An English Shepherd Approach to Sustainability

Of all the breeds of dogs in the world, I have become attached to a fairly rare one – the English Shepherd.  These were dogs that came over with the immigrants to help with herding, guarding, babysitting, hunting, pest control and to be that companion that a person could lean on when they’re tired.  But their jobs were farmed out to Border Collies, Spaniels, Retrievers, Poodles, Terriers and other “specialist” breeds.  I love that all these traits are bound up in one creature, and I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being owned by three of them. Another one is probably come down the pike next year.  But for that to happen, I’ve got to find the right direction.

“What am I supposed to be doing?” has been rampaging through my head for the last year or two.  Almost 5 years ago I, along with a few others, started a non-profit to help people become more sustainable in our rural area of Massachusetts. We had the perfect site in mind, for sale, and people were pretty excited, but we weren’t able to raise enough money to make it work.  So we tried again, and again and again.  Nearly five years later we still don’t have a home, we have debts to pay off, but I still have the call to help people become more sustainable. And there’s still no money

My family and I farm on ten acres, with one of us working off farm to make ends meet, barely.  But now hay and grain prices are rising.   A main component in one of my soap recipes has been altered so that I won’t use it anymore, so I have to figure out how to survive with higher costs, while still trying to keep things affordable for my neighbors and customers. My farm is now faced with a natural gas pipeline coming underground, destroying my well, my forest neighbors, and continuing the stupidity of relying on fossil fuels.  So now I have to educate people about the difference between paid propaganda and true information, and empower people to stop this pipeline. Building self-reliance, not disaster preparation, is a much better way to prepare for the future, instead of continuing the sense of fear, selfishness and anger that pervades so many souls these days.

  I’ve been on the planet a little over a half a century and I’ve seen more that distresses me in the last five years than I’ve seen in all my previous life.  When people ask me what sustainability is, answer “Whatever it takes to keep living here.”  Why? Because it takes more than fresh air, food, water and money.  It takes community, a working government, a populace that remembers to use their heart as well as their brain when dealing with other people.  They also have to reminded of the values that can’t be found in their wallet.

If a person listens to the news these days they are missing some crucial information.  Rather than focus on the problems associated with planetary abuse, you’ll hear about air flights that might be disrupted because of a volcano in Iceland.  Instead of discussing blasts, fires and contamination from natural gas, oil and tar sands transport, we hear how we need “clean energy,” and commercials for more conventional furnaces.  Hundreds of wells around the nation are contaminated by fracking water, and we hear from the press about NIMBY-ism and energy needs.  The horrors in Ferguson were attributed to racism alone, when it’s as much as class as it is about race.  Answers aren’t always simple, but neither are the American people.  They will “get it,” if they are presented with whole story.

Our media tells us the economy is getting better, but that’s with more and more people working multiple jobs, and the money being earned going to the bosses, not the workers.  Who’s economy is getting better? Not mine. Probably not yours.  So what am I supposed to do?

I have thought about giving up on the sustainability center many times. It would make life easier for myself, my family and the board members. But it won’t make the problems go away.  Can I stand to see people buying inferior food for higher prices, because they don’t know where the fresh food is?  I actually heard a commentator on a major television show state that a processed product was more affordable than fresh lemon. Really? Have we gotten so far away from reality that we’ll pay $1.79 for a bottle of lemon juice rather than 50 cents for a lemon because squeeze for squeeze it’s cheaper!?  That juice can’t make lemon zest, be used to wipe down a greasy surface, or feed the soil in the compost.

My neighbors need  a place to learn about the real costs of their decisions. They need a location to find fresh food and the farmers who raise it.  They need a place to learn how to mend and create new clothes, find used ones, and maybe start a new income stream with their creativity.  We, as a body politic, have to learn how to listen to each other again, how to work together, and what we can expect from our government.  Many of these lessons in “sustainability” have gotten lost in translation. 

There are so many things that we, as Americans, have forgotten, ignored, or never learned, over the last few decades.  We need places like our Sustainability Hearth, where people can find the information they need.  They have in the Internet, true, but it isn’t three dimensional. It has little sense of humor, and it doesn’t build connections between people like a real human to human exchange.

There are few places like I’ve just described in our nation.  There are some who teach job skills; some who teach farming; some who teach sewing, but not in the holistic context  that we’re attempting to do.   But we can’t do it by ourselves. 

