Unfinished Business

My home is starting to resemble a plant nursery and I’m missing the sweet little greenhouse we had at our old place. It required a pretty large investment of time and money to put that kit together, but it was done with patience and care, and still stands, over 10 years later, on top of a windy hill, seemingly no worse for the wear…


The cheap-ass greenhouse that was erected on the nearby grounds of a local city park just two or three winters ago is falling apart, with the doors ripped off of their cheap plastic hinges, one ventilated window gone and a whole side panel broken in two. But the basics are there, along with water and electricity to it. I’ve tried to steer clear of it, because I foresaw it as the ‘problem child’ that it’s actually become. It sits completely empty, while the trays and little pots of herbs and vegetables I’m trying to start here at home struggle to find enough sunlight to thrive. It would take time, energy and a real commitment to get that greenhouse back into usable condition, and to work out a system for making it productive and useful.

I took part in December in the inaugural planting of our city’s first ‘Food Forest’, on the grounds of a nearby church that offered the flat, sunny lot next to it as a place to plant native species of fruit and nut trees that will someday offer fresh food to passersby.

food forest

Summer plans are to add berries, build an outdoor cob oven, set up rain barrels and plant sunflower hedges there, all while using permaculture and sustainable growing principles. This project will require sustainable human-powered energy and a long term commitment to be successful.

My friend Sarah, a full time student and mother of two with a hard working hubby that struggles to keep his company afloat, writes that she would like to transition to a gluten-free diet, but a perfunctory check revealed that one pound of almond meal cost $12.99! This very issue has been simmering on my brain’s back burner ever since watching a ‘Transition Towns’ documentary about how a once-struggling food co-op in a small Oregon town turned the tide when they added a worker-owned bakery to their little natural foods store. Then, serendipity showed her head and this month’s issue of the long-running magazine Mother Earth News arrived in my mailbox the other day, with a feature article about the money saving and community-making opportunities that are open to members of buying clubs and food co-ops; yet another worthwhile project requiring a long term commitment, but since we all have to eat, doesn’t this one make long term  sense? Here’s a picture of the market I belonged to many years ago…


What do all these things have in common? They’re all unfinished business-projects or ideas that need a  bit of attention, dedication, money, or energy to make them useful and workable, as well as helpful and sustainable for our entire community! I’ve only named a few projects that could quickly improve our resilience and self sufficiency if we’d just get behind them and see them to completion. From this blog’s outset, I’ve written that “If we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being.” We don’t necessarily need to start from scratch to make this a reality. Let’s help complete what’s already been started and grow from there. If you’re reading this as a local reader, please join the bimonthly ‘Livable Communities’ group when we meet at 5 PM today at my house to find ways to do just that. There will be cookies.


Make Your Way to the Maker Faire

Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one happens upon some obscure piece of information– often an unfamiliar word or name– and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly. Anytime the phrase “That’s so weird, I just heard about that the other day” would be appropriate, the utterer is hip-deep in Baader-Meinhof. This post is about my most recent Baader-Meinhof experience-Maker Faires and Maker Spaces. I’ve been reading about them on the internet for a month or so, and had planned to write a post here about them when I’d gathered enough information. Then a blog I follow did a post about a big one in Detroit, complete with YouTube video, a Forbes Magazine did a story about  the Fayetteville, NY Public Library that is offering its’ patrons a permanent Maker Space, and today I literally stumbled across this:

The second annual Maker Faire will be held this coming Sunday, July 14th, at the Kingsport, TN Civic Auditorium, from 1-6 PM. The event is free and is part of the nine day annual FunFest. The following short article  may help you understand what it’s all about…

maker-faire-paellaAbove: Huge vats of paella at San Francisco, CA Maker Faire, May, 2013

“Maker Faires bring together families and individuals to celebrate the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset and showcase all kinds of incredible projects. At a Maker Faire, you’ll find arts and crafts, science and engineering, food and music, maybe fire and water but what makes this event special is that all these interesting projects and smart, creative people belong together. They are actively and openly creating a maker culture.”

