People in Your Neighborhood: Del Mar Heights resident believes in going green

Barbara Sullivan does her best to preserve the environment


From an early age, Del Mar Heights resident Barbara Sullivan says she was conscious of the environment.

“When I got my first allowance, I bought grass seed for my mother and put it into her yard, unbeknownst to her,” Sullivan said. “I was about eight years old. ... She was surprised.”

Barbara Sullivan
(Photo by Barbara Sullivan)

Now 79, Sullivan still revels in being a caretaker of the earth.

“The environment is my God,” she said during a recent interview. “I am a servant of the environment. That’s how I look at life.”

Whether it comes to washing clothes or shopping for groceries, Sullivan avoids energy slurping options.

She has given up using gas heat and walks to the nearest supermarket with a cart to pick up food and household items.

“I’ve been doing that for like 22 years,” she said. “I wash all my clothes by hand and hang them outside to dry.”

She does own a car to drive to her daughter’s home. Other than that, she said she rarely uses it.

“I’m not totally off the cars,” she admits.

Neighbor Arlene Kosakoff said she has known Sullivan for 48 years and is still impressed by her friend’s caring attitude toward nature and her surroundings.

“Barbara got my attention early on,” Kosakoff said. “She and I first started walking together and she pointed out plants and knew the names of all of them, including the scientific names.”

Also, Kosakoff said, she was touched by her friend’s altruism.

“She buys her clothes at the church thrift shop in Del Mar because she doesn’t value material things and saves her money so she can donate to charities such as the Sierra Club, KPBS and causes that benefit the poor,” Kosakoff said.

A native of Chicago, Sullivan moved to the San Diego area in the early 1970s and worked as a researcher in gene therapy at UCSD. She said she has been living in the same house on Recuerdo Drive by Crest Canyon for five decades.

When she goes on a walk in the canyon or on neighboring streets, neighbors see her pulling weeds or picking up litter.

At her home, she collects rain water in barrels, which she uses for household chores as well as to water her garden, including 16 fruit trees.

“I compost everything,” she said. “I don’t generate hardly any garbage. I’m letting everything grow, weeds and all, but the weeds I have are nitrogen filters.

“They’re in the clover system, so they take the nitrogen out of the air and put it in the ground. When they turn dry in the fall, I will compost all of them.”

Sullivan said she realizes others might regard her actions as inconsequential.

“I feel good about it because I feel like I’m helping, you know what I’m saying? I’m helping the environment and helping nature by lowering the CO2 content, and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That’s how I’ve lived my whole life.”