Hand-Grown Communities and How to Enrich the Soil

*Photo of Green Street Community Garden in Olean, NY

So. The world. While Twitter divides itself into two camps, Facebook continues to spread fake news, and many others flock to Instagram to escape it all, the rest of us poor schmucks have to keep working and living and paying bills. Last week I wrote about our camping trip gone awry, and I said I believed what might give me perspective was to go out and help someone in need. This week I went out and attended a few meetings with locals to see how I could lend a hand. First I went to a vigil for the immigration crisis at the Mexican border. Afterward, I took advantage of the info being shared by the groups which put the vigil together. I was surprised to discover a network of people in the area who are active in community improvement and positive engagement with community leaders. Last night my husband, Michael, and I walked past the community garden built by this group, located in a neighborhood where a large number of low-income people live, and I was pleased to see it offers the neighborhood free space to grow whatever they want. There are several raised beds for planting, and it looks like the garden is flourishing. What a delight to see such efforts to give community members a means for uplifting themselves. I plan to look into helping if I can.

Aside from the group I discovered here in Olean, I also attended a campaign speech for a hopeful candidate running on issues I felt were based in values for what human beings need. Above all else, I am for human rights. Whatever we can do to make things work better for human needs, like health care, fair wages, internet availability, job opportunities, safe and affordable housing, fresh and healthy food, and transportation, these are important for life in our time. Every individual deserves access to such needs, not just a few. I do understand the notion that some folks in our country believe that we must be willing to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and work for what we need, and I believe work that contributes to society is deeply essential to happiness. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a time where all people have access to the same education, the same opportunities, or the same healthy home life. Not all of us are able to rise above the circumstances of our birth and childhood. Should people who are born and raised in a particular neighborhood be left behind due to circumstances they can’t control? What if a person in a low-income neighborhood might discover the cure to cancer if given an opportunity to be educated beyond high school? If we never share our resources with each other, we may never know.

The idea that people must be self-sufficient is nice in theory, but even people who are successful and wealthy have networks of people who helped them achieve their success. No one lives in a vacuum. We all live in a fabric of humanity which affects our growth, our achievements, our education, and our ability to move through failure. Everyone fails. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a community, a mindset, and a plan for how to handle it and learn from it. Not all of us have such good fortune. What I have been thinking about lately is how very important it is to the survival of humanity that we stop believing only those with the right mix of fortitude, education, and connections should have access to health care, safe housing, healthy food, or other needs for thriving. If we want the human race to live into the next centuries, we may need to start to realize that one of our most important resources is the creativity of our minds and our ability to work collectively to solve serious problems we now face worldwide.

In order to survive the growing threat of climate change, we are going to need all hands on deck. This is not a drill anymore, it’s the real thing. Scientists have been ringing the alarm bells for a while now, and finally the rest of the planet is sitting forward to listen. I don’t think we have the luxury of being able to ignore our own importance in this now rapidly excelling threat to our lives. We are seeing rises in disease passed by blood-borne insects, the ocean levels are rising along with the water temperature, storms become more dangerous every year, air temperature continues to rise globally with each decade, ice is melting in record amounts every year in places where it should remain as permafrost, and on and on. So many of these issues seem ethereal and distant to our daily lives, but if you live in a coastal area, many of you are already seeing the dangers of erosion and flooding, often just when tide is high. When the storms roll in from the ocean, evacuation often becomes a necessity for survival. With this global warming also comes the price tag of droughts and famines. Do we just let these people suffer and die because of where they live? Do we believe their lives unworthy of assistance simply because they were born in a certain place? Why is that even a thing we would consider acceptable?

While I was living in Nevada, I once met a man who had just moved to the area because he had been hired as a farmer. A farmer! Immediately my mind considered what kind of farming he might be doing, and I of course thought about farming in the desert and how difficult that must be. What he told me surprised me: he was a hydroponic farmer. I laughed when he said that, amused at my own lack of creative thinking. To have hydroponic, or water-based, farming in a desert region made perfect sense, though it might seem odd until you understand how the system works. He explained that greenhouses had been built as closed systems, and the plants grow with their roots in water which is typically fertilized by fish which live in the water. All the water used in the system is kept in the system, so there is little or no need to water plants in the desert. Instead, you fill it once and water cycles through the system in a loop. While there are different types of ways to organize hydroponic farms, the idea is generally to keep the water in the closed loop to avoid waste. Genius! Such intelligent design is part of the future of our food production, and if we truly want humanity to survive into the coming centuries, we had better start cultivating our intelligence instead of wasting it because of silly things like skin color and neighborhoods. Intelligence is our biggest asset and we must not waste it, not just to earn a buck today because we were lucky enough to have bootstraps.

