As Transition Town Jericho is now in summer hibernation I experienced a sort of village convergence of my own at last weekend’s (June 1-4) Epic Skill Swap in Wilmot NH. The sixth annual, this event brings together mostly young people, sharing skills in small groups/one-on-ones in a beautiful bucolic setting.
I was there just for the day, but most people stayed the weekend, as evidenced by the colorful sprawl of tents. Stocked with my own grown and dried gourds, I offered a workshop “Make your Own Shekere”. (Shekeres, those colorful beaded instruments from Africa you can’t help shaking your hips to, when listening to or playing). I only had to give a few instructions before people were on their own, creating varied and impressive renditions.
It was a really pleasant two hours, sitting around the picnic table beading together over conversation. I realized this is a pretty activated group of individuals, including a social worker, a teacher of theology at prisons, an art therapist. If people walking by expressed interest, they were handed a gourd and joined in the crafting.
Being in the middle of opera season (I’m a classical violinist) I was only able to stay for the day, but enjoyed a tasty vegan lunch, then attended informative workshops on bike camping and primitive pottery (did you ever imagine you could make clay/pottery from your own backyard soil?!). Examples of other workshops were: Setting up a Website, How to Build a Wall, Primitive Firemaking, and best of all, the Art and Science of Procrastination (decided to wait until next year for that one!)
The only thing that would make a Skill Swap even more epic is having one right here in Jericho... let’s see what the future holds there.
Thanks to Jen Burton and Mark Woodward for coming to Jericho and sharing their story of organizing, planning and building a community oven in Johnson, VT. The oven has been up and running since last fall and has been a fun and tasty way to bring families and community together. Jen explained: “The oven is intended to provide a gathering place for community baking (bring your own items to bake), community pizza nights, private functions, and other public uses. This year, the oven was used to make 35 pizzas for the Town Meeting Day potluck.”
Jen continued, saying this was a yearlong project that she championed. She organized the effort to plan, found funding, worked with town officials and brought the project to the building point. Some of the fine details included: getting letters of support from town agencies, deriving the plans for the oven and roof structure, confirming there would be insurance coverage and writing several grants for funding.
Once the organization was completed, Mark took the lead to see that the construction of the oven was orchestrated. He worked with many local volunteers, including Jen, to erect the shelter, then assisted with the building of the stove with the hired stone mason. The rocks were sourced locally from a rock pit nearby. The construction project took most of the fall to complete. Lining up volunteers for multiple weekends and getting the stone mason on-site to work around his primary work hours made the timing a challenge.
Take a look at their Facebook page (Johnson Community Wood Fired Oven) that includes pictures of all the construction phases. Everyone is welcome to use the wood fired oven in Johnson: you have to fill out a facilities use form from the Johnson Town offices. Since the oven can get to hundreds of degrees, you will have to read the use policies that include how to be safe while using the oven.
Jen and Mark shared many stories about their project, and felt that all the sweat equity that they put into the project was worth it. They also pointed out there were no tax payer dollars used in the building of the oven, quite a big grassroots effort. The big test will be the first summer months, which are coming up, with the oven in operation. They are hopeful, since they built it, people will come and use it!
Mark and Jen will announce future “oven” events and let Transition Town Jericho know. TTJ will forward the notifications to folks on its email list so they can join in.
Did you know…that every town in Vermont has an emergency management director? …that 223 towns in Vermont were impacted by Irene? …your dishwasher is a great way to waterproof valuables in your home in case of a flood?
These and other facts were presented by Max Kennedy from Vermont Emergency Management (VEM) who spoke at our fourth Monday (February 26) transition town meeting. Hailing from Underhill himself, Max spoke to a small group of people ranging from Bolton to Underhill and in between. Since things get more bureaucratic and expensive as you get bigger, i.e. the national guard and FEMA, Max said it’s best to solve emergencies at the local level. VEM is there to aid communities in this process.
