Resiliency: So Close You Can Taste It

Sustainability has become a prevailing buzzword in popular culture. Businesses and products toss the word “sustainable” into descriptions (sometimes without merit) to convey environmentally-friendly practices and promises. But if the words”sustainable”  and “sustainability” were replaced by “resilient”  and “resiliency”, would people have any idea what that means?

Resiliency (as we are using it to describe an environment) speaks to an area’s ability to resiliencybounce back in the instance of an extreme event. To illustrate resiliency, I like to imagine a bioregion being like a human body. A body that is already healthy and well cared-for will have an easier time recovering from an illness or minor injury, just like an environment that is well cared-for is more likely to come back from a storm or seasonal changes. It is in our best interest to keep our bodies and bioregions healthy not only to prevent minor setbacks, but to better recover in instances of more severe damage.

farmThough often overlooked, resiliency is an essential part of a successful bioregion. An important way that we can improve resiliency and sustainability is through our food systems and agricultural practices. A region that relies heavily on imported food and goods rather than their own production is less resilient than those who are able to produce the majority of what they need. In our increasingly globalized society, we can now access goods and crops that would never have been available before (think yummy avocados- once only available in tropical/subtropical climates, they are now a favorite in many regions that rely on them to be imported). Unlike our ancestors, we no longer have to wait for a food to be in season to eat it. While it is exciting to be able to consume and use these previously unavailable foods, this makes regions like New England less resilient and more reliant on surrounding regions.

“A system that is biologically varied is endowed with the antibodies to counter dangerous organisms and restore its own equilibrium. A system based on a limited number of varieties, on the other hand, is very fragile.” -Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

The U.S. is seeing a rise in demand for locally-grown foods. We wrote earlier about Wilson Farm of Lexington, Massachusetts and their efforts to bring fresh seasonal produce to the IMG_1719community. While it is encouraging to see farms like Wilson’s continuing to be successful, they are certainly not the norm anymore. New England as a region only produces around 10% of its own food, meaning that 90% of what we are consuming comes from outside sources. Additionally, home-grown foods tend to be more expensive than those coming from imports or industrial mega-farms, making locally grown nutrition widely inaccessible for low income families. Why purchase fresh vegetables when, for the same price, a family can buy an entire meal from a fast food restaurant? This blog seeks to explore the benefits of a more agriculturally resilient bioregion as well as highlight some Boston/New England-based organizations who are combating the growing reliance on imports and cheap foods with little nutritional value.

Earthos has been reading A New England Food Vision from Food Solutions New England. The report comments on the current state of agricultural and consumption trends in the region, and proceeds to envision a more resilient future in which New England can provide  inhabitants with nearly two-thirds of their food needs. And not just baseline needs- the report imagines having abundant resources so that everyone gets what they need and then some. Currently, 10-15% of New England’s population of 14.5 million are living without adequate nutrition due to rapidly increasing wealth inequality and poverty throughout the region. Malnutrition, lack of dietary diversity and nutrient deficiencies all lead to serious public health concerns caused by a diet that relies heavily on fats and sugars rather than  fruits and vegetables. Environmental health is at risk due to unsafe practices from industrial farming that poison our waterways and pollute the air we breathe. While it is unrealistic to expect all of our food to be grown at home, a push to increase sustainable, ethical production from local farms and make fresh produce more accessible can help us improve the resiliency of our planet and all of its inhabitants. Even so, we cannot simply clear out our forests and plant crops instead; creativity and intelligent design hold the key to developing more resilient cities and communities through agriculture.

As it turns out, Food Solutions New England is not the only one thinking that home-grown food can change human and environmental health for the better. Creative initiatives throughout the bioregion are popping up to address food security, poverty, and revisionenvironmental issues through agriculture. Take a look at the ReVision Urban Farm in Dorchester, Massachusetts. This unique business model is an urban farm, homeless shelter and job training center all in one. Their mission is to alleviate poverty in the Boston area while also equipping workers with the tools to farm and produce their own fresh, low-cost and diverse food options.

