Evolving Consciousness as a Human Right

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” So begins the United Nations document The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Twenty two years ago I was faced with sexual slavery for the first time.  It was on a water testing trip with my high school to the Amazon basin and we were passed on the river by barges heading to supply the people looking for gold.  One of the supplies that barges carried were girls my age.  I was 14 at the time and that event made an impression on me.  One of my goals in life would become to create a world in which slavery couldn’t couldn’t exist. (Not to mention the practice of dumping mercury into the water to retrieve gold isn’t the best idea for the environment.)

Continue reading “Evolving Consciousness as a Human Right”

Food Security in the Valley

PVGrowsA Food-Secure Pioneer Valley- from Our Fields to Our Tables

While I couldn’t possibly capture the whole of the wonderful energy and information that flew through the air at the PVGrows Fall Forum, I can certainly try to grab some of the highlights and bits that I held onto in order to enlighten those who couldn’t make it.

The first big handy chunk of information was the description of a healthy food system.  The elements of this included: vibrant gardens, justice & fairness, healthy people, sustainable ecosystems, thriving local economies, and strong communities. Continue reading “Food Security in the Valley”

Eastern States Exposition: The Big E

Last year my first year at the BIG E and since I could not muster up the desire to attend again this year, it might just be my last unless some changes are made.

The Big E is an awesome opportunity to reach out and share some of what is truly special about New England.  Music, arts, goods grown and made here, could all be featured in such a way to generate revenue, and encourage additional tourism and ‘local holidays.’ Continue reading “Eastern States Exposition: The Big E”

SVN Spring Conference: Small is Beautiful vs. Scale Matters

Friday night ended with a bang as Michelle Long of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and Jay Coen Gilbert of B Lab engaged in a dialog on the issue of whether going to scale or staying local is more effective in building a sustainable economy.

Jay began with a humorous, but earnest, argument that ‘Bigger is Better’. He used examples to illustrate how scale can effect the whole on a greater level. He cited how employees of Wal-Mart, who had been discriminated against, came together to sue the company. He pointed out how as China invests in scaling solar the price per kilowatt will come under $1. And he pointed to one of the biggest challenges, and opportunities, for effecting change at scale – finding innovations that can help the 3 billion people living on less than $2 a day. He argued that these are solutions and challenges of such scale, that small, local initiatives could not effectively address them. Continue reading “SVN Spring Conference: Small is Beautiful vs. Scale Matters”

Ghosttowns in the Hills of Italy and Tourism

I’m referring not to the haunting of the hills but the abandonment of villages.

Empty buildings.  Why?  They have the food they need.  The homes are beautiful.  Why would they leave?  I expect that these typically family-centric communities of 5+ houses become nonviable as the younger generation moves away and the older one dies.  Driving around, we passed two of these housing clusters that were  empty and another that was at half its potential occupancy.

Another challenge evident exists in housing prices.  According to one local, after the release of the book Under the Tuscan Sun and then the movie, prices of Tuscan villas shot sky high.  It makes me wonder if those detritus filled decaying homes might be bought and inhabited if the locals weren’t priced out.  I wonder if this same effect happened after the release of the book Eat, Pray, Love in the countries it referred to.

Italian Food Part 2: Tuscany

The market at Monterci in Tuscany introduced me to a new gastronomic passion, porchetta.  Porchetta is a whole sucking pig, de-boned and stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel and liver.  This juicy and delicious meat is a regional favorite which makes for a delicious and inexpensive lunch at the market when topped with a crunchy piece of skin and stuffed in a crispy roll, its exact flavors varying based on the chef.

It was here in Tuscany that I was made aware that not only were the restaurant menu items, and market items locally grown, but that they are also seasonally available.  What this means is that should I go back to Tuscany in July the foods available would be what is ripe at that time.  Fortunately for me ‘in season’ during December is cingale (wild boar), black truffles, chestnuts, porchini mushrooms and persimmon.

In the Caprese Michelangelo area, locals who harvest the mushrooms, truffles, and chestnuts from the forest are able to bring the fruits of their labor to market with the assistance of a local Co-op.  Sounds like an easy and exotic way to get those truffles that you love?  It isn’t.  Each of the trees in the forest is ‘owned’ by someone and you would very literally be taking their livelihood.

Overall I have really enjoyed the regional flavors and the lessons that are evident when a locale seems to have  a more sustainable food system.

Learn more about the foods of Tuscany from our hostess.

Italian Food Part 1: Sorrento

I’m sitting in a kitchen in Caprese Michelangelo in the hills of Tuscany with a glass of a local white wine.  There s a fire going to keep the room toasty warm.  Jay is busy in our hostess’ kitchen preparing a tomato and fennel fish stew with ingredients that we picked up from the market that day, all of which were locally grown or brought in from the coast.

