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07/01/2020 08:30 AM

Mike Long: The Long and Short of It

Given the opportunity to help expand the community’s—and his own—understanding of climate change, Mike Long jumped aboard with the Sustainable Essex group.Photo courtesy of Mike Long

When Mike Long learned about Sustainable Essex, he had no hesitation. He knew he wanted to be involved.

“It immediately resonated,” he says.

He was drawn to the compatibility of the environmental goals involved.

“I don’t think things stand alone. It was the synergy; the first time I saw a model for community development that spoke to me,” he says.

Mike called to find out about what he could do to become accepted in the organization. The answer was simple.

“If you volunteer, you are accepted,” Mike recalls being told.

Sustainable Essex is a group of local residents who look to the broader issues involved in climate change, and how clean, sustainable energy can break the cycle of global warming. The group is part of a statewide organization with the same goals, Sustainable Connecticut, formed to encourage and foster best practices as individuals and communities tackle questions of how the need for energy and the need to preserve the environment can coexist.

The environmental group is one of the organizations that partnered with the Essex Historical Society, the Essex Land Trust, and the Essex Garden Club on the pollinator gardens that have just been completed behind the historical society’s Pratt House Museum. There will be a garden party to which the public is invited to celebrate their completion on Sunday, July 5 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Pratt House at 19 West Avenue.

Mike has led Sustainable Essex’s environmental education program, called SEED for Sustainable Essex Environmental Discussion. Discussions were originally scheduled for the Essex Library, but Covid-19 has changed them to Zoom programs.

The first series of SEED discussions has focused on an issue that everyone is familiar with: garbage, or more formally, the problem of solid waste and the relationship between what we throw away, how we throw it away and climate change.

“We want to provide information for people to make changes in their own homes and we want their feedback as well,” Mike says.

So far, programs have tackled subjects from household waste and food waste to plastic waste. In all, some six programs are planned with future talks on subjects like fast fashion, the inexpensive clothes that capture the latest fashion trends. The clothes are made for the moment, then are quickly disposed of to make room for the next fashion fad.

Mike himself led a fundraising campaign to secure speakers for the SEED series and the goal is ultimately to raise enough money to make the talks an ongoing Essex Library program like the Centerbrook Architects lecture series.

“Mike has gone above and beyond to make this effort successful,” says Susan Abbott, a co-chair of Sustainable Essex.

Both the SEED lecture series and the pollinator pathway garden are part of Sustainable Essex’s ongoing program to be recognized by Sustainable Connecticut with a Silver Level Certificate of accomplishment. Sustainable Essex’s plan to be recognized at this level includes the installation of an electric vehicle charging station in Essex.

So far, according to Mike, silver is the highest level certification available in Connecticut. Sustainable Essex has already been recognized with a bronze level certificate.

For Mike, the ongoing challenge that the groups like Sustainable Essex face is bringing their message to people who have not involved themselves in issues of the environment and climate change.

“We hope that the SEED presentations will get more people involved,” he says.

Mike grew up in Berlin, which he says in his youth was regularly pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, unlike the German city of the same name. Now he says, the distinction is not so rigidly held, with many more people making the pronunciation of the Connecticut city the same as the much larger German metropolis.

He says his love of the Connecticut River Valley dates from his youth when his family drove in the summers to Groton Long Point.

“It was before Route 9 and I loved driving through the communities,” he recalls.

He and his wife Elizabeth Nocera moved to this area from Middletown in 2013.

“She was delighted, too. She grew up in Old Lyme,” Mike says.

Elizabeth serves as grants manager for the city of New London, but arthritis has forced Mike to retire from his career in the insurance industry. The arthritis is so severe that he now uses a walker and no longer drives.

In addition to his efforts for Sustainable Essex, Mike has used the time he now has to take online courses, one in Writing for Social Media from the University of California, Berkley, and another on how ecology can guide urban and suburban design from the University of British Columbia.

“It’s funny how a physical disability unlocks other possibilities,” he says.

This year Mike is not only organizing the SEED lectures, he is also getting involved in environmental issues in another way: gardening. He and his wife bought a kit assembly for a raised vegetable bed and are delighted with their efforts.

“We have a jungle of lettuce and we are absolutely thrilled; it is amazing,” he says.

Mike describes his efforts for Sustainable Essex as ongoing commitment.

“I think it is a life’s work,” he says. “I count the people in Sustainable Connecticut as friends. Working with them has been a wonderful experience and I am grateful for the opportunity.”

For more information on Sustainable Essex, visit

Pollinator Garden Opening Party: Sunday, July 5 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Pratt House, 19 West Avenue, Essex. Admission is free.