband of five years, Andrés Reinero, are expecting their first daughter next month.
“I want to go into it with not too many expectations,” she says.
Reinero is no stranger to serendipity. Although Molly and Andrés grew up together, went to the same school, sang in the same choir and share the same birthday, they only got together at a friend’s Halloween party when they were adults.
Reinero, 32, earned her master’s in elementary education with a focus on Waldorf education. She currently spends her time tutoring Chinese students online. Although she hasn’t been to China, she has traveled to Thailand, Israel and Russia.
The lattermost country holds special significance to Molly, who studied Russian literature in college.
“In my high school choir, we sang some Russian choral music that I found to be so beautiful,” she says. “Hearing the Russian music made me really interested in learning more about Russian literature, so I decided to try that out once I got to college.”
Food is also one of Reinero’s big interests: she enjoys cooking a variety of dishes from teriyaki salmon to tamales. Her parents, who are “good cooks,” are some of her biggest inspirations: her father, David Cohen, currently serves on Princeton’s borough council and works as an architect at a private practice, while her mother Liz is a social worker who used to work at the hospice program at Princeton Hospital.
Watching both her parents commit their lives to serving others perhaps explains Reinero’s involvement with the Green Team, as well as her hopes regarding motherhood.
“I aspire to be a good parent,” she says, “and to raise loving and kind children who care about the people and the Earth around them.”
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John Hayton, born and raised in Hopewell, is passionate about the natural world.
“I’ve always loved just being outside,” he says. “Growing up, my family did a lot of outdoor activities that inspired me to want to pursue environmental science.
“Now, I want to move that forward and continue doing things for the environment.”
After completing his undergraduate degree in environmental science at Allegheny College, he spent a year working in environmental consulting with a focus in groundwater monitoring and cleanup. Hayton joined the Hopewell Valley Green Team after meeting Joann through his work with the Pennington Environmental Commission.
Today, he is a graduate student in landscape architecture at Rutgers University. His projects include the rejuvenation of the land behind Pennington’s Toll Gate Grammar School, where he hopes to plant native greenery.
Outside of school, John enjoys kayaking, hiking and camping. When he was younger, he would go on day-long hiking trips with his parents and younger brother, Mark, in places like Maine’s Acadia National Park and New Hampshire’s Mount Cube.
His mother, Anne, currently works for the Department of Environmental Protection, where her projects focus on river cleanup initiatives. His father, Bob, is retired but is an active overseer of forest cleanups near Hopewell.
“It’s a family thing,” says Hayton, 23. “More recently the dinner table talk has been a lot of stuff about what’s going on in our lives, which actually has a lot to do with environmental things.”
John’s girlfriend, Megan Gooding, is yet another outdoor enthusiast. Last summer, Hayton and Gooding, who is studying to be a physician’s assistant, hiked the Catskills in New York. Whenever John goes to visit her at her school in Florida, nature is never far away: the two have visited various botanical gardens as well as the Florida Keys.
There are many other places Hayton would like to explore.
“I haven’t been to Yosemite National Park or the Redwoods, so those are two places I’d definitely like to visit,” he says. “They’re so important to our cultural identity in this country and our relationship to nature.”
For now, Hayton is focused on life in the Hopewell area, where he wishes to stay and work for a professional landscape architecture firm. He continues to raise his 12 family chickens, which help him not only with composting food waste, but also in producing the eggs that he puts in his breakfast sandwiches along with some bacon and cheese.
His favourite food? (Hint: it’s not a big surprise.)
“A really fresh egg. Cooked well.” John laughs. “There’s nothing like it.”