It’s been very hard to keep up any sense of optimism amidst the rancor, ISIS, racial conflicts, and climate change.  But when I think about what I should be doing I keep thinking I need to make this Hearth happen.  I will always want to help people make informed choices. People will always need this information, so it just makes sense to keep working on this project.

Since much of what we want to do takes away reliance on corporations, we can’t rely on those donations.  Grantors want a more specific ‘mission’ than “sustainability,” or they want it narrowed down to agriculture, economics or environmental activism.  But it’s just that specialization that got us into trouble.  We need to look at integrating many different aspects of life if we’re going to help rebuild the abilities, and the situation for America.  Please give to the NCSC Hearth, any amount will do, and spread the word about our project.  You’ll need one too, someday, and with your help, we’ll be there to help your neighborhood start theirs.   www.northcountrysustain.org

Heroes

Originally posted on Change Day:

Where are you, Hero?
My child was taken by authorities who didn’t like the way he looked
Where were you?
My water is tainted by strangers who want gas hidden below the ground.
Don’t they have enough already?
Where are you?

My children opt to play in a pretend world because they’re afraid in the real one.
Why do they push buttons to control a hero that they can’t touch?
Can you touch them, please, and show them where you are?

The ocean warms, the icebergs melt, and we all sit and wait for you to rescue us.
Why don’t you come to save us?
We’re scared that our government listens more to business than to us
because five people voted that money equals speech.
What does that say to those with no money? That we don’t have voice?

I know that heroes come when things were the darkest,
Please…

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Ban the Bullies – Honor Robin!

A Hopeful Place! With all the struggles and sadness in the world, isn’t that what we all want to find? With the loss of Robin Williams I know I want to hide away from the sadness, but his death also makes me want to fight all that harder for that place where good can thrive!
When I look at the problems I’m facing, much of it comes down to bullies, or apathy. And bullies only win if people are apathetic enough to let them continue their harsh ways. Natural gas pipelines and Fracking? Bully energy companies that put their selfish greed over the welfare of families, farms and community health, and the survival of the planet. People losing houses? Job shortages? Bully corporations looking to line their pockets rather than participating in their greater community. Those with the money seem to control so much of the world, but they are outnumbered many times over. We can create our own reality, if we are willing to work together.
Our sustainability center is a place where people can learn about the issues that they face. There is no place to find kindred spirits in the environmental movement, in the fresh food movement, or self-reliance, unless you happen upon the right people. NCSC’s Hearth can be a place for community, for fostering hope, for building new businesses, connections and supporting positivity. Actually, it would be “pawsitivity,” where animals are involved.
But we live in an area with NO extra money. Our tax rate is among the highest in the state, yet our foreclosure rate is also among the highest. Our residents face apathy at best, depression often, and a sense that no one cares. If that’s to stop, we need people to help us. PLEASE LET THAT BE YOU! This area now faces a natural gas pipeline being buried through our groundwater, a growing sense of food shortage because of a companies internal struggles, and a government that panders to those with money over those who vote and show up for meetings.

If our country, our town, is going to survive we need to stop listening to agendas that don’t take the greater good into account. Not the greater good of a corporation that resides thousands of miles away, but the good of your family, your friends, your community and our world.
We have a variety of ways that you can help us. A quick way is to purchase a t-shirt from our booster stop. You can see them at www. Northcountrysustain.org/Tshirts.html. You can support us through Change Day by visiting www.changedayusa.com, or you can purchase some local links at $1 a piece.
You can learn more, or just donate outright at www.northcountrysustain.org.
I honestly believe that there are more good people than evil in this country, on this planet. Not everyone can afford to give anything, but if you can, even a dollar or two, please do. Our Change Day event is designed to help us and help others build support for events in their own hometowns. Why not amplify your good works by participating there?
Imagine a place where you could find local food? Learn how to cook it? Share a meal with friends after watching a good documentary or listening to a storyteller? Encourage a child to starting gardening or farming by supporting their business with a livestock show? It used to be called the “fair grounds.” With your help it will happen here, in North Central Massachusetts, at the NCSC Hearth. Please help us stoke this light of hope to blot out the corners of the shadowy bullies?!

For the Williams family, there’s nothing I can say about your loss, but to try and honor Robin’s memory with laughter, joy and positive actions. Though I never met him I think that’s what he would want.

