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Green Up ambassador: Middlebury’s Peg Martin a true force of nature

MIDDLEBURY — For longtime Middlebury Green Up coordinator Peg Martin, Green Up Day is about more than trash.
“I’ve always had very strong feelings about community and the fact that in a community you do what you can, however you can do it, to participate and make things better for the whole community,” said Martin.
“Green Up has always seemed to me like a very simple thing. It’s such a simple and in-your-face-thing to do. Lean over and pick up a piece of trash off the ground. And it’s something that a lot of people doing a little bit can make a great deal of difference.
“And that to me is kind of what community’s about: those things that you do to support the whole.”
Martin, 84, has been involved with Green Up Day since it first began in the 1970s.
“As soon as it started coming to towns, I participated. I had little kids then (Martin’s four children are now in their 50s). They’re closer to the ground. It’s very nice. They can pick things up,” she said with characteristic wry humor.
And while she did not participate in the state’s first Green Up Day, organized in 1970 by then-governor Dean Davis, she remembers the kind of impact it had.
“It was a pretty radical thing when it started off. You’re going to close down the interstate? Which is what they did the first year. I mean, can you imagine closing the interstate now? No way. The whole world would rise up and smite you. But that’s what they did. They closed down the interstate for a morning, and everybody went out on the interstate and picked up trash.
“It was very radical and very Vermont. And I think the persistence of it is very Vermont.”
Martin understatedly describes her approach to leading the charge against litter as “just kind of throw things out and hope that people catch it.” She said that year to year different local groups — scouts, Rotary, businesses, nonprofits — dive in with more people power. This year, as usual, she’s been making the rounds to widen involvement. Last Tuesday, for example, she arrived at the Middlebury selectboard meeting in signature Green Up regalia — a trash-and-flower festooned floppy straw hat and bright green Green Up bag vestments — to grab the attention of the selectboard and MCTV viewers.
And she has her own list of local heroes, including Peter Brakeley, who’s organized Middlebury Union Middle School’s trash drive for many years, and former Vermont first lady Dorothy Douglas.
“Dorothy is Queen of Green Up in my book,” said Martin. “She’s the year-round Green Up-er. She walks every day, and she picks up every day. She’s just kind of tireless. It’s part of her drill. Part of her routine.”
And there are many such people in Addison County, said Martin, people who “green up” their street or their stretch of road every week.
“There are people who do this all year round and thank heaven for them. Our town is better for having them do it. And thank you! thank you!”
While Martin said she can’t give an exact date for when she first began as Middlebury’s Green Up coordinator, she figures it’s at least since the late 1990s. This year, Martin says, will be her last.
“It could be done better, and it could be done differently, and if we can get some people who will tackle it from a different direction with a whole different approach, that would be great.”
As Martin prepares to pass the baton, it seems important to note that leading the local charge against litter has been just one of many contributions she has made to the public good. She’s a lifelong community activist and organizer. She was an early pioneer as a woman on the Middlebury selectboard and in the Vermont legislature as the town’s representative. And she’s been on the boards of (and, in many cases been part of getting off the ground) such important local organizations as the Mary Johnson Children’s Center, Elderly Service, and Home Health and Hospice.
She’s also a justice of the peace. Martin made time during her interview with the Independent to find a date for an anxious bride and groom, offering to marry the couple wherever they wanted — on a mountaintop, on a bridge, even in her own back yard.
But always the tireless champion of doing one’s small part to build community, Martin said she hopes Vermonters will continue to support the Green Up tradition.
Her advice for this coming Saturday? Choose your spot. Wear gloves. Enjoy your time outside. Watch for traffic.
“Go get a bag and fill it! Go get a bag and fill it. That’s the nice thing about Green Up Day. It’s really very, very simple.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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