On May 24th, Transition Town Jericho hosted Michelle Acciavatti and Tim Graves to discuss Natural Burial (Green Burial) in Vermont.
Michelle, a death doula and green educator, was part of a group of citizens that worked to fully legalize green burials in Vermont in 2017. Working in the funeral industry inspired her to partner with Tim on the sister ventures of a creating a centrally located cemetery dedicated to natural burial and a funeral home that specializes in natural burial on that land.
Natural burial sites are maintained using ecological land management practices without the use of vaults, using nontoxic embalming fluids and a nontoxic, nonhazardous, plant derived burial container or shroud.
In their presentation, Michelle discussed the downside of cremation: the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere and the fossil fuel used. She showed examples of the amount of space that cemeteries use, the large amount of embalming fluid and the wasteful use of resources in steel and concrete used for caskets.
Natural burial sites can be used for other things beside burials, such as nature trails, wedding venues and a place to find solitude.
No embalming fluid is used; bodies are preserved by cooling before the burial ceremony. Natural burial uses only biodegradable containers for the remains. This allows for a natural partnership between the body and soil microbiome through direct contact with the soil once the body is laid to rest.
Natural burial graves are 3.5 feet beneath the surface of the soil where decomposition can happen without being cut off from heat and oxygen. These decomposers work in unison with the body’s bacteria to promote a natural process. 3.5 feet also is enough to keep scavengers from digging up the grave.
There is growing interest in and accessibility to natural burials. For more information about natural burials in Vermont, please contact Michelle or Tim at: email@example.com, or visit their website at Home | Mysite
Laura M reporting:
Laura Oliver of Let’s Grow Jericho Seed Library led us through a talk May 17 on Lasagna Gardening. Laura, a true local, grew up in Underhill with a family that gardened, raised animals and foraged. These days, she raises her own family on a two acre homestead on Nashville Road, pictured above.
Originally their land consisted of sandy, rocky soil filled with quack grass and weeds. Since embarking on lasagna gardening two years ago, they’ve turned things around; UVM soil testing showed nicely balanced soil that’s rich and fluffy, Laura said.
Lasagna gardening is a layering process for building vibrant, rich garden beds. Fall is the best time to prepare beds so that materials can break down, but spring works too.
Laura described the steps, starting with a ground layer of cardboard or newspaper layers that can be put directly on a lawn, if need be. Then cover with a couple inches of chips or straw, wetting it down.
After that, alternate layers of brown and green. The brown is carbon dominant things like newspaper, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, sawdust. Green is nitrogen dominant; materials like fresh grass clippings, weeds (before they go to seed), kitchen scraps. If it’s spring and you plan to plant directly in it, you need a layer of topsoil or compost before the final layer of mulch on top.
The final product may be up to two feet high, but it breaks down, forming a raised bed.
Why do it?
-Can make use of found materials or refuse from neighbors such as leaves or sawdust.
-Need less fertilizer, since you plant directly in compost.
-Supports soil mycelium, which Laura called the “neurological network of nature”
-Soil you create is easy to work; crumbly loose and loamy.
Laura recommended observing soil of the forest floor; pulling up those leaves to observe the white mycelium (can bring some of that rich leaf litter to your garden beds!)
She also recommended cover crops to prevent erosion and carbon oxidation in the veggie beds.
Laura gave an update on Let’s Grow Jericho, where they’re currently organizing a Tool Library, to lend out tools to the community. She said that the Seed Library itself is a great resource for free seeds. It’s also a great way for the community to access and save heirloom seeds. Laura also cited the Abenaki Land Link program, through which she and some neighbors are growing several heirloom, indigenous crops.
Link to meeting:
On April 26, TTJ hosted a zoom meeting initiating GRO-Jericho to inspire the formation of neighborhood groups around gardening. If you’re a home gardener like me, you’ve got things you can grow well and others not so much; the idea is for neighbors to think about both offers and needs within the areas of vegetable crops, storage space, and food preservation, etc. Have a conversation, and figure out how cooperating will lead to more for all, possibly extending the season’s output.
