Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: "Reclaiming the Commons"

This is a retrospective review. I've read Brian Donahue's, “Reclaiming the Commons,” three or four times now and it continues to inspire and educate me. It’s one of those few books where I’ve made more notes in the margins than I can shake a stick at. Looks more like a used textbook at this point. But that’s the hook. Last week, it jumped out at me again from my bookshelf.

I picked it up in 2000 while still living in Providence, in-between stints in Tiverton. Looking back, I have to say that this could have been THE book that solidified my belief that turning this crazy world of ours around starts at home in your own community; that food and farming can be those conduits of change; and that I wanted to someday try to replicate this concept in some form.

The book recounts Donahue’s trials and tribulations of creating a vibrant, self-sustaining community farm and forestry business within the 2,000 acres of public land in Weston, MA. The farm, called Land’s Sake, evolved into a true community commons – that focal point of activity that brings together friends and neighbors, old and young alike, together to create a new bond with the land and themselves.

Weston, while slightly smaller than Tiverton in both land area and population, is similar in its geography and agrarian past. Both have classic New England farming heritages steeped in history, succumbing to the challenges of modern suburbia; citizens out of touch of where their food comes from and the value that a local food economy can bring; youth disenchanted with the wonders of an outdoor classroom and that thing called work ethic.

From market farming to animal husbandry to cut flowers; from community forestry to maple syrup production to apple cider pressing, Land’s Sake has taken the natural resources of Weston and transformed them into a successful community-based business model. What makes Land’s Sake a wonderful model for what a community farm could be is its fortitude in ensuring all of its various enterprises adhere to the four basic principles of the ecological, economical, educational, and esthetic.

They farm organically and practice sustainable forestry; their enterprises are self-sustaining and profitable; they include kids at all levels of the operation ensure a new generation of well-educated land and local food advocates; their work beautifies the land and welcomes the public to it as a respite from their hectic lives.

What I love the most about the Land’s Sake model is that they have forgone the potential for a more efficient operation for the opportunity to involve kids and integrate an environmental education component into their operation. From summer jobs to school-time fieldtrips, kids are working the land while expanding their minds. What a win-win.

Bottom line: As a resident of the Sakonnet area, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Then sit back and imagine reclaiming our own commons. Building that new focal point for our community that connects the past with the present while ensuring a sustainable future. We could do this. All we need is the land and the vision to make it a reality. It’s the total package: Land conservation, local economic and food security development, and inter-generational engagement.

(Note: Tiverton’s library doesn’t carry this book, but you can order it through the online Ocean State Libraries system.)

Have you read this book? Have you ever envisioned a new “commons” here in Sakonnet? Please take a moment to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Help Us Figure Out Recycling

Just a quick welcome to Sakonnet Times readers who saw the letter to the editor this week. A version of this letter appeared on the S.T. website a few weeks back. Read the follow-up post and some early replies by readers.

So why is recycling that hard? What do you think we should do to help change individual behavior and start improving our performance across the board? Take a moment to share your thoughts and let's figure out how to move this forward. Thanks.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sustainable Energy Takes the First Step

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of meeting a new group of friends and neighbors. We gathered to discuss what we could do to help create, drive, and see the execution of a new sustainable energy agenda here in Tiverton. The atmosphere was charged (positively, of course) and the discussion progressive. As the hour sped by the possibilities for our little town became more apparent. From energy conservation efforts to wind power projects to enhancing the town’s master planning document. People smiled.

Three or four of us were confirmed. But when we totaled twelve at the start of the meeting, I knew we had that spark that connects like-minded people and binds them together for a common cause. “Where there is a will, there’s a way,” so the saying goes. I left the Community Center that night knowing we had both.

It’s going to take a month or two to get everything in order organizationally, but just you wait. In the coming weeks, we’ll have messages out to let everyone know where and when we’ll meet next and how they can bring a friend or three in the process. There will be lots of work, but with a team approach, we’ll get it done. We have to.

If you’re interested in getting on a distribution list for our next meeting, email me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

America Recycles (Every) Day

Well, it's been one of those extremely busy weeks like we all get from time to time. Why is it with Monday holidays you always feel like you’re trying to cram a five days worth of work into a 4-day workweek? The bright side is that some VERY exciting things have been brewing on the sustainability front here in Tiverton – stay tuned for a post this weekend that begins to share it.

It was so busy that I could not wish everyone a happy America Recycles Day on Thursday. "A" for effort on this, especially in terms of raising awareness and education, but in the end, this needs to be part of our day-to-day. I don’t need to tell you all the reasons why. But if you were scrambling to find something to share with that Anti-Recycler in your world, you might want to check this out:

The National Recycling Coalition has a great microsite devoted to ARD. Fun, informative, and interactive. Great for students. Be sure to check out the Conversionator and learn how big of a difference just a little recycling can make. (Thanks to Garry for sending this one along.)

And if you're looking for something to do tomorrow (Saturday), then head on over to the Rhode Island Recycles Day event at the Central Landfill in Johnston. It’s a prime opportunity to bring all that paper, electronic, and household waste (e.g., paints, cleaners, etc.) that you just can’t put in our green or blue bins here in town. Most items, aside from TVs can be recycled for free ($5 processing fee for the "Magic Boxes"). Check out the site for more info.