“In its simplest form, Maker Faire creates conversations with Makers. It is a show-and-tell format for people of all ages that brings out the “kid” in all of us. Maker Faire is a community-based learning event that inspires everyone to become a Maker and connect to people and projects in their local community. Yet, Maker Faire is a “fair” which should be fun and engaging.”

“Maker Faire provides a venue for makers to show examples of their work and interact with others about it. Often there is no other place to show what they do, because these activities are out of the spotlight of traditional art or science or craft events. DIY often is invisible in our communities, taking place in shops, garages and kitchen tables. So the goal of the event is to make visible the projects and ideas that we don’t encounter every day. Maker Faire, like any fair, might include traditional forms of making but it is primarily designed to be forward-looking, exploring new forms and new technologies.”

maker-faire-r2d2R2D2 robots at San Francisco, CA Maker Faire May, 2013                       Note: There will be robots at the Kingsport Faire too!

” Maker Faire is interactive and educational in all kinds of ways. Maker Faire is not a passive sit-down experience; it’s a hands-on experience that you grab hold of. From simple conversations and detailed explanations to amazing do-it-yourself demonstrations, Maker Faire is all about participation and sharing. Many Makers develop exhibits with hands-on activities; others bring unusual objects that we don’t see every day. All of that creates a stimulating event.”

What Maker Faire is Not

“Maker Faire is not a trade show. Maker Faire is an opportunity for people to share ideas and projects. So Maker Faire is non-commercial in nature, in that we don’t want it dominated by traditional sales and marketing. We hope to create authentic interactions that satisfy each person’s interests. At the same time, we’re not anti-commercial. We are grateful to have businesses as sponsors. We also allow makers to show their work and offer items for sale. We want to help makers succeed in starting a business, if that’s their goal. However, we don’t want to change the look and feel or spirit of the event.”

What’s this got to do with Tennessee Transitions? Everything actually. I’ve spent a year and a half writing this blog about how a shift is taking place, how if we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. I write about how now is the time for us to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. Somebody must be listening because Maker Faires are perfect examples of what I’m talking about, I just didn’t know that’s what it was called! 😀

New Normals

The annual local Christmas tree shredding event, “Chipping of the Greens”,  was begun in 1990, with an all time high of 20,000 trees donated for chipping into mulch in 1998. Last year, the number of trees collected was down to 3,000. The is no longer cost-effective and will be discontinued, even though the city will continue to collect trees and shred them for landscaping mulch.  There has been a significant reduction in the number of real trees used in decorations.  Artificial trees are the ‘New Normal’ it seems. Trees can be placed curbside in Johnson City and Kingsport for residential collection beginning the day after Christmas through the third Saturday in January.  Trees may, also, be unloaded at Winged Deer Park boat ramp parking lot.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency creates fish habitats in area lakes by sinking the trees. 

What are some other ‘new normals?’  Serial shootings. Fiscal cliffs. Smaller wage hikes. Cell Phones.  Long Term Care Insurance. No insurance. Staycations over Vacations. Long Term Unemployment. Higher climate temperatures. Lower blood pressure standards. Stronger and more frequent storms. $3 plus per gallon for gasoline. New Iphone releases. Type II Diabetes.  GMO foods. Higher food prices-hey! I thought those GMO’s were supposed to save us all!  Planned obsolescence. 

You know what? Just for fun, I’m going to list some POSITIVE ‘new normals’ that I’ve also noticed:

Social Networking and blogs. Civic awakening. A weekly TV show called “The New Normal” about how a gay couple  and a mother form a family unit when she helps them have a child (which I’d never heard of until I began doing some research for this post). Open source software. Crowd Sourcing. Crowd Funding. Eating and shopping locally. Lower thermostat settings. Forever Stamps. Recycling. Composting. Victory Gardens. Farmer’s Markets. Cities in the US that allow backyard chickens. US manufacturers moving their operations back home.  Transition Initiatives.

 Little Free Libraries …

Little Free Libraries

Increased Bike Sales…

2011 was the first year for over 40 years that more new bicycles were sold than cars in Italy.

2011 was the first year for over 40 years that more new bicycles were sold than cars in Italy.

