Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sustainable Communities vs. Survivalists

As the economy takes a turn for the worse, there appears to be two main camps of thought out there as to how to prepare for the future. Some folks say, "leave the cities" and "head for the hills," fence themselves in with barbed wire and arm themselves, hoping the nearest neighbor is many many miles away. Then there are those who believe in fostering community sustainability, supporting the local economy, and going green. Often times these two groups also have some strong political divides, but that is not the issue I wish to discuss today.

What I am pondering is, which makes more sense in the long run? Which communities will fare better under extreme economic stresses? The "head for the hills" folks foresee all out chaos and anarchy, rampant crime, and roving bands of thugs. Interestingly enough, however is that with the current downturn, crime has actually been dropping. See author Neil Howe's "Lifecourse Blog" for one of his latest observations on crime and generational cycles.

The vision many folks have is that similar to a picture straight out of a romantic action-packed movie....society collapses, family goes to "bug-out" location that is miles away from civilization, they have the comfort of a wood stove, canned goods, maybe a howling blizzard outside and a transistor radio blaring with the bad news of what is going on around them, miles away. Some bad guys come, the family gets their guns and there is a shoot out. Of course, in the movie, the family wins. At the end, they are the last people on earth, and they walk out of their location to marvel at the desolation and destruction they missed. But is this practical? Is this realistic?

People need people. After examining the last Depression, and my grandparent's stories of those times, that what will benefit people the most is having strong communities that come together. Many people look at other places around the world who have undergone collapse and assume things will play out exactly the same as they have there. One problem with this assumption...we are Americans.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who studied America in the early 1800s was surprised to find traits in Americans that were very contrary to European character. He saw that Americans had strength in social order, were woven by a strong thread that historically was rooted in church community, and had moral values with a strong sense of volunteerism and charity:

"In the end, the state of the Union comes down to the character of the people. ... I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, and it was not there. I sought for it in the fertile fields, and boundless prairies, and it was not there. I sought it in her rich mines, and vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power." -Alexis de Tocqueville

Common causes had united Americans. But with so many denominations, how did they stay united? Again, this leads back to a sense of baseline moral obligation combined with community ties. The moral sense is most important, for without it we are lost.

The world gasped when the towers in New York fell on 9-11, and waited in anticipation for Americans to react, to riot, for fear to take hold, for us to give up. The world judges in error. 9-11 showed the heart of what Americans are made of, and as heroes rushed to the burning towers, and the citizens of New York responded to the crisis, the world was puzzled, dumbstruck, and in awe at the reaction. Americans rise up in the face of crisis, and should not be underestimated.

That leads back to our discussion of "head for the hills" or "band together."

When economy crumbles, when disaster strikes, when sickness calls, people need people. There are advantages in skill sharing, in trade bartering, and in living in a sustainable community. There also needs to be a common sense of morality, of ethics, and of purpose, as Tocqueville observes. I believe the more and more people work together, take pride in their community, and focus on making their community a better place to live, when times get tough, this will help us pull through the next crisis.

To see some examples of vision for a sustainable community, check out SCALLOPS: Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound. Do you have any other great examples of models for a sustainable community? If so I would love to hear about it!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Local Co-Ops

I just signed up for a life-long membership at our local co-op. Don’t know why it took me so long!! The one in Olympia, although small is like a miniature of the one up in Bellingham, and full of wonderful products. I was amazed at how many of my favorite products were stocked on the shelves, they have done an amazing job! This year I am really looking forward to utilizing the co-op and the farmer’s market more than ever!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sustainable Community Currency

I am pondering the benefit of belonging to a community exchange. You know, during the Great Depression, Tenino, WA survived by printing their own money and developing their own community exchange system. It can be read about here:

If we are facing another financial hardship, wouldn’t a secondary system be a useful connection to have? I discovered this group out of Bellingham, WA called “Fourth Corner Exchange”

Their website states:

“Fourth Corner Exchange is a Sustainable Community Currency based in the Pacific Northwest USA, which operates throughout the USA and the world. Currently we have over six-hundred participating members, with branches in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, California in the USA, Nova Scotia and British Columbia in Canada. Founded by Francis Ayley and a small group of friends in 2002, Fourth Corner Exchange formally started trading in January 2004. From those small beginnings we have grown to over six-hundred members, exchanging a large selection of goods & services throughout the Pacific Northwest, centered around Bellingham and Port Townsend.

Our vision:

A world of economic freedom and justice for all, where all communities have access to a fair and equitable universal medium of exchange, issued by the people in sufficiency to meet their own needs and the needs of their communities.

Our mission is to create this world of economic democracy by rebuilding our communities through teaching people how to use our community currency in a socially just and responsible manner.”

You can join the group for a yearly fee. “Local, alternative and community currencies replace the money drained away, allowing the people to continue trading the essentials of life.”

Does anyone out there have any experience with a Sustainable Community Currency? I am curious and would love to hear your story.

Where have I been?? Hint: I got more land!!

