Last weekend four of us friends and organizers of Transition Town Jericho attended Healing Turtle Island at Nibezum Farm, on tribal lands in Passadumkeag, Maine. The event drew over 300 people, including indigenous from around the world.
Brainchild of Penobscot Sherri Mitchell, this was the third annual gathering in a twenty year cycle; future meetings will ultimately take place in the south, west and north. As many indigenous believe we’re now living in a time of prophecy, the east symbolizes birth and creation. The hope is humans will make the choice to return to a more sustainable path of being on the planet.
Indigenous peoples were the leading speakers and the rest of us witnesses; the days were filled with ceremony, ritual and storytelling. A common thread was the struggle to reclaim lost heritage; language and ways of life that contrast profoundly with the modern world.
The learning was as much in the how as the what; we camped out, brought along our own eating utensils and for a few days, tread lightly on the earth. As a free event, the gathering relied on produce and food donations which seemed to be delivered nonstop. Volunteer cooks put together tasty meals and volunteer labor on all levels kept things running smoothly.
Opening night, native peoples were invited to introduce themselves by presenting songs and stories from their culture. Starting with the resident tribal drumming group and progressing to the eye popping Maori troupe to the plaintive song of an Abenaki woman, presenters and attendees alike shed the first of many tears.
The days were filled with sharing knowledge, everything from personal loss to exaltation of earth's riches. Whether standing in line for food, or sitting at the lodge in between ceremonies, attendees were friendly and also swapped life stories and learning. Evening activities included social dancing (fun!), a sweat lodge, a women’s teaching tent and drumming. With hardly any technology apparent, a kind of utopian village was created.
On Sunday morning, as a Mohawk leader and educator was relating a particularly vivid story, there was a crowd murmur as an eagle was sighted, circling overhead; a turkey vulture was soon spotted, even higher in the bright sky. As the eagle and condor together signify unity within native tradition, it seemed a meaningful omen for the gathering.
Back home now, the gathering’s effects are surely unfolding with each participant: how do we tread the earth differently after such an experience?
Sue Morse, a true emissary of mother nature, spoke to nearly fifty folks at the Jericho Community Center on June 12, offering a colorful narrative to accompany her outstanding slide show, Animals of the North: What Will the Global Climate Change Mean for Them?
This was a first for TTJ, collaborating with Jericho’s Conservation Commission on an event; lovely to work with such dedicated folks.
Sue warns that with one third of our wildlife at risk, we can easily become overwhelmed and passive. Ironically, she says, we’re living at a unique time on the planet, when the animals need us more than ever.
Heart breaking to see and hear of the sad plight of the dwindling moose population. Many of us recall nostalgically our sightings through the years, as their annual migration brings them to this part of the state for the mineral salts of our wetlands, Sue explained.
On a more hopeful note, Sue described the reintroduction to Vermont of the lynx, which she referred to as the “ultimate northern cat”. After an explanation of how to tell the difference between the lynx and bobcat, she showed a fascinating skeletal display of how similar the lynx is to its prey the hare, effectively demonstrating, “you are what you eat”.
Sue defies stereotypes throughout the talk, for example calling the wolverine a warm loving creature, and her pictures indeed brought out a lovable quality in that animal.
Sue uses an array of techniques to get her photos of animals in the wild, sometimes imitating them to get their attention and hopefully a photograph or two. When she let out an occasional wolf or coyote howl to color her narrative, I did a double take each time, thinking it was a recording of the real thing.
Sue expanded on a Jane Goodall quote, saying “my reason for hope is the beauty of it all”. Indeed, when viewing Sue’s breathtaking pictures of the flora and fauna of the Arctic region, the audience seems united in a feeling of awe; one feels that anything is possible!
While the footage of thin polar bears is depressing, Sue mentioned the iconic animals have been observed expanding their diet to berries; the hope is they’ll find alternative sources of food and survive a changing habitat.
On the other hand, photos of grizzly bears feasting on wild salmon show creatures self satisfied and playful; indeed, Sue is convinced they were showing off for her.
