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

 

 

Advertisements

Turning The Economy Around: How Circular Economies Can Strengthen Bioregions

How many miles did your shoes travel before they ended up on your feet? How about your shirt? Your cell phone? There is a good chance that many of you aren’t sure. Even as I type this out I don’t know where the plastic in my keyboard was sourced from, or even where my chair was manufactured. Every day we come in contact with a lot of products that have been sourced from all over the globe. This is part of how we’re able to live with some of the conveniences and luxuries that we do. I can eat an orange from Florida while living in Massachusetts, or use a table made of wood sourced from who knows where. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if buying affordable things you knew were produced locally and produced in a sustainable way was an option would you take it? This choice is one that can become easier to make as more and more businesses move toward adoption circular models.

The idea of a circular economy is pretty simple to understand. It’s an economy that works in a loop, for the benefit of everyone in the community. Certain trades can be taught to community members which leads to the production of certain goods and products which helps to stimulate the local economy. This cycle of education and production can ultimately lead to a healthy and self sufficient community. Here at Earthos this is incredibly relevant, as it has to do with functioning on the bioregional level in a just and sustainable way. A circular economy is also a lot more than an idealistic dream for the future, it’s something that is happening now!

Something important to understand is that circular economies can take shape at different scales. A whole area can have a circular economy, or a certain part of a business can operate in a circular way, there are many different options. To better understand what a circular economy is, seeing it in action helps. An example of a closed loop operation can be found  at Dell. When a Dell computer is made some of the manufacturing process makes use of plastic from older computers. Their site explains that “Using plastics recovered from technology collected through our recycling efforts to make new plastic parts gives these plastics an extended life, has a smaller carbon footprint and reduces costs.” They also use a graphic to illustrate the closed loop recycling process. [1]

DellGraphicDell illustrates how their closed-loop recycling system turns uses materials from old computers to create new ones.

In addition to Dell other companies have similar commitments in closed loop economies. A very recent example of a circular economy on a more community level is something like the organization Carbon Tanzania that we wrote about in a previous blog post, if you missed it you can check it out here! One particularly interesting example is a company named Circle Economy who’s focus is to move the world toward closed loop economic systems. Their website explains the importance of their project:

Circularity has a key part to play not only in dramatically reducing our footprint but also in shaping a visionary and practical future for our planet. It is about becoming inspired by the biological processes of nature while  retaining value at the heart of every design, manufacturing, and consumer decision – from renewable energy and remanufacturing of used parts to the ability for reuse designed into everything we consume.[2]

Started by Andy Riley (the mind behind Earth hour), his commitment to circular economic systems shows a deep understanding of what it takes to shift mindsets in the consumer world. His faith in circular economies comes from his idea that the right sorts of people can latch onto these ideals. He also believes that circular economies are not asking too much of people, just the willingness to adopt a change. Riley explains “A longstanding problem for the sustainability movement is that it’s tended to demand we stop this or that rather than offer attractive alternatives. The circular economy, however, isn’t saying we should stop consuming, it’s saying we should start consuming differently.”[3] This request for change isn’t that far fetched. Think about all of the environmentally conscious changes that have taken place in society recently, from energy efficient light bulbs, to composting becoming mainstream or something as new as fully electric cars. All of these actions help to walk people toward more environmentally conscious lifestyles.

Another interesting component of Riley’s philosophy is that ad agencies can be a positive driving force behind the adoption of circular economies. He claims that getting on board with the circular economy “isn’t just another ‘green’ thing” it’s something that has incentives for business as well. According to McKinsey circular economies could add up to $1 trillion to the global economy by 2025. They could also help to create new jobs, up to 100,000 in as little as five years. Moving toward a circular economy helps people, the planet and the economy.[4] This monetary incentive strikes a balance between adoption circular economic models for the sake of ecology and for the sake of profit. This helps it appeal to a wider audience.

The framework of bioregional urbanism is inherently addressed in these economy types as well. Growing produce within one’s bioregion to feed its people is an example of a circular system at play in the bioregion. Even something like biodiversity acts as a demonstration of how different species’ relations can be part of a healthy and productive ecosystem. Closed loop economic systems do a good job of illustrating the parallels between economics and ecology, and the ubiquitous nature of bioregional urbanism.

-Omari Spears

Referenced Articles:

http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/corp-comm/circular-economy?c=us&l=en&s=corp
http://www.circle-economy.com/about/
https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jun/28/advertising-industry-waste-free-living-circular-economy?CMP=share_btn_tw
https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/10-things-need-to-know-circular-economy

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)

Bioregional Urbanism and Youth

IMG_1660

This week we took a big step. We expanded our work to include youth. This is important to us because youth are our future leaders. They will be dealing with increased climate issues, environmental degradation, unequal wealth, and growing populations. We believe they can generate profound solutions, in large part because they have the capacity to think differently about how we work with our planet.

What we did:
We experimented by discussing basic Bioregional Urbanism ideas with a group of teen youth in Cambridge. For each idea, we asked gave a simple explanation and then did a fun hands-on activity to illustrate the concept.
The bioregional ideas include: 1) Bioregion-your life place or life region 2) Urbanism-how we create our world, our places, our homes, our cities 3) Stewardship -understanding and caring for our 7 core resources (water, energy, food, people, biodiversity, land, waste as resource) 4) One Planet living – we have one planet, and we have to share the resources of the planet. Certain people over consume while others don’t get their fair share. How can this change together? 5) Scaled thinking-every action affects all scales from the cell, to the person, to the family, to the neighborhood, to the city, to the bioregion, to the nation, to the planet. 6) Living beings– how do we make our places, our homes, our cities with living beings at the center? 7) Co-create -we have to work together to make our life places better 8) Shared vision and goals-to work together we need shared vision, which includes all of us and is more than any of us.
What we learned: The teens quickly understood these basic principles. They actually guessed many of these ideas, including shared goals. And they remembered them the next day and used them to understand soil science. This illustrated to our team that bioregional ideas may be inherent in us, but this thinking is not supported in our contemporary education. As we work to transform our bioregions, we’re wondering how our education and professional training needs change.

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

 

So what is bioregional urbanism, exactly? Bioregional Urbanism Explained.

Bioregional urbanism is the idea that regional communities need to live within the limits of ecosystems. Just like an individual or a business has to learn to live on a budget, our communities need to learn to live on available resource budgets.

Why regions? According to many ecologists are the scale at which sustainability can be achieved. As individual regions become more self sustaining, we will collectively come closer to living within the production capacity of the planet.

Continue reading