Max informed us that all Vermont towns now have an emergency management director (EMD) as mandated by state law. In Jericho that person is Todd Odit, aka town administrator. Max said the EMD role is often held by the town administrator by default, or even the fire chief. The latter is least desirable since the fire chief is a first responder and the EMD is largely a coordinator role.
Max said that while emergency preparedness gets all the hype, it is mitigation, or reducing long term risk, that is vitally important. Indeed, VEM endeavors to promote mitigation efforts such as building culverts, burying power lines, avoiding building in floodplains. You might call mitigation the preventative medicine of emergency management.
“What energizes communities to be better prepared?” someone asked. Max said that experiencing a disaster firsthand is the best prep. After a disaster, VEM will come into a community and do what he called a ‘hot wash’ asking, “What happened? What can we do better next time?” He cited Swanton as the most recent example, a town still dealing with the repercussions of severe flooding in January.
In order to build a more resilient community you must start with preparedness among individuals and families. From there, a community can better organize and mobilize itself. Max cited a couple towns in Vermont that have begun mobilizing on a community level. In Bethel they have the “Citizen Plus” program which utilizes public education, geographic divisioning, and a volunteer network. In Duxbury they’ve established zones and presiding zone captains, who ultimately report back to the EMD.
Max mentioned helpful resources including Vermont 211 (vermont211.org) for information and referral. “They have answers for any situation,” he said. He also recommended Vermont Alert (vtalert.gov) for emergency notifications; everything from severe weather to traffic conditions to public health alerts. VEM itself offers ongoing trainings and provides a handy little notebook entitled “Family Emergency Preparedness” which offers practical advice for all situations, a must-have for all households.
A bunch of Jericho and Underhill residents braved freezing rain to attend last night’s colorful talk about…well, trash! Jericho resident Michele Morris shared her expertise as Director of Outreach and Communications at Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) to a group that varied in ages from twelve years old to a group of 70-somethings.
Michele explained that one of CSWD’s basic goals is to help people produce less trash. A 2016 study of Vermont’s landfill showed that 50% of the trash (2,100 tractor trailor loads!) could have been diverted, i.e. reused, recycled or composted.
Prior to CSWD’s formation in 1987 Vermont had many landfills. Though still monitored, all have since closed down, except for one located in Coventry, Vermont. Landfills ultimately produce a liquidy “leachate” and methane. While 50,000 gallons of leachate must be removed (then treated and released) each day, some of the methane is collected and actually powers half the homes in Washington County. Michele said that Vermont is one of the most successful states in ridding its landfills of mercury and other toxics.
Michele talked about the importance of Act 148, the Universal Recycle Law, enacted in Vermont in 2012. As opposed to ‘waste management’ from the 80s and prior, this law is about ‘materials management’. The philosophy is to gradually shift toward making use of what used to be simply thrown away. That’s why for example, we’re seeing more and more recycle bins placed side by side with trash receptacles in public spaces.
Michele addressed composting as well; the CSWD strategy is, why throw away any food when it can be turned into a valuable growing medium. Indeed, by 2020 Vermont hopes to have zero food scraps in its waste stream. Act 148 sets yearly goals, incentives and other helpful measures to make this ultimate goal achievable.
While recycling has gotten easier (remember the days we had to sort it ourselves?!) Michele explained that recycling only works when every single step in the process works; collecting enough of each material, sorting, baling and being able to market the recycled products. (For Chittenden County most of this processing happens at the Materials Resource Facility (MRF) in Williston). Recently black plastic has been designated unrecyclable since it is both hard to sort and hard to recycle into something marketable.
While attendees were curious about the “zero waste” concept, Michele said it’s an unattainable goal in the modern world, though still a worthy aspiration. She said the official definition of zero waste is having 10% or less of your trash/waste going to the landfill.
So what can we do to eliminate our trash output, short of changing everything about our lifestyles?! Michele recommended these possibilities:
-Conduct a waste audit on you home school, workplace etc.
