Q&A on the Transition Movement for Nonviolence Magazine’s “Climate Action” Issue

The following is an excerpt from a Q&A I did with Stephanie Van Hook of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. For the complete interview see the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Nonviolence Magazine.

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Stephanie: Gandhi created models of Transition Towns during his campaigns, but he called them ashrams, or spiritual communities. How do you see the Transition movement fitting into the nonviolent revolution — building the world that works for everyone?

Marissa: Much of the violence in our society is the result of an economic system based on exploitation and extraction and an accompanying culture of disconnection and isolation. Racial injustice, extreme wealth inequality and even terrorism are all tied to the violent and oppressive methods the dominant economy utilizes to extract resources, exploit labor and consolidate wealth.

Transition was created to be a model for empowering individuals to take constructive action in creating a world free from dependence on fossil fuels and a violent economic system, while at the same time re-weaving the fabric of community and connection.

Transition communities are re-imagining and re-designing the vital systems upon which we depend (food, water, energy, transport, housing, healthcare, etc.) to be community-oriented and ecologically regenerative. Like Gandhi’s cotton campaign, Transition — and countless other organizations and movements around the world — are building an alternative economy from the bottom up, an economy that will someday either displace the dominant extractive economy or serve as a lifeboat when the dominant economy collapses. Look at what has happened in places like Greece and Spain, where economic collapse has led to the rise of solidarity, gift and sharing economies. People are coming together and helping each other meet their basic needs.

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Stephanie: The Metta Center for Nonviolence encourages people in the nonviolent movement to personalize their relationships. How do Transition communities build supportive, nurturing systems that undermine separation and competition?

Marissa: Transition is all about relationships and mutual support: we believe connected communities are the foundation of the social change and ecological resilience we need in order to survive as humanity on this planet.

We strive to create localized communities where people know their neighbors and see each other as friends and resources; where the economy is based on relationships, and businesses exist to serve the community rather than extract wealth and resources; where elders are valued and integrated into society; where diversity is seen as beneficial and where fewer people are marginalized, vulnerable or isolated.

As much as we can, we embody these ideals in our daily lives, and we know at a visceral level what kind of societal transformation will be possible once this fabric of community and connection really spreads and permeates our culture.

One of the most inspiring and unique things about Transition is the type of people it attracts: folks who are warm, open-hearted, welcoming, tolerant, caring, generous.They share a positive vision of the future (despite being all too aware of the realities of the world in which we live). I know I can visit any Transition Initiative in the US and meet people who feel like family, who will open up their homes and share meals with me. And I will return the hospitality.

Stephanie: What community guidelines might people consider adopting, based on the experiences of those in the Transition US movement?

Marissa: We don’t have any official guidelines, but rather a collective culture or ethos. Here are a few informal guidelines for developing a more resilient community:

  1. Get to know your neighbors — by more than just their first name.
  2. Reduce consumption — buy less “stuff” and use less energy.
  3. Support local food producers and resilient regional food systems.
  4. Know your watershed, and use water wisely.
  5. Support local, independent and resilience-building businesses.
  6. Switch to community-scale, renewable energy sources.
  7. Walk, bike, carpool or use public transportation when possible, rather than driving a personal vehicle. Avoid flying, especially long distances.
  8. Reduce waste, recycle and start composting.
  9. Build resilience on your street and in your neighborhood by using Transition Streets, facilitating an emergency preparedness plan or holding block parties
  10. Collaborate with community groups, schools, libraries and more.
  11. Get involved in local government. Show up to city council meetings, hold your elected officials accountable, collaborate with local government agencies or run for office. Develop your own person power — your inner strength, resilience and self-awareness.
  12. Hone your skills in effective collaboration and conflict resolution.

Stephanie: What are some key skills that help people in the Transition US movement feel most effective and inspired in their daily labors?

Marissa: Great question! Becoming an effective, inspired Transitioner is a constant process — this is challenging, cutting-edge work. We have a huge mission and a small budget, so we have to be very resourceful and conscious of avoiding overwhelm. Here are some of the skills I see as especially important:

