Tag Archives: sharing

Being Part of a Transition Group

Beginning the Transition Journey

When my husband and I sat down at a coffee shop in 2010 to talk with two other people about starting a Transition group, I would not have imagined all of the things I would learn and do over the next 7 years. Transition Longfellow has been an expansive experience.

I tell people Transition is a way of thinking and a direction, as well as a local and global grassroots movement. That sounds pretty high falutin. What does it really mean?

Transition Gives Us Back our Self Determination

Every day we make innumerable decisions that individually and collectively have an impact on our world. Our culture pushes us to make those decisions based on what we “want” and  what we “deserve.” And our consumer society is set up to short-circuit our decision-making process by making some things easy (turn up the thermostat), convenient (get in the car), and distractingly addictive (Facebook). It makes other (often better) things quite difficult (carpooling) or expensive (solar).

When you dig deeper into the issues Transition looks at – food resilience, cutting carbon, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels – it changes the way you look at your everday decisions. You ask yourself different questions: “What is the carbon footprint or the collective impact of of this decision? Could I do this another way? Do I really need to do this at all?”

You make decisions in a new way.

Transition Provides Direction

One of the first activities Transition groups do is engage their community in a visioning process to identify what a healthy, sustainable future would look like in their area. What  direction do we need and want to go? The answer to that question will be different in different places. It may be water issues in New Mexico and seed sovereignty in India. I heard from a student, who had visited a Transition group in Bolivia, say that improving male-female relationships and overcoming the damaging effects of machismo was one of the first things the group she visited chose to tackle.

In my neighborhood it could be improving mass transit, getting safer bike lanes, helping to get more homes weatherized and insulated, increasing the number of solar installations on rooftops or getting more people signed up for solar gardens, helping people grow more food, or helping people identify and prepare for the effects of climate change.

In my mind, I see all of those “good things” as part of a big river flowing in the direction of a sustainable, healthy future. There are many streams of effort feeding that river and everyone can be part of it. In fact, millions of people are taking hundreds of millions of actions. Even when some governments or some businesses put up a damn to try to divert us, this is one great big roiling river. We are not alone.

Transition Provides a Structure for Personal Exploration

My husband and my involvement in Transition Longfellow has inspired us to try so many new things: from dropping a car, to finding a new home for 1,079 possessions,  creating an edible landscape and learning to preserve our own foods. We’re more interesting people because of it – and we’re also more skilled.

Last fall I got to meet Brianna Harrington and learned about her project, the 15/30 Challenge. I’m so impressed by her efforts to raise awareness of the tragic wastefulness of fast fashion. From the massive diversion of water to grow fiber, to the childhoods and health lost in sweatshops, to the dumping of used clothes on African nations, ruining their clothing industry and impoverishing their culture. Cheap clothes – fast fashion – for us has had devastated effects across the globe. I hope to take her challenge soon – once I learn how to use Instagram to share my efforts :).

Transition Builds the Local Community and Economy

We have met many, many neighbors. Although I’d lived here 23 years, it wasn’t until we started a Transition group that I knew more than a handful of neighbors. I’ve met at least 150 new people and made dozens of real friends. Some of these people became my support system as I took on the task of providing home care for my dying mother. They cared for me as I cared for her.

As we move further into climate change and feel more of its effects on our health and safety, these relationships within commuity will become even more important.

We have found role models all across the metro area who are doing things to reduce their use of fossil fuels and live a more sustainable life. Lee Olson taught us to grow sprouts. Annette taught us to make jam. Bruce and Aggie inspire us to grow big with their huge garden. And our new friend Lisa is helping us think about preparedness.

We have found businesses to take us in the right direction. Ralph Jacobson from Innovative Power Systems and Bruce Stahlberg from Affordable Energy Solutions have helped us reduce our home energy use. The folks at Gandhi Mahal restaurant have demonstrated how a restaurant can source its food hyper-locally, growing its own veggies and fish IN THE CITY! The Tiny Diner has become a hub for learning and growing by offering food-related classes.

That river of Transition needs businesses of all sizes and business professionals in all fields to stop and ask the questions:

  • “What is the carbon footprint or the collective impact of this decision?”
  • “Could we do this another way”
  • “Do we really need to do this at all?”

And when they do, Transition can make those actions visible so we can all support and learn from those efforts. So we can see that we are, in fact, all in this together.

The Third Permaculture Ethic: Fair Share

The third permaculture ethic is Fair Share. It tells us to set limits on what we withdraw from the earth and to redistribute (share) the surplus.

Nature is abundant. Even those environments that seem uninhabitable, when examined closely, are often full of plant and animal life uniquely suited to take what that place has to offer. But those plants and animals don’t take more than the environment can give. They live in a balanced system.

We live in the same system but we’ve been able to ignore natural limits thanks to technology and trade. As we reach global limits of “peak water,” “peak oil” and peak mineral usage, we will no longer be able to over-reach. We must either replenish the system or bring our demands into balance with what nature can actually provide.


I remember how shocked I was when one of my permaculture teachers told our class we should not give away our food but should instead think of composting it. How could he suggest we not share?

