Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How I helped pass the Green Jobs Act

In September 2008 thousands across the country rallied to encourage our government to fund the development of Green Jobs. I joined a group from the Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland. And now, 5 months later, we have it!!!!

Well, not so fast. I am not so naive to think that our collection of posters and petitions and others like it really made the difference. A few other events have happened in the meantime including a major changing of the guard in our presidency and adminstration and a global economic collapse. Everything came together at the same time to make this commitment finally a priority.

But I am also not jaded enough to think that our voices did not matter at all. Clearly grassroots action can have a huge effect as we experienced with the election of president Obama. But I don't think it is really the signatures on the piece of paper that do the job. I believe that what happens is a shift in collective conscientiousness. People start talking to their neighbors and friends, articles are written, people talk more, movies are made, people talk more, marketing departments catch on, and people talk more. Little by little attitudes shift so that what was once a radical idea becomes the norm. Think about compact flourescent light bulbs-once expensive, weird looking and possibly dangerous now is sold at Walmart, comes in a range of options and it's predecessor is considered practically sinful. When Green became trendy, things started to change and laws could be passed. Trends and culture norms are not legislated, they grow from person to person. Go to www.greenforall.org for more info.

Keep talking...Be a trend-setter!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When I was invited to join a Natural Step study circle to explore sustainability in my own community, I should have been thrilled. My usual reaction would have been to dive right in to a good idea, completely oblivious of the potential sharks in the water until it was too late. 

Instead I reacted with skepticism. I wondered what the point would be-a bunch of my Greenie friends sitting around talking about stuff we already try to do and how we can't change those who won't listen. I wondered why we should even try in an area of Wisconsin filled with oversized SUV-driving, McMansion-living, global warming-denying people who mostly transplanted here from other states (I know, that isn't really fair!). I wondered what a handful of citizens could do; afterall we weren't on the village board or business owners or even people of influence in our small town. 

I carried around this bad attitude for a few days wondering if maybe I had lost my "youthful optimism". Then I opened the Lake Country Reporter and read "The Old Rail Fence" column by Pam Weinhammer that features stories of local history. This one was about Stephen and Mary Warren, the first European settlers in the Hartland area. I found myself drawn into their story as I read about the locations where he built his first cabin, where the Native American trails passed through and the world of 1938. I realized that during his lifetime here, our farmhouse was built and he may have known the people who built it or even been invited for dinner. 

I realized that I was reading the story of the Warren's with as much interest and intrigue as I would my own family tree. As I read the article to my kids I noticed the language that I was using. I told them that his land claims were by OUR church and OUR library and  how the Indian trail followed along OUR bike trail. This story of the Warrens' was more than just the story of Hartland, it was also part of MY story because Hartland was now part of my family's story. Even though we've only lived here for 8 years, it was now our home and would always be my children's hometown. 

Just like that my skepticism vanished. If Hartland was MY town and it's history part of MY heritage, I had just as much claim to it's future as those that were born here and those on the village board. I was surprised at how much I cared about what happens here.  The first meeting of the Natural Step was a few days away. I shrugged my shoulders at my renewed optimism, put my arms over my head and dove right in. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sustain What?

This past week during our Natural Step discussion we talked about the definition of "sustainability". Ideas included such things as thinking 7 generations ahead, not taking out more of the earth than you put back in, and the concept of balance. As I played with this word in my head this week, I also started to think of the core word "sustain" which can mean "to keep in existence or maintain". It begs the question, "maintain what?" What do we want to keep in existence in Hartland? What is important to us here to preserve?

I didn't grow up in Hartland. Of all the communities in the greater Milwaukee area, my husband and I chose to live here. What is it about Hartland that we were drawn to 8 years ago and have grown to love since? What aspects that pertain to the environment do we care enough about to work toward preserving? Since this is our children's hometown, what do we want to ensure is kept around or even better for them as they grow up.

Here is my list. I'd love to hear what others in our area would add or what you care about in your community.

1. Walkability-schools, businesses, restaurants all within walking distance for those in village. There are days where I can choose to be car-free.

2. Downtown with lots to offer and even more potential. We can choose to support local, family-run businesses and can avoid the strip malls and franchises for many of our needs. Preserving and renovating historic buildings and the downtown is a push for the village right now.

4. Nice park system connected by trails. The fountain at Nixon park with the river made an impression on me when we were house-shopping. I'd like to see more connection between our trails, but we have a nice start.

5. Ice Age Trail, protected marsh area, Bark River. Lots of natural beauty to keep and expand on.

6. The lots in downtown are deep with nice mature trees. I know you could argue that it might be bettter to have humans live on less land (less development) but I also think that if we are good stewards of the land we own that a good amount of green space per human is ideal for our spiritual wellbeing, air quality, water quality etc. Let's preserve the undeveloped woods in Hartland to keep it this way!

7. Possibility of light rail in the future. This is getting discussed again and we would be on the route. How great would that be to go to the Madison farmer's market by train or even commute into Milwaukee for work? If gas prices stay high, being on a train route will make living in our community desirable (with corresponding rise in home values).

8. Yard waste recycling program. How fun is it that you can still get something for nothing?-free compost, free wood chips!