Apologies to any readers out there! My blogging was put on hold last spring as I developed a mad passion to declutter, to acquire more land for my garden, and to list my house and sell it. Alas, my garden for 2008 ended up being non-existent under the realtor's recommendations, however, my success to tell was 3 offers on the house later (after having listed it barely a month) the old house sold, and we were able to purchase a new home that not only meets our needs, but has a bit more land (.33 of an acre) and is more suitable for my garden planning!

This fall, I put in 3 blueberry bushes. I am seeking to put in a current bush, and have the money saved up now for my raised bed project!!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Where have the pickles gone?

I am extremely distressed, after learning that the pickles I grew up with, the Nalley brand, are no longer being grown locally, but now being grown in India.

This article in the Seattle PI sparked my interest:

Northwest brands reject pickles from local northwest growers

all in the name of cheaper labor, our pickles are now even being outsourced. This year I bought extra cucumber seeds, so I will be making my own local pickles from now on, thank you! More good reason to move to the 100 mile diet!

Comments anyone?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Decisions, decisions...and I need more dirt!

Went out in the yard and measured today. I figure I can put in at least 7 – 4×4 ft raised beds back there comfortably without giving up too much kiddie play space. With 7 beds, I could produce food for 1 person for a year (in theory per the grow more food method). Each bed provides you 16 square feet of growing space, and it takes 100 square feet per person. So… 7 beds would give me more than enough for one.

Now if I really want to get serious, I could shoot for my family of 3 with 300 square feet, and surprisingly I did discover I could make it happen with a bit of ambition, but this year I think I will settle for shooting for 100. Otherwise my hubby will go nuts helping me put in all those beds.

In addition to the 7 beds, I have things growing in pots, including 3 potato bags which should produce up to 13 lbs per bag, 2 large half-wine barrels, herbs, lettuce, strawberries and tomatoes.

I am dying to put in berry bushes, but I’m not sure how well they would work in raised beds. Need to do some more research. The book I am reading on square foot gardening has you growing some things our family would never eat, like brussel sprouts, or things that wouldn’t do as well here in our climate.

Went to get the potatoes going this evening and discovered I need a run to Home Depot for dirt and raised bed materials!!!

The pearl onions are sprouting and the cucumbers are ready to move into bigger pots. I was soooo tempted to purchase a clump of Walla Walla sweet onion starts from the nursery across the street, but I kept myself under control. MUSTGETGROWINGSPACE…. FIRST!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Growing Challenge: Stuff to Grow and April Snow

Here in the Puget Sound Region, we don't generally get snow in April....heck...we generally don't get snow at all! The last two days, however, have been incredibly frustrating to nursery owners and gardeners alike. I took a jaunt over to the local nursery who was having a 20% off everything sale early yesterday morning. The snow was coming down, and much of the pretty pansies, veggie starts, and other spring flowering plants at the nursery were being crushed under the weight of the fallen snow. It was a pretty sad sight. I am thankful at the fact I have not yet attempted to plant anything outside yet, and with El Nino predicted to last through July, I am wondering if cool weather crops might be the rage this year.

Indoors, where it is nice and warm, I have started my first pickling cucumber seeds ever, purchased from Grown in expanding jiffy pots on a kitchen table, they are just starting to peek out of the soil.

As part of The Growing Challenge, I am attempting to grow some new edible things this year not previously grown in the past. Last year, I tried my hand at some container gardening, and successfully grew 4 large and loaded healthy tomato plants, a bunch of lettuce, green beans, peas, strawberries, chives, basil and a pepper plant.

This year, I would like to try my hand at squarefoot or biointensive gardening, and have purchased my seeds this year from seedsaverexchange and

Here is a list of what I will attempt to grow this year:

I purchased from Seed Saver Exchange the following:

German Butterball Potato
Red Gold Potato
Borettana Yellow Onion
Ireland Creek Annie’s Bean (Eating/Soup Bean)
Calypso Bean (Eating/Soup Bean)
Waltham Butternut Squash
Black Beauty Zucchini Squash
Empress Bean (Green Bean)
Autumn Beauty Sunflower

From Park Seed I purchased the following:

Lettuce Little Gem (to go with my miniature garden and the tom thumb peas I saved from last year)

Swiss Chard Bright Lights

Corn Early Sunglow Hybrid (for fast, early germination in cold weather)

Cucumber Bush Pickle Hybrid

Cucumber Eureka Hybrid

Lettuce Buttercrunch

Lettuce Red Sails

Pea Green Arrow (powdery mildew resistant! Last year’s seed saver variety failed because of powdery mildew)

Carrot Scarlet Nantes (problems last year with seed savers)



Kale Winter Hybrid

Then, I plan on planting 4 tomatoes again this year from my local nursery, and getting some peppers, basil, oregano, chives, and nasturtiums

Continuing from last year are all my strawberries.

Most of what I am doing is growing in containers, and I just found out a way to grow corn in containers…will attempt it this year! Still debating on ripping up part of the lawn for raised beds. We are determining whether or not to move. If we move, my garden will temporarily move to my grandma’s home where she has a large amount of garden property. I just can’t stand not having a garden!

Doing research into soil improvement, and high yield biointensive gardening.