I know that we who have participated in Siempre Sustainable Network for the past two years and some months will continue to work on various fronts to move local and global community toward quality life for all. But as Romelia Escamilla and Jose Antonio Conteras et al. demonstrated through guided participatory activities in our last meeting, it could also be helpful if our Siempre Sustainable Network would strategically plan in a more formal and structured fashion toward sustainable livelihoods for all, and for resilient and sustainable community.
Some Background. When I graduated from high school in 1964* the world had half as many folk and transformed for human use less than a third of the energy it does now. Back then I began to dream of returning to and helping to sustain much of the culture, the Land and Nature which formed me and provided quality life for me, my family and much of the rural community in which I was raised. And over time I came to appreciate that many of the conservation practices and the relatively low-input behaviors of my family and village, were indeed important components of sustainability.
Then about 20 years ago, in several publications, including The American Journal of Alternative Agriculture [“Sustainable agriculture: A process at the community level.” AJAA 6(1):2], I and others opined (after review of some of the literature, and from our previous research and experiences in community) that the some of the basic and essential features for a process of sustainable and resilient community include:
1. review of community history and development to identify roots of sustainability in community,
2. assessment of natural and human resources, and quality of life,
3. definition of a community’s geographic, societal, and ecological boundaries with consideration for migratory trends of populations,
4. team building and leadership development for all sectors,
5. goal-setting, policy, action plan development,
6. testing management tactics,
7. financing strategic and tactical actions,
8. measuring for resilience and sustainability; analyzing, evaluating, and replanning, and
9. quality continuing education.
Basically I personally hoped that such a process would move local and global community toward conservation and reduced consumption and exploitation, and toward a quality life for all—including the current poor, and other species--through truly living lighter on the Land and in concert with Nature.
As far as development of Siempre Sustainable Network is concerned, we tentatively developed a vision/mission statement, goals and strategies in our initial meetings (Fall/Winter 2007).
Because the critical mass of folk involved, commitment, resources and human energy involved was (and still is) fragile, we decided to focus on continuing education, dialogue concerning sustainability, and dissemination of information related to developing sustainable livelihoods and resilient and sustainable community. We did also take some visible (and I think important) action toward realizing food systems which are more local, including community gardens.
Siempre Sustainable Network naturally became involved in other community activities as an interested party, as a listener, as a facilitator, and as a partner—i.e., in ways in which a relatively informal network/net-workers is/are all about. We’ve been involved in a limited way with the activities of a number of other organizations or groups who are learning to be more and more “sustainable”: e.g., on the Earth Day committee and in actual Earth Day activities, in formulating the recent Comprehensive Master Plan for the City of Seguin, in providing food for the Christian Cupboard, and in some of the efforts of helping local farmers—including organic farmers and limited assistance with the local farmers market--and helping churches, service organizations and Texas Lutheran University, move toward sustainability.
Cutting to the Chase. I believe we should continue as Siempre Sustainable Network to have the regular information meetings we have been having--in more or less the same fashion. However, we definitely do need to have a process which will enable regular participants and the larger community to more easily and actively participate in the selection of topics. (Our Siempre acting chair, Marvel Maddox, recently suggested that some of the key ideas from the participatory/pre-goal-setting/strategic planning session facilitated at our December 2009 meeting could be helpful in identifying general topic areas for our regular meetings.)
It is difficult/”impossible” to do the community garden projects/initiative in a perfectly “right way”, and to really make the process sustainable in a more holistic way, and particularly to truly involve those in most need as active participants in every way—i.e. in:
- educating about local food systems and sustainable livelihoods/community,
- developing rules and regulations and signage,
- long and short-term planning, developing the organizational structure, plot/raised bed layout and management, and selecting annual and perennial crops,
- land-prep, composting/fertilizing, setting up efficient water catchment and irrigation-systems, - planting, mulching, maintenance, and
- harvest, processing, and food-prep.
Nevertheless, I strongly believe we should maintain and develop this very visible community gardens-effort, even if it is a long way from being perfect.
