North Country Sustainability Center, Inc.

For the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of connecting and reaching out to others  about what we’re doing at NCSC. Our concept is so large it defies a sound bite, but I’ve found a great way to get the point across. I ask the person “What is your definition of sustainability?”  I’ve asked this question of sustainability professionals, activists, planners, congressional aides and school students.  Most of the time that question is answered with silence, or “Well, that’s a good question…”  But when I asked a group of second graders two years ago I received the greatest gift of a reply – “It’s whatever it takes to keep living here.”  That eight or nine year old completely encompassed the concept of what we’re doing.

When I give people that definition a light bulb goes off in their brains.  Suddenly they realize how encompassing that concept is.  It is not a case of “enlightment,” or “choices.”  It really clarifies how important it is that we have ways to keep living “here.”  That here may be your home town, or your house, or it may be your country, or our planet. But
that simple statements also implies the need to care for what we have and to preserve and plan for what we will face in the future.

Sustainability is about survival, which means we need to have air to breathe, overall health, water to drink, shelter to live in or wear, food to eat and funds to pay for those things we can’t get without it.  That means jobs, abilities that translate to those needs, and the knowledge of how to make wise choices. So what are the “essential skills?”

We need how to get food, and know which food is safe.  Not everyone can grow their own food, but they need to have access to good food, and the ability to take that product and cook it where necessary; that means cooking skills, and access to equipment and instruction. 

Since we frown on having enough body hair to go without clothes, we need to have the ability to make it, or the access to funds to purchase it. If we are going to keep it longer, we need to know how to care for it well, and make simple repairs, rather than continue the practice of “toss it and buy.” 

Our homes need maintenance and in the recent past people became so busy and life so specialized that most people just hired a contractor to do that work for them. I don’t want to diminish the jobs for contractors, but it’s also important that people know how to do simple repairs, or recognize high quality vs. low quality work so their money is used wisely.

By reducing our reliance on gasoline, we already improve our air supply, and in many cases, also protecting our water supply by diminishing road run off.  When we have local food available with gardens and sustainable farms we have fertile soil and healthier air to breathe.  The more growing we do in the way of foods and forest, the more “green house gas” we can absorb through natural processes.

But life is more than just essentials. Even the poorest children in the most poverty stricken nation know the value of “fun.” The arts and recreation are an important part of being healthy and happy, but they don’t have to be expensive pursuits.  By improving our personal community connections, supporting local artists and finding joy and enrichment closer to home,we give people more time to enjoy and participate in those activities.

But people need to have the financial means to participate in these activities. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, in some cases, but there have to be job opportunities.  If we look at how “ancestral villages” worked, not everyone farmed, or sewed, or did blacksmith work.  The ecology of a community is an interdependence, with people filling voids for those who can’t do the skills they need to have done. That is the basis for our economy as a whole, and it is that fundamental trade of services and goods that keeps things going.

For hundreds of years these “sustainability skills,” were commonly passed from parent to child, through family chores, apprenticeships or just basic learning. But now our children go to school, as a whole, and learn other skills.  In fact, in some parts of the country, it’s been three generations since these skills were shared between generations.
But we need them back.  And that is the beginning of rebuilding this sustainable economy.  Those with that knowledge can bring money into their households by teaching others to develop those skills and save money for their own families. 

For some people they have skills that others want, but they lack the finances to purchase the equipment that is needed to meet government requirements.  NCSC wants to create shared facilities so that those who want to make cheese, breads, sweets and other food products can meet code and incubate a business without losing everything if it fails.  The same idea will go into our tool share, technoshare, and community sewing studio. People can learn a new skill, develop it and launch a new business in the security of a shared facility until their business is strong enough to stand on its own.

So does sustainability take on a different shape now?  It’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity.  NCSC has a great plan, and the perfect buildings to make it happen, but we need others who want to use it, support it, or duplicate it, to help us purchase the buildings, and get our staff paid, so we can be a model for the nation.  Our plan is sustainable as an entity once we get the buildings, but we need help getting to that level of operation. Can you help? Spread the word to others, so that we can show them how essential it is that we create sustainable communities throughout the country. Thanks.