Filed under: A New Paradigm, Adapting to Change | Tags: Christmas parade, community building, community gardens, Farmer's Market, Neighborhood Associations, Neighborhood Watch, pollinator garden, pollinators, pumpkins, renewable energy, solar panels, vegan diet
October is definitely a transition month. As we move from one season to another, the changes are obvious. The temperatures, the leaves, the clothes we wear and the foods we eat are all in transition. This first fall-like day here in NE TN saw me wearing tights instead of shorts, seeing nuts and pumpkins and apples for sale at the Farmer’s Market, and making a pot of soup for supper (to help use up the last of the summer squash, tomatoes and peppers).
As a species, we often resist changes, particularly those that we perceive to be difficult or perhaps even unwanted. But the transitions that I write about can lead to a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. And I believe those transitions have begun: just like the changing leaves, I can actually see them, and their coming into focus gives me hope for our collective futures like nothing else! Re-creating that 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 will ensure that, regardless of what goes on in the world, we’ll all eat, and we’ll all have shelter from the storms of life. This transition idea isn’t some utopian idealism in my mind, but is actually becoming the new reality of this century. It seems that almost every day I read, see, or hear about yet another group of neighbors, friends or citizens that are coming together to grow food, share tools, downsize and otherwise help one another not only survive, but thrive. Isn’t that what we all want?
My own long-defunct neighborhood association has recently reconvened and taken positive first steps to cut crime, make our streets safer with better lighting, and start a neighborhood watch program, all while involving kids and teens in the process. We are formulating working plans for action teams to tackle illegal July 4th fireworks that go on way beyond the holiday each year, as well as a ‘Pumpkins in the Park’ kids’ event, and a float in the upcoming Christmas parade. I’m also excited that we’re going to have a ‘Community Day’, which should be a great way to further our connections with one another!
These neighborhood transitions are taking place at the same time that transitions are slowly taking place in nearby downtown. On our walk this evening we noticed yet another old building having the cheap 60’s era facade torn off to re-expose the beautiful brickwork and arched windows of an earlier era. Our new $1.5 million Farmer’s Market is nearing completion, and a new community garden is being installed in a low income housing community. If THAT’S not tangible proof of changing attitudes about the value of local food systems, I don’t know what is! Conserving natural resources is another area going through transitions. Some of our downtown businesses have recently added solar panels and hydroponic gardens to their buildings, while others are using the latest conservation methods they can. Alternative energy systems are no longer considered futuristic idealism, but will become the norm for most of us during our lifetimes. Our municipal landfill has been developed into a gas energy project that turned it into a community asset, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and creates renewable energy by turning its’ waste into wealth, and now provides our VA Campus and part of the local college with landfill gas. And our public library is replacing the old front lawn with a pollinator-attracting ‘meadow’ made up of native plants that will be watered by rainwater collected from a roof- top collection system that will lead to an underground filtration system that will keep the new landscaping watered without using any extra water. The sustainability factor of this new landscaping will likely serve as a model for future pollinator projects: talk about transitioning!
And finally, on a very personal level, Michael has discovered, through much trial and error, that a completely plant-based diet has restored him to good health again. We love bacon as much as anyone, but if you remember, I discontinued my high cholesterol statin a few months ago and he really struggled with mysterious autoimmune type symptoms since he finished his chemotherapy last summer so we were desperate to find solutions to both health issues. We are now transitioning to a vegan diet that seems to have resolved both problems.Transitioning can take many forms, and this is just one more. We’re calling this a lifestyle change, rather than a diet, because ‘diet’ makes it sound temporary but this transition is for life! The good news is that we’re hoping this change keeps us healthy and that we’ll be able to provide for most of our dietary needs through gardening and by making regular visits to that new Farmer’s Market!
