A Couple Shows How Easy and Affordable Sustainable Living Can Be
Tom and Vivianne Szulist are not experts in green building or organic farming. Tom was once a stockbroker and Vivianne worked on graphics and special effects for film and television. But despite their backgrounds, the couple has been running the organic retail business Singer Farm Naturals since 2009 and operating out of an energy efficient 19th century barn known as the Legacy Barn since 2011. Through growing and selling organic products, using various renewable energy systems, and educating the public on environmentally friendly living, the Szulists demonstrate that regular people can live and benefit from a sustainable lifestyle.
The 22 acre organic farm, retail outlet, and education venue in Appleton, Niagara County that includes Singer Farm Naturals and the Legacy Barn was created because of Tom and Vivianne’s passion for sustainability and sharing it with others. The Szulists bought their property from Vivianne’s parents, who co-own the 500 acre Singer Farms. Originally the Szulists used their land only to grow organic garlic (over 60 varieties) and convert locally grown cherries, including those from Singer Farms, into tart cherry juice concentrate. They would then sell these products and educate the public about their health benefitsand how to grow garlic them at farmer’s markets. Starting in 2011 though, the Szulists started selling and educating out of the Legacy Barn, built in the 1840s. After extensive renovations, the barn has been transformed into a sustainable, award-winning retail and education outlet.
The Legacy Barn is a testament to the idea that green building can be easy and cost effective. Tom Szulist has said “When we decided to do this, our thesis was that we wanted to do things that would make a statement that everybody could do this.” He and his wife have succeeded at this, which is impressive considering that the couple has completed and integrated various energy saving retrofits, including:
- Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs)
- Straw Bale Walls
- Structurally Insulated Panel (SIP) boards
- Solar Photovoltaic Panels
- High Efficiency Wood Gasification Boiler
- Wind Turbine
- Solar Thermal System
The Szulists have found that all of these systems were affordable after receiving multiple state and federal rebates that often cut the original price down to less than half. The energy savings that result from each of these systems also makes them smart investments.
Tom and Vivianne’s commitment to sustainability is clear from their green retrofits. However, they routinely take their passion a step further by sharing their knowledge with others through workshops and advocacy events. Tom has said “We really want to teach people how to do this. It’s not rocket science. It’s so doable.” For instance, the Szulists hosted a Sierra Club Rally called “Renewable is Doable” in April of last year. The purpose of the rally was to communicate that using renewable energy can be feasible and cost effective. As the site of multiple renewable energy systems that were installed at reasonable costs, Singer Farm Naturals was an obvious choice for the rally location.
In sum, through using renewable energy systems and encouraging others to do so, the Szulists demonstrate that we can all integrate sustainability into our lives in a simple, cost-effective manner. By doing their research, seeking out the right people for the jobs, and applying for government grants, the Szulists have been saving money and helping the environment simultaneously. In other words, they are being sustainable by doing things that average citizens can do themselves. Tom has said “We’ve got all this energy, and we’re not polluting. It may seem overwhelming until you realize that you’re just using what’s here, but thinking about it differently.”
The Szulists message-that living more sustainably can be easy and rewarding-matches the message of One Region Forward, an initiative to create a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development for the Buffalo Niagara Region. One Region Forward is publicizing stories like that of the Szulists to encourage other community members that living a sustainable life is doable and beneficial. To learn more about One Region Forward, including how to inform us of another example of sustainability in action, visit us at oneregionforward.org.
A renaissance man finds his niche in field of farming
An article by the Buffalo News about the Szulists’ farm and barn.
For more information about the Szulists’ farm and barn, the health benefits of their products, recipes, and upcoming events.
Inside SIPA Building Excellence Award winning project Singer Farm Naturals
An article about why the Legacy Barn was a Structural Insulated Panel Association Building Excellence Award Winner in 2011.
Check out the full list of sustainability in action across our region. We’ll be adding new examples in sustainability regularly, so check back soon.
Tell us how you are bringing sustainability to our region by submitting your own example.