Similarly, Green City Growers sees urban farming as an opportunity to retro-fit urban centers with farms that can operate almost anywhere. Their mission is to transform unused spaces such as alleyways, vacant lots and rooftops into sustainable farming options for those communities. These gardens and small farms serve as both a practical and visual representation of how agriculture can change a city landscape and bring food production to unexpected places.

While not an urban farm, the Brookwood Community Farm in Canton and Milton, brrokwood.jpgMassachusetts is a modern take on a traditional farm. They aim to restore underutilized farmland in order to address area food insecurity while emphasizing diversity (people and crops) and education. They have a subsidized CSA for those who could not normally afford one, farm education programs, and a partnership with the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition.

These examples barely scratch the surface of the wealth of local organizations working to make a difference in how we produce and consume food in the bioregion. This summer, I’ve been reading a book called Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawkin. Hawkin describes the broader environmentalist movement as one made up by thousands of smaller movements coming together to make an impact overtime. Perhaps a similar movement is in the works with our food systems- thousands of small farms and individual initiatives coming together to make food accessible, nutritious, and affordable for all. Collective belief in a future with a diminished wage gap, increased agricultural production and healthier population is what will push us to invest in a more resilient food system, and therefor more resilient region as a whole.

Change does not happen overnight. I am not so bold as to say each region should rely exclusively on resources produced locally. A more resilient bioregion would greatly benefit the health of our population and environment through increased self-reliance and responsible practices. A quick look  around the bioregion reveals countless individuals and groups working to make this resiliency a reality. We as citizens, by participating in this movement, will get a taste of a more sustainable future (and some really good food!)

Advertisements

Wilson Farm: Sustainable Before it was Cool

For residents of Lexington, MA and beyond, Wilson’s Farm is more than a shopping destination: it is an experience.

An attempt to drive by the Wilson’s Farm parking lot during peak hours is a perfect illustration of how IMG_1709popular this local gem has become (hint- it takes a while). The Wilson family has owned and operated their business for 132 years and counting, which includes 26 acres of farmland in Lexington (and 600 additional acres in New Hampshire). The farm as a whole cultivates 125 different crops including corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, strawberries and more. My own childhood often included trips to the barn while my mother shopped so I could say hello to the pigs, chickens, goats and other animals that live at Wilson’s. Shelves lined with fresh, colorful, locally produced crops serve as evidence that the best foods are grown close to home. On top of a thriving business, events year-round keep the community engaged with the farm including haunted hayrides during Halloween and bi-weekly farm  tours during the summer.

Spotlight: Jim Wilson 

IMG_1714For Jim and his family, sustainability has been a way of life for four generations. Jim has worked on the farm for his entire life, starting before he was even old enough  to cross the street on his own. Though his role has shifted more toward the office and administration side of the business, he is still inspired daily by  the changing fields and bountiful harvests that they yield. Jim credits proximity to Boston and an ever-growing population with keeping the farm alive, especially during a time when mega-farms seem to be trumping the industry. The Wilson’s have been doing local farming since before it was “cool”, managing not only to achieve environmental sustainability but economic sustainability as well.

“I’ve known many people who are great farmers, but terrible businessmen.” -Jim Wilson

Jim has always known how to steward land to ensure that it stays productive year after year. He IMG_1719incorporates compost from his food waste for soil health, diversifies his crops, and pays close attention to daily weather patterns to fully monitor  the behavior of the farm. Without these essential practices, Wilson’s would cease to exist. Jim emphasizes that economic sustainability has been the key to the farm’s success all of these years. This mindset is what has set his farm apart from  the countless others that have unfortunately gone out of business in the Massachusetts and New England areas. By keeping the produce high quality and customers happy, Wilson’s has cultivated a sustaining business that has become deeply ingrained in  the Lexington  community.

Being part of the Wilson’s Farm team requires extraordinary hard work and drive. A day in the field is no easy task, but the workers both on the farm and in the store learn a great deal about what it means to run a successful business.

IMG_1715In addition to the physical labor involved in keeping a farm going, Jim and his team are constantly up against strict  governmental regulations and interventions that do not cater to small  businesses. Rules that are streamlined for industrial farms do not translate well to family-owned ones, making it increasingly difficult for Wilson’s to operate in the manner that they have been for decades. Nevertheless, Jim and his family have a unique tenacity that has enabled this small farm to survive in the face of big agriculture despite a less-than-accommodating market.