-Take on a food waste reduction challenge within your home or neighborhood (CSWD.net/challenge)
-Have a ‘recycle rally’ at your school. CSWD provides ‘Recycle Rhonda’ to facilitate these; indeed, seven schools in the county signed up last year.
In the spirit of transition, TTJ’s steering members plan to pow wow over actions we’d like to encourage here in Jericho at our next meeting, on February 12, 5:30pm at the library; join us there!
Jericho resident Dave Clift gave an informative talk on Hydroponic Gardening to a dozen folks on Monday. He started by expressing his vision of forming a community of growers, each taking on a few crops to ultimately produce a large and varied harvest, perhaps enough to donate to the local food shelf.
Hydroponics has advantages over soil gardening Dave explained, such as the ability to grow year round, and little or no bugs or airborne molds to contend with. Since plants are grown in water the roots, hidden in conventional gardening, are visible and fascinating for kids and families alike.
Dave’s talk was emboldening for the uninitiated. He said his mere two by two foot space can produce a variety of vegetables. Using visuals, including a beautiful head of lettuce he let us sample (tasty!) Dave described the various hydroponic systems to choose from. He uses the Kratky method largely because of its simplicity.
Using no electricity, pumps or piping, this method has you start out with enough water in your container to cover the plant’s roots. Through time the water gradually descends; by the time it’s at the bottom, the plant is usually ready for harvest. Dave showed pictures of the table set up in his basement, garbage bags wrapped around the legs to provide darkness for the roots.
Lighting: Dave described the pros and cons of various systems ultimately recommending LEDs over fluorescent lights. While more expensive, LEDs cost less to run, are more efficient and are the ‘lights of the future” Dave said; with their full spectrum capability, you can grow almost anything with them.
Growing Mediums: Describing the many options out there such as rock wool, perlite, and coconut fiber, Dave showed us “leca” samples, his preference since they’re so easy to use. Leca are clay pellets super fired to create a porous medium.
Water: In Dave’s case, since he has chloramines in his tap, he has opted to use water he collects from his roof. He suggested that regardless of your water source, you need to make sure the ph balance is correct, as in soil gardening.
Is hydroponics organic? someone asked. NOFA will not certify hydroponics as organic because it doesn’t use soil. Indeed over 20 nutrients are needed for plants to grow, and since there is no soil in hydroponics, it is necessary to add fertilizer of some kind. Dave uses “Cornucopia Plus” an organic nutrient mix made here in Vermont. He mentioned a local store, GTG Hydroponics in Underhill as a convenient source for supplies.
A handful of people at the talk signed up afterwards expressing interest in the hydroponic gardening group. Perhaps Dave’s vision is on its way to realization!
At last night’s lively gathering, Michelle Acciavatti spoke to about fifteen of us about green burials. Michelle runs an end-of-life planning and counseling business in Montpelier; at 35 years old, she has a refreshingly open attitude toward death and dying, something she attributes to both going to funerals as a child, and experiencing the tragic deaths of two friends in college. After working in Boston hospitals where she witnessed what she described as a sterile approach to dying, she decided to become an end-of-life specialist and help to return death to the home setting-- to encourage people to rethink cemeteries, dead bodies and rituals around death, as she puts it.
The evening started with a short film, Dying Green, about a doctor in South Carolina who started a land preserve for green burials. At Ramsey Creek Preserve the deceased are buried in a simple shroud, a top stone marking the grave. The preserve is forested, a beautiful place for loved ones to visit, and has become a point of pride for the community.
Michelle talked about the negative effects of embalming, including funeral home workers' long-term exposure to chemicals. She said embalming became standard back in the Civil War era, when soldiers' bodies need to be preserved for shipping home. By the end of the 19th century, death and dying had been moved from the home to the hospital and funeral parlor.
