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Sunday, May 6th

Okay narcissistic rants aside – I do enjoy writing every day. As the (over written?) introvert, I do better when I can process. Writing allows me to process.

But, what to process? The never-ending balancing act and working towards my deemed purpose.

I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society. So, I’ve picked volunteer projects, paid jobs, reading material, and seminars to support that idea. I’ve started endeavors to support that idea. Every choice I make tries to support that idea.

My thinking on what I should be doing with my life has always been ongoing. Growing up Catholic, there is a certain amount of time dedicated to thinking about listening for God’s calling. I never felt like I had one. I only knew to follow my interests. My interests have always been consistent in the environment and education. When I was 18 and a freshman at Michigan State University, a first year at James Madison College eagerly awaiting my studies in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, I thought maybe I would or could be a lobbyist. I’d lobby for the virtues of the environment or education. I thought maybe I’d need a law degree, which always has intrigued me.

Then I got a bunch of loans through two universities, and suddenly spending more money I didn’t have on law school didn’t seem so important. In between those two universities, the school of life focused my studies on environmental thought, food, and community building. Those themes coalesced at Portland State University with the opening of their Sustainable Urban Development minor. My studies then concentrated on geography and urban development. Two themes where I continued to think about food, people, and how to make it all work together.

Is it any wonder then that I work intimately with a food buying club that focuses on local food sustainability and an environmental nonprofit that guides its thoughts in stewardship? One of my parting studies introduced me to the concept of “servant leadership”. It’s this idea where you lead from behind. A great example is how I stopped arguing with my husband about what to have for dinner and just focused on whole foods, home cooked foods, and organic foods (as budgets allowed). Now, he tells me the virtues of the food we eat.

Each refocus can be identified by a shift in thinking and impatience with the day-to-day. Like when I finally graduated. I had spent so much time thinking about my degree, that when I finally got it all I wanted was to put all those studies into action and work towards some semblance of a career. Then, there was the (housing) crash of 2008. Just one month after I graduated. I was loathe to apply for just any job – I had an idea of what I wanted to do. So, I focused on environmental jobs. I applied to be program coordinators and managers. I tried for AmeriCorps jobs. I tried for a plethora of administrative jobs. I had interviews. I had second interviews. I applied for more than 300 jobs in three years (starting in 2007).

I get a job. And, well… it proves to be more or less as dysfunctional as the twenty some jobs I held in my twenties. So, maybe working for others doesn’t work for me. I don’t get their lack of vision. I don’t get their lack of leadership. I don’t get their in ability to properly facilitate meetings. (Meetings that could identify vision and leadership and focus the organization past dysfunction!!)

These weeks of not writing have been thinking about all of that. It’s been spent thinking and doing the day-to-day, just to get by. It’s been pondering how to fix the rut and get into a career. I think I have some ideas. Now, to put them into action.

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People Forgetting People

Iraq War soldiers and bombing
Image via Wikipedia

It was 2004. The Iraq war had waged on for about a year. I, and my friends, [we] were still in shock over all that happened. He hadn’t listened! We protested. We wrote. We petitioned. We called. We bitched. We complained.

We didn’t want another Vietnam. We can’t do that to our people again. We can’t do that to our brothers and sisters. We can’t let them suffer for a cause, for a rich man’s war, that isn’t really about freedom at all.

So why is he doing this? Why? Why is this Yale graduate, son of an oil man, baseball team owner, married to a librarian enforcing this war?

The simplest answer, and the most comfortable one for my little brain to wrap around, has been that he was simply taking care of those he cares about. On the surface, it seems that he cares about contractors making $6k to $10k per day more than soldiers without shoes. On the surface, it would seem an oil company was more important than the people working for the company.

I related it to my own cirlce. I want my family and my close friends taken care of. I want them healthy. I want them to have secure jobs that give them benefits to help ensure good health. I want them to have access to clean, healthy food. I want them to be educated on healthful (clean air, clean water, clean soil) ways to take care of their families. I want them to have access to the American Dream, and not just the same station in life in which they were born.