(To our readers: Have you seen or experienced examples in which such government regulations have been beneficial to both small and large businesses? What can be done to create more harmony between the two?)

Why do we care?

Here at Earthos, we want to highlight local businesses doing their part to improve the bioregion by aligning human and natural systems. We believe that such practices contribute to resilient and sustainable communities. Wilson’s has  worked within its ecosystem to create not just environmental sustainability, but economic and social as well. All key resources (water, people, land, energy, biodiversity, food and waste) are incorporated into this farm’s practices in innovative  ways that utilize them to their fullest potential. As local farms seem to dwindle in the shadow of highly productive mega-farms, Wilson’s has stood strong in its mission to provide its customers with nutritious food grown close to home.

Earthos is inspired by what we have seen at Wilson’s Farm. Big thank you to Jim Wilson for showing us around and sharing his experience with us- it was truly a treat to see how this local farm has impacted the community!

Written by Earthos Intern Lauren Jackson

 

 

Pokemon GO: Natural Exploration or Oblivious Obsession?

If you haven’t heard of the new augmented reality app Pokemon GO, simply head to your local park. Hordes of kids, teens and downloadadults have taken to the streets to “catch ’em all” using this new interactive app that requires users  to move about their physical surroundings in order to catch Pokemon and battle other trainers. The game has taken the world by storm, and has become the object of both high praise and intense scrutiny. While many arguments exist for both sides, our blog seeks to unpack the pros and cons of using a video game to explore and experience a bioregion.

Picture this: people who once were shut inside with their gaming devices, sitting stationary for hours indoors,  are now out and about in their neighborhoods seeking new Pokemon to catch. In the short time that the game has existed, people have already begun claiming that the game has aided their mental health and that they are more active than ever before.

Earthos believes that the health and well-being of people is an essential resource for a thriving bioregion. Ideally, this game is getting people to experience the outdoors and even exercise by giving users an incentive to leave home. People are finding new, mentally and physically stimulating ways to cope with social anxiety and depression through this app. While it can be argued that players are simply glued to their phones instead of actually taking in their surroundings, we also see great potential for exploration and exposure that may not have been possible before. If playing this game is a gateway for people to begin going outside more and taking care of their minds and bodies, can the pros outweigh the cons?

Of course, we are well aware of the dangers of Pokemon GO. Users may be distracted when  they are walking around, making them prone to accidents and even trespassing . The game warns users to be alert when playing, and there have been numerous warnings about the dangers of attempting to  play while driving. These concerns are very real, and it will be interesting to see what changes are made to this (still very new) game in the coming weeks to ensure user safety.

We are also interested in this type of technology as it can be potentially used in some of our projects. For example, as we work on the Roxbury Memory Trail, we have been thinking of creating a phone app that will help people experience and understand locations on the trail. We hope that this would serve as a positive and practical application of technology in our work.

The jury is still out on whether this game is a major success or a dangerous distraction. We wholeheartedly support any effort to get people outside and into a healthy mental and physical state, as long as the effort is safe. Pokemon GO is still working out obvious glitches and pitfalls in the game, and we are anxious to see what precautions Nintendo and Niantic (the creators of the game) take to protect budding and seasoned trainers from the dangerous of the real world. For now, we applaud the players who are taking the time to explore their bioregion, and encourage them to be safe and to catch ’em all!

-Earthos Intern Team (Lauren Jackson, Omari Spears, Ellie Rochman)

Concerned About Carbon: an Intern Reflection

We aren’t the only ones.

In our first week  of the summer, the Earthos intern team was introduced to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled “Making it our Business to Conserve Ecosystems (Not Just Elephants)” written by Marc Baker, Jo Anderson and Joris de Vries. The article discusses Carbon Tanzania, an organization that has used carbon credits to better serve indigenous communities in Tanzania. As we learn more about the practical application of bioregional urbanism in  the real world, this article helps us understand what groups around the world are doing to more efficiently utilize the resources in their bioregion to the benefit of their ecosystems. In this post, we unpack their methodology and why we at Earthos believe that it is in line with our mission for just and sustainable bioregional development.