You may have an informal group already, or maybe no one gardens much; TTJ will provide support to both new gardeners and experienced green thumbers in the form of mentorships, tutorials, and Google Docs to keep groups connected.
Here’s a sample letter; feel free to adapt and pass along to your neighbors to start the conversation!
Inviting you to join a new initiative, GRO-Jericho, a combination of collaborating, swapping and neighborly fun!
I’m starting a neighborhood group here at Barber Farm, and other neighborhood groups are joining the initiative, organized by Transition Town Jericho (TTJ). Check out website: transitiontownjericho.net
The idea is this: Some of us garden a little or a lot of this or that, and we can collaborate together so we fill in the gaps. For example, I love growing garlic, lettuce, herbs, scallions, collards, radiccio and carrots, all organic and often have enough to share. As far as preserving foods, I have some experience fermenting foods & a dehydrator for drying. On the other hand, I’d love it if someone wanted to offer up canning, and would love access to veggie storage space over the winter.
If each neighbor thinks of both offers and needs, the possibilities are many!
If one of us non-gardeners has a sunny spot to share, maybe another neighbor who doesn’t have a good space could garden there. TTJ has resources to get us going whether it’s a new garden, or help along the way, offering Google Docs to keep the GRO-groups connected.
Call or email me if you’re interested!]
Good luck leading the way in your neighborhood, and keep us posted! If you’d like to have a Google Doc set up for your neighborhood group, send an email with a request to: TTJericho.VT@gmail.com
Over thirty folks showed up for TTJ’s zoom meeting on March 22, Transitioning to Spring: Creating Abundance! Jericho’s own Ann Gnagey presented, as well as guest speaker Bill McKibben.
Ann started us off, sharing a particular piece of knowledge that motivated her to get more proactive: she learned of ice cone data showing 400,000 years of stability between CO2 levels and temperatures, and how this delicate balance has ended recently with rapidly increasing CO2 levels. She said getting to work on building resiliency and educating others helped her through the depressing news.
Ann gave an overview of the three keys to sustainability: Solar Energy, Biodiversity, and Water Cycles (not enough time to cover; next meeting perhaps?)
She and husband Tom continue to make changes on their homestead to build resiliency; with power outages more common, they’re less reliant on freezing things and do more drying with solar dryers and greenhouses, plus lactofermentation to preserve their food.
Wanting to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, they rely more on wood for cooking and heating. They recently developed a lumber operation on their land. Ann had many suggestions to offer, including extending the season at both ends with hoop houses, adding that old fashioned cold frames do just fine!
Bill McKibben spoke next, saying that while his particular focus of late has been the global picture, the global AND the local go hand in hand; Bill talked about his experiment with living for a year on the 100-Mile Diet; everything he consumed was grown or made within the Champlain Valley except for seasonings/spice (the Marco Polo rule). The biggest revelation, he said, was learning who grew what, and where; a true rediscovery of his surrounding community.
Bill, who communicates with Transition Towns founder, Rob Hopkins, called the TT movement “the quiet, up from the bottom revolution”. He said that since the last century, knowing one’s neighbors has become an optional thing as there is a perception that we don’t ‘need’ each other. On the contrary, he said; we need ‘social solidarity’ more than ever to face a challenging future.
Bill addressed how to rebuild community by citing Vermont town meetings, saying they make people feel responsible for each other, thus defying our culture’s hyperindividualism.
Breakout discussions focused on citing examples of sharing with neighbors that exist now, as well as aspects we can build upon.
People mentioned examples of sharing with friends and neighbors rather than having formal networks. The Underhill Food Shed, though a great place to leave excess produce, lacks interactiveness. (Another option for excess produce is the veggie garden at Deborah Rawson Library, which donates produce to Jeri Hill Independent Living).
Discussion ensued around TTJ overseeing a neighbor-share program or at the very least, starting a Google Doc to exchange information and resources.
During the meeting, people were making generous offerings, from providing garden space to those in need, to lending a pipe bender (for building small hoop houses) to teaching how to compost. Recalling Bill McKibben’s comment that neighborliness is a skill that’s hard to relearn, I thought, right here at least the neighborly vibe is alive and well!