Here’s the point: The world is rapidly changing, and many of those changes are coming about as a response to the challenges of climate change, resource depletion and global inequity. We can use these challenges as opportunities to transition to a way of living that is  significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. That’s a ‘new normal’ we can all embrace!

Just Sayin…

Because I can’t seem to find the time or energy these days to do the research and writing to put together a single feature blog post, maybe it’s time yet again for a little of this and that-things I wanted to write about, none of which would make a full post.

Walkabouts…not just for Australians anymore. Michael and I went on a walkabout of Johnson City Thursday night, with 130 other folks interested in all the new stuff going on in or near downtown. Aside from the fact that it was a perfect late fall evening, this ‘guided tour’, which began at Nelson’s Fine Art Center, then proceeded to several historic and new business sites, was informative and fun!

Artist’s rendering of new apartments at corner of Roan and State of Franklin

Many of the participating stops offered free food and drinks, ending with pie and coffee inside the old train depot, soon to be Tupelo Honey’s newest eatery! Future walkabouts are planned and I highly encourage you to join in the fun while learning first hand all the absolutely wonderful things that are developing in this town. And it’s a nice way to meet others in YOUR community~just sayin’…

Another growing season at the Carver Peace Community Gardens has come and (mostly) gone. It was successful, but not without its share of problems. From the flooding on August 5th, to the city rats that discovered how good sweet potatoes are, we all managed to coax lots of veggies, flowers and herbs from our plots. But the time has come to take steps to make the garden more sustainable-not just with our gardening practices, but as a community, economically, environmentally and politically. So I plan to begin the long-dreaded process of applying for 5013c (non-profit) status this winter. Doing so will allow me to apply for grant money as well as enable it to partner with sponsors and other service organizations. I’ve delayed this obvious next step because of the paper work and governmental reporting it will require, but one of the loyal gardeners has offered to help with this process, so it’s given me the incentive I needed. Remember the line from the old John Wayne movie, “This town ain’t big enough for both of us”? That doesn’t apply to community gardens and I feel strongly that  for urban growers with tiny, shady yards it’s the best way to get control of our food supply, get to know our neighbors, save money and put food on our tables, regardless of who wins the election, regardless of how much gasoline costs and regardless of the economy. We’re lucky to live in an area that gets plenty of rainfall, and where there’s still lots of green spaces for growing. If you know of an empty lot that might be suitable for establishing a community garden, let me know, and I’ll be glad to share my experience with you. Remember, behind the apartment complex, in the cul-de-sac, beside the school, anywhere there’s sun and a patch of land can be made productive. Just sayin’…

Speaking of communal growing and caring…  Crowdsourcing, according to Wikipedia, is “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.” It’s something I’ve been hearing about more and more these days and is an idea that makes a lot of sense. Evidently it’s an old idea becoming popular again, especially with the advent of the internet in our lives.  The Oxford English Dictionary may provide one of the earliest examples of crowdsourcing. An open call was made to the community for contributions by volunteers to index all words in the English language and provide example quotations of their usages for each and every one. They received over 6 million submissions over a period of 70 years! This summer found Chicagoans watering 10,000 young trees in their city parks that were suffering during the record heat and drought. You can read about it here: http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/chicago-crowdsourcing-watering-10000-trees-during-drought.html   Other recent examples include how folks in New York City came out to help harvest this year’s crop of organically grown Mexican vegetables and herbs at El Pablano Farm when the growers suffered setbacks, retailers seeking customer input for new brand or company names, software companies asking users to test their products, and as a matter of fact, it’s EXACTLY how Wikipedia works! I believe as we transition to a lower-energy world with growing climate changes, we’ll begin to see more and more of this type of communal problem solving. Just sayin’…

Speaking of climate changes,  helloooo ‘Frankenstorm Sandy’! We here in TN are incredibly lucky to be out of harm’s way from this storm, but not so for millions of others on the eastern seaboard. Yes, yes, of course we’ve always had hurricanes, but this storm is an extremely unusual combination of Hurricane Sandy, an early winter storm in the West, and a blast of arctic air from the North. It ain’t normal folks!


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