Buckminster Fuller once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” I always did like Bucky…
Filed under: And Justice for All, Food Waste | Tags: biodigesters, BOGO, community gardens, Craigslist, Farm Bill, FIFO, gleaning, global issues, inmate labor, landfills, Livable Communities, local foods, regional food systems, seasonal eating, small sizing, urban gardens, waste disposal
I’ve spent this summer reading “American Wasteland”, a tome by Jonathon Bloom about the reasons so many American children are going hungry. My mother’s admonishments about how I shouldn’t leave food on my plate because of the “starving ‘negra’ children” had an impact on me. I’ve always quietly prided myself for paying my daily dues so that I could be a member of the “clean plate club”. Fast forward 60 years and into our current-day ‘disposable’ society. On one hand our country is blessed to have so much, but the easy availability of everything from food to plastic water bottles has also devalued much of what we have. So much so that a tremendous amount is simply wasted. There’s an old saying, that “Familiarity breeds contempt”. That’s what Mr. Bloom writes about so compellingly. I like my new saying much better: “There is no ‘away’, as in, ‘throw it away‘ “.
Turns out, there is tremendous food waste in this country especially, but also in developed countries all over the world: from farm to table to landfill, every step of the way there is unbelievable waste, with home plate waste being less problematic than my mom led me to believe. I’ve spent much of my adult life patting myself on the back for cleaning my plate, planning and preparing meals based on what I have on hand, then feeding chickens, dogs and soil with the rest. I tend to feel that I have the most control over things that can be handled at the personal level, and that it’s more difficult to control food waste at any other level, but it’s certainly not impossible.
This is where WE come in: I am certain that, just like with any other ‘movement’, this problem of so much food waste can be greatly reduced, as long as there are enough blogs, letters and emails written, enough news reports spread and petitions signed, enough Facebook pages created and enough folks like you and me to care enough to “Do Something!” beyond cleaning our plates every night.
According to Mr. Bloom’s research, the number one source of food waste is right in the fields and orchards, where growth begins and ends. Many issues come into play at that level, from crop price (sometimes it’s not even profitable for a farmer to pay a crew to harvest the crop so it is left to rot in the field), to consumer demand for perfect looking-stunningly perfect looking-fruits and vegetables. Anything less than perfect is discarded, or in a best case scenario is sent to a cannery. 30-50% of each and every crop goes unharvested for that reason alone. Then, when the produce department employee culls out the tomato that’s developed a tiny blemish ( and I do mean tiny) or the pepper that shows a slight wrinkle, it’s tossed. Food rescue groups have surged in larger metro areas, sometimes picking up 1000 lbs of edible, good food a day, from a single grocery chain. CASES of farm fresh vegetables, boxes of fruits, bags and bags of greens and salads, potatoes, carrots and onions are dumped each and every day. That’s just at the store level.
Restaurants and cafes-especially buffets- schools, work place cafeterias, dairies, canneries, convenience stores and bakeries all contribute to food waste because not only do we expect to see fully loaded bins or steam tables 5 minutes before a food retailer closes, the practice of ‘keeping it full’ forces them to throw away prepared foods due to the threat of it going bad faster…
BOGO offers that tempt us to buy more than we can use…
and refrigerators that are too large…
all contribute to this problem. Easy ‘out of sight, out of mind’ disposal methods add to our tendency to waste food. In many parts of Europe, large disposal fees have been imposed, cutting down on waste and prompting the building and use of local digesters that use anaerobic decomposition to break down the waste in an environmentally friendly way, producing enough renewable energy to power small towns or villages.
Why bother with all of this? As part of our transition efforts to re-create 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, ‘thou shalt not waste anything’ should be our first commandment.
So what can we do at a level that would truly ‘make a difference’? Consider these actions:
* Buying and eating local and regional foods will ensure that they weren’t shipped from across the country or from the other side of the world. Shorter shipping distances means the food is much much fresher when you do buy it.
* Consider growing some of your own food. Trust me, if you’re growing it, you will not let a single thing go to waste! Not a single morsel.
* Start a local gleaning group in your community or join one that’s already established. The practice of gleaning a farmer’s fields was first mentioned in the Bible, making it an especially acceptable practice if you live in the Bible Belt like I do. It also happens that many crops are grown in this belt. Jesus would approve I’m sure.
* Encourage through your buying choices and via letters or personal requests that food manufacturers and retailers offer more items in resealable packaging and smaller quantities (half loafs of bread to better serve smaller households, for example).