Photos from the air were haunting in different ways. Images of migrating caribou on land and water were spectacular. Sue also showed a picture of hundreds of fracking operation units in Wyoming on public lands that have been co-opted by the oil industry. It was utterly jarring, but nonetheless important to see the reality of the world we live in.
After the talk, Sue enthusiastically carried on conversations one on one, situated at a table with wares to raise funds for Keeping Track, her organization based here in Jericho. Check it out at keepingtrack.org
On May 20, we had a great talk and discussion as 28 people joined Chittenden County Forester, Ethan Tapper to discuss the importance of trees’ contribution to the climate. The presentation delved into the question of carbon sequestration and why it’s important as we address climate change. Decisions about trees on our properties can help mitigate our changing climate and add to ecological sustainability.
Trees trap and store carbon from the air, cleaning the air and sequestering it from being released for many years. Ethan talked about how forest management fits into the transition town vision of creating strong, connected, self-sufficient communities.
Vermont is 75% forested and of that forested land, 80% is owned privately. Ethan’s job is to advise landowners on how to best care for their tree lots and keep them healthy. Some of the challenges in Vermont’s forests include: large die offs, over browsing by deer, exotic pests attacking the trees, and higher temperatures that are not suited to Vermont species.
Ethan explained that Vermont forests were almost eliminated in the early 1800s from lumbering and opening up land for grazing livestock. While much of that land has been re-forested, too few varieties of trees, or too many similarly aged trees make for an unhealthy forest. Forests need several die-offs to support the regeneration of new growth from the decomposition and natural reforestation. This process takes decades, if not a century.
Also, many forest areas consist of mono species of wildlife, whereas a forest thrives better with multiple species living together. Forests are more resilient and will stand up better to climate change by providing a variety of species of both trees and wildlife. As an example, Ethan cited the maple sugarbush, a prime location for tent caterpillars. A forest where maple trees predominate will have more problems with tent caterpillars than a forest that has multiple species of trees. Interestingly, the caterpillars use the sap lines to go from tree to tree.
There was a lot of discussion around invasive species of plants that take over the underbrush in a forest, such as garlic mustard, buckthorn and Japanese knotweed. These plants can poison soils, cause stream bank erosion, and crowd out native plants. Somewhat apologetically, Ethan recommended using an herbicide to eliminate the more aggressive invasive plants like buckhorn. He said he’ll advise anyone on the best products and techniques.
Ethan said people tend to look at their forested lands as investments. Problems may arise when people develop their property and build corridors into the forest, causing breaks in the forest continuity. This is detrimental to wildlife, as larger mammals such as bear and moose tend to live in the deeper parts of the forest. So while a forest is an asset to the ecological community, it may not lead to economic gain.
Finally, Ethan said that healthy forests should be messy. A forest floor littered with tree limbs, dead fallen trees, and native underbrush provides something to rot, and establishes areas that support wildlife. So avoid the hard work of clearing the forest floor and...keep it messy!
About twenty folks gathered on Earth Day, April 22 for a presentation from John and Nancy Hayden of the Farm Between which lies between Jeffersonville and Cambridge. The name actually refers to their transition from the dairy farm they started with, into a regenerative farm.
After 27 years of operation, the Farm Between has now evolved into a “perennial polyculture” farm. John said their goal is to go beyond sustainable, or preserving the status quo, and to be regenerative; rebuilding the soil, land and ecosystem. John added that as life begets life, their farm promotes biodiversity as much as possible, by replicating natural systems.
They’ve also diversified their products, incorporated hoop houses and perennial planting, diverted hayfields into pollinator sanctuaries, established riparian zone management, incorporated no till, and improved composting strategies.
Six years ago they added their fruit nursery, helping visitors get started with edible landscaping and pollinator friendly plants...ever hear of hazelburts?!
With about four acres always in production, their pollinator sanctuary takes up the remaining fourteen acres whereby various successions take place: milkweed to goldenrod & joe pye weed and then to asters, all without mowing in between, allowing natural succession to unfold.
