06/20/2012 08:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In Memory of Jerry Goldstein, Eco-Pioneer

When I was a little girl, one of my father's favorite and most essential coworkers was a guy named Jerry Goldstein (pictured on the left). He was the editor of Organic Gardening & Farming magazine. But I just remember playing over at his house with his daughter named Alison (who was my age). I remember feeling that their family was weird like we were. Maybe even weirder. And that felt normal. This weirdness had to do with lots of books and fascinating conversations and health food and a sense of rebellion that was strong but gentle.

And then, one day something happened--I still don't really know what it was--and Jerry and my Dad had a falling out and went their separate ways. Except they didn't, really.  Jerry and his family stayed in Emmaus, and he and his wife, Ina, started their own family business and a magazine called BioCycle. My dad focused on organic agriculture and health, but Jerry was really passionate about compost (poop included)--compost not just to fertilize the soil for agriculture, but as a way to manage and recycle the waste of living. When he worked for my father, he launched Compost Science magazine in 1960 (which I think, though I am not sure, changed to BioCycle after they parted ways).

Over the years, I would see Alison in school, although we weren't really close. And I'd see Jerry around town. He was always smiling and sweet, a gentle soul who didn't seem to hold any grudges. Life went on. Except it didn't, for some. My father was killed in a car accident when he was 60, and his story ended there.

And then, Alison's daughter Keegan started going to the same school as my daughter Eve, and they became fast friends. Suddenly, Alison's sweet face, so like her father's, became familiar again. Instead of compost, though, we were talking about kids, life, and the struggles of dealing with her father, who was suffering from Alzheimer's.

It wasn't until his funeral, when I watched my daughter sitting in the front row next to her friend Keegan, that the pieces all fell into place for me. My daughter never met my father. And as I listened to the stories of Jerry Goldstein--humble, smart, smiling, determined to change the world, and succeeding--I realized it was the closest she was ever going to come to knowing my father. After all the years of distance, Keegan's grandfather and Eve's grandfather were two of a kind, and they would be forever united by a sense of purpose greater than themselves.

And I was so glad that Eve and Keegan had found each other. It felt like somehow the grandfathers had arranged it. Whatever rift the men might have caused would be healed by the women, with the daughters and granddaughters picking up the dream and continuing to bring it to manifestation.

One person speaking at the funeral said people think that things just happen. Things like municipal composting and household recycling. Things like taking a public library in a little old house and building a modern and beautiful building (that today is too small again). They don't just happen; people make them happen. People like Jerry Goldstein. Change starts with one person taking a stand and working to see the change come to fruition. But it also takes many people gathering together to work toward a united view of a better world. And finally, change takes time, multiple generations working toward the same goal.

The best way to honor the pioneers in our life and world is to keep on building on the changes they began. The best way to make change in the world is to just do it. Start it. Live it.

Sometimes it takes a funeral to remember and understand how it all fits together.


For more from Maria Rodale, go to