Home » Sam Garst July’s “Mover & Shaker”

Sam Garst July’s “Mover & Shaker”

By Diane Altman

After traveling more than 42 thousand miles during one trip and seeing every state in the country throughout the years, Olympia stood out. “I had never been in a town as friendly as Olympia,” says Sam Garst.

Even though they didn’t know anyone in Washington State, Garst and his wife Christine moved to Thurston County in the summer of 2004. They saw the value of the climate, outdoor recreation and naturally friendly people. “Not knowing anyone and meeting such genuine people who make you feel at home, is a testament to the great people of Thurston County,” Garst said.

From not knowing anyone, to hosting more than a thousand people through his five-star Built-Green Home has been a journey of community activism and local involvement. Guests to his home will notice the orange trees producing in his greenhouse along with the clean energy and solar panels that make the home carbon neutral. According to Garst, his clean energy house, that won the 2007 Olympia Master Builder Tour of Homes, is likely the first of its kind for Thurston County.

“Getting energy right is the only way to avoid climate change,” says Garst. This long held belief allowed Garst, who served in the Congressional Affairs Department of Agriculture during the Carter Administration, to work as a lead in USDA lobbying efforts for the energy bill. During his time in the other Washington, Garst worked steadily to support the first comprehensive attempts to wean Americans from fossil fuels and create efficiency standards. He continues to use those same standards to live his carbon neutral lifestyle and is looking forward to the arrival of his new electric cars this fall.

While Garst would rather highlight other people who are active in the community, his work with renewable energy, state parks and Thurston Climate Action Team (TCAT) make people take notice. “If I am recognized, I’d like it to be as somebody who gets things done,” says Garst.
One of the ways he “got things done” here in Olympia, is at the Farmers Market. Visitors to the market will notice the newly dedicated large solar panels, which provide much of the electricity for the market. Garst, along with other investors, worked a deal to get funding for this project.

The $1.5 million Obama stimulus funding that went to the TCAT was also part of the planning to get things done, according to Garst. “What we can do is change the paradigm people have of climate change,” he said. The economic stimulus of job creation partners well with the clean energy options in Thurston County. When he moved to the county, there were no solar installers working in the industry. Now, the phone listings show at least five.

Each new clean energy dollar spent is generating about an additional four dollars to local economic activity, he said. Solar panel installation and maintenance adds jobs, and bank loans are generated for upgrading energy efficient homes. All this directly benefits the community, according to Garst. He also said he believes the TCAT, which he co-founded and now serves as vice-chair, is making a dent in the understanding and opportunities of clean energy. The five-member board holds open meetings at the courthouse on the third Wednesday of every month. They sponsor education platforms, discuss building costs and serve to bring understanding of clean energy.

“One of the things I learned in life is that you try to give back to society,” says Garst. This was modeled early on when his family donated 5 thousand acres to be preserved and used as parks. “I believe this is the largest contiguous donation by a private individual in the history of Iowa,” said Garst. He grew up in Coon Rapids, a town founded by his family in the 1800’s with multiple family farms. The farming heritage led nicely to his role in 1983 as the National Sales Manager for the Garst Seed Company.

After his early career, travel and early retirement at age 48, Garst says he, “Got back to work” at age 56 and moved from the seed plant business into growing financial opportunities as a financial planner. He lives by the mantra repeated by his banker uncle John Crystal who said, “Do well, while doing good.”

Part of doing “good” in the community involves work with the local parks, where Garst currently serves as the Chairman of the Washington State Parks Foundation. He actively enhances park lands with trail signage, building outdoor theaters and even a recent dining hall. As parks revenues are cut through state funding, he works to raise private and corporate donors to preserve the beauty of Washington Parks.

Garst is considered a “Mover and Shaker” by the Business Values Magazine for his commitment to the community, parks and clean energy. Garst says he just wants to make a difference. “I just do my thing. If not me, who? If not now, when?”

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