  1. Systemic thinking: understanding the interconnectedness of the systems we depend on. Since most of our civilization depends on fossil fuels to function, getting off fossil fuels requires much more than putting up solar panels. We need to redesign our food, water and sanitation, transportation, housing, healthcare and manufacturing systems and so much more. We need to think long-term and understand the impacts our choices as consumers and citizens have on the big picture.
  2. Community organizing: convening people around an important issue, inviting real participation, designing and executing a campaign or project and creating a sense of community ownership over the process and outcome. This does not come naturally to everyone, but there are many resources and trainings you can draw from to learn and practice.
  3. Good social and collaboration skills: self-awareness, conscious communication, conflict resolution, etc. The hardest thing about working with people is the people! This is especially true in a collaborative, egalitarian, post-hierarchical setting (like most Transition Initiatives). In order to work effectively as a group, you need to be very aware of the way you yourself are showing up and participating, and be well-equipped to navigate interpersonal challenges with other members of your group. Transition US provides a lot of resources to support Transitioners in developing these skills, like our “Effective Groups” and “Power of Conflict for Building Community” trainings.
  4. Permaculture/homesteading/DIY/renewable energy, etc.: hands-on, concrete skills that you can use to build resilience in your own life and share with others. Teaching hands-on skills is a fun, empowering way to engage people in Transition, and it tends to be more successful than preaching about what people should or shouldn’t be doing. We call this type of hands-on learning “reskilling.” Hands-on skills also provide a balance to the community organizing and advocacy work, where you don’t always see the direct results of your efforts. I know many Transitioners who relax by getting their hands in the dirt and growing things.
  5. Inner resilience: personal practices to help you avoid burnout and be able to face the realities of the world we live in without being paralyzed by anger, grief or fear. I think this is part of what the Metta Center for Nonviolence would call “person power.” An important piece of Transition is our “Inner Transition” work, which helps us build inner resilience through positive visioning. Our Western culture (especially in the US) tends to be more action-oriented than contemplative, so we also strive for a sense of balance between being and doing.
  6. Movement-building: collaboration with other community groups and local governments in order to expand our base and grow our impact, as well as collaboration with the broader Transition movement to craft a shared narrative and strategy.
Transition founder Rob Hopkins (turning compost) and members of Transition Milwaukee at the Kompost Kids community compost site in Milwaukee, WI_Dan Felix, Transition Milwaukee

For the complete interview see the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Nonviolence Magazine.

 

Residential Community Resilience Internship – Paonia, CO

Come learn hands-on and community organizing skills for building community resilience while living and working off-the-grid in Colorado’s Western Slopes region. During this 3-month internship (June-August 2017), you will spend approximately 20 hours per week learning and practicing the following skills:

  1. Community organizing and movement building with Transition US, the national hub for the international Transition movement (a network of communities moving away from dependence on fossil fuels toward local resilience), including:
    • Strategies for redesigning our communities to be fossil-fuel free,
    • Best practices for community organizing,
    • National network-building,
    • Collaboration with local government,
    • Writing, blogging, & social media,
    • Fundraising,
    • And more!
  2. Practical Skills for Community Resilience, including:
    • Permaculture and sustainable agriculture;
    • Homesteading (with an emphasis on off-the-grid cooking and food processing);
    • Natural building;
    • Living in community;
    • Holistic health;
    • And more!

Internship is unpaid, but includes housing in a simple mobile tiny house with an outdoor kitchen in a small off-the-grid intentional community near Paonia, CO, a region with the highest concentration of organic farms in the state and abundant access to outdoor recreation. The internship program has a strong emphasis on professional development and mentorship (resume and networking support, professional and community organizing skills –ex: meeting facilitation, project management, event planning, etc.—livelihood creation, and more). Intern will also have an opportunity to participate in the first-ever Transition US National Gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota in July 2017.

You will be working closely with Marissa Mommaerts, Director of Programs at Transition US, who is also a community resilience consultant, permaculture designer & educator, and radical homesteader (read more at www.madmillennials.wordpress.com); and with Jeremiah Garcia, a permaculture designer, ecological landscaper, and holistic health practitioner.

Internship candidates should be mature self-starters with a strong interest in moving our society away from dependence on fossil fuels while creating vibrant, resilient local communities. Strong writing, computer, and communication skills; willingness to get your hands dirty; desire to live a low-impact lifestyle, and commitment to personal growth are important qualities for the intern to possess.

To apply, please submit your resume and a 1-2 page cover letter detailing your interest in the position and relevant experience to marissa@transitionus.org by March 15th, 2017. Interviews will be conducted in April 2017 and a decision will be made by early May 2017.

Becoming a Parent in the Age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock

Our son will be born just a few days after Donald Trump becomes President.

