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