John said that about 30% of our plants require pollinators; they’ve seen improved production on their land due to the pollinator sanctuary. When he showed pictures of stunted cucumbers and raspberries that had been inadequately pollinated, I was reminded of some last year’s produce from my own garden!
He then gave a fascinating explanation of who pollinates what, including how wind pollinates trees, beetles pollinate goldenrod, orioles pollinate cherry blossoms and others, including bats which pollinate agave to make tequila.
John mentioned that ants, with the highest biomass of any insect in the world, pollinate peonies and are also vital as soil workers, turning over more soil than any other creature, including earthworms.
Small is definitely beautiful at The Farm Between, so pay the farm a visit; besides the nursery plants they have products such as elderberry-ginger-honey syrup and aronia cider. And watch for John’s book “Farming on the Wild Side” coming out this fall.
More details at:
Friends of the Winooski River was founded in 1998, to garner citizen awareness and activism around our vital waterway. Michele Braun has been the executive director of the Friends since 2017 and led our transition town talk in March.
Michele described three aspects of the Friends programs: Learn, Restore and Paddle (they host both an annual race and full moon paddle during the summer)
Michele said that the Winooski River is the largest watershed to Lake Champlain on the Vermont side, flowing 90 miles from Cabot to Lake Champlain in Colchester; there are seven tributaries to the Winooski and several smaller sub watersheds.
Locally, the watershed in Jericho is the 9.5 mile long Mill Brook. (The Browns River that also flows through Jericho and is part of the Lamoille River watershed). Mill Brook is considered a reference water source because of its relative health.
The biggest challenges to a clean Winooski are phosphorus from fertilizer which causes algae blooms, sediment which transfers the phosphorus and worsening erosion, smothering the stream beds.
Solutions recommended by the Friends are eco restoration, open floodplains, removing dams, and planting trees, among others.
Last year, the Friends successfully developed a floodplain in Northfield on the Dog River, a tributary of the Winooski River. Besides ecological, benefits included recreational; Michele went on to describe the town’s involvement and excitement around this project.
The Friends offer advice to landowners (check out their website for details!) including the ‘slow the flow’ concept; using rain roofs, barrels and other mechanisms to give runoff a chance for aeration.
Currently, the Friends are helping Jericho’s Conservation Commission work on a rain garden for the town green, next to the new pollinator garden.
Volunteer opportunities this spring involve planting 3,000 trees and shrubs along the Winooski, including a planting of 650 shrubs and trees on Mill Brook in early May.
Check out winooskiriver.org for numerous volunteer opportunities!
Almost the first words from Jess Rubin, February 25 presenter, were that restoring the economy starts with restoring the ecology, an ongoing theme in her talk at the Jericho Community Center. About eighteen of us gathered to hear about all things fungal.
Jess, a resident of Essex Junction, founder of MycoEvolve & co-founder of VT Myconode, said while microbes showed up on earth four billion years ago, fungi two billion and plants one billion years later, working backwards to partner with plants, fungi, and microbes is one strategy to engage in earth healing efforts.
As a new field, mycoremediation arose in the 1970s, largely due to the work of mushroom guru Paul Stamets, author of Mycelium Running. Jess said that as a science, mycoremediation is still in its infancy.
In Vermont, manure management strategies, rotational & cover crop practices, and appropriate buffer strips seemed to be lacking on many farms, thus leading to tainted waterways. These observations led Jess to focus on E. coli in her research.
Much of her initial research focused on the somewhat familiar King Stropharia, or Wine-cap mushroom since it is easy to grow and releases enzymes that ultimately kill E. coli. Jess mentioned that often fungi used for healing sickness in humans such as many of the polypores have great potential to be used in remedial work.
Future plans for Jess include developing a fungal hugelkultur installation to remediate E.coli and redirect phosphorus out of the water via mycorrhizal riparian plantings. With a strong team assembled, Jess intends to pursue this work through a Masters project in Ecological Landscape Design.
