Sunday, January 2, 2011

Meet Barry Louis Polisar - Metro DC Lawn and Garden's 2010 Man of the Year

There are a lot of people and groups in the DC area that work tirelessly on community garden projects and other programs to help take care of the planet. But when I was looking for someone to feature as Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog's 2010 Man of the Year, local resident Barry Louis Polisar seemed like a perfect fit.

Not only does Polisar make sure he "takes care of his share" of the planet, but he also writes children's songs to help teach the younger generation the importance of doing their part to keep our planet green. In fact, his song "It All Comes Back to Me" would be an ideal theme song for the Metro DC Lawn and Garden blog, because it reminds listeners that "their yard is connected to the next yard" and all the yards are eventually connected to the Bay. Click arrow below to hear "It All Comes Back to Me".

Although you may not recognize Polisar's name, you have probably heard some of his work - or at least your children have. In a way, Polisar has the same fun job as the character of Charlie Harper on the hit CBS comedy, Two and a Half Men. Polisar writes children's songs for a living with wacky words and titles such as "I Wanna be a Dog", "I Lost My Pants", or "Doo-doo is a Bad Word". His most recognizable tune, however, is "All I Want Is You", the fun, and catchy song that Polisar wrote and sang during the opening credits of the acclaimed 2007 movie, Juno, which starred Ellen Page, Jennifer Gardner and Jason Bateman.

Polisar has earned a slew of awards for his music, including five Parents' Choice Awards. He has performed at The White House, The Smithsonian and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts but mostly he visits schools and libraries because--as he says--"that's where the kids are." He has written songs for Sesame Street and The Weekly Reader, has starred in an Emmy Award-winning television show for children and has been featured regularly on The Learning Channel.

But the mark that Polisar is leaving on the planet isn't just a musical one. Polisar and his family are also doing their part to cleanup some of the damage that other people have left behind while making an effort to lessen their own environmental impact.

In 2001, Polisar and his family bought a large farm property that adjoins a huge wooded preserve surrounding the Patuxent river watershed -- a beautiful place with hills and streams that is only five miles from where Polisar grew up. They spent the next few years cleaning up the land - hauling away over two hundred old tires, a dozen junked cars, half-buried trash, rusty scrap metal, and collapsed and rotting buildings. When he finally got the last tire and last truckload of trash off of the property, he breathed a deep sigh of relief over their long, arduous "tireless efforts".

When he finished with his own property, he decided to "adopt" the watershed next door, hauling out a few more truck loads of trash and tires.

"We are fortunate to live in an amazing place--and would not have been able to afford our home if it had been a pristine and clean estate," Polisar explained. "We knew there would be a lot of sweat equity involved when we jumped in." 

"Some people see a rural piece of property and see that as the perfect place to dump tires and trash and avoid paying dump fees. I quickly saw myself as a custodian of our land--and the adjacent public lands next door. There is a tradition on rural land to burn or bury trash and that may have been okay in an age when everything was assumed to decompose, but we have since learned that bottles, tires and plastic stays forever. Everything washes downstream. Trash that is thrown out the car window washes into the streams and creeks, then gets carried to the rivers and ends up in the bays and oceans."

Not only has Polisar taken it as a personal mission to clean the environment around him, his wife has grown much of the family's food for decades. They have an organic garden and have planted fruit trees and berry bushes on their property.

"We have always grown vegetables in our garden organically," Roni Polisar said. "It was easier in our last home when we had a smaller yard. We don't use any chemicals or pesticides and when we moved here I had to learn a whole new way of what worked with the bugs and animals here. We only moved five miles from our previous home, but the place had a different eco system and there were new bugs that attacked our plants that I had to learn about. Thirty years ago I subscribed to Organic Gardening Magazine and learned a lot of really useful techniques from them. Now, I read a lot on line and am able to figure out natural ways to combat these new pests. For fertilizer I have always used manure and compost."

"I was influenced by Wendell Berry's essay Think Little," Barry added. "That essay talks about how gardeners are the perfect environmentalists--if they garden organically. Nothing goes to waste if you garden. Table scraps get added to the compost pile and a gardener develops a deep connection to the land. Wendell Berry wrote about how we always think about doing big things--but everyday acts are just as important. I think that idea influenced my career as a writer and songwriter--and also my sense of stewardship of the land."

When he isn't hauling trash out of the woods or singing his songs, Barry also writes books for children--and many of them explore environmental themes. "Peculiar Zoo" is a collection of poems about endangered animals and "The Snake Who Was Afraid of People" tells the story of a snake who is captured by a school-aged boy and held prisoner in a jar until he is able to escape--aided by a cadre of beret wearing snakes working underground. He makes his books and music available for free on his web site for anyone to read or listen to: Barry Louis Polisar: Songs and Music for Children

Thanks Barry and Roni for doing your part to keep the area clean and green. All we want for the New Year is more people like you!

Juno Opening Credits Featuring Barry's Song All I Want is You

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