As soon as possible I intend to teach him the “Golden Rule,” as my parents taught me. For me, this important lesson grew into a fierce passion for justice rooted deep in my soul. One of the scariest things about learning I was pregnant was the fear that I would have to trade my identity as an activist for that of a mother. But that’s not possible. Because in order to do my job as a mother, to ensure my baby has the best chance possible of surviving and thriving in this world, I’m going to have to work harder than ever before. And I’m not just talking about bringing my child to gymnastics and violin lessons and helping him with his homework. I’m talking about ensuring he has access to the very basics required for human survival: clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and healthy food to eat. And in an era of climate change and a pending Trump presidency of climate change denial and profiteering from fossil fuel development, that will most likely mean putting my body and my freedom on the line.

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Becoming parents!

On one of our first dates almost three years ago, Jeremiah and I went to hear Winona LaDuke speak about indigenous resistance to extreme fossil fuel infrastructure like tar sands and pipelines. She challenged everyone in the audience to burst out of our Northern California bubble and support the frontlines in places like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada, where indigenous people were risking their own lives and freedom to preserve a livable planet for us all.

Roughly two years later, we had finally managed to organize our lives in such a way that we were liberated to serve at the frontlines and to travel around the country working on regenerative agriculture projects that would heal our broken food system, rebuild topsoil, sequester carbon, and reduce the amount of pollution poisoning our waterways. Our ambitious goal was to plant – with the help of family and friends – one million trees before having our first child. Or, if not a million, at least a few hundred thousand… enough to feel as though we were being somewhat responsible parents by helping create an ecological safety net for future generations.

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We figured this endeavor would take years, and with the help of family and friends we were able to purchase a work truck and convert a 6’ x 12’ enclosed cargo trailer into a mobile tiny house we planned to live in during our journey as nomadic regenerative activists until we were ready to “settle down” and have a family.

Our first stop was my hometown of Oconto, Wisconsin, where we planned to plant a community food forest (a perennial food-producing ecosystem) on some marginal land my family owns. After that, we intended to connect with and support some of the indigenous resistance efforts in Canada or the northern US. We left California mid-May of this year, visited a handful of beautiful and inspiring places en route, and two weeks later, on May 30th, my mom’s birthday, we arrived in Wisconsin.

That same day we found out I was pregnant.

Suddenly our plan seemed a little crazy. We spent our first nights in Wisconsin battling poison ivy, mosquitos, and fierce summer storms, wondering why we had given up our jobs and home in California. We gave ourselves a month to come up with a new plan, and in the meantime I insisted we go ahead with installing the food forest.

It was in part my stubborn Taurus nature wanting to complete what we had set out to do, and in part extremely practical. If we were going to bring a child into this world of profound uncertainty, a world of converging ecological, economic, and social crises, the least we could do was create some sort of safety net for them – a place where they can someday harvest food and medicine and build a shelter and harvest rainwater if needed.

oconto_garden_fenceThis particular piece of land is not very desirable for conventional development – it’s swampy and covered in a thicket of invasive shrubs and poison ivy – which made it a relatively safe investment of our time, energy, and limited financial resources. So we (by “we” I mean mostly Jeremiah, with help from our good friend Zach… I was too sick and tired from early pregnancy to be very helpful) got to work: clearing space for a garden; building beds out of composted horse manure and mulch we had acquired for free; planting vegetables and losing most of them to deer; building an 8’ deer fence and replanting the garden with trees, berries, medicinal herbs and other perennials; and building relationships oconto_garden_partywith our neighbors (which was especially helpful for our encounter with the local police, who showed up in force to accuse us of trespassing and try to kick us off my family’s land). Jeremiah was rather appalled by the condition of the land when we arrived – I had failed to mention the dense thicket of Buckthorn and the hordes of mosquitos – but he dutifully poured his sweat and love into the land, day after day, until a resilient, lush garden emerged on the corner of a dead-end street, a gift to our budding family and to the community in which I grew up.

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The garden explodes!

By the time the garden was finished, we had come up with a new plan.  Though I loved being close to my family, we decided Northeastern Wisconsin was not the right place for us to build a nest at this point in our lives. Access to local, organic food was particularly challenging, and it would be years before the food forest was really producing. Friends of ours from California were buying land in a small community in Colorado’s Western Slopes called Paonia. The area is a “banana belt,” with the highest density of organic farms in Colorado, a low cost of living, and is surrounded by National Forests.

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Our cozy straw bale/passive solar home

Synchronistically we found an off-the-grid homestead to rent in the high desert surrounding Paonia-a beautiful passive solar straw bale house powered by 100% solar power that utilizes rainwater catchment for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Located mid-way between mine and Jeremiah’s homelands, it seemed like a good place to bring a new life into the world. So we took a leap of faith and agreed to a year-long lease without ever having been to Paonia or having seen our new home.