My wants certainly can’t be that different from Mr. Bush’s, can they? On that macro level. On that big, 50,000 mile high level. We all really want the same things. We want our loved ones to be taken care of.

The difference is who the loved ones are. And, someone, in this myriad tangled web of life, we forget about people we don’t care about.

Mr. Bush is an extreme, political example, but I hope it highlights what I see happening all over. Recently, I was a part of a conversation where it was argued that the only thing missing out of a particular sustainability equation was the Environment. I was shocked, since the conversation was about an organization that only does work in the environment. No where, though, were people mentioned. Not the people who do the work voluntarily. Not the people who get the details done to do the work. Simply, people were missing from this conversation, and no one recognized it.

Sustainability was put on hold the year I graduated from college. With bank, market, and housing crashes – all fell like dominoes after 2008, it’s as if we couldn’t focus on anything but that which was right in front of us. And, still, three years later we are reeling. We’re still trying to calm the frenzy around us in order to organize our lives and dream about the American Dream.

In the frenzy, the environment wasn’t forgotten. The Sierra Club is still doing their job. I”m not saying the environment doesn’t suffer, I’m simply saying it wasn’t forgotten. But, people were.

Wages dropped. Homes were foreclosed upon. Details were lost that made people homeless and lose their jobs. benefits were lost affecting the health of many.

People were forgotten.

You can’t have a balanced three-legged stool without people. You can’t have a true balanced Triple Bottom Line general ledger without people. You can’t have a world, without people.

I am dismayed that after all we’ve been through, we still take two steps back. I’m dismayed that people are still forgotten and the gap between the haves and have nots widens. I’m dismayed that people are forgotten.

But, as if by a miracle, a group has risen up and shouted to not forget us. My question, today, is this: Can the Occupy Movement get people to remember people?

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S-S-S-Sustainability!

Cover of "Ecotopia"
Cover of Ecotopia

“I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society.”

That’s what I want to do with my life. In some shape or form, anything I am doing, I want it to mesh with that belief. The belief that we should live in a sustainable society and we owe it to ourselves to get there. The belief is also contingent upon the thought that what we are doing is not sustainable and that there is oodles of room for improvement.

I heard of sustainability first, while reading Ernest Callenbach‘s Ecotopia. In it, he referred to this concept of sustainability as a stable state system. A system in which everything is in equilibrium with everything else. There was a process for nearly everything to make sure that you really had the best information moving forward about making a decision. You harvested the wood if you wanted a wood frame home, for example.

A co-worker, during one of those nice “just go out to lunch with one of your co-worker” things, prodded me after I asked him why he was doing Construction Project Management. He returned the question. I wasn’t expecting that. I started with, “Oh, I don’t know.” But I had to pause. Because, I knew it wasn’t true.

I was at the end of a nearly 5 year break from college. I had gained more life experience, talked more with different people, read more about different ideas, and began formulating my own. Yes, in fact, I did know what I want to do … and I apologized for my cop-out statement and came up with that.

“I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society.”

Sustainable. But, what does that mean? I had the opportunity to go back to school, and back to school I went. What a fortunate time it was. Sustainability was popping up everywhere! Lucky for me, minors and specialized programs were too. I didn’t want to do another dual major attempt but rather, efficiently wrap all my interests under one degree.

One of the amazing opportunities I had after I decided on my minor in Sustainable Urban Development was to visit Italy for two weeks on an agri-tourismo property that specialized in sustainability. We were a crew of about 15. Some of us were young, some were middle-aged, and some were fresh of the boat young college kids. One of my favorite attendees was a Bosnian gal who spent much of her adult life in the US. I loved hearing her cross-oceanic view of the world.

People, she said to me, in one late night conversation around the farm table with tea and wine. People. People often forget about people. Labor. The people who do the job.

As someone who was raised in a blue-collar family with white-collar dreams, I can relate.