Early on folk who were attending our Siempre Sustainable Network were anxious to take local or global action, become advocates for a particular cause, or more specifically to get involved in specific actions such as:
- reduction of waste/trash/pollution generation, and improvement of reuse, recycling efforts in Seguin and environs,
- dealing with the local utility rate structures such that such policy actions realized conservation and supported the poor in getting ahead,
- protecting native biotic communities,
- developing a Master Naturalist program,
- getting more involved with the Guadalupe Co. AgriLife and Extension activities,
- volunteering at the Seguin Outdoor Learning center,
- promoting appropriate “Green” technologies and practices,
- encouraging water conservation including rain-water catchment systems,
- helping with the Walnut Branch restoration project,
- continuing with goal-setting and strategic-planning toward sustainable livelihoods and resilient and sustainable community,
- working on food justice issues and organic agriculture,
- appropriate day care for individuals of various needy families in community,
- working toward peace and abolishing war,
- enabling the poor, powerless, disenfranchised to be the primary and initial benefactors of various efforts toward sustainable livelihoods and sustainable community,
- revamping local public school systems,
- becoming more connected and even formally associated with some really good national and international organizations doing what we are trying to do,
- taking a real activist role in addressing global climate change policy at the national and international level, and actively working for carbon taxes, etc., and/or
- realizing a truly holistic appraisal of the current and dynamic state of local counties, community/watershed/bioregion/ecosystem/… and establishing sustainability indicators and benchmarks, etc..
It is obvious that all these individual concerns and desired actions are all very important to address as local and global community if we are to move toward sustainable livelihoods in sustainable community.
However, primarily because we are few in number, and since our interests in the arena of sustainability do vary considerably and we are simply a relatively informal network-- I would suggest that at this time we continue our present principle efforts, i.e. monthly presentations and discussion and participation in other educational opportunities, and work on community gardens while doing some continuing strategic planning on occasions other than our regular monthly meetings. (Of course we would continue to have limited additional participation with other key organizations which have a real interest in developing quality life for community in a role as communicator and facilitator--i.e., net-worker--toward sustainability.)
These activities would be continued under our title as Siempre Sustainable Network--and in close collaboration with Mosaic Community Church, My Father’s Farm and TLU’s Center for Servant Leadership, as well as with collaborations with other interested community entities. (This isn’t really a proposal which originated from me, but was also more or less proposed by others, and seemed to have some consensus in our last meeting.)
Even though we do share a common vision, we have individual passions for realizing varied components of sustainability. And even though we have had over 100 folk from the larger community attend selected Siempre meetings, our core group of regular participants is relatively small and we should perhaps be careful about adding additional Siempre initiatives.
Despite my stressing the need to discipline ourselves from taking on too much, we might consider setting up the following task forces/committees (standing, working, ad hoc; active or inactive) which can be taken on and utilized by various participants of Siempre as an interest becomes strong enough to support an adequate number of members:
o Siempre’s Strategic Planning Effort—(If we decide we have the appropriate “critical mass” and desire, etc., at some time in the future we might even establish a governing board and advisory board through this effort and become more formally organized and structured.)
o “Siempre in Action” Task Forces—Should there be enough folk with adequate desire and energy interested in the particular action item, “this task force” would obviously be realized as “various task forces,/committees” including for example those on:
--Reducing, Reusing, Recycling
--Utility Rate Restructuring (and other City/County
Sustainability-Initiatives to Help the Poor Realize Quality Life),
--Stimulus-Package Funding of Retrofitting Homes (of the Poor
for Energy Conservation/Family Budget Assistance),
--Root Causes of Local Substance Abuse (and How Might this be
o Siempre’s Master Naturalist Committee
o Siempre’s Sustainable Livelihoods Committee
o Siempre’s Global Climate Change Committee
Finally, I personally am going to try to spend more time developing the following areas of personal interest:
- I may take some courses as well as teach at (an) education institution(s) in attempts to move these institutions toward sustainability across the curriculum.