Shanna Ratner was the speaker at the January 25 TTJ meeting, “Listening Across the Political Divide”. A resident of Fairfield, Shanna was a founding member of Franklin County’s local Braver Angels group in 2017. A national group, Braver Angels (BA) formed after the contentious 2016 election, and groups now exist in every state, with over 12,000 members.
About 25 people showed up to our zoom meeting, just a few reds among the more numerous blues, a microcosm of Vermont itself. Shanna began by showing two short BA videos, including Finding Common Ground in Ohio, a film of the very first BA workshop. It showed facilitators bringing together seven reds and seven blues in dialog and listening. After the workshop, people shared stories, describing heartfelt connections with people from the opposite side of the spectrum. Here’s the video:
In BA dialogs you see people listening to each other and finding their common humanity beneath political differences. People seem less alien when you see how their life experience leads them to their beliefs. Shanna led us in breakout groups that had us practice listening skills and finding commonalities in how we each arrive at our political views.
Some additional insights from Shanna:
-It’s not about changing peoples’ minds or arguing over facts; it’s about finding the 80% that we agree on.
-A local legislator who is part of Franklin County BA says it’s the only place he can really be honest, since he has to be politically correct within his political circles.
-To keep a local group going, you must (ironically) keep politics out of it, so it remains a safe place for people of all persuasions.
Shanna shared her story of forming their local BA group. She initially got involved after a BA Bus Tour came through her town. She asked her neighbor, a retired military officer to join her, but was challenged in finding more reds (groups ideally have equal numbers of reds/blues). She went to the local gun shop, fire station, and other places where she might encounter reds and invite them to participate.
The Franklin County group initially attended some BA workshops, including “Skills to Bridge the Political Divide” BA’s most popular course; they have remained together, meeting quarterly. In 2018 they wanted to go beyond simply talking, and tackled a couple legislative issues; this year, their team is leading a “Skills to Bridge...” workshop on March 4. To take part, contact Dan Pipes: firstname.lastname@example.org
TTJ is offering a follow-up meeting on Monday *February 22, for anyone interested in pursuing steps toward forming a local BA. If you missed the January 25 presentation, you can request it here: TTJericho.VT@gmail.com
*Meeting has been postponed until March 29
On Dec 14, Kaat Vander Straeten of Wayland MA and the US Transition Town (TT) team, brought eight of us New England TT organizers together to form a northeast regional hub. The idea is to provide mutual support, share ideas and provide forward momentum within the TT movement. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont were represented at the meeting.
During introductions, we got a sense of TT work within New England over the last decade or so. Whether working independently or with other resiliency/sustainability groups, TTs have been part of an array of activities, including repair cafes, reskilling workshops, community garden/gleaning projects, and discussion circles/zoom talks.
A couple groups recently conducted living history interviews with community elders, exploring the question, “ What does a low energy world look like?” (It’s helpful to be reminded that one of the initial goals of TTs was to provide Energy Descent Action Plans (EDAP) for communities).
There was discussion of TT’s future direction in these challenging times. Some people expressed urgency in moving forward, getting more people involved. Others wanted to promote diversity within steering groups and communities they serve. One group is working toward bridging divides between developers and their effected communities.
Looking toward the future, additional ideas people offered were:
*Creating more transition initiatives
*Being bolder, challenging peoples mindsets
*Bringing TT training to organizers and communities
*Using the Quaker model as a direction for the movement; i.e. having grassroots efforts steer the national movement.
I hope to continue reporting on these meetings, on the second Monday of each month; the next meeting is January 11.
On October 14, the US Transition team hosted an inspiring online presentation, “Stories For a Changing World”. Moderating was Marissa Mommaerts and guest speaker was author and nonviolent activist, Rivera Sun. Of the 45 or so participants, I recognized a handful of fellow Vermont transitioners from Jericho, Charlotte and Manchester.
Marissa said US Transition organizers wanted to pose the question: How can we uplift the moment, in this great pause? Organizers she said, have been inspired by Transition Town co-founder Rob Hopkins’ book, From What Is to What If? released during the pandemic.