What did my minor say about that? Only that to define this stable state equilibrium, we should measure people, profits, and place on the same playing field. A field in which they all get equal play and are measured so that no one suffers. Equity, Economy, and Environment. The Triple Bottom Line. The Three-Legged Stool. Sustainability.

But, why then, if that’s a decent measure of how to define sustainability, do people still forget people?

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An Open Letter on Food Security

Milk & Honey Bread
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Dear Friend,

I co-coordinate a food buying club in my neighborhood. This idea arose from many things, one the example is the one set by my grandparents who always had access to local food through their garden, animal husbandry, and local grocery co-op. Mostly, though, I do this because food quality for my small family is very important. I also do this is a way to increase food security for everyone.

Nary a day goes by where we don’t hear about another food recall. These food recalls largely involve large industrial food complexes, like confined animal feed operations. I don’t buy from those operations. I buy directly from the farmer. My family eats fairly locally and seasonally. We learn how to preserve our food and make things from scratch, like bread — a lot like my grandparents learned post World War II. We develop relationships with our farmers, our distributors, our producers of the food we eat. We do this to increase our food security. We know where our food comes from. We visit the farms. We know the names of our farmers’ children. We are invested in them, and they are invested in us.

But that investment is being threatened. The City of Portland has hosted several meetings to revise the food zoning laws for our locale. Their recommendations are to increase the hurdles one has to go through to have access to local food.

This is a problem. A big problem. And, I need your help to tell them it’s a problem. 

Find out more about the city’s plans and please take the survey. Please tell the city they are going in the WRONG direction for CSAs & Buying Clubs. Tell them it matters to you because food security matters to you. Tell them having access to local food is important to you. And, most importantly, pass this message on and have your friends and family take the survey.

Thank you for your help.

In food!

Michelle Lasley
community advocate | green coach | nurturer
www.michellelasley.com

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Today, E is for Economy

Previously, a frequent theme has been money and how we spend it.  While I was studying at Portland State, Prof. Messer reminded me that Sustainability holds three major tenants, economy, equity, and environment.  I have always had a pretty good handle on equity and environment, bu the economy has usually been something that brings me down. But, as I’ve been writing about money, how tight it has been, which is tightens our economic belt as the pants become a better fit.

I’ve been there, chiding people to buy organic, even though they couldn’t afford it.  How does that fit with the economic aspect of sustainability?  It doesn’t, and it doesn’t balance with the triple bottom line.  So, what can we do about it? How can we get the economy and the environment and equity to all balance? If they are all important on the grand scheme, how can in our microcosm of the home, we balance the 3es?

I can talk about what we’ve been doing.  My husband thinks about economics before he thinks about the environment.  Whereas, I think about the environment before I think about economics.  So, how can we merge the two?  Equity comes into play in our microcosm in how we treat each other and others, not how the man may or may not be bringing us down.

Some people think we should never make any concessions.  Some people think we should be eating, for example, farmer’s market certified organic all the time.  One simple question to help debunk this theory is the certification processes themselves.  Sure, they help the end-consumer more quickly identify a product that could suit their moral proclivities, but does it really do anything for the farmer?  Farmer A never uses chemicals on his produce, but he serves a smaller clientele than Farmer B and cannot afford the leg work and money it requires to get the certification some of his customers would like.  Farmer B can afford the certification because for other reasons he has a larger more profitable outfit than Farmer B.  Who does certification serve in instances such as these?  Farmer B, the potential big guy.  This is one reason why buying local is more important than buying organic.  Often buying local gives you a more validated organic product than the same product with the label.

Okay, but this post is entitled “Today, E is for Economy.” So, what does that organic example have to do with economy? It’s a linked system, no matter which way we slice it, and we cannot vote completely by one instance alone. We cannot rule by environment, or people, or money alone. We must consider the system. Both Farmer A & Farmer B serve the local area where you live. So, for a family, it might be better to opt for Farmer A based on cost. Farmer B has the certification others demand, and it’s not a budget buster. If they like his product, they should certainly buy from him. This does a few things. First, it keeps a diversified food economy. We need our farmers to be plentiful and compete. It doesn’t serve our interests to buy from the Wal-Mart of farmers, for example, because it decreases the number of people farming in our own locales. We need our farmers to supply us with food, not other countries. We need the food to be created locally, so that in the event of economic or environmental disaster, we can have secure sources of simply food.