9. Efforts to naturalize the Bark River. I'd love to find out who did this initial effort and how we can continue it.

10. Businesses with sustainability or preventative focus: Hartland Market, Trails to Bridges, Accupuncture/David Bock, chiropracters, LifeWays Childcare, Health and Happiness.

12. lots of good community activities and spirit. This is more than a bedroom community for Milwaukee workers. People care about this community and are likely to want to come together to keep it nice. Can we have the same degree of impact that Positively Pewaukee did as a citizen group?

13. Options for natural, organic and local foods such as Hartland Market, Health and Happiness, community sponsored agriculture (CSA) pick ups and a small Farmer's Market (with bigger ones not too far away).

14. Options for resuse: Desinger Consigner, Lake Country Caring, Waukesha County Freecycle, US drop box (by Health and Happiness).

15. Green movements in area churches (Lake Country Unitarian Universalist and Church of the Resurrection)

16. Environmental club at Arrowhead and past efforts to compost at Hartland North Elementary School. Kids care about the environment-we should follow their lead!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Organic Gardening talks

So many exciting things to share today! Is there no better way to get through the month of February but to think of gardening, seeds and spring? Even more exciting is that organic gardening is becoming mainstream!

Garden Gate Nursery in Hartland will be hosting a series of presentations on organic gardening. on Tuesday The first will feature Bob Boomsma from Olds Seed Company in Madison who will present on "Organic Seeds". Here is a description of his talk:

"What makes seed organic? That means they don't have chemicals on them, right? Do they grow better? Are they harder to grow? ... Environmentally conscious gardeners recognize that organic practices are as good for the earth on faraway farm fields where seeds are produced, as they are in their home gardens."

The upcoming talks are:

Pesticides and Herbicides
Soil Ammendments and Compost
Landscape Workshop | low maintenance plant material
Landscape Workshop | native plants vs invasive plants

It looks like pre-registration is required. For more info: http://gardengatenursery.com/shop/

Water-Wise 2009

Just a quick FYI on an educational opportunity here in Waukesha County for those interested in water issues in our area.

Waukesha County Environmental League (WEAL) and Waukesha Co Water Conservation Coalition will be hosting Water-Wise 2009: Conservation in Action on Sat March 7, 2009 at Carroll University. The Keynote is Kevin Shafer who will present "Watershed Sustainability: Collaboration is the Key to Success". Other topics include:

-How I conserved water, saved money and had fun
-Winners of the Waukesha Water Conservation Challenge
-What's a Water Star Community?
-Beyond rainbarrels

and more. Cost is $18. For more info or to register, go to http://www.townandcountrycd.org or call 262-547-7891

Taking the Natural Step

Last night 12 Hartland residents gathered at Bin 111 in downtown Hartland to begin a 6 week study circle of The Natural Step process. We sipped Merlot and discussed our ideas of the definition of sustainability and shared frustations and visions we have for our small village.

The Natural Step (http://www.naturalstep.org/) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting sustainability in municipalities, businesses and communities. The concept began in Sweden in the 1980's where there are now numerous sustainable communities and businesses (i.e. IKEA) who have adopted the principles. The movement has since spread around the world and to the United States. Wisconsin has a growing network of communities who are at varying points along the journey. Local resident, David DeCourcy-Bauer participated in the Oconomowoc study circle and is leading the effort here in Hartland. 

I love the Natural Step concept as it demonstrates that growth, progress and economic success are not necessarily in conflict with environmental stewardship. In fact, the movement began in a small Swedish town during a time of recession and job loss. We can have communities and businesses and families that are all of these things. 

This small citizen initiative has inspired me to start blogging here again. I hope to share some of my reflections and ideas here is hopes that this will be one of many "conversations" we have about sustainability in Hartland and all of our communities. 

I will leave you with an inspiring quote from the Natural Step website
"The size of the problem equals the size of the opportunity"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas credits

I quit. The hundred dollar holiday simply can't be done-at least not by me if I remain part of any aspect of mainstream life this time of year. I couldn't even pull off the $800 holiday. We tried to cut back and just when I think we're doing ok, I remember I haven't bought for the teachers or even my husband! It isn't even the gifts, it is also the white shirts and black pants my kids needed for their holiday concerts, the cookies that I said I'd bring to church, the pointesetia fundraiser, the nights out with friends who are in town just this week. I am not sure which of those things I could have, or would have wanted to, cut out.

So this is my new thought. Maybe we can go overboard at Christmas-buy things just for fun, eat too much, drink too much, light too many lights, travel great distances and on and on. The wimsicle gift that gets a laugh is more memorable than the "needed" gift on someones list. Is it ok to be wasteful once in awhile if it is more personal and meaningful?

What if we could only do this though if we offset our consumption with giving. I try to have my kids pack up a "give away" box of toys they've outgrown each year (before the landslide of new ones comes in). Maybe I could do the same-whatever I spend, I have to donate to a charity. If I have a $100 holiday, I donate $100. If I choose to spend $1000-well I have to donate that much as well. It certainly would be more in the spirit of the holiday and might even make me think twice about each purchase. Maybe I could even start small-donate a percentage and then see if I can raise the ratio of donating/purchasing each year.