After describing fungal research projects in Shelburne, Colchester and Poultney, Jess led our group in an exercise of first listing toxins in our own neighborhoods, then citing existing infrastructure, as initial steps toward understanding, envisioning, and transitioning into remediation practices on the local level.
On January 28th, 2019, Transition Town Jericho hosted a panel of local town Conservation Commission heads from Jericho, Bolton, Richmond, and Underhill. The meeting was an opportunity for the various representatives to discuss recent initiatives and share their experiences as working teams. About 22 people showed up.
· The work to eliminate invasive species, such as japanese knotweed, abundant on Crane Brook and other areas
· Over harvesting of fiddleheads, and how to ensure there are good supplies every year
· Work with land owners providing ideas and resources to reduce erosion
· Applying for a grant to build a wildflower pollinator garden on the Jericho Village Green
The Conservation Commission (CC) oversees management of properties owned by the towns. In addition, they are available for conducting studies, applying for grants, and providing input for the various Boards in regard to the natural resources within the towns.
Tom Baribault of the Jericho CC, talked about the Backwoods program which is an online course targeted at teaching homeowners with 25 acres or less about their woods and how they can be caretakers of it. Whether you own 2 acres or 20 acres, this program will help you make the most out of the woods in your backyard!
Underhill, represented by Karen McKnight, holds monthly meetings with both members and non-members attending. Workshops on living with bears, bird friendly maples, connectivity of wildlife areas, and tree walks to identify/treat ash trees ravished by the ash borer.
Amy Ludwin, of the Bolton CC cited various projects including mapping the river basin and managing the town forest. They work with land owners on erosion issues and partner with groups such as the Friends of the Winooski. They also have stewardship of the Preston Pond Conservation Area.
The Richmond CC, represented by Judy Rosovsky, sponsors studies on town natural resources such as Gillett Pond, assisted by students from UVM’s Department of Plant Biology. They also contribute to revisions of the Town Plan including mapping the town’s natural resources.
TTJ’s film event on Nov 26 provided inspiration for a lifetime. Dancing with the Cannibal Giant and its producer, Chris Wood is currently touring the state, inspiring and motivating community dialogue and interaction. Chris was accompanied by Suzanne Richman, who facilitated a soulful discussion among the nearly thirty people who attended (from Jericho, Essex, and Williston as well as a sizable chunk from Transition Town Charlotte).
Chris introduced himself, saying he was motivated by the film Wisdom to Survive: Climate Change, Capitalism and Community from director Ann Macksoud of Old Dog Films. While that film presented the grave problems we’re facing, Chris was interested in solutions and asked Macksoud to direct Dancing.... Indeed, the first fifteen minutes are excerpts from Wisdom..., followed by Five New Stories for the Great Transition (subtitle of his film) describing inspirational communities/solutions.
Interspersed throughout the film are great quotes from young people “(Activism) is not a fight, but a more joyful existence” to local heroes like UVM’s Stephanie Kaza, “Hope is having a steady mind, and willingness to be present” to maven Joanna Macy ”If you want an adventure, what a time to be alive!” to the literary, “perhaps it’s beauty that will save the earth”-Dostoyevski.
Sherri Mitchell, of the Penobscot tribe, is an omnipresence in the film; there is footage of her talks where she describes the myth of the Cannibal Giant Gilyuk, who is asleep in the forest and awakened when Mother Earth is in distress. Gilyuk’s role is to lull humanity into a false sense of security, consuming themselves to death so Mother Nature can recover. Sherri said that humanity is awakening now, traveling through the long dark birth canal. We can choose to either stay in the dark, or be the midwives to a new way of being.
The first New Story filmed was the Metta Earth Institute, founded by Gillian and Russell Comstock in Lincoln, Vermont. Providing immersions and workshops for groups of young people, they combine contemplative practice, regenerative work on the land and social activism. Russell said he’s trying to re-enact an ancient story, shifting the mindset from ‘me-ness’ to benefiting the whole.
After a fascinating interview with folks at the Center for Transformative Practice in White River Junction, the film takes you to Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg NY, a community trying to combat “food apartheid” by training groups of city dwellers in farming, food production and back to earth skills, then delivering to “food deserts”, populations of people who can’t afford nutritious food.