* Push for local, or better yet, STATE, landfill food-waste bans would prompt innovation and help us develop environmentally friendly ways to process food waste. You didn’t hear it from me, but I’ve heard our city is poised to begin a commercial food-waste composting facility in the near future, and if landfill operations could no longer undercut them on price, it will help ensure their success.
*If total bans are not in the making, making waste disposal more expensive or charging by the ton would have a ripple effect through the food chain, likely causing a bubble up effect of food conservation from a more conscientious public
* Encourage farmers to donate excess food-form a database or a Craigslist for food in your community
* Use inmate labor to harness already-harvested crops from growers and packers. Thousands of pounds per day are tilled under or discarded because this produce doesn’t meet market specifications
* Bring urban food-bank clients to excess farm food, encouraging self reliance and fostering food appreciation in the process. If transportation is a problem, pair clients with urban or community garden programs.
* Reconsider what foods the government funds-subsidizing commodity crops makes those crops artificially cheap, encouraging waste. Let your elected officials and the USDA know that you want the next Farm Aid bill to be for eaters, not just growers!
* Plan your meals and menus ahead, using what you have on hand before buying more. FIFO is an effective inventory system that retailers use: First In, First Out.
*Get more restaurants to offer smaller portions for smaller prices. A ‘smart sizing’ campaign could even reverse the negative effect of ‘super sizing’.
The future of food is important and implementing regional food systems, with the use of hoop houses to grow warm weather crops year round, along with a return to more seasonal eating would also lessen food waste. “Peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall” the old song goes… don’t let that sage advice go to waste!
Filed under: A New Paradigm, Adapting to Change, Informal Economy | Tags: B12 shots, Bok Choy, community gardens, potlucks, seed saving, seed sharing, urban living
Traditionally, ‘informal economy’ referred to economic activity that is neither taxed nor regulated by a government. Even though the term may be rather unfamiliar, examples of informal economies practices are as familiar as babysitting or the drug trade. But I recently read a different description of ‘informal economy’: “that which allows people to acquire goods and services they might not otherwise afford.” It’s an idea that deserves more than a glance. As we move into the second half of 2015, I sense a deepening economic uncertainty that demands each of us find ways to transition to a life style that is built on community, local resilience and living well on less. Enter: trade and barter.
Not long ago I bartered fresh heads of bok choy in exchange for a nurse neighbor’s steady hand in giving Michael his B-12 shots. We often trade watering or harvesting chores down at the community garden with fellow vacationers. A friend recently had a raised bed but nothing to plant in it, nor any extra money to invest in it. So I gave her some of my heirloom bean seeds that I’d saved, to plant in her bed. She’ll no doubt enjoy eating her beans all winter, and has promised to repay me in fresh beans. Yesterday I offered my skills as a canner to a woman that is equally skilled in quilting. We will both benefit from our reciprocal agreement to ‘help one another’. Carpooling, house and pet sitting are favorite trade-offs for me. I also enjoy doing sewing repairs in exchange for goods or services that I might need. Years ago I helped an acquaintance prepare for a major move by organizing and packing, in exchange for several months of fiddle lessons; our friendship has lasted long after the trades were completed. These informal economies help friendships to grow and allow all involved to benefit without any money being exchanged.
I wrote here recently about the free truckloads of gravel for my driveway I was able to get, via Freecycle, from a nearby church, who just wanted it off of their parking lot. My own church offers many, many opportunities for sharing and trading of goods and services. Our local electric cooperative delivers shredded wood mulch for free to anyone that lives within the city limits, and the city crews deliver shredded leaves for our compost piles during the fall leaf pickup. The members of the nearby community garden that I manage are constantly learning from, trading with, and helping one another, even though we all started as perfect strangers and have few common bonds other than our love for growing fresh, organic food. From an online community to a community garden, all of these informal economies help to build community strength and resilience.
The nearby town of Abingdon, VA is home to the Barter Theater, a live theater venue that was set up during the Depression and so named because you could gain admission to see a play by bartering fresh eggs, produce or chickens instead of paying the 40 cent admission price. During that same period, when no one had any cash, it wasn’t uncommon for doctors to accept food as payment. My own grandfather was known to accept car repairs and haircuts as payment for his bookkeeping and accounting skills.