How do we balance these 3 es? An ongoing conversation, certainly. But, I also think that we’d benefit ourselves by finding some food buddies – that is others who are interested in working with the local farmers who supply our food. We’d be strengthening our local economy, our local food systems, and our local equity – buy supplying from the poeple who work the farms – locally.

That’s really all I have to say about economy. Buy local. Know local. Grow local.

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Consensus Training

Consensus plain 2
Image via Wikipedia

Our consensus training is finally upon us! I am very excited. Our group has been self-learning consensus for the past 10 months, and I think it will be good to have a seasoned user show us some things to do.

In May, it became clear that majority rule wasn’t a good fit for our group of bottom up thinkers. So, I suggested consensus, and we’ve been trying it on ever since. One of our members made a comment that she lived in community, with consensus, for almost three years. She didn’t feel she even began to understand how consensus works until she was at the end of her stay in community. This was a very telling comment to me, as we hadn’t lived in community, had been doing it for less than 7 months, and it has felt awkward to me. Her comment validated my concerns. For the third time, I was referred to Tree Bressen; so I called her.

I read the Tao of Democracy by Tom Atlee almost 6 years ago. What an eye opener! The belief that in empathic situations, people really are smarter together. Most of our food club meetings have shown this to be true. We state concerns, work through problems, and come up with a much more brilliant answer than any one of us could have come up with on our own. It’s a true consensus process, truly bottom up planning.

I am hoping that tomorrow’s training will kindly show us some tricks and traps and how to navigate through those traps. One of the handouts is “Nurturing Dissent.” I’m a terribly excited.

Stay tuned for more.

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My month of not wanting to write!

Steps of St Paul's
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

But, here are a few words anyway.

I am tired. Board meetings are tiring, sitting in those chairs. Conference calls from the ceiling are funny. Dramatic change is, well, dramatic. I want to educate people on the importance of a sustainable society. I have been doing that and I am working towards doing that more. We leave for Michigan in less than a month. Yea, vacation! Levi is excited to see his cousins and grandparents. We have consensus training for our food club on March 19th. Super yea! WordPress has another update. I think I have it figured out how to do it right, if only the plugins would cooperate. Why hosting service, why?

I am now going to marinate the lamb and read Cat among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie.

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Living on Credit

Levi's Cleanup
Living on credit sometimes means we have messes to clean up. The mess Levi cleaned up here was the size of about 1/4 of one towel. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Budget, budget, budget – crisis. It seems, today, everywhere you look, everyone is suffering from a budget crisis. Business, non-profits, families, single people, countries. What I found most interesting about this concept, right now, is the emotional stress it causes when not dealt with.

If you have 6 eggs, and you know you aren’t going to get anymore for 2 weeks, and you need an egg a day to survive – you’d probably ration your eggs. Some people, though, would rather risk the eggs, eat them once a day, and not have any for 8 days. It’s Aesop’s fablesthe grasshopper and the ant. The ant stores away, day after day, while the grasshopper plays. Then, winter comes, and the grasshopper is surprised. He has no food. The ant has enough food because he’s been preparing all spring, summer and fall.

When we live on credit: credit cards, borrowed money from friends, and lines of credit from the bank – we are playing the part of the grasshopper. I’m observing here. My husband and I are guilty of living on credit. We recognize it’s a problem, and are trying to have those hard conversations to stop it – but they are hard conversations.

I find it interesting how we are unwilling to have those hard conversations. We know what will happen, but in my case, I’d rather not give up my newspaper, netflix, and mobile phone. So, we live on credit and risk another windfall. We can’t plan for the windfall. We have to plan for the somewhat secure income.

