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Starting a Business After Age 50

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“Waste Not, Want Not” Inspires Green House Founder

Betty Gearen in front of The Green House.

Photo: Lee Ann Bowman

When Betty Gearen was a girl, she often spent summers with her Grandma Bea, who made her own clothes, canned and baked, used “every single thing in the house” and gave leftovers to neighbors and friends. Grandma Bea’s mantra was forged by the Great Depression: “Waste Not, Want Not.”

Betty the child was not interested – she just wanted to go outside and play. Today, Betty, at 66, not only lives by Grandma Bea’s words, she teaches others to do so. She is the director and heart behind The Green House in Pauoa, a nonprofit that helps people learn to live sustainably, whether by growing their own food, recycling or being resourceful in a hundred different ways.

The Green House, which is also the home of Gearen and her husband, Mike, has a central mission: to make the world “greener.” In 2012, it received an Omidyar Grant of $98,000 to support its Growing Green Schools zero-waste pilot project.

The Green House also teaches the basics of organic gardening for residents of a homeless shelter, the Institute for Human Services. And it’s helping Windward Community College implement a new program for nursing students in which they learn to grow and prepare food for health and medicine on site.

Gearen’s “consciousness” about the environment began in the 1970s, when the recycling movement was just beginning in the Islands. When a shipping strike threatened to last more than a few weeks, Betty was appalled as she watched shoppers stock up on whatever was threatened by the strike. She made a quiet decision to stop buying paper towels and paper napkins and hasn’t used them since.

Many years later, she and others taught monthly sustainability classes in the Sierra Club office on the third floor of the Richards Street YWCA. Enrollment grew each month, the email list expanded and, eventually, she needed a space to do “hands-on” demonstrations of soap-making, natural cleaning methods, composting, gray-water diversion and many other techniques.

Today, Betty encourages sustainability among people of all stripes, from young environmentalists wanting to change the world to folks who email or call because they are clueless about how to get started.

With more and more people coming to her home on Pakohana Street for classes, The Green House LLC was born.

Her rejection way back when of her grandma’s invitation to live sustainably haunts Betty today, but it may be why she understands that people have to be ready to change. She marvels at the differences between her growing-up years and today’s consumer culture.

“We’ve lost, in such a short time, the connection to the Earth,” she laments.


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