Rivera is a storyteller extraordinaire, and her talk was peppered with colorful anecdotes, capturing the many paradoxes of the moment we’re living in. She said we’re feeling both the breakdown and the breakthrough of the present moment: so many of us have been wondering, what will it be like if things fall apart?
Rivera suggested that this IS what it’s like, that we’re IN that moment! She said beneath the political babble of the day, ordinary people are showing up in extraordinary ways, choosing to shift from the potentially terrible to the divine.
At some point, we were given a few moments to think about our favorite stories. Rivera said perhaps these particular stories embody something we need in order to get through challenges. Favorite stories break down expectations, and nourish the heart. Rivera mentioned how story themes are often negative, or the other extreme, utopian; if so, how can we journey from one to the other?
We often make the leap into the journey because we think we can make things better, sacrificing comfort and familiarity for the unknown. She mentioned the universality of The Lord of the Rings saying the times we’re living in, in some ways surpass that story. There are many themes we can relate to, she said; for example, Sam picking up and carrying Frodo to complete their journey; we need each other to balance out our weaknesses.
The typical story we hear is that we’re too small to make a difference or that we should just party because we all die anyway, in the end. Rivera suggested instead, to let our love for the world be our motivation. We then face our demons and begin some epic adventure. She added that if we can tell this story, more people will want to come and join us.
Rivera said in the story of our present time, all bets are off as it’s one of the most momentous times in human history!
For me, the breakout session was especially meaningful, as we were invited to share personal ‘transition’ stories within small groups. In the twenty or so minutes of swapping stories, I felt a quick bond with the three other people.
US Transitioner Don Hall also presented, telling the story of US Transition, saying the pandemic has given the national group a time to reorganize and strengthen, with three overlapping phases: Positive Visioning, Movement Strategizing, and Stories to Action.
Check out US Transition to follow their ever evolving story: www.transitionus.org
and Rivera Sun’s website: www.riverasun.com
In 2019 at a Transition Town Jericho meeting, Tucker Andrews, a local farmer, highlighted his frustration of not being able to find the labor to get gleaned produce out of the field and into the hands of those who need it. TTJ approached Tucker with the promise to do just that. During the Spring of 2020, Tucker announced that he would plant an extra row of butternut squash for donation.
With a good growing season under our belt, the squash was ready to harvest, and the weather was threatening to freeze the crop if we did not get it out of the fields quickly.
Laura from TTJ, contacted past TTJ participants and was able to round up 12 volunteers on short notice. On a Sunday afternoon, in one hour those 12 people harvested:
584 squash: on average, 2.5 lbs each; total weight 1460 lbs. (estimate)
After making arrangements with local food distribution agencies, the squash was divided between:
-Jericho/Underhill/Essex Food shelf, 50-80 families are fed once each month
-The Janet S. Munt Family Room, they feed 110 families a week
-Feeding Chittenden, 12,000 people are fed every year.
With such a success, Tucker wants to pursue this again in 2021. He said, “The partnership this year was a great start on something that could be an important aspect of food security in our community.”
If we could establish a mindset like that with other farmers, they may be willing to do more in support of the community, as they know the community supports them.
We’d like this not to be a fad, but to be a generation to generation sustaining behavior that supports the farmers and the local economy. Could we build such a model?
And finally, as Irene from TTJ posted on Facebook, “Thanks to Transition Town Jericho members and friends who picked 584 butternut squash on a beautiful Sunday afternoon from the rows planted by farmer Tucker Andrews, exclusively to feed our neighbors. Job well done by everyone.”
I finally got to see firsthand the Edible Landscape Project in Jericho Center, putting in some volunteer time last weekend (pulling lamb’s quarters from a compost heap, kind of fun!) On Brown’s Trace Road adjoining Mobb’s Farm, the project boasts plenty of space, as well as its share of challenges. (Read below about volunteer needs).
According to co-organizer Ann Gnagey, the site was a quarry years ago and the town dump after that, so the topsoil is compromised. She says, “we are working hard to make it more productive. In addition, we would like to establish native plants and sources of food for people and wildlife in the future. With challenges like climate change and uncertain food supplies, these kinds of activities will become important for the future of the people in our town.”
