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!
On this brisk spring morning, I'm making a start of reporting on what is happening within the budding Transition Town Jericho (TTJ) movement here in Jericho. Hopefully I will be sharing role of beat reporter with others in our group.
Even though we're not official yet (registration with US Transition network is in progress though!) there's been a very positive response from the community over these first few months of existence.
Since Ruah from Charlotte TT spoke at our initial meeting In December, we've formed a steering group, and have hosted general meetings nearly every month. At meetings we're presenting topics relevant to Transition AND meeting our neighbors; during intros we encourage folks to share their 'human' assets and resources; really what that means is talking about yourself, always fun!
At last night's general meeting, Tucker and Leif both skilled permaculturists on TTJ's steering group, presented a talk/slideshow, 'Regenerating Abundance with Permaculture'. People showed up from Jericho and neighboring towns. The interactive presentation was both practical and fascinating. Presented in a user-friendly anecdotal style, they touched upon everything from soil care to innovative concepts like hugelkultur and keyline design. Cool stuff!
Kudos to Tucker and Leif! Really glad they're helping us steer TTJ forward! After all, the whole transition town movement started with inspiration from a permaculture class taught a decade ago in Ireland. Now there are over a thousand transition towns worldwide; you never know what one thing may lead to...