For all those aspects of life that we need in order to sustain ourselves and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (in response to peak oil), drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change) and greatly strengthen our local economy (in response to economic instability)? An Informal Economy is a logical starting point and offers limitless possibilities that can help us with these transition issues. Some communities have even gone so far as to start community currencies based on barter, trading one hour of work for $10 in credit. From food to computer skills, we all have something to offer. Might a more formal organization of these kinds of efforts be more helpful or hassle? Please let me know in the comments section below if you or your community are working in informal economies, and what affects it is having on your resilience and/or personal economy.
Filed under: Community Building, Livable Community | Tags: bike paths, community gardens, Farmer's Market, green spaces, Livable Communities, public transportation, resilent, walkability
Back in 2011 my city held an ‘Economic Summit’ that had great speakers and breakout sessions, while offering lots of info for anyone that wanted to know the state of the city. It was there that the attendees were given a survey to answer the question, “What would make our city more livable?”. The answers were then compiled and developed into a Stategic Plan for the the members of the Community Partnerships group to use as as a guiding light, if you will. Several subgroups were formed as a result of that survey, and even though the Livable Communities group has been meeting for about a decade or more, it was first introduced to me during that summit. Today I serve as chairperson of the group because it’s purpose and function integrated so seamlessly with my own values for transitioning to a lifestyle that is based on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being, that I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
The current Livable Communities group serves as a sort of advisory group to the city, yet remains autonomous enough to implement plans and ideas of our own. As our community has built resilient “amenities,” such as community gardens, green spaces, a more walkable business district, farmers markets and bike paths, we have certainly become a more desirable place to live- and invest in, it seems. The survey results have served us well in acting as our guide.
The good news is, we have pretty much managed to see implementation of many of the things the survey results revealed. One remaining ‘wish list’ item from the survey is to ”Improve public transportation using the Complete Streets model with a schedule to accommodate working people.”
We’re not there yet folks, but I’ve recently discovered some incredible online resources to begin this next phase of our efforts to improve our bus transit system. Stay tuned here for updates on that process, as our current system really does leave a lot to be desired…
But first things first; our committee is planning to partner with other nonprofits to man a table during the upcoming Blue Plum music festival, being held in downtown Johnson City on June 5-7th. We’ll share the space with Build It Up E. TN, Grow Appalachia!, Insight Alliance, the JC Public Library, and Appalachian Resource Council and we’ll have various items to attract passersby to the table. Maps, Quilt Trail Guides, Local Food Guides and even some locally produced food products will be for sale, along with library resources and much more. The spot we’ll hold down is THE BEST spot in town for this, underneath the wide overhang of the Insight Alliance offices, located at 207 E Main St. It’s a half block from the main stage, with bathrooms and a water fountain just inside. I’m looking for folks to join us at the festival and hope that you’ll attend our planning session next Tuesday, May 19th at 5:30 at the same location. Our main message this year is simply ‘all things local’. If you have any ideas for making that message more attention getting, I’d love to hear from you!
2014 Blue Plum Table
Filed under: Community Building, Transition Towns | Tags: community gardens, greenhouse, public art, scarves farmer's market, VA Campus
Michael and I took a long walk with the dog this afternoon around town. I snapped pictures of things that I found interesting, and thought my local readers might enjoy taking this tour with me. I’m so pleased with the progress we’re seeing and look forward to the time when the postcard scenes that are in my mind become a reality. In the meantime, I’m find I’m fascinated with the journey. By the way, this pictoral shows some of the activity of progress, but it also shows some of the ‘humanity’ that’s often harder to see. (note: double clicking on the pictures will enlarge them)
First stop, about a block away, is just a nice scene that I get to enjoy year round. In the distance, down the hill, are the Carver Peace Gardens…
As I enter this community gardens, I’m thrilled to see that the city has done exactly what I asked them to do! They’ve moved the little unused and inaccessible greenhouse to a much better spot within the garden area and will have water and electric run to it within a few weeks. The addition of this greenhouse means that we’ll be able to not only start herbs, flowers and veggies for the resident gardeners within its’ cozy interior, but hopefully we’ll be able to grow enough to share with other community gardens in town!