While the cremation option has increased from 40% to 60% in just the last decade, Michelle shattered some assumptions, citing how much fossil fuel is needed and toxic gases released. Also, ‘cremains’ are so salty they can be an environmental hazard. Not yet available in Vermont is another option, “alkaline hydrolysis” where heat and water turn the body into liquid form, or “recomposition” turning the body into compost.
Thanks to progressive legislation in Vermont over the last two years, there are now less restrictions on green burials happening here; bodies can now be buried at just three and a half feet (used to be five feet), so simple decomposition can more easily take place, thus laying the groundwork for green burials. Michelle shared many other details about green burials, such as preserving using techni ice, which keeps the body cold and can work in a home environment. Since the body isn't quickly transported away, beloved ones can better process the passage from life to death.
What can we do in Jericho to provide the green burial option for people? Work toward changing zoning laws? Getting the cemetery commissioners on board? Michelle suggested opening the conversation with as many people as possible. As several members of Jericho’s planning commission and cemetery committee showed up last night, we’re at least getting the ball rolling!
At our late August TTJ Gathering, a bit of fall chill was in the air. During this season of late summer harvests and putting food away, Peter Schoen, Bolton resident charmed us with his talk on Off-the-Grid living.
Son of a do-it-yourself father, Peter attended Sterling College where he says his unique education straddled learning the humanities with acquiring skills such as sharpening an axe for example! When he moved in with his wife she was living in a small cottage complete with oil lamps, antique ice box, and combined woodstove/oven; romantic perhaps, but not entirely practical.
They moved to their Cozy Shack in the early 2000s, large enough to eventually raise a daughter, now a teenager. Stocked with sophisticated LED lights and thickly insulated cellulose walls, they learned everything from utilizing graywater to the ins and outs of compost toilets and much in between. Peter said the lifestyle is like “navigating between riding a bull and riding a dressage horse”.
Peter shared some interesting stats. For example, while the average use of water for Americans is seventy gallons a person/day, his family gets by on five gallons each. And while the average American produces 17k lbs. of carbon dioxide per year, off the grid living averages just 300 lbs. per person each year.
Hopes and dreams? Peter would ultimately like to obtain all of their power from solar panels thereby eliminating generators. But he’s as committed as ever to the daily challenges, saying “I love how I’ve lived..it seems right to me!”
We organizers of TTJ would love to host a future meeting on a similar theme; perhaps bringing together a group of off-gridders for a panel discussion; let us know if you'd like to participate!
During July 27-30 I attended the first ever National Gathering of transition towns in the US! hosted by Transition Towns US and held in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was beyond expectation! Workshops covered everything from inner transition work to emergency preparedness to communicating with transition leaders worldwide via satellite.
Keynotes were given by three of my heroes, Richard Heinberg (Post Carbon Institute) Rob Hopkins (transition town founder) and Phyllis Young (Standing Rock) Much of the learning was simply sharing stories with each other and through ‘open space’ a technique of catalyzing large groups of people into strategic planning.
The best workshop I attended was about building effective transition towns. Two very different approaches were offered; thought I’d share what I learned there.
Martin Pepper represented Transition Town Media (PA) a town just a bit larger than Jericho. He said they started with seven enthusiastic people with very little experience. They’ve grown to become one of the most happening, long running transition towns in the US.
Founded in 2009, TTMedia has a membership of 2000 people, hosts hundreds of events, and has 1000s of followers. they’ve established a timebank (2011) a freestore (2014) and solarizing campaign (42 homes in 2016). There were also workshops on the latter two, big topics unto themselves.
Martin explained that many people have joined and left TTMedia; projects have succeeded and failed. The organization almost fell apart when their leader butted heads with the rest of the group. Martin suggests celebrating successes, learning from failures.
They have two types of meetings: The ‘action’ meetings where various working committees come together to share and the ‘being’ meetings which are potluck/social meetings. They have an annual planning session every January, whereby people give various levels of commitment to agreed upon projects for the upcoming year.
