a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for the ‘Living Local’ Category

Bountiful Backyards Shares “Beautility”

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

As enamored as I am with the entire idea of “food, not lawns”, I’m still intimidated at the idea of caring for a large garden of my own. I managed to get my tomato plants in the ground last week, along with a couple fig trees, but I’m hesitant to take on much more. Still, plenty of my neighbors have abundant “Victory Gardens” and don’t appear to spend hours working in the hot sun – one of my big garden fears. A Crop Mob may be able to give me a communal push if I had a plan, but what my household needs is information, ideas that will fit into our yard and the amount of time we want to commit to the whole process. Where else can I turn?

Enter Bountiful Backyards, a team of designers, landscapers, educators, artisans and motivators who can make any yard (or parking lot or street corner, for that matter) into an edible landscape.

Bountiful Backyards will consult and evaluate the potential of your yard and help you turn it into something that is both feasible for your space and your lifestyle. They will do as much or as little as you need in the areas of design, preparation, installation, education and guidance.They will design to help you grow and yield at your own pace.

By creating a mutually beneficial relationship between you and the environment, you can trade the time you spend at futile attempts to tame weeds and lawns into a way to feed your family fresher, healthier food for most of the year. You will also be improving soil and creating a much-needed friendly habitat for birds and beneficial insects, all while cultivating your own connection to what happens in those rare moments away from streets and sidewalks.

Bountiful Backyards believes in sharing “Beautility”. Besides their professional services, they offer donation-based workshops on things like backyard bee-keeping and outdoor worm composting.

Life Box – Save the Planet One Cardboard Box at a Time

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

This is what I’m talking about! People following their passions – living their heart’s desire, but working and molding those desires to move us ALL towards change. There’s so many role models out there now – it’s hard NOT to be inspired!

What am I onto today? Let me fill you in. Working in the nutrition industry for the past several years has allowed me privy to the lastest and the greatest health news and supplements. In the past, it was all about SELLING, but in recent years, I’ve seen a shift towards mission-driven ideas and actions. Many people and their companies are looking both forward towards innovation and science as well as “back” to basics, towards nature and common sense – for instance, more and more supplement choices are coming from REAL FOOD, albeit packaged to be convenient for consumers. Well, now the packaging itself is part of the plan —

Paul Stamets, founder of Fungi Perfecti, loves mushrooms. So he studies, harvests sells them and their healing powers for humans and for the planet. But there’s more. This from his recent press release:

“PAUL STAMETS ANNOUNCES THE LIFE BOX SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE ONE CARDBOARD BOX AT A TIME. Paul Stamets, founder of Fungi Perfecti and author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, announces the Life Box. The Life Box re-invents the cardboard box. Within the corrugations of the Life Box are hundreds of tree seeds and thousands of friendly spores of mycorrihizal fungi. Once a customer receives whatever is shipped inside, the box is torn up, planted and tree seedlings emerge….Of the ten species of trees each Life Box hosts – approximately 25% will survive in 90% of the continental United All the space you need for the first two years is that of two lap tops.

It takes up to two years for a transplant ready baby tree to emerge, so you have that time to decide where to plant them. The Life Box Company also hosts a web site where you can enter your GPS coordinates – Wow. Cool.

We’re a smart, motivated a passionate species. Full steam ahead everyone.

Need Some Traction? — Meet-ups Ignite Change

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

I’m enthralled by the way people are coming together. It gives me hope for the future and reminds me to share the love and share what’s new with the people around you.

Here’s a group that formed a couple years ago in my area: = “a social network of left-leaning 20- and 30-somethings who are spicing up progressive activism by throwing fun, issue-based events that inform, inspire and connect us with other savvy Gen X & Yers.” They call themselves “Tractivists” and that’s just the start of the fun.

They host really fun socially-minded, events big and small – and they’re getting more creative about it all the time. Here’s an example – a potluck-“turned freezer stock-up party”:

It works like this: You bring a big dish to share (like a soup or casserole), the recipe, and empty tupperware containers. You taste lots of other dishes made by fellow Tractivists and take home the ones you want, along with the recipes. (We’ll have PB&J to supplement the tasting so you don’t go home hungry.) The next time you’re too busy or tired to cook, voila! you have healthy, homemade options right in your freezer.

Homemade means healthier regardless, but everyone is encouraged to use sustainably-grown ingredients when possible. Add your own twist – a kombucha brew-how and share? – and the possibilities are endless.

In another part of the country, a friend told me about a group he meets with called, “Socrates Cafe”. They get together to discuss a variety of topics, such as the pros and cons of technology over the last 50 years, and other bigger, broader topics – something like,  “What is LOVE?”

Sure, we can sit on the WWW for hours soaking up information, but bringing faces, voices and ideas together is where the real inspiration lives.

First Suburbs Come First

Friday, February 5th, 2010

by Tao, Carrboro, NC

I love my neighborhood – it is quiet, but close to the action and amenities of town. I grew up this way, and I’ve continued to be drawn to these familiar, convenient and vibrant areas. I live in an “inner-ring” suburb, also referred to as “first” suburbs, or “early” suburbs.

These are the first areas developed at the fringes of inner cities several decades ago. The inner suburbs were the quieter but connected neighborhoods of the working class – the places our newly wed parents and grandparents went to raise their children. These areas provided escape from the grime of the city, but proximity to jobs, schools, stores, entertainment, and, each other.

The evolution of these areas made a lot of sense – allowing public transportation to flourish, more parks and recreation, as well as a convenient pedestrian lifestyle – where more people were more fit (really – look at the old black ‘n whites in your grandmother’s attic).

But we somehow lost some of that common sense when we began to focus our time, energy, money and attention on these lavish developments in the outer suburbs fueled by economic interest of developers, highway builders, oil companies and the auto industry who all, of course, feed on a more car-dependent lifestyle. Unfortunately, despite what we’ve learned – or relearned – about the benefits of urban life, sprawl continues at an alarming rate.

As a result, the inner-suburbs are deteriorating both by age and neglect with outmoded housing and commercial buildings. As neighborhoods decay, pockets of poverty soon follow, marring the image and desirability of once thriving communities.

Some areas manage to adopt a “cool” factor, attracting a hip crowd of well-to-dos, but also bringing a gentrification which quickly eliminates both diversity and affordability. Many other inner-surburban areas suffer from lack of political support, considered to be in a policy blind spot as local governments compete for the spotlight.

Alex Steffen, futurist, founder and editor of, (interviewed by Johnathan Hiskes on says that this political conflict will define the next decade, becoming a critical factor in the future of urban life. He also regrets being at war with the ‘burbs: “But there are so many more winners than losers in this fight that it’s a smart fight to take on…When you add together cities and inner-ring suburbs and allied small towns, it’s a solid majority of Americans.”

HAND-Y-JOB – the future of work

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

by Tao, Carrboro, NC

Want to work with your hands? Be an entrepreneur? You’re not alone, although many people will initially fall into the category of ‘have to’ rather than ‘want to’. This isn’t all bad. I’ve talked to friends who have been laid off, and after the initial shock has worn off, admit that they are finding freedom and satisfaction in the choices they face. It’s not all golden – one friend moved in with his brother to make ends meet, but subsequently went back to school to prepare for a new career that he’s excited about and has already found part-time work to get him through the process.

Others are leaving (or being forced to leave) corporate positions to work with their hands. Lisa Maris Grillos founded Hambone Designs with her brother, Hernan Barangan, and began designing and making bicycle bags which they sell online through  John left a lucrative finance career to establish a business restoring and refinishing flooring and says he enjoys the feeling of completing a hands-on project. A laid-off teacher and her pregnant daughter decided to start a cookie-making business.

There is a collective soul-searching and/or disillusionment with corporate America as we begin to question the value of how we spend our days at the office. With the help of the internet, starting a business is getting easier and less expensive with online services like Starting/owning a business is never a bed of roses, but I think there’s something to the fact that it challenges our abilities, confidence and identity. According to this NY Times article, research shows that we tend to find and have more resilience in adversity – a kind of call to arms – and mentions the publication of : Reset: How this crisis can restore our values and renew America.

There’s also a strong case for the value – soulwise and otherwise – of working with your hands. After finishing a Ph.D. in political philosophy and finding the academic job market bleak, Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, spent the winter rebuilding and old Honda motorcycle, saying, “The physicality of it, and the clear specificity of what the project required of me, was a balm.”

This resonates with me, for despite the fact that my work has been mostly physical, I have constantly sought outlets for creating like drawing, painting and sewing. Others make projects of their homes or yards. The author quotes one of his high school shop teachers who says, “Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”

Of course, we can channel this energetic soul-searching to sustainable ends in our everyday lives and work.

That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.