We left Wisconsin on a high note after attending the Wisconsin Permaculture Convergence; stopped in Rochester, MN where my dear friend Brittany who is a midwife at Mayo Clinic was able to show us our first glimpse of our baby via ultrasound; and moved into our new home on August 15th. Jeremiah found carpentry and landscaping work, I continued working remotely for Transition US, and we started nesting and found some lovely roommates to join us in our off-the-grid compound. Though we were missing – and still are – our friends and families, we felt good about our decision to bring our baby into the world in such a peaceful, beautiful place. We’re grateful for a slower pace of life that will give us the ability to really enjoy this important transition, and for a community that is incredibly supportive of children and new parents.

delta_countyPractically speaking, this rural, wild area (we have herds of deer on our land, hear coyotes howl most nights, and are occasionally visited by bear and mountain lions) seemed like a safe, resilient location to weather the coming turmoil of political and economic instability compressed by the increasing impacts of climate change like drought, natural disasters, and food insecurity. We knew that regardless of who won the presidential election, we would need to be prepared to deal with the impacts of our unsustainable economy and continue working to heal the distressed planet our child would soon inhabit.

Water is Life: the Age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock

Shortly after moving to Paonia, we learned that the Bureau of Land Management was considering opening 95% of public lands in this area (managed by the Uncompahgre Field Office) to oil and gas development, particularly fracking. In case you aren’t familiar – fracking is a form of unconventional, horizontal drilling for the natural gas found in shale deposits. Ecologically speaking, it’s a devastating practice that blasts huge amounts of fracking-fact-graphicwater (millions of gallons per well) and sand (much of the sand used for fracking is mined in Wisconsin), mixed with a long list of chemicals (some of which are known carcinogens), into the earth. Fracking has been linked to water contamination, increased seismic activity (earthquakes), and negative health impacts on people living nearby. Not to mention that fracking perpetuates the use of fossil fuels at a time when we desperately need to be switching to renewables in order to slow climate change.  Natural gas is not, as some proponents claim, a “bridge fuel” to renewables, because the methane emitted by fracking is a greenhouse gas 20-25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its ability to trap heat in the atmosphere.

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Paonia was previously a coal mining town, but two of the three mines have closed in recent years creating a loss of jobs, an economic shift toward organic farming and outdoor recreation, an accompanying demographic shift (miners leaving the area and people like Jeremiah and I moving into the area), and some clear political divides. There remains some support for fracking among locals in the interest of job creation, but many, many people (including conservative ranchers, sportsmen, etc.) are opposed to opening up public lands to oil and gas development because they know this is a short-sighted strategy for economic development that will leave our beautiful bio-region and the emerging sustainable agriculture economy in ruins. More than 40,000 people provided comments to the BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan for our region – more than the population of the county we live in – demanding very limited or no fracking. Now we wait for a response from the BLM and prepare to strengthen our resistance strategy, if needed.

Meanwhile, we watch and take inspiration from the indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) centered around the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and the Missouri River in North Dakota. If not for being pregnant and concerned about harsh winter weather and police brutality (a shot to the belly from a rubber bullet would be detrimental to our developing fetus), we would most certainly be there in solidarity.

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standing_rock_2Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the struggle for indigenous rights it epitomizes, is perhaps the most important battle of our time. Oil pipelines burst constantly – it’s not a matter of if, but when – and DAPL threatens the water supply of not only the Standing Rock Sioux, but the millions of people downstream who get their water from the Missouri River. The Missouri River feeds the Mississippi, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and already contamination of the Mississippi River has created a “Dead Zone” the size of Connecticut in the Gulf of Mexico.

mni_wiconiHuman beings are made of roughly 60% water, and there are now more than 7 billion of us on Planet Earth. Almost all other life forms, including our food sources, are also mostly water, but just 1% of our planet’s water is drinkable. The oceans function as the lungs of our planet, and are already suffering from air and water pollution (the oceans absorb much of the excess carbon in the atmosphere).

When we are talking about the ability of our species, our children and grandchildren, to survive on this planet, water is so much more precious than fossil fuels. So rightly, powerfully, the rallying cry of the #NODAPL movement is “Water is Life” or “Mni Wiconi” in Lakota language. The first baby born at Standing Rock, to a Lakota woman much braver than I, was named “Mni Wiconi.”

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Baby Mni Wiconi, born in a tipi on the banks of the Cannonball River

I am becoming a mother in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

Our new president, Donald Trump, has invested more than half a million dollars in the company Energy Transfer Partners, whose subsidiary Dakota Access is building the pipeline. This makes me very uneasy and appears to be a clear conflict of interest, as it is up to the federal government (US Army Corps of Engineers) to provide approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River. And, even if DAPL is halted, how many similar projects will be greenlighted in the future to enhance the investment portfolio of President Trump and his allies, at the expense of the well-being of us common folks? (By the way, water privatization is another looming threat to consolidate scarce resources and make the wealthy wealthier. After all, water is more precious than fossil fuels!)

The Big Trade-Off

One of the main reasons people I know voted for Trump is “jobs.” But it’s not that easy. Trump is not going to fix the economy for us. Neither of the two-party candidates would tell us this, but THE ECONOMY CANNOT BE FIXED… at least not by job creation based on extractive industries. That’s because we live on a planet with finite resources, but our economy is based on an infinite growth model. If you dispute this truth, watch this video and then let’s talk.

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wealth_distributionThe economy is contracting because we have over-exploited the natural resources on which it depends. There is already so much evidence of this: drought and aquifer depletion, massive topsoil loss, and a shift to extracting ever harder to obtain (and less profitable) forms of fossil fuels like tar sands, fracking, and off-shore drilling. All you need to confirm this reality for yourself is an open, critical mind and a Google search. Precious, life-giving natural resources are becoming more and more scarce, the result of our lavish, wasteful consumption habits combined with rapid population growth. And this resource scarcity is compounded by wealthy elites consolidating as much wealth as possible, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs.

The future of our economy is not a return to the days when anyone who worked hard enough could easily buy a big house, a new car, raise a family, and live the American Dream.

out_of_stockI’m sorry, but that’s not the reality of the physical world we live in. I say this as someone who invested five years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars in a college education and Master’s degree and think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever own property or a new car or have a retirement fund (at least not in the way this has conventionally been done). And I’m not willing to trade my child’s future in order to have these things. At the same time, I know I don’t need any of these things. I can be perfectly happy and fulfilled with an inexpensive tiny house, a bike and a used biofuel vehicle, a food forest as my retirement fund, and the knowledge that my child will have a livable planet as his inheritance.

Continuing down a path of extractive economic development puts future generations’ access to water, air, and food at risk. It increases the possibility that they will experience the crumbling of our civilization and with it the sort of suffering—poverty, hunger, violence, conflict, chaos—we see in the countries we have destroyed in our insatiable quest for resources (often under the guise of “democracy”).

With all due respect, if you are willing to make that trade-off, or choose to stay ignorant and pretend everything will be fine and we’re passing on a perfectly lovely future to our children, shame on you.

I am not just directing this at Trump supporters. Though Clinton acknowledges climate change, her pro-fracking, pro-Wall Street agenda is absolutely inappropriate for the scale of economic and ecological crisis we are facing. At least with a looming Trump presidency, people have been startled into paying attention and will hopefully stay awake long enough to get organized, rather than simply returning to business-as-usual. There are many alternatives to the extractive, fossil-fuel driven consumer economy, but making the transition to a sustainable economy requires us to really think about our how we spend our money and what we are supporting.

Another reason for supporting Trump I’ve heard from several people—particularly kind, loving, generous women—is because he is pro-life. If this is you, I’m asking you to promise me that you are going to fight for my child’s access to clean water and a livable planet. Otherwise, with all due respect, you’re being cruel and hypocritical. And if I lose my freedom—or worse—by fighting for my child’s access to clean water and a livable planet, then promise me you will help take care of him.

This is what it means to become a parent in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

Many mornings during my tumultuous first trimester, I awoke to stories of police brutality and mass shootings and lay in bed grappling with the reality of being pregnant during these times. Last month a Saudi Arabian student was beaten to death on the University of Wisconsin campus where my sister went to college. Since Trump’s election I hear more and more stories of emboldened racists/sexists/bigots/ xenophobes threatening and harassing strangers as our national shadow bubbles to the surface. This is not the kind of world I want my son to grow up in.

When I told my father, who recently turned 81, that I was pregnant, he said something along the lines of “too bad the world is such a mess.”

We Are Not Afraid

It’s a scary time to become parents, but we are not afraid. We have looked realistically at the impacts of climate change, of what happens when societies collapse and people compete for scarce resources, and of the current impacts of the American way of life on the rest of the world. It’s not pretty. In fact, for years this awareness has given me horrific nightmares (as well as deep motivation for my work). But ignoring or fearing the ugly realities of the world we live in is not helpful. What’s needed now is action.

Our son’s childhood will not revolve around screen time or consumer culture. Rather, we will be sharing with him an understanding of where we are in the evolution of humanity and an awareness of his role and responsibility as a white man in this world. We will be giving him tools to create a positive future given the realities of the world he is inheriting, tools like homesteading and survival skills; community organizing and non-violence education; and hopefully a strong spiritual foundation he can fall back on when things get hard and he sees the dark side of humanity.

We will teach him not only the Golden Rule “treat others as you want to be treated,” but also its important translation “no one is free until we all are free.”

And of course, we will teach him unconditional love.

The gift of living in uncertain times is that it makes the present that much more precious. The gift of living simply is that it creates more space for the things that really matter. And the gift of having deep compassion and empathy, for feeling the pain and suffering of the world as deeply as I do, is that this capacity for feeling pain and suffering is matched by a capacity for love.

earth_mama_5That’s why we chose to bring this child into a world of uncertainty… and, we can only imagine, why he chose such unconventional parents.

In a world rife with hate and callousness and immense suffering and the potential for so much more suffering, the only thing that is true – the only purpose for existence—is love. And you can bet we will teach this to our son.

Because that’s what it means to become parents in the age of Donald Trump and Standing Rock.

Voting with Every Dollar We Spend

Originally posted on Transition US

There’s so much attention on the upcoming election, and with good reason: our future is at stake. But it’s important to remember that political power is tied to economic power, and we vote every day for the kind of world we want to live in with every dollar we spend and every purchase we make.

cer_2349-5resizeWe can choose to support businesses that actually make our communities more resilient rather than extracting local wealth and resources. Sometimes it costs more to support businesses that are aligned with values of social and ecological responsibility, but that’s because those prices reflect the true cost of production. When we purchase cheap consumer goods, the true cost of production is often passed on to workers and to future generations (through environmental destruction). And when we shop at chains or big-box stores, much of the money we spend leaves our community. But when we shop at local, independent businesses, our money is recycled locally and strengthens our local economies.

Certain businesses take economic transformation a step further by committing to providing good jobs and building community wealth, or to making environmental stewardship part of their business model. And some businesses do it all!

reconomy_report_coverIn this new report by Transition US, “25 Enterprises that Build Resilience,” we look at twenty-five businesses across the US that actually build community wealth and resilience. From innovative ecological and social justice-oriented farms and food hubs to small-scale energy companies, from bicycle-powered delivery services to alternative strategies for providing affordable housing, these business models will inspire you to reimagine and transform your local economy.

The report focuses on enterprises that aspire to meet the following criteria for resilience-building businesses developed by the Transition Network REconomy Project:

1. Appropriate localization: Enterprises operate at a scale appropriate to the environment, the needs they are meeting, and their business sector, with regard to sourcing, distribution, and interaction with the wider economy. They don’t all have to grow endlessly. They provide local goods for local people as locally as possible, where this makes sense.

kiuc2. Appropriate resource use: Enterprises make efficient and appropriate use of natural resources, respecting finite limits and minimizing and integrating waste streams. The use of fossil fuels is minimized, and use of renewable energy sources maximized.

3. Serve a purpose greater than profit: Enterprises aim to provide affordable, sustainable products and services and decent livelihoods, rather than just generate excessive profits for others. Enterprises can be profitable, but excess profits are used for wider benefit rather than just enriching individuals.

pedal_people4. Part of the community: Enterprises work toward building a common wealth, owned and controlled as much as is practical by their workers, customers, tenants and communities. They treat and pay all workers fairly. Their structures are as open, equitable, democratic, inclusive and accountable as possible. They consciously operate as part of a collaborative and mutually supportive local system.

5. Strengthen community resilience: Enterprises help ensure the main needs of the community are met despite wider economic instability, energy and resource shortages and global warming impacts. Enterprises are also resilient in themselves, seeking to be financially sustainable and as independent of external funding as possible.

In addition to the 25 enterprises—nominated by Transitioners and community resilience-builders across the country and reviewed by a team of experts—the report is full of additional resources to help you deepen your knowledge of local economic transformation and give you the tools to get started. Enjoy!

Download the report.

Learn more about the Transition US REconomy Project and opportunities to get involved here.

Photos (from top): Soul Fire Farm, REconomy Report Cover, Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative, Pedal People.

Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven~Part 4: Recipes & Tips for Solar Cooking

You’d be surprised by the variety of what you can cook in a solar oven! It’s definitely an art, and there are a few nuances that make it different from cooking on a conventional stove. Here are a few tips and recipes to help you get started.

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Solar-roasted beet hummus

To begin, Solavore has a wonderful website full of tips and gourmet recipes. Check it out: http://www.solavore.com/

Here are a few of my favorite recipes:

Punjabi Eggplant (Baingan Barta)

Rosemary Potatoes

Roasted Beet Hummus (This version calls for canned chickpeas – I’m working on a version that uses raw/sprouted or solar-cooked chickpeas)

Veggie Broth

A few other tips…

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Solar-infused veggie broth

You can cook soups and other liquid-y items in a solar oven if you first bring it to a boil on your kitchen stove, then put it in the pre-heated solar oven to simmer. I’ve made some delicious solar-infused vegetable broth this way.

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Solar-hard-cooked eggs

I’ve had success cooking hard-boiled eggs in the Solavore Sport Oven without any water – I just set the pot lid upside down inside the cooking pot and let the eggs cook for about an hour and a half (I’m at a higher elevation so it could be less – I’ve read 45 minutes works for some people).

You can also bake in the oven – I’ve made delicious banana bread in the Solavore but ended up throwing it in the conventional oven for a few minutes at the end because I got a late start and ran out of sun. Solavore has a carrot cake recipe they strongly recommend, which I’ve yet to try (I’ll probably try a reduced-sugar version!).

Overall, I’m stoked to be cooking with the Solavore Sport Oven and looking forward to fine-tuning my craft! I love cooking for dinner parties and potlucks in the solar oven because people are so curious and often surprised by what’s possible. Next up: granola (with no processed sugar), lentil soup (a staple), garden veggie frittata (with eggs fresh from the chicken coop) and scalloped potatoes (a decadent Thanksgiving treat for my family).

This article is Part 4 in a 4-part series: Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven. The rest of the series is linked below:

Part 1: Why Go Solar?

Part 2: Choosing a Solar Oven

Part 3: Cooking with the Solavore Sport Oven

Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven~Part 3: Cooking with the Solavore Sport Oven

I picked up my Solavore Sport test oven from the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a non-profit organization and Solavore distributor, at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. I’ve spent the last couple of months experimenting with it, and had some wonderful results.

solavoreThe unit is made of thick recycled plastic (reinforced with glass fibers to prevent heat degradation and crushing) and is lightweight (9 lbs), durable, and easy to transport and assemble, which has made it very convenient for us to use. I’m by no means an expert on solar ovens, but it seems extremely well-designed (read more here).

The clear plastic lid is made of two layers (one is thicker plastic, one is a thinner polyester film) with a space in between to help retain heat. From what I’ve read on the Solavore website, it sounds like there can sometimes be issues with moisture getting trapped between the two layers (Solavore recommends storing the unit on its side to help drain out any moisture), or with the polyester film getting punctured. I haven’t experienced either of these issues, but it’s nice to know that if you do have a problem with the lid you can order a new lid or lid repair kit, rather than having to replace the whole oven. The oven also comes with a thermometer and a WAPI stick for water pasteurization.

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Roasting eggplant, tomatoes, onions and garlic to make “Punjabi Eggplant.”

At the end of the day, I can pick up the whole oven, with food still hot inside of it, and carry it into the house. It comes with two 9-inch black graniteware pots so we can cook two dishes at once (which is somewhat rare for solar ovens), or multiple ingredients for the same dish that require different cooking times (for example, a pot of rice and a pot of roasted veggies).

 

I’ve experimented with a number of recipes, and had the best results with roasted veggies (beets, eggplant, tomatoes, etc.), which come out absolutely juicy and delicious after just a couple of hours. As a rule of thumb, cooking time is twice as long as conventional methods, with an additional half hour for the solar oven to preheat.

One of my favorite things about using the solar oven is that is doesn’t require oil to cook veggies (which is both healthier and more economical). Because the oven cooks slowly at lower temperatures (typically ranging from 210º – 260º F, maxing out at 300º F), it’s hard to burn or overcook things, and the veggies retain more nutrients. This is a big perk for me because I tend to multi-task and get distracted when I’m cooking veggies on the stove and often end up overcooking them, which my partner hates.

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Soaked rice & lentils prior to cooking

Lentils and rice (after being soaked overnight) have also come out beautifully in the solar cooker. One of my current life goals is to get better at cooking “exotic” cuisine – Indian, Ethiopian, etc.

I used to work at an Afghani restaurant that served the most exquisitely delicious food I’ve ever eaten, and learned that one of their secrets (in addition to high-quality ingredients and some serious culinary talent) was cooking dishes for long periods of time over low heat, to allow the flavors to really sink in. I’m hoping the solar oven will work well for this task, sort of like a slow cooker.solar_lentils_2

Not your average camping food: delicious solar-cooked spiced lentils & rice!

One thing that’s important to note about cooking in the solar oven is that you need to use less water than usual (about 25% less), because water takes longer to heat up. I’m still experimenting with liquid ratios for rice, beans, lentils, etc. A few times I haven’t added enough liquid and the final product comes out a bit dry and under-cooked, so I’ve end up adding water and finishing it on the stove (which takes less time than if I were to cook the dish on the stove from the beginning).

I’m also trying to figure out how to cook larger dried beans like black beans, Great Northern white beans, and pinto beans. After soaking some Great Northern white beans for two days, I tried cooking them in the solar cooker. After a full day in the sun they were still pretty uncooked, so I ended up putting them in the slow cooker. But I tried the same thing with black beans, and it worked beautifully. Either way, it seems important to soak the beans beforehand if you want them to cook fully in one day.

Another challenge is that if you’re cooking something that takes all day, you need to be able to adjust the oven so that it stays in the sun. On a cloudy day, you can add metal reflectors that easily snap on to the oven to concentrate the limited sunlight, and usually things cook just fine that way. According to the website, the Solavore Sport Oven also works well for winter cooking—which I’m excited to try—and can maintain a cooking temperature of 250 degrees even when the air temperature is below zero. The oven can be turned on its side for winter cooking to better capture the lower angle of winter sun rays. Amazing – talk about appropriate technology!

The Solavore Sport Oven with reflectors retails for $269, and you can order it from the Solavore website. For a low-budget homesteader this feels like a big investment, especially when you could build a solar cooker yourself. But it’s actually cheaper than other commercial models, and personally, the time I would have spent researching and deciding on a design, gathering materials, and building the oven could be worth the financial investment, especially since I know the Solavore Sport Oven is so well-designed, efficient, durable, and convenient to use.

If you’re already thinking about purchasing a solar oven, I highly recommend this model. You can purchase the oven without reflectors for $229, but if you’re going to make the investment in the oven, I’d recommend purchasing the reflectors for those days that aren’t as sunny. I’ve already gotten a lot of use out of mine. You can also save a bit of money (about $25 per oven) if you and a friend go in together on a two-pack of ovens.

That’s all for now – time for a dinner of solar-roasted zucchini and some solar baked peach-banana bread for dessert!

This article is Part 3 in a 4-part series: Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven. The rest of the series is linked below:

Part 1: Why Go Solar?

Part 2: Choosing a Solar Oven

Part 4: Recipes & Tips for Solar Cooking

 

Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven~Part 2: Choosing a Solar Cooker

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Ever since my partner Jeremiah weatherproofed the underside of our mobile tiny home back in February, we’ve been carrying around remnants of sheet metal to build a solar cooker. I began perusing designs trying to find something that would be easy to construct and easily transportable.

I’ve seen models that were as simple as cardboard boxes covered in aluminum foil (or even aluminum chewing gum wrappers!), as creative as an old tire between two pieces of glass, or as sophisticated as this inclined solar box cooker.

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solar_cooker_inclinedbox

 

But we were looking for something durable, yet still lightweight and easily transportable. Something we could quickly throw in our trailer if a storm came along and we needed to pack up camp, something that wasn’t too bulky or too fragile and could handle being jostled around with the rest of our gear while we towed our tiny home over mountains and back roads.

solavore_logoSynchronistically, right around that time I received an email from a representative at Solavore, a Minneapolis-based company that manufactures Solavore Sport Ovens, asking if I’d be interested in testing out and reviewing one of their solar ovens. I was initially a bit hesitant because marketing and product promotion of consumer goods run contrary to my belief in living a low-impact lifestyle, and I have very high standards for the companies I do support (for more info on this, see the new report “25 Enterprises that Build Resilience”).

But after doing a bit of research on Solavore and learning that it’s a small, women-owned business; conscious of how its product is produced, packaged, and shipped; striving to become a Certified B-Corps; and selling a product that has an important role to play in building a low-carbon future, I decided to give it a try.

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Solavore project in Kenya

Another great thing about Solavore is that the company works with local entrepreneurs  to increase access to solar cookers in Kenya, Cambodia, and India, areas where cooking over open fires is a major health and environmental concern  and is linked to serious respiratory problems as well as deforestation and even low status of women (girls often have to miss school to collect firewood).

This article is Part 2 in a 4-part series: Adventures in Off-the-Grid Cooking with a Solar Oven. The rest of the series is linked below:

Part 1: Why Go Solar?

Part 3: Cooking with the Solavore Sport Oven

Part 4: Recipes & Tips for Solar Cooking