Carbon Credits Explained 

A carbon credit (often called a carbon offset) is a financial instrument that represents a tonne of CO2 (carbon dioxide) or CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent gases) removed or reduced from the atmosphere from an emission reduction project, which can be used, by governments, industry or private individuals to offset damaging carbon emissions that they are generating.” (For more definitions and information, visit http://www.carbonplanet.com/introduction_to_carbon_credits).

In simple terms, a carbon credit is an opportunity for an organization, company, or even a country to offset their carbon emissions by implementing additional carbon reduction efforts (for example, planting forests or creating carbon sinks.) While there are numerous arguments both for and against implementing carbon credit systems (see: “Carbon Credits Undercut Climate Change Actions, Says Report” (BBC, 2015) bbc.com/news/science-environment-34042115), we are shining our spotlight on an organization that has harnessed carbon credits as a way of benefiting indigenous communities and ecosystems in Tanzania.

Carbon Tanzania: Who are they?

For those unfamiliar with this organization, here is a blurb from their website:

Carbon Tanzania, with deforestation and social justice in mind, has “built a social enterprise focused on the rights and needs of local people whose livelihoods depend on forests. We have aligned the financial and practical incentives of people who until now have not been able to rely on basic goods and services being available to them – education for their children, basic medical care and year round food security. Unlike more traditional approaches to “development”, we offer a way for companies and individuals to contribute positively to social change, to the conservation of biodiversity and natural habitats, and to quantifiable and genuinely sustainable development.(http://www.carbontanzania.com/about/)

By selling carbon credits internationally and utilizing revenue to increase opportunity and wealth within the community that they serve, Carbon Tanzania has created a sustainable cycle that not only benefits human populations, but the ecosystem as a whole. This widens the typical conservation lens from focusing on one individual species (human and nonhuman) to envisioning an ecosystem in which all living beings are interdependent on one another.

This comprehensive approach encourages conservation efforts to not just look at the “elephants” (as the article title suggests) but to understand life systems as a whole. Carbon Tanzania employs the bioregional lens that we have been diving into here at Earthos. By investing the money generated from selling carbon credits back into the Hadzabe community in the Yaeda Valley of Tanzania, the indigenous people are able to fund education, healthcare, and further conservation efforts. The humans within the ecosystem benefit from improved services, and the nonhuman actors benefit from a healthier natural environment!

How is this Relevant to Us?

As new interns at Earthos, we are discovering how to create healthy bioregions starting from the communities within. We are in the process of learning that true sustainability relies upon the collaboration between science, design, community and policy. Like Carbon Tanzania, Earthos believes in tailoring our initiatives to the specific communities we are working with. We also know that solutions to environmental issues are not “one size fits all”, and that unique, collaborative action is needed to create just and sustainable life systems. Each of our current initiatives is a response to a stated community need, and our mission is to bring together all of the actors necessary for meeting that need. By involving prominent community members alongside developers, architects, environmentalists, etc, we create a holistic approach to the desired outcome. Carbon Tanzania has found a creative, market-based solution for contributing to the health and wellbeing of both the Hadzabe people and the ecosystem to which they belong, bridging the gap between social and environmental sustainability. Bioregional urbanism at its finest!
Check out the article here: ssir.org/articles/entry/making_it_our_business_to_conserve_ecosystems_not_just_elephants

Authors: Earthos Interns Omari Spears, Ellie Rochman and Lauren Jackson

Social Media Update!

Earthos is now on  social media!

In order to keep everyone updated on our current projects, incredible partnerships and general goings-on, we have created Twitter and Instagram accounts. Follow us!

Twitter: @Earthosin

Instagram: Earthosinstitute

This summer, we interns will also be developing our “Humans of the Boston Bioregion” project. This will be a series of interviews with members of the Boston bio-community to illustrate the inter-dependency that we humans have with the environment and one another. “Like” the Facebook page “Boston Bioregion Project” to stay  tuned for upcoming stories! While you’re at it, “Like” the Earthos Institute page for even more updates on our progress and exciting new projects.

~ The Earthos Intern Team