Climate Girl to the Rescue?

hamesfarmer:

Real life Climate Girl came to our farm and became a Goat Girl too! So pleased to have met her and the rest of the Climate Summer Gang!

Originally posted on Pedal Posts from the Road:

Posted on behalf of Jana Wilkes, Community Outreach Coordinator, Team East

girl

 My alter-ego Climate Girl, who can shoot lasers out of her eyes that destroy excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Before Climate Summer, I felt overwhelmed about climate change because I wanted to solve this dire issue immediately.  I wanted to be a climate ‘superhero’ who swoops in to save the world from climate chaos in the nick of time.  Even though the rational part of me knew that this was an unrealistic, unattainable goal, deep down I wanted this because I wanted a sustainable world so badly.  To use the cliché, I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders without a clear path of how I was going to save the world.

One of the many valuable lessons I have learned this summer is that I do not have to save the world; in…

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Give Yourself a Gift, and Your Neighbor!

Hard to believe with the summer just coming on, but if you are like me, it’s time to starting making Christmas presents.  Why not give yourself a gift, and your neighbor, and someone who doesn’t even know you yet – The NCSC Hearth, a place to learn more about caring for the planet, our families and our community.   We are working to create a place for people to teach and learn simple skills from cooking to carpentry, sewing clothes to sowing seeds.  We need a place for our rural residents to connect with each other in their shared interests, from 4H to environmental education, storytelling to board games. In the past there wasn’t a need for such an organized place. Friends and family, along with Cooperative Extension, taught these skills and made these opportunities happen. But that’s not the case now, just at the time more  people are recognizing what they don’t know, but there’s no easy to way to find others to learn with. Sometimes a computer just doesn’t do the trick!   

We have just 9 days before Change Day! So how much change have you collected?  What is Change Day anyway?  It’s the beginning of a new movement to motivate and empower individuals to celebrate their communities.  Our first event is July 5, 2014 in Ashburnham, MA. Starting at 10:00 a.m. we’ll be collecting whatever change people bring to us, to be used to create the NCSC Hearth, and pay our past debts. We encourage people to bring their own puppet, or they can make a sock puppet on site, and join our Inaugural Puppet Parade.

 We can control our fates. We make our own decisions and those choices are supposed to guide our elected officials.  The Change Day Puppet Parade is our way of showing that message.  I hope that people will pick up the Change Day Movement in their neighborhoods and raise money and connect communities to make their neighborhoods better.  To help grow the NCSC Hearth into a place where people can gather to learn, NCSC is asking $10 for use of the Change Day logo if the event will support an individual, $25 to support an organization. 

I know that this is late notice for 2014, but next year Change Day is on July 4th!  What a great way to celebrate the founders of our country who were creating significant Change in their lives.  Start growing the Change Day movement in your town by obtaining a license now.  We’ll post your events on our website, www.changeday.wordpress.com.   

If this country is going to grow strong and proud across the country, we need to revitalize the small businesses, close communities and self-reliance of our individuals.  That’s what Change Day is all about. Please join the Cause and let’s Make Change for a stronger future, and a stronger planet.

Help your community by joining the Change Day Movement and help our community by making it possible to set up the Hearth. That way my neighbors can make their own gifts in time for the Holidays, and we can all give each the gifts from connections and community. Thank you.

Changes Need to Come, Help them Along!

hamesfarmer:

This was on Change Day, but it applies here too! Let’s take our Change and Make a Change in our Community.

Originally posted on Change Day:

The news is full of “economic rebound,” for big business and the stock exchange.  Inflation is “not of concern” to the Federal Reserve because it only looks at how it effects the business economy. But businesses don’t buy groceries for their families.  They don’t have to put clothes on their children’s backs.   If life gets too tough for them, and they can’t make ends meet, they can declare bankruptcy, have their debts forgiven, or pay pennies on the dollar, or maybe they’ll come out with their company being swallowed up, and they get a pay day.  Does that happen for families? 

At the same time we have corporations fracking under farmland, destroying water supplies, and raking in the dollars while families suffer with the after effects.  Other companies have environmental spills, leave the property or settle for a small sum, and then leave, with the pollution left behind.  Our elected…

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Amplify Your Actions

We need to clean up the planet, if we’re going to survive as a species.  Most would agree with that. Which part do we start with?  Should we address the oceans? Yup, that will do it. The rest of the planet will wait while we clean up the Gyre, decrease the water temperature, adjust the pH, restock the fisheries, and rebuild the coral reefs.