-Get good at understanding your community, where you fit in
-Do projects the membership and community have energy and excitement for
-Assist/collaborate with other groups, supporting without having to ‘own’ those projects
Martin was gracious, forthcoming and supportive, offering a thousand details but you get the idea!
Don Hall was the other presenter in the workshop, drawing upon his experience as executive director of Transition Town Sarasota. Rather than volunteer-run, TTSarasota started with Don as the full time leader, though he had to fundraise his own salary!
Don broke down starting a transition town into five stages:
Don said when he left Sarasota (he currently works for Transition Towns US) TTSarasota was somewhere between stages three and four. He also said they had a challenge transitioning to a volunteer-run organization.
I know this is kind of detailed, but I find this stuff fascinating and hope you do too!
At tonight's TTJ gathering, Eric Bachman from Montpelier gave an inspiring talk on time banks and specifically, the Onion River Exchange in Montpelier. The ORE is one of three time banks in Vermont (the other two are in Brattleboro and Bennington).
Eric has been involved in ORE since its inception in 2008, and also works for Time Banks USA. Word has it he's been seen at farmers markets waving large dollar bill replicas and a clock to demonstrate that time equals money; the man lives and breathes this stuff!
A time bank is an online network whereby members’ offers and requests are listed; each time you do an hour of service you receive an hour of time credit. And all hours are considered equal. Giving an hour of massage, fixing your neighbor's plumbing, or assisting an elder; all are deemed equal in this system.
Eric talked about how time banks promote the ‘core’ economy, the harder to measure transactions that are undervalued in our market economy. Making up 40-50% of the total economy, this alternative economy is legitimized and promoted via time banks.
Five core values underscore all time banks and a new member going through orientation is schooled in everything from valuing 'human assets' to redefining the concept of work.
The ORE system appears user friendly and even provides ‘guardian angels’, people who can help those lacking computer skills (and get credit for doing so). With 440 members, ORE has recently created a tool library and is planning to host Repair Cafes in the near future.
We watched a short video of the Long Beach Time Exchange; many very enthuastic people! I loved how one person described time banks as “a way to fulfill basic needs AND access your highest potential.”
Eric suggested that if local folks want to develop a time bank, Jericho and its environs could become a ‘hub’ to ORE; piggybacking instead of starting from scratch. Lots to consider, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one dreaming about future possibilities.
On another note, I'm very excited to be going to the first ever transition town conference in the US, this coming weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota! Will definitely post a blog when I return...
Last night TTJ hosted its June meeting, inviting Tom Baribault and Ann Gnagey as presenters. The local homesteaders talked about collecting rainwater as a way to preserve groundwater, a vital resource. Groundwater is roughly only 29% of all freshwater, and freshwater is only about 3% of the world's total water (most of it's in oceans). So saving groundwater is key!
Tom talked about the three components of collecting, storing and distributing saved water. Showed us pics of his own tandem barrel system, using old maple containers, saying one inch of rainfall leads to 700 barrels of water. On their land they have pipes installed to collect surface water, holding it in makeshift reservoirs. They also have pond catchment systems. For storage they use plastic totes, discards from wine storage.
Tom and Ann began their water awareness/saving journey in 1996, when their wells were deemed radioactive (not from radon which can be evaporated out, but uranium) Back then they dug a spring for drinking water. These days they said, that same spring takes longer and longer to refill after the winter, not boding well for the state of our groundwater.
Ann also talked about the carbon cycle, specifically how soil is such an important pool for carbon, preventing more of it going into the atmosphere, and how composting is so vital for building the soil. She touched upon 'humanure' and how they've implemented that in their homestead.
Did you know the precursor to the modern toilet was called a 'dry earth closet' developed in the 1850s by a minister, Henry Moule. He thought the other option, water closets (beloved by the Queen of England!) an abomination, saying they pollute our waters and don't put nutrients from human waste back into the soil. Thus, today's toilette...really makes you wonder about the so-called advanced society we live in.
Well, thanks Tom and Ann, you two are truly an inspiration to the rest of us local dwellers!