After marveling over this gift, we travel on down the street, through a neighborhood that we don’t often walk through. Lo and behold! there’s an empty, sunny, corner lot in the middle of the ‘hood with a new sign planted there…
I love the idea of community gardens and feel it is truly one of the best ways there is to have healthy food on our tables and strong communities! A few more blocks down and we find ourselves on the VA campus, at the intersection of Peace and Freedom. What a wonderful place to be on a beautiful and warm winter’s day…
Circling to the back of the beautiful campus, and into the crown jewel of our fair city, we find ourselves face to face with the new public art sculptures that were installed just this week. I didn’t take this picture because I was there in bright sunlight, but I wanted you to see how beautiful it looks at night.
Leaving the other end of the park, we see the site preparation work that was begun this week for the new Farmer’s Market. This one will have vendor stalls with a roof for rainy days, lighting, bathrooms and more!
As we make the loop through downtown to head back home, we happen to walk past some trees that are wrapped in winter scarves!
Upon closer inspection we read the attached tags…
“I am not lost! If you’re stuck out in the cold please take this to keep warm”
As much as I love our community gardens, public art, Farmer’s Markets, greenways, bikeways and beautiful mountain scenery, THIS stole my heart. The note is right! We are NOT lost; we’re finding our way, inch by inch, and scarf by scarf in a world that I sometimes feel is cold and scary. We’re making the transitions that are necessary to keep us connected and vibrant, but It really does take a village. My village is awesome!
Filed under: Adapting to Change, Buy Local, Local food system | Tags: community gardens, Livable Communities, local foods locavore local economies
Locavore. Local Food. Local Economy. Local Business. There’s that ‘local’ word again. I sometimes become discouraged at the apathy shown by our government and by consumers over the fragility and quality of our food supply. But Saturday offered a ray of hope here in my town. A local non-profit group, ‘Build It Up East Tennessee’ had announced a community meeting to discuss the particulars of a grant they’ve received that will help 10-15 local residents set up their own ‘market garden’. I attended the meeting simply because I was curious about the program. But there were about 100 others there, and it seemed as though most of them were there because they really wanted to be a part of this initiative to ‘Grow Appalachia’. The stipulations for the growers-to-be were not overwhelming, but firm and fair, specifically designed to get more local foods into our stores and markets, while offering the growers tools, instruction and cash for their crops. The funding is only available for this year, but I think the turnout was a good indicator of how much interest there is in growing and eating local food.
This only shows about a fourth of the people that were at the community meeting
Now, all that said, let’s discuss what this means. Granted, some of the folks are attracted to the idea of making money for doing something they love anyway, (smells like a j.o.b. to me) but several I spoke with seemed drawn to the idea simply because they too, want to see our local food system become sustainable, providing jobs and the freshest food possible. When food grows, families and communities grow too. Growing food also empowers us to live healthy, productive lives. The link is indisputable.
Another personal indicator that the demand is growing, lies in the the number of community garden applications I’ve already received for the 2015 growing season. More than ever, folks that have no place to grow are wanting a plot as well as some direction and community. I’m thinking it’s time to consider (yet) another community garden in another part of town. I’m also noticing more area restaurants touting ‘locally grown’ on everything from pizza toppings to salads to craft beers. Grocers and markets are showcasing ‘locally grown’ produce and products by using specially marked areas and signs in their stores, and our city has begun the process of building a brand new downtown farmer’s market to accommodate the ‘growing’ numbers of vendors that this demand for local foods has created.
So, what’s all this got to do with transitioning? I know that I’m often preaching to the choir here, but just in case you haven’t been indoctrinated yet, our very future lies in being localized. We can no longer safely depend on imports of far-away foods and fuels. The low gas prices here in the US are inadvertently causing serious economic problems in other parts of the world…those places that depend on higher priced oil exports to other first world countries to keep their economies afloat. They are quickly reaching the break even point on their oil drilling enterprises. When they do, will they continue to export oils and fuels to the rest of the world? Do we want to wait to find out if that happens before we DO something? And here’s where the apathy I mentioned sets in. Is setting up a plan for community food security such an outrageous thing to do, even if the exports of cheap goods and food continue to flow into our country? Is wanting the best-tasting, freshest, most nutritious and secure food system we can possibly produce crazy-talk?