I say somewhat, because hopefully we all know how risky even those secure jobs are nowadays. Unions on the chopping block in Wisconsin, so much rage, so much apathy, all coming up against each other – crashing. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia – this global unrest from the micro to the macro – and in some way – it stems from living beyond our means.

Sometimes, I think it stems from arrogance and lack of understanding. Like, when I try to piece together why the whole Northern American continent was basically clear cut in the 19th century. While studying sustainability at Portland State University, I took a sophomoric class in the university studies program. Our professor introduced this concept of short-sighted-ness with a story about shephards living on a hill. They all wanted to add just one more sheep to their flock – each. But, what happens when all 100 shepards add one sheep each? You have 100 more sheep! The hill can only hold so many, and if the shepards add another sheep to theri flock every year – at some point you’ll reach the carrying capacity of the hill.

The idea is that if you plan for the future, you will make wiser decisions for the group. Individually, or for families, the idea is that if you plan for your future you won’t be destitute and will be able to navigate tragedy with a stronger plan, or safety net. If government can help us out, I think that’s great. I also think, in a society as rich as ours, it should be a moral obligation. But, ultimately, we really need to say the buck stops here, and we need to plan for ourselves. So, it’s building within and building without. we need to make our own houses strong, strengthen our communities (that meas you have to get to know your neighbors), and have honest dialogues. Honest dialogues that recognize living on credit, while a luxury, isn’t the best course of action.

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I am an Urban Homesteader

Heated & whisked
Making HOMEmade chocolate syrup in my (urban) home(stead). Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I know what to do.

I know where the resources are.

I’ve written, somewhat extensively on the subject.

Today: I am an Urban Homesteader.

In 2008, I self-published my first of two books with Dr. Deborah Tolman. With her knowledge and know-how, my writing, editing, graphic design, and web skills – and with support from several other friends and colleagues, we self-published the Tolman Guide to Going Green. We published one for Portland, Oregon, where we both lived in 2008 and one for Asheville, North Carolina, where Deb has sustainable connections.

We took a systems approach to sustainability. How do you encompass natural processes at home? How do you make going green accessible in a way that the apartment dweller with the smallest income can still be green?

Also, in 2008, it was discussed by Kelly & Eric at Root Simple.

Shannon Hayes takes a feminist approach in Radical Homemaking.

It’s cliched and made fun of in Portlandia.

Cities, towns, neighborhoods all over the world are participating in Urban Homesteading.

What does this cheesy cliche even mean?

It means, take your home and make it green by thinking in full cycles, like homesteaders used to do.

Would you throw away that tin can if it would make a great Christmas Tree Ornament? No? Well, you just saved something from the landfill. Go green! You are an urban homesteader!

Would you mow over that grass or would you bag it and take it to the curb? What, your time is limited, and you don’t want to spend the extra money for the bag attachment (or you don’t have a bag attachment because you’re using a Reel Mower)? Well – congratulations! You have just participated in grass-cycling! You are an urban homesteader!

You (attempt) to grow your own greens all around your small urban plot or your apartment? You are really keeping it local! Go green! Congratulations you are an urban homesteader!

What, you make your own laundry soap because it costs less than a penny per load and your family must be frugal with those limited dollars coming in? Congratulations! You are an urban homesteader!

I suppose our cultural ideas of Intellectual Property say it’s okay to trademark words. But, I think it’s a terrible idea. Trademarking ideas in this day and age of collective consciousness is simply another way to make a game out of doing good. Sure, a part of me agrees that rules can force us into creativity and better answers to our world’s problems, but sometimes it’s just gone too far. Trying to trademark a name for something that was already published as a book? Can this even be done? Wouldn’t the copyright law on the book trump the trademarking of the concept? And, how close are we to Big Brother when we try to enforce this collective consciousness? Seriously? In this economy? Don’t we have better things to do?

So, today, sponsored by Take Back Urban Homesteading and Crunchy Chicken, is a day of Action. It’s a day to Take Back Urban Homesteading. Write about what makes you an Urban Homesteader in the hopes we’ll jam the blogosphere with our collective consciousness.

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