Of course, what he really wanted us to look at was the idea of surplus. Did we get that surplus by overtaxing the soil? In a very real way, every bushel of corn and every sunflower seed that leaves our garden is water, soil, nutrients and sun energy leaving this space, depleted it. The sun energy is renewable but what about the other resources? What comes back to rebuild the soil?

For the system to work we need to give and take – and give back.

A Better Model for Sharing

Harvesting apples from the neighbors big apple tree

Harvesting apples from the neighbors big apple tree

For the past couple of years, neighbor Kate has shared the (really massive) surplus of her apple tree with us. We turn bushels of apples into sauce, apple pie filling and apple cider vinegar, and we return a portion of that to her. The tree gave and she took; she gave and we took; we gave back and we used the refuse from our processing of the apples to make compost.

Permaculture is fundamentally about right relationship. As the earth is generous with us, so we are called to be generous too, not by draining ourselves (or our soil) but by sharing when we have a surplus.

Sharing in the Context of a Small Urban Yard

We have 1/10th of an acre and only a small portion of that lot can grow food. Between eating fresh in summer and canning vegetables for winter, we can’t produce enough food for our family (we can’t live exclusively on kale). It doesn’t make sense to think of producing surplus food to give away.

So if we have a goal of sharing, how would that work best?

Turning 10 lbs of chokecherries into lots of jars of jelly

Turning 10 lbs of chokecherries into lots of jars of jelly

  • I always have a lot of cucumbers, which I could exchange with a friend who has a lot of raspberries. Or I could exchange cans of cucumber pickles for her jars of raspberry jam. That way we get the best of all worlds from our two little lots.
  • I like to share plants. I grow a lot of my plants from seed, starting in February. I successfully raised 150 baby tomato plants last May, but only had room for 75 in the garden. I gave the rest of them away, mostly to people who were new to gardening. It was fun to visit their gardens and see my babies thriving.
  • When children come by and admire the garden, I let them taste whatever is ripe that day – ground cherries, borage flowers, pea pods – and I ask if they’d like to take a chive plant home. Chives are expansive. I always have more than I know what to do with. They are easy to grow and look pretty. They do well with little care so a child is almost guaranteed to be successful growing it.
  • I share my knowledge of gardening. I participate in the monthly food gardening discussion that Transition Longfellow hosts on the first Saturday of every month. I volunteer with Chard Your Yard, helping to install raised bed gardens in the yards of folks in my neighborhood. I volunteer as a mentor to new gardeners.
  • And this year I was accepted into the Hennepin County Master Gardener’s program. I’ll be doing 50 hours of community service as a master gardener in exchange for learning with and from some really knowledgeable teachers.

If I had more free time, I could offer to help neighbors who work long hours by watering their plants. Or I could volunteer to weed my elderly neighbor’s vegetable garden because I know how difficult it is for her. Or I could volunteer to help maintain the garden at one of the elementary schools in my neighborhood.

Actually, knowing my limits may be one of the hardest lessons I have to learn from permaculture. See Principle 4: Apply self regulation and accept feedback.

The First Permaculture Ethic: Care For the Earth

vegetable walk

A walkway of cabbage, turnips, chard, amaranth, ground cherries and horseradish

The earth – at least in my beautiful part of the world – is naturally fruitful. Before I knew about permaculture, I spent many years benefitting from earth’s bounty without giving much thought to the fact that what I was doing was making constant withdrawals from its store of nutrients. I thought of fertilizer as something for plants, not as something for the soil.

As I got serious about vegetable gardening, I came to understand that I needed to rebuild the soil. That replenishment couldn’t be an after-thought – “I think I’ll add some fertilizer this year.” The soil needed to come first!

For Love of Compost

Years ago we got one black plastic barrel, put stuff in it, and waited while it did nothing. It was impossible to turn the material over and we didn’t know compost breaks down faster with rain and sun. We tried a different container – still no luck. It got overly full.

Finally we built an open wire and wood, 3-bin composting center. We keep a pitchfork available and my husband turns it regularly. Now we’re cooking – compost, that is!

We add compost into the garden beds every year. We use the worm castings to make worm tea, which is a nutrient-rich addition that can protect and nourish plants.

Hoarding water with mulch

It took me even longer to learn that the best water is what’s in the soil, not what’s in the hose. Now I use straw mulch but if we had a lawn mower with a bag (and enough lawn) I could use grass clippings. Maybe I’ll start asking my neighbors for their grass clippings because sharing the bounty is also one of the ethics of permaculture and I bet they don’t think of their grass clippings as one of the yields they obtain.

Personal Permaculture: The Bigger Picture

With only 1/10th of an urban acre, it’s pretty clear that the greatest impact I have on the planet and its resources is not as a gardener, but as a consumer. Like most Americans, I consume more than my fair share of the world’s natural resources in terms of food, water, minerals and fossil fuels. Every time I buy something, the permaculture ethic of care for the earth asks me to consider whether I really need it.

After all, there’s not much I can do to rebuild the world’s store of iron ore or titanium or tungsten, but if I don’t buy that extra thing, more of those resources stay in the ground. And if I give my usable, previously purchased possession to someone, or share it with friends and neighbors, then someone else doesn’t have to buy it and those resources won’t be needed.

Recycling helps. It puts at least some of these valuable resources back into the stream of production and it keeps them out of the stream of waste, where they may actually be toxic.

But reduce helps more. That should be my goal.