Tennesseetransitions


The Winds of Change
October 12, 2014, 9:05 PM
Filed under: Community Building, Transitioning | Tags: , , ,

This blog is about 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. I’m happy to report that those transitions are taking place in my town and I thought you might enjoy hearing a bit about some of the latest creative projects that are part of that transition process…

The Livable Communities group is made up of citizens that are willing to work towards making Johnson City and the surrounding communities more, well, LIVABLE.  Our group has been meeting for about 10 years, waxing and waning with the moons, but we seem to be on a pretty straightforward course now. Some of the things we’re addressing are fairly universal concerns, such as public health and safety issues, while others are more experimental and creative in nature.

There’s a desire amongst our groups’ members to start a food coop, allowing members to enjoy substantial discounts on farm-fresh and bulk foods. We envision a store-front operation where the fair-weather farmers that sell at our summer time Farmer’s markets would have the opportunity to sell their fruits and veggies year round, and a place where you could also purchase anything from jugs of local honey to freshly milled meal or flour, meats, cheeses, and baked goods, for example. To that end, we have developed a survey to determine if the desire of a few might also be the desire of many. Our goal is to have 1,000 responses by the end of October. We only have 250 responders thus far. If you haven’t taken it  yet, would you please? You’ll find it here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JCcoopSurvey

Another project our group has decided to take on is the city-wide establishment of Little Free Libraries. These little libraries in a box are stocked by anyone that has an extra book to donate. Take a look at the one I saw just yesterday in a small mountain community nearby…

20141010_171832[1]This particular one was sponsored by that town’s Rotary Club and is much bigger and fancier than most, but the principal of putting books in the hands of young and old alike to read and return remains the same, regardless of size. The hope is that the little libraries will become tiny community gathering spots where folks can take a book, leave a book and share the love of reading. Our Livable Communities group would like to see one in every neighborhood in the city and we’re working on a plan of action to make that happen. Food coops and Little Free Libraries aren’t the only things we care about though. Hiking and biking trails, more green spaces, public art, and a vibrant local and sustainable food supply are just some of the many things that are in our cross hairs. Here’s another LFL that’s right down the street from my house. I love walking by it each day…

shakti

Speaking of libraries…yet another project that’s beginning to take shape is the long-talked-about ‘pollinator corridor’ that is to come to life in the mile-long stretch between downtown and the university. The main library will soon have a MEADOW on the front lawn, complete with a filtration system using rainwater harvested from the library’s roof, more art sculpture, a learning kiosk and native plants, flowers and grasses. For my readers that don’t live here, let me introduce you to our beautiful library…

libraryThat patch of green on the lower right will soon be converted to a pollinator-friendly meadow. How cool is that? I’ve been searching for ideas to convert my own front lawn from a hard-to-cut slope to something beautiful and fairly maintenance free. Guess what? … (I’ll keep you posted on my lawn’s transition as it occurs.) My house is just 2 blocks from the library. If they can do it, so can I. Like ball fields, if you build it, “they” (the pollinators, who so desperately need ‘safe havens’ of food, water and shelter) will come.

Creating a healthier, more localized food system, sharing our extra resources-from vegetables to books- and planting public green spaces to areas that are beautiful and sustainable are all indications of the winds of change that are blowing across my town and this country. None of these projects are quick and easy but like I always say, the journey is just as exciting as the destination! If you’d like to join the Livable Communities group for our bimonthly meetings, we meet next on Nov. 18th at 5:30 PM in the downtown offices of Insight Alliance. What is your town doing to transition to a more sustainable and livable community? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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Just Getting Started

This is my 200th post on this blog but I feel like I’m just getting started. Some of those posts may have you rolling your eyes by now (growing food, building community and frugality are my personal favorites) but today’s post covers all of those topics in one! I am a recently elected co-chair of the local Livable Communities Group, a group that’s been meeting for about ten years, but has recently partnered with Community Partnerships, another group that was originally established under the direction of the Washington County Economic Development Council. Recently we’ve become re-energized by all the good things that are happening in our town and have adopted a long range plan to address some of the issues that Johnson Citians that attended the Economic Summit in 2011 felt were key in making our community more livable and lovable. Not surprisingly, green spaces, hiking and biking trails, public safety, expanded public transportation options, community gardens, farmer’s markets and a more localized economy topped the list. One answer that stood out in the survey was to “grow and connect to our local foodshed”, and that drumbeat seems to be growing louder and louder.

Farmer

It was announced in the local newspaper last week that the city doesn’t have the funds available to do the site preparation work for the long-promised new Farmer’s Market, and conversations that I’ve had recently with the market manager (he’s also the market board president-isn’t that a conflict of interest???) lead me to believe that if we really want to ‘grow and connect with our local foodshed’  the time has come to consider other options. And THAT is what the Livable Communities meeting being held tomorrow morning at the One Acre Cafe will be about. We’ve invited the director of Appalachian Sustainable Development to speak with us about the possibility of forming a food co-op; a worker-owned, community-based cooperative effort to help our residents be able to make that connection. I’ve been told that if our current Farmer’s Market vendors had a venue for selling their stuff during the colder months, that they’d be more willing to extend their growing seasons. This sounds like it might be a doable solution for that problem, allowing the summer-time market vendors to have a year-round income while allowing us eaters to have AFFORDABLE fresh locally-grown produce in addition to meats, cheeses, kitchen staples, home brews, and canned and baked goods, all in one location, all the time. If you eat, you’re part of this conversation.

I’ve been a member of two different food co-ops. The first was in the late 70’s.  I joined a worker-owned co-op that operated a store front which became like a second home and provided me with affordable, healthy foods like natural peanut butter and rice cakes, whole grain flours, eggs, oil, honey, cheeses and so much more. Four kids can go through a lot of that stuff you know. By paying an annual membership fee you got the food at a reduced price, but if you volunteered to work in the store a couple hours a month, you got an even larger reduction! Everything was ordered in bulk then divided up once it was delivered to the store. Our family refilled the same peanut butter and honey jars and Tupperware containers (remember Tupperware?) over and over and over, keeping endless amounts of trash from the landfill in the process. This was before curbside recycling was available-hell, this was before bottled water! Which makes me wonder if the ease of recycling now is truly progressive or simply relieves our conscience? But I digress…

The second coop I belonged to never had a store front, so the food was delivered to a remote parking lot, and was then taken home by members to divvy it up before it landed in the proper kitchen. The truck was always late, the orders always had something missing, and it was not ideal by any means. I don’t want to do that anymore.

After the ASD presentation of different co-op models, we’ll break for lunch at the cafe, then our group will be taking a tour of a possible location for such a store, right downtown, just a couple of blocks from the not-gonna-happen ‘new’ Farmer’s Market. If this is something  you’re truly interested in, feel free to join our group at 10 AM Monday, June 9th for this information gathering meeting. 

Last, but not least, keep in mind that I write this blog to offer you what I hope are resilient and creative, if not challenging, solutions for living well while transitioning to a world that holds the triple threats of climate change, energy and resource depletion and the ever-growing income inequity in the US and our globalized world.  But after 200 posts, I’m just getting started!

localbiz1



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…

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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…

coop

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.

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