I see so many opportunities for local food purveyors to start new businesses, develop new value-added products, and earn a decent income too. We are lucky enough to live in an area with adequate rainfall and moderate temperatures that allow us to grow practically year round. From apple juice to peanut butter, we can ‘make it local’. I’m going to leave you with a cool little app that makes this point. It’s not a download…simply click on the blue link and watch for a few seconds. “Sometimes it only takes a little to change big things”
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: community gardens, greenhouse, potlucks, yard sales
I was given a greenhouse. That’s it up there ↑. The couple that owned it just wanted to get rid of it, and said if I could figure out how to get it home, I could have it. Where there’s a will there’s a way… A friend with a pick up truck and a flat bed trailer came to the rescue, along with a bunch of guys from my church. Plans for outfitting it and planting some winter greens are brewing!
The greenhouse alone would’ve been the frugalist ? thing ever but life goes on as usual and each day is a new opportunity to ‘live well on less’.
Monday: Michael and I volunteered to deliver posters around town for the local college’s ‘School of the Arts’ fall series and earned tickets to a performance tomorrow night at our regional live theater for doing so. We’re going to see “Hollywood Confidential”. The tickets would’ve cost us $37 a piece, so this was a real bonus. In addition to the theater tickets, we were also given a gift card for 2 free ice cream cones at the local ice cream shoppe, Yum!
Tuesday: I tried a new recipe for zucchini, taken directly from a recent edition of Mother Earth News. Basically, slice and fry, turning to brown evenly on both sides, then drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper. I also fried up some sage leaves for about 3 minutes to garnish the slices with. It’s a great way to use up that sage AND zucchini, and it filled out a meal of leftover casserole, garlic bread and corn on the cob. Oh yeah, it was really good. Now I only have 99 more zucchini to use up 😉
Wednesday: We worked in the gardens for quite a while today and were really hot and tired afterwards. Have you ever been grocery shopping and when you were through, felt too exhausted to cook? That’s where we were on this night. It happened to be the night for my church’s monthly Wednesday night supper and we were able to enjoy a glass of wine, a wonderful meal and dessert for $5 a piece!. By tracking our expenses, we’d become aware of a gradual increase in eating out over recent months so we’ve been trying to cut back. It’s really easy this time of year when there is so much fresh produce to put to good use in the kitchen, but on this particular day, we caved and enjoyed an evening of fun and relaxation with our church friends. An added bonus: We’ve realized that eating out more infrequently gives us a greater sense of satisfaction when we do indulge. What’s the old saying? “Familiarity breeds contempt”. Occasional meals out have become special once again.
Thursday: This was the night of the annual Harvest Potluck for the nearby community garden. Need I say more? The food was all fresh, all local, and home grown. I had a hit with my ‘Double Delight Chocolate Cake’ made with cooked, mashed sweet potatoes and grated zucchini added to the batter. It is so moist that no icing is needed, although I did dust it with powdered sugar before serving. Adding the veggies cuts down on the oil needed by 2/3’s AND now I only have 98 more zucchinis to use up. Piece of cake!
Friday: Yard sale finds today: two nice tee shirts for 50 cents each and two candles for the same price. One candle is a fancy, schmancy ‘hand poured’ one in a cool jar (which can be repurposed once it’s been burned) and the other is gift quality, still in the wrapper and with a bow. They both smell lovely. We love candles but new ones can be truly pricey. I’m always on the lookout for them at yard sales and have plenty in stock, rarely paying over $1.00 for them. Candles and home-made soaps are my two little luxuries that I hope to always be able to enjoy-and greenhouses too.
But you know what? Learning to live well on less has given me a deep feeling of abundance that’s not based on money or stuff, but on a sense of enough. It’s a mindset, more than anything I think. If this blog only gets that point across I’ll consider it successful. My hope is that the frugality aspects of my posts will lead you to a greater sense of resilience and community mindedness as well. Regardless of what the stock market says, we’re living in dangerous and uncertain times. Having skills to share and a community of folks to be a part of (whether that’s your neighbors, your church, your coworkers or your yoga class!) will enable us to not only survive, but to thrive as we transition to a leaner life.