Is ‘local’ a theme here?  So far, it is and not just because it is a passion of mine.

Let’s start from the beginning:

In Sorrento, where I spent my first few days, the streets are lined with orange trees.  Small orchards of a few trees, herbs, and grape vines seemed to occupy all available space in backyards and on balconies.

Limoncello, a lemon based liquor, is not only regionally unique but also varies by producer.  One variety I tasted on a whim was far better, in my opinion, than others to the point that I might have though it was a different drink all together.

At night while enjoying a stroll down Sorrento’s small side streets, I caught a glimpses of the day’s catch – frutta di mare – in display cases visible from the outside of the restaurants.  No doubt this is meant to entice you in, and also to let you know what the fresh catch is for the day.  Fresh meaning that it was caught that day and brought up from the harbour.

Once seated at the restaurant for the evening I was pleasantly surprised with a local and superior in quality bottle of vino rosso – red wine.  This left no need to spend money on the otherwise pricey wine list, a pleasant occurrence which repeated itself throughout the trip until Rome.

Sorrento’s ability to not only feed me, but to do so locally and with great flavor was definitely appreciated.  I appreciated knowing that the locally produced and harvested foods comprised the entire menu.

Would this be repeated?  Find out about Tuscany in Italian Food Part 2: Tuscany.

Slow Money

Slow Money by Woody TaschFriends of Slow Money recently challenged themselves to raise $25,000 in increments of $5.  This means that a mere  5000 people needed to make a donation.

While it would be great if 1 person donated $5000, and I doubt they would turn it down, I think there is another point to the exercise.  The challenge gave the group an opportunity to show a few things.

1) That there are at least 5000 people invested in the idea of Slow Money.
2) Just a little bit of money when combined with others in the community can accomplish great things.
3) With a 7 day time limit, this has the urgency and potential to build momentum.  Something which can be a struggle.

While they did not achieve their goal in terms of numbers I think that the push for members and outreach was positive because for very little effort and resources on the part of the organization they got the word out to more people about Slow Money.

For those who are not familiar with the concepts championed by the Slow Money Alliance, the most complete description can be found in Woody Tasch’s book Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money.  (Follow this link to find a locally owned bookseller in your community if you are interested in picking up the book.)

For those who are interested in the short version I think this sentence from the principles sums it up the best

“In order to enhance food safety and food security; promote cultural and ecological health and diversity; and, accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration…”  For more, you should certainly check out the Slow Money Alliance website.

While I like the idea of Slow Money, have donated and become a member, the one thing I wish were more clear on the website and in the presentation of the concepts is how to do this and what it really means.  Is my membership money going to eventually go to giving out loans or just general support of the organization?  I get most of it, and like what I see so far, but the nerd in me want to see more information on the website in a digestible form before I buy the book or run around wall street with a cardboard sign.

What’s Peak Oil?

Out to dinner with my friend the other night I casually referred to Peak Oil in a discussion. We were talking about topics that might be potential articles on Earth Thrives. As it turns out he didn’t know what Peak Oil was. Hadn’t heard about it and didn’t mention the fact until I had rolled on to another topic.

This friend had spent at least the past two years running a company whose focus sales demographic was the triple bottom line business, and so I assumed that he of all people would know what peak oil was. Turns out I was wrong.

Over the next week I asked another ten colleagues and friends if they knew what Peak oil was. I expected that they would know when I asked and was not prepared to find that all but one of them didn’t.

I shouldn’t have assumed that my friend or anyone else, for that matter, has the same knowledge that I have. This is not to say that I am amazing, but more to show that my foci are unique to my interests. We all have our own interests which lead to what we read, look up and study in depth. The topics that I have spent more time with include (but are certainly not limited to):
Urban gardens, Peak Oil, sustainable communities, organization development; leadership development, GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), socially responsible business, alternative economies, and local living economies.

While I have spent that last two years immersed in the world of green and sustainable while working on my Masters degree from Goddard College in Socially Responsible Business and Sustainable Communities, not everyone else has gone as in depth in the same topics, even industry professionals.

Let’s face it, many people still think of sustainability as a topic that stands on its own, when it is really a lens through which you see the world.

So, don’t assume that if you bring up something like the Andersonville Study in a conversation about why buying local is important that the person you are talking to has a clue to what you just referred. Ask if they have heard about terms, studies, and topics that you otherwise might take for granted that they know. It will help you to educate yourself as well as others and that is what we need to have happen in order to build the breadth and depth of our information.