With the goal of establishing small scale food production using native fruit and nut trees, berries and pollinator plants, she and husband/co-organizer Tom Baribault, have already made some headway having planted to date: 100 feet of potatoes, four blueberry bushes, cranberry, elderberry, black walnut, asters, violets and poppies.
It was great to see the land, and to meet Kurt Melin, the very supportive neighbor (new dad and avid gardener himself) and I do hope to get back there for some more slightly grungy, yet rewarding work!
Ann and Tom are seeking more volunteers to help. Here are specifics on upcoming workdays, from Ann:
The next two weekends we will meet at the project site (across from 501 Browns Trace) from 10:00 to 11:30 am Saturday, Sept 18 and 26. (In case of rain, we will meet the following days, Sept 19 and 27.)
Activities: Plant trees, shrubs, wildflowers and learn the challenges of establishing native plants on land that has been neglected and soils impoverished.
What to bring: face mask, gloves, water to drink, tools (any of the following would be helpful: shovel, hoe, or spading fork, 5-gallon plastic bucket)
Work to be done: dig holes, haul compost, carry water, plant trees, shrubs, and wildflowers
We would be happy to give advice (and possibly plants and seeds) to people who wish to establish an edible landscape at the own home.
To sign up, contact Ann Gnagey or Tom Baribault at 899-6736
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mutual Aid as a concept is surely as old as human existence on the planet. In some form or fashion, it’s about connecting people in need with those who want to help. I personally became aware of Mutual Aid during Hurricane Katrina and Tropical Storm Sandy, noting the numbers of volunteers showing up, responding to needs, then getting to work.
Locally, it popped up on Jericho’s Front Porch Forum at the beginning of the pandemic, in the form of a sign up for people to list needs and/or offers of help.
On July 19, Jul Bystrova facilitated a zoom meeting co-hosted by Transition Town US and the Inner Resilience Network, called “Mutual Aid for Climate Justice and Healing” with Raven Dodson (Open World Relief) and Jimmy Dunson (Mutual Aid Disaster Relief). I attended and learned how vast and far reaching Mutual Aid is in today’s world.
The Mutual Aid movement has become more visible with climate change disasters and is about making sure people in dire straits are helped. You could also say it’s about building a new world.
Raven has been at Standing Rock and countless other places where peril, disaster and need intermix. Of her work she says, “We fill the gaps, we go in and bring support that’s needed.” In March, her locale needed 2,000 masks for city workers; Raven solicited “twelve idle white ladies” to sew, and to date over 16,000 masks have been sewn for the Dine Nation and beyond.
Unlike FEMA and other larger organizations, Mutual Aid is grassroots and non bureaucratic. Jimmy says that instead of charity, Mutual Aid uses the Zapatista concept of “leading by obeying” Instead of imposing, you ask where the needs are; while providing aid, you address the root causes, moving toward structural change. Volunteering at Katrina was empowering for Jimmy, ultimately leading him and others to set up a national network.
Since then, Jimmy’s group, as well as others, have supported bottom up organizing rather than top down; backing up local groups, collective knowledge and complementing local organizing. As Jimmy says, “meeting peoples’ needs directly where they’re at, in a respectful way that is transforming”.
Jul asked if Mutual Aid could lay the groundwork for an alternative cooperative economy. Jimmy responded by saying that Mutual Aid is the antidote to capitalism in that it’s based on caring and loving and providing for one another; sharing decision making and empowering one another.
Another question posed was, how does one start a Mutual Aid group? Jimmy cited the Stone Soup concept, saying you can start small; just a cup of soup and a spoon, and build from there. Raven suggested setting up a kind of exchange table in your neighborhood where people could take what they need, then leave something for others, encouraging reciprocity rather than charity.
Jimmy added, “there are many storms on the horizon; every disaster now is a prelude to the future....it’s all about building foundations for what will spring up in the rubble”.
For information on Mutual Aid in Vermont, check out Seven Days: