By: Tori Wong
“Ah, so you’re here to talk about life with the eco-nut, are you?”
The voice and laughter of Ed Sandtner floated through the open doorway of his historic Civil War home in downtown Fredericksburg.
His wife, the so-called “eco-nut” Paula Chow, sat on a footstool and waved from the living room.
When she greets you, she beams. A huge, enthusiastic smile spread across her face and her eyes twinkled.
She has a talent for connecting with people. Throughout her life as a social worker, writer and now environmental activist, she used this skill to forge ahead.
In 2007, Chow and Sandtner moved to Fredericksburg after 40 years in Napa Valley, Ca. Chow said environmentalism had always been in her soul, but since their move, Sandtner said it “started taking over her life.”
When asked how she first became an “eco-nut,” Chow released a hearty, loving laugh.
“I wasn’t an environmentalist by occupation,” she said.
But coming from California she said she went into environmental culture shock at the lack of awareness in Virginia.
“I found myself getting enraged that people weren’t recycling. That’s when I knew it was time to act,” she said.
She explained that she grew up in Hawaii, where resort and tourism development have destroyed much of the natural beauty of her hometown.
“I can see the same thing happening in California and all over the country,” she said. “But once it is gone, it is gone forever. I don’t think a lot of people realize that.”
Between her outrage and her determination, Chow landed a spot on the Fredericksburg Clean and Green commission. It is a City Council-appointed group that is charged with “ensuring effective planning and maintenance of landscape elements and amenities and encouraging a clean and aesthetically pleasing environment in Fredericksburg,” according to its bylaws.
Through her position on the Clean and Green Commission, Chow was offered space to write a monthly environmental column in the Front Porch Fredericksburg, a local free community magazine.
Chow provides advice on how to become a greener citizen and is encouraged by the impact it has had.
“It’s actually working. People have come up to me in the grocery store to tell me the changes they made in their life because they read it in the Front Porch,” she said.
In addition, Chow sits on the Rappahannock Group Sierra Club’s executive committee, works with the George Washington Regional Commission Green Waste committee and has appeared as a guest speaker at Fredericksburg Green Drinks, an open sustainability focus group that meets in the Otter House on the last Thursday of every month.
All of Chow’s activities are also completely voluntary, but they do keep her calendar quite full.
“This stuff is a job for which she gets no money,” said Sandtner. “But, for her, it’s all about leaving the world a better place. She does what she needs to do.”
Last fall, Chow starred in the Sierra Club’s “America Recycles Day” skit as Miss Green America, wearing a faux fur coat, platinum blond wig and toilet paper curlers in her hair.
“Nobody thinks it’s weird,” laughed Paula. “But I’m really quite eccentric, you know?”
Sandtner agreed; he could know better than anyone.
“She’s just buzzing. She has a very high energy level—her mind speeds from thing to thing,” he explained.
But, sometimes Chow’s energy gets Sandtner into some interesting situations.
“We were stopped at a busy intersection stoplight off Route 3,” Sandtner sighed, “when Paula sees a crushed plastic bottle by the median.” His arms flailed wildly as he imitated the traffic flying past their car as Paula pushed him out to the street to retrieve the bottle for recycling.
“It wasn’t until we moved here that she got so involved in this movement, but that’s just the way her mind works,” he said.