Carrboro raw – it had to happen

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

by Tao, Carrboro

Like many people, I love to sip. And when I look around me whether I’m at the coffee shop, the co-op or on at a picnic table at Johnny’s, I realize I’m not alone. Hot tea, really good, strong coffee, kombucha, a deep red wine….it’s comforting, it’s social. Now I can add super-nourishing to that equation – because Carrboro is getting a juice bar! When I heard about Carrboro raw and saw the space, it felt so obvious – we’ve all been waiting, whether we knew it or not.

Nice Polid was born in Brazil, moved to the U.S. 25 years ago, spending most of that time in New York, where she attended the National Gourmet Institute for Food and Health. She also obtained certification as a Holistic Health Counselor from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She planted her truck in a small, bamboo-fenced lot across the street from the co-op. Her smile alone is enough to draw customers, but this is not your typical smoothie station. Her juices are extracted and squeezed on demand from raw, alive fruits and veggies coming as much as possible from local and organic farms. Her recipes will also include superfoods, nuts and seeds.

“Our mission is to provide alternative, nutritious and delicious raw beverages that are in harmony with your body and the Earth – made on demand with very good quality ingredients by people who are passionate about life and health!!”

It’s a thrill to know that Nice chose to land here and open Carrboro raw, right in the heart of downtown, but in a way, I’m not surprised, either. Our town is overtly and covertly setting the stage for things like urban farms, co-housing communities, local currency, co-ops, farmer’s markets and – juice bars. It’s a combination of inspiration, dedication, grass-roots efforts, and an energy that holds up through it all.

What is waiting to happen in your town??

Urban Farm Tour – the future unfolding

Monday, September 14th, 2009

by Tao, Carrboro

Did you know that in acres, LAWNS are the largest “crop” in America?? They use up to 800 million gallons of gas to mow – carbon emissions included – and I don’t even want to think about the amount of water used in irrigating something that we just look at.

Grass is not so “green” in my town. Instead, there’s a strong initiative supporting and encouraging backyard – or frontyard – “farming”. The 2nd Annual Urban Farm Tour happened this past Saturday, hosted by Carrboro Greenspace Collective, a grassroots group promoting Community and Sustainability. The Tour left from downtown, via bicycles, and stopped at 15 sites, some keeping bees or goats and all growing food in spaces no larger than an average backyard. (In 1940-something, it was called a “Victory Garden“.) The event included skill-shares workshops like composting, vegetable gardening and honey harvesting and concluded as the cool of evening arrived, with a potluck meal. I haven’t heard the final count this year, but last year, close to 300 people attended.

The ongoing intiatives of Carrboro Greenspace want to make sustainable and healthy practices – like Urban Farming and alternative transportation – more visible and accessible to everyone. They also believe that education will help us join forces for change, so regularly provide free viewing of documentary films at a downtown outdoor space, like the one I saw last night – Food Fight. A great complement to the Tour, the film describes how corporations have influenced and controlled our food sources and contributed to the decline of our health and environment. There was a good turn-out and local, Tom Philbott, Grist Food Editor, spoke afterwards.

(<<<My favorite Urban Tour Tee!)

A locally-grown lifestyle is the way to feed a healthy future. Be involved. Be aware. Be ready.

Prayer Flags across cultures

Monday, July 27th, 2009

When I was in VT, I noticed an abundance of prayer flags. They were in both urban and rural areas, strung across houses, trees and barns. I heard there are also strung across the waterfront in Burlington – quite a distance from where I saw them in Brattleboro. Some I came upon were still brightly colored, others were faded and tattered. I wondered if this was a Buddhist message or perhaps the new VT state flag?! Ok, I knew the latter was unlikely, but I was curious enough to do some research.

Wikipedia says: “A prayer flag is a colorful panel or rectangular cloth often found strung along mountain ridges and peaks high in the Himalayas to bless the surrounding countryside or for other purposes. Unknown in other branches of Buddhism, prayer flags are believed to…predate Buddhism in Tibet.”

There are two kinds of traditional flags, one translates as Wind Horse – an aspect of the divine -  thought to carry blessings depicted by the images and mantras on the flag to all beings and that the air is purified and santified as it passes over the flags.Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags blowing in the wind are believed to spread the good will and compassion to all.

The colors of the flag represent the Five Elements of Sky/Space, Air/Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth. In Tibetan belief, the 5 Elements promote Health and Harmony to both people and nature. I think of this, now each time I look at the prayer flags that I brought home with me.

Ah-ha. It all comes back to the union of Nature and ourselves. And when we can look to and care for all our Elements, we will have the freedom to find the path to our true selves.

ps. I looked up the VT State Motto, which is, “Freedom and Unity”

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