Remember, the more we recycle, the longer our landfill stays open. The longer our landfill stays open, the more time and money we will save before having to truck our trash to Johnston and start paying tipping fees. Besides, throwing all that e-waste and household hazardous waste in the landfill is a recipe for toxic disaster – whether today or 100 years from now. Do your kids and grandkids the favor of not having to foot the bill for cleaning that mess up. Recycle.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Putting Two and Two Together

This morning on NPR, Marketplace launched a new series that places a critical lens on American consumerism. I love this program with their often hip and humorous approach to reporting the news of business. This morning’s story was no different. It focused on fashion's impact on our consumerism society. Here are some quick facts:

• Consumerism has doubled in America over the last twenty years
• Because of the low cost of clothing, Americans are buying nearly double the amount than 15 years ago
• The ripple effect of growing consumerism is wide spread. From working more to feed the "frenzy" to the severe toll on the natural resources of the planet.

When you coast on over to the Marketplace site, you can listen to all the stories in the feature. It's great, thought-provoking material. They also have some "games" you can play, like calculating how many earths you need to support your lifestyle. While I haven't done that yet, it is widely published that if all humans consumed in the same manner as Americans we would need anywhere from 4-6 earths (depending on the report you read). I have three words for you: China and India.

It all boils down to decisions. Next to your intelligence and will, your wallet may be the next best weapon in helping to change the course here in the good ol’ U.S. of A – and the world. And as we make the turn and head into Holiday Homestretch, what you want verses what you need is something we should all be mindful of. Here's to a simpler, more sustainable way.

Any other fellow NPR listeners out there? Feel free to share your comments.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Help Bring Renewable Energy to Tiverton

Congratulations to our neighbors in Portsmouth for voting to fund the 1.5 megawatt wind turbine slated to be sited at their middle school (story). That is a huge nod to the importance of turning the tide when it comes to creating a new energy future for us.

It's our turn now. On Thursday, November 15, I will be joining with some other like-minded neighbors to sit down and explore the feasibility of creating our very own Renewable Energy Committee here in town. While wind is an obvious opportunity, we also believe other energy sources such as solar, tidal, biomass, etc. are worthy of exploration too.

The meeting will start at 7:00PM at the Tiverton Community Center on Judson Street (off Main Road, past Holy Ghost Church). This initial discussion will focus on whether we have the personal and professional resources to form a dedicated group and pursue an aggressive agenda. If you're interested in being a part of this exploratory discussion please join us. Questions? Email me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stop Drowing In Catalogs

I don’t know about you, but it seems the deluge of holiday catalogs is starting earlier each year. It’s safe to say we’re getting 10-20 per week. I’m sure you’re the same. Here’s your chance to fight back and save a tree or million while you’re at it.

One of Yahoo’s Pick of the Day yesterday was Catalog Choice, a new (and free!) online service that allows you to opt out of pretty much any catalog out there (there are hundreds listed). Launched about a month ago, it’s the result of a new collaboration between the National Resources Defense Council, The Ecology Center, and the National Wildlife Federation. (Read: It is a legitimate service.)

With 19 BILLION catalogs sent annually, these paper precursors to the holidays are eating up 100 million trees annually. Think about that. Think about the carbon dioxide that’s not being absorbed; think about the energy and water that goes into processing 100 million trees into paper. It’s absolutely daunting.

Watch this NBC story to get some more background. Then, get over to the site, create your free account, and start helping to make your holidays a bit more paper-free.

Curious on how it works? Read more about how they have partnered directly with merchants at their blog.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Is Recycling That Hard? (Part Two)

In an effort to broaden the discussion a bit on this subject (and at the insistence of one of our readers – thanks, Ginger!), I submitted a slightly edited version of the original post to the Sakonnet Times as a letter to the editor. It didn't show up in the print version because of everything going on in Portsmouth, but it did land online. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many people in town are checking that out.

In any case, we've had some good discussion so far. In his comment, “michiganmiked” brought up the need to make it mandatory through town ordinances and then impose penalties for those who can't seem to get it right. He referenced a model policy in Derry, NH.

Well, if my memory serves, recycling is "mandatory" in Tiverton according to Chapter 66/Article III of our town ordinances. Chapter 66 (Solid Waste Management) was revised and passed sometime in 2005 (again, if memory serves) while I was on the town recycling committee. I checked the town website for a copy of the current ordinance but couldn't find anything. Best you can do is link to our Code of Ordinances as of 2003. (Comment: How can citizens know the ins and outs of town living if officials can't even update online information that could no longer be accurate. What's the obstacle, here? That info is almost five years old.)

The problem is that of enforcement. Whose job is that? The police? The waste hauling company? The town? First, we need some top-down commitment that recycling and reducing our collective volume of trash is a priority. Then we need to find and empower the resources to enforce it. I agree, if you start not picking up someone’s trash or hitting them in the wallet with fines, they are sure going to stand up and notice.

"michiganmiked" – Do you know how Derry is enforcing their code?

"Shelli" commented on efforts to recycle at a local school in Westport. In terms of Tiverton -- if recycling is “mandatory” -- no one is spot-checking that effort and enforcing compliance. Again, the town needs to step up and lead by example.

It's shortsightedness in thinking and planning that's going to get us in a bind. While our landfill still has capacity, one day it's going to be capped. When that happens, WE (the town) will pay to have our trash hauled to the Central Landfill in Johnston. There, WE will pay a per-ton tipping fee for trash (and penalties for not separating recyclables if that's the case). If the terms are still the same as a few years ago, there is NO tipping fee for recyclables. That's an easy math problem to solve: The more you recycle, the less trash you have. The less trash you have, the less your tipping fees are. The less your tipping fees are, the more money you save in the town budget.

Let me try to get Steve Rys of the Recycling Committee to add to the discussion.

Bottom line: We have to do better. If not for the planet, then for some small contribution to tax relief. Choose your personal priority.