The film takes you on tour with the duo, Climbing Poetree, a performance art group of two women who provoke their audiences to simply wake up, saying humanity is in a battle of stories and we need to decide which will win. They bring to life the idea of creativity as an antidote for violence and destruction and have clocked thousands of miles with their message, touring on a bus that runs on recycled veggie oil.
Fable Farm is run by two brothers in Barnard Vermont. A working farm, winery and events venue, their Thursday community day has turned into a major event hosting up to 500 people at a time. They say their survival as a farm is based on the community that has built up over the last ten years. Their philosophy, they add, is to focus on the self; from there one can have greater effect on the larger community.
The film ended with the haunting quote from poet Drew Dellinger:
“my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?
...surely you did something”
After the film we shifted into a big circle, sharing both dreams and hard realities of building communities of response. Ideas included modeling homesteading through tours/skillshares, running Repair Cafes (ongoing in Charlotte), inner transition book groups, just to name a few. No doubt, many other ideas were generated in the lively breakout conversations before we all parted ways.
Wherever it takes you and your community, Chris and his film are well worth hosting in your town, library or home. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
On Monday, October 22, Jericho homesteader Chris Sims presented “Feeding the Neighborhood” in which she discussed the many ways she and her husband have worked to improve food security for their household.
From foraging to gardening to food preservation to raising livestock, and bartering with neighbors and building relationships with local farmers, her audience got plenty of ideas as to where to begin or to branch out in their own quest for self-sufficiency.
We were reminded that it’s been just 10 years since the Transition Handbook was published by Rob Hopkins. While he focused on developing skills and resilience in the face of Peak Oil, today’s readers foresee new disasters looming for which smart communities need to prepare.
Chris shared real-life examples of how she’s gently introduced neighbors, friends, and schoolchildren to resources that might otherwise go to waste.
She talked about carbon sequestration, composting, permaculture and acquiring healthy foods (from every food group) without a trip to the market.
Eating with the seasons was another theme; so was eating differently: wild mushrooms, baked insects, foraged acorns anyone?
Prime agricultural soils are at risk everywhere, including Jericho’s planned commercial district. How might we act to save such precious resources so that they’re available toward their highest and best use?
All in all, a richly informative and inspiring talk. Thank you, Chris and husband Reed!
Peter Duval, here:
Ruah Swennerfelt (TT Charlotte), Marcy Kass (TT Williston), and Laura Markowitz (TT Jericho) headlined our discussion: "Why Transition Towns, and why now?" at our Sept. 24th meeting.
Marcy described her motivation. She is involved with 350.org and distributed a brochure with 39 small sustainable habits. TT is an appealing, positive way of dealing with the problem. She cited Donna Haraway's "Staying with the Trouble" book. The flip side of hope is disappointment.
Ruah has written her own book, Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith. She noted the world is in trouble, in many ways. Everything needs to happen all at once, and it is difficult to work at a big scale, but the TT scale of community is manageable and effective. She joined the Grange, too, which strengthened her involvement in her town.
Laura has narrowed her activism to TT Jericho. Her expectations of participation have been relaxed, and she is going to keep on doing what she thinks is important. Critical mass can happen, and Transition Towns are about a vision.
The panel and audience discussed hope versus despair, duty and what would compel people to act. Is there something to be learned from war? What happened during World War II, with the Greatest Generation rising to the challenge? Today there is little broad adversity, and a climate disavowal to go along with denial. Norse mythology accepts that evil will triumph, but still people are expected to do the right thing.
Scale matters and so does collective impact and addressing the problem in multiple dimensions to shift culture. There are many little things that people do that changes culture. Emergency preparedness is an aspect of TT, but not for doomsday. Instead, the emphasis is on mutual support. Ruah recommended David Fleming's "Surviving the Future". A number of activities were discussed: weekly potluck parties, no electricity nights, email newsletter, repair cafes, asset mapping and skills inventories. Transition Towns is the container for action.