- My desire is to continue to develop an idea for a small charter middle "school of sustainable livelihoods and sustainable community".
- I hope to more effectively connect with leaders working on what I consider to be key sustainability issues around the U.S. and the world.
- After my wife Betsy retires, we’ll further discuss the possibility/feasibility/possible positive impact of doing some Peace Corps-type volunteering. …
Certainly I realize there are numerous folk with their own local-, national- and global-sustainability “irons in the fire”. … Should the opportunities and desires come about, these dreams and efforts of all of ours might possibly become a formal part of Siempre Sustainable Network’s efforts in the near or distant future.
The fragility of what we are trying to do through Siempre Sustainable Network is that it is hard to get one’s mind, energy, and especially the community to which we belong around a concept and process that is socio-economically, politically (culturally) and holistically/ecologically very complex in the deepest and largest sense. The whole of the sustainability process is mind-boggling because it is at the same time local and global, and involves us all, including other species … as well as the mineral and water cycles and the energy flux/transformations on which we depend in a much interconnected way. And it is tough to deal with because it bucks up against much of what has recently become such an integral part of conventional human socio-political/economic structures, i.e.:
- excessive consumption and consumerism,
- the perceived need for: more (processed) food/food supplements; larger homes, more clothes, and more toys; superfluous packaging; automobiles; high-input entertainment disconnected with local community; air-conditioning; increased human transformation of energy; and general rampant “artificialization of ‘Nature’”,
- virtual realities which are largely disconnected from the real processes of Land and Nature on which quality life depends,
- loss of sense of place and community … and loss of balance of power locally and globally,
- problems of listening in an informed and intelligent manner and truly communicating, and
- related problems in a world of ca. 7 billion with ca. one billion who have more than ever before and who largely put up walls to--at least "virtually”--eliminate the billion who are have less than ever before and who are truly struggling to survive.
The strength of our effort is that somewhere in back of the minds of individuals in community, or in the collective mindset of the community, there is knowledge that our current system is truly non-resilient and unsustainable--and that we need radical change. Of course the current global economic challenges, security concerns, continuing terror/war, tea parties, shouting matches at town meetings indicate that need for radical change is at the forefront of some folks minds because of a doomed process currently being employed in the world which is wrongfully intent on:
- conquering Nature,
- unsustainably exploiting the Land,
- excessively consuming, and
- ignoring the need for human population regulation.
(Our desire through Siempre Sustainable Network is to begin to locally and globally change a system which is exploitive of the have-nots, powerless, and de facto or ex facto disenfranchised—including other species—and to lessen our individual and collective ecological footprint and energy transformation.)
[By the way, there are many attempts at holistically achieving local and global sustainable livelihoods & community which are more or less functioning, from which we can learn and use in developing Siempre Sustainable Network, e.g.:
-- Ogallala Commons and its 12 Commonwealths http://quiviracoalition.org/.../1648-Commonwealths_as_Foundations_of_Resilience_Presentation.pdf
-- Holistic Management International, Inc. and its decision-making model/process http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/holistic.pdf
-- Social Ecology Work of Stuart Hill in Australia www.stuartbhill.com/
-- Social Ecology Research of Helmut Haberl, Univ. Vienna and his historical ecological footprinting and “input/throughtput/output”-comparative analysis of material flow and energy flux in systems www.uni-klu.ac.at/socec/inhalt/803.htm
-- The policy work of the Center for Rural Affairs www.cfra.org/
-- Natural farming/perennial cropping systems work of The Land Institute www.ifad.org/sla/
-- The Quivira Coalition www.quiviracoalition.org/
-- ATTRA http://attra.ncat.org/
-- Etc., etc., etc.]
*This year—if I make ‘til November—I’ll be 64!
“Doing the [community] garden[s], digging the weeds. Who could ask for more? …
We shall scrimp and save.
[3+] Grandchildren on your knee. …
Will you still need me, will you still feed me? When I'm sixty-four?”