What? It won’t work.  You mean that we can’t just dump ice in the ocean without affecting the salination level? The coral reefs will grow back as soon as we raise the pH, right?  Maybe we’d better work on another issue all together. Perhaps the oceans are too big to tackle right now.  Let’s focus on the poles.

The less of the polar ice caps is something we can surely address.  What would happen if we just stretched a bunch of plastic over the existing glaciers and bergs, and put  some big refrigeration units in the water?  Can we simulate the reflective white surface by floating Styrofoam? The polar bears can just float on those, can’t they?

It’s important that each of the aspects of our environment, our community and our nation have people pay attention to them, but we need to change the ways we live on the planet. I’m not judging anyone. I’m just saying…..  If we shop for our food from our neighborhood farms, guess what impact we can have:  we cut down on carbon input by minimizing how much we drive.  We promote carbon sequestration by paying the farmer to turn his carbon/methane contributions into soil and plant production. Supporting sustainable/organic farmers gives a lesson to the giant agri-businesses that people understand the way farms should be run.  Economically, for every $10 you spend at a local farmer’s market, an average of $7.80 stays in the local economy (American Farmland Trust, 2014.) Farmland also saves tax dollars as there is much less needed to utilize that land, as compared to having a house or business on that space.

The simple act of preserving your own food allows you choices in what type of food you eat, what additives you allow into your diet. It also lowers the overall impact on the planet by cutting down on the amount of water, transportation costs, the availability of food year round, if you are willing to learn to do this yourself.

It is important that we learn more about all the problems that our planet and our culture, faces.  But it’s much less overwhelming if you learn in the context of how you can make the situation better.  If you know you are not alone in that effort, it’s much easier to learn more, as that knowledge is combined with fun. Self-reliance gives people choices that they don’t currently have. From my experience the more people learn about how they can make things better, the more they try to do so.

These skills, from canning to sewing, debating to darning, building a shed to burying a root cellar, were once common knowledge.  People worked more in their day, but at the same time they “worked out.” Our ancestors would probably laugh at us for the amount of time we spend at gyms, at salons, or on the road, just trying to be relaxed and healthy.

But the places that allow this to happen are hard to find. Thankfully there is a growing number of community farms and gardens, but places that teach practical skills, civil discourse, citizen engagement, have mainly disappeared.  If a young person wants to dedicate their lives to culinary arts, fashion or politics, they have schools and studios to study from.  But for the everyday citizen who wants to be comfortable and involved in a wide variety of self-reliance and community skills, they are on their own.

That is what we’re trying to do; to provide that “go to” place for people to come learn, and to teach and share their knowledge. Our neighbors want a place to learn more about current issues, to see documentaries and discuss important topics. We as a culture need a place where people feel safe to disagree, because they  will be respected, even if the conversation comes from two opposite ends of the issue.

But for nearly 5 years we’ve struggled to make this happen. Repeatedly we’ve been told to “narrow our focus,” but like with the environment, which aspect of “living here,” do you concentrate on? How do you nurture integration of learning and action, if you don’t integrate in the education?  Please join us making this new/old approach come to life.  Give a few dollars, if you can. Spread the word and ask your friends to give.  If you are someone who watched your grand parents or parents “put things up for the winter,” build what needed to be built, make what needed to be made, you know how important it is to have that option.  Visit www.northcountrysustain.org and see what giving form works best for you.

We are also kicking off “¢hange Day,” a national movement to engage people in their communities to make the necessary changes to have a more sustainable future. For us it’s a collection of change from the participants, and a Puppet Parade, to illustrate that we are not someone else’s puppets; we can control our own lives.  Host a Change Day event in  your area. Give to the project in your area. If you’ll send $10 for an individual or $25 for an organization, we’ll send you a copy of the logo and list your activity on our website http://changeday.wordpress.com.  This year is a dress rehearsal because next year it falls on July 4, 2015.  Change Day is the first Saturday of July, so this year it’s July 5, 2014. Why? Because it was with skills like the ones we encourage that built this country. We need to take the sense of a United group to turn our country back to the level of sustainability that it once enjoyed.  Please spread the word and help us build the “¢hange Movement,”  and the NCSC Hearth.  Thank you.

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