While I wander the trails everywhere I travel and live, I am always conscious of my interaction with the earth. I feel it is my duty to pay attention to where my feet step so I don’t kill plants unnecessarily, always pack out my trash, and try to leave as little mark on the natural world as possible. The challenge is to bring this mindset home to the cities and towns. We tend not to think of home as a wild space, but it is. No matter how much we may ignore it, grass will grow through the cracks in cement, birds will nest on the tops of buildings, animals and insects will find ways to live in our homes, water erodes the ground around us and the structures which surround us, wind cuts and fire eats all of it. We can deny nature all we like, but nature is far tougher than we are. If we fail to encourage creative problem-solving, we will lose. Humanity will not survive the strains of disease, even if we survive the storms and oceans rising, or the other crises we have created for ourselves out of greed or selfishness. Nature will take care of itself, with or without us, and the earth does not care if we survive. The earth will adapt. We don’t have anywhere to retreat, so we’d better get on the stick and figure it out collectively. What astonishes me most is that we have a wealth of human beings ready and able to do this work and make the world a place fit for all, but our mindsets are getting in the way. Simply because we believe we are defeated, we stay stuck in our ruts of despair.

Let me assure you, friends, there are more people wanting to do good in the world than those wanting to destroy it. Just look around you. How many people in your neighborhood are hurting each other, as opposed to those willing to be kind? Even if they are not actively working to improve the community, are they actively destroying it? Now think about the impact you could have if you made the decision to actively improve your community, no matter how small. Can you stop using drinking straws, plastic bags, or plastic bottles so there’s one less person putting plastic into the environment? Can you keep your part of the subway clean between your front yard and the sidewalk? What if you planted flowers or vegetables in the subway? What if you asked the neighbors on your street to have a cleaning party, followed by a block party barbecue, or maybe the people who live in your apartment building? Could you start a neighborhood garden? No space? What if you do it vertically? On a rooftop? How about building a solar system to heat your pool, or you stop using pesticides on your lawn? Maybe you could invent a means for people to recycle plastic to make it useful again, instead of throwing it into landfills. The options are endless, and human creativity is the core of how we can conquer any crisis. I intend to offer my creativity in the form of writing, which is my purpose. If I do my job, I will lend value to the world and contribute meaningfully to the human community at large. What can you do? What gifts do you possess? How can they be of value to humanity? My suggestion is to let love be your guide. Whatever you love, combined with your skills and education, is what you are meant to do. We all have valuable contributions to make. I hope all of us will gather as communities to encourage our creativity and growth, and to learn from each other. We need this replenishment now, more than ever.

Here is a short list of resources to get you thinking about ways you can improve your community, big and small:

The Climate Reality Project: This organization was started by Al Gore after his ground-breaking movie, An Inconvenient Truth. After many years of impactful results on world-wide climate education and training programs, this organization offers lots of resources to folks who want to lend a hand. You can get involved in ways big and small. Go check it out: www.climaterealityproject.org.

Hungry for Change: this movie on Netflix, Hulu, and several other internet providers inspires anyone interested in improving their personal health and fitness, particularly through community. It’s incredibly motivating to get you thinking about ways you can be healthier, and how to maintain a healthier lifestyle. You can also log onto their website for access to a newsletter and lots of other resources: www.hungryforchange.tv.

The New Economy: another documentary which delves into the means through which people are shifting business away from the single-minded track of income to a more inclusive paradigm of community consciousness and health. A new wave of business focused on happiness, work-life balance, open-source commodities, and group ownership provides models for what a human-centered business can do for the world economy. This movie is available on Netflix.

Together Rising: I recently discovered this charitable network led by Glennon Doyle. Its focus is to offer a means to change the world around you by donating, volunteering, connecting, and sharing your concerns with others interested in the same needs. Users of the platform have a variety of options for helping to change their communities, locally or world-wide, and the platform is dedicated to positive, loving assistance for any and all: www.togetherrising.org.

If you have any other resources, please share in the comments below. Communities are where the biggest changes will happen, one person at a time. Be that person making changes today. Go do beautiful things.

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