The Neighborhood

I grew up in a suburban neighborhood about 20 minutes from San Francisco. It was one of those picture perfect communities with many group amenities tennis courts a swimming pool even a meeting house. The meeting house was rarely used. Maybe the Homeowner’s Association met there to compose their demands upon the people who lived near them. I don’t know.

When we were younger the neighborhood kids traveled in packs. It was a safe place. Idyllic even as it could only have been through a child’s eyes. We roamed and battled. We built a half pipe out of ply wood and spend 3 summers wrecking ourselves on it. But, as we got older it changed. Families seemed to move inside. The personal computer came along. We stopped hanging out all day. Concerns about going to college took over … and most of us got a hand me down car. We were Californians after all. Driving was our birthright and we were all keen to hit the open road.

My memories of the neighborhood later were of letters of complaint from the HOA or a neighbor over this violation or that kvetch. Home prices in CA at that time were going nowhere but up and people had their minds on their money. It seemed to be piling up – if only everyone could keep their homes perfect we’d all be rich!

Money changes everything. Or maybe cars change everything. Either way – when our happy band of little savages grew up all the magic of that place disappeared.

It wasn’t until I moved to a predominately Caribbean American neighborhood in Brooklyn, thirty years later that I felt what a real neighborhood felt like again. Maybe younger families are key and families that stay close to grandparents… This neighborhood was coming up and being gentrified. This dynamic pissed some people off but others saw it as an opportunity to finally sell and move to a sunny place. I hoped they wouldn’t. That sunny place was empty and cold in spite of all the sun.

In that neighborhood there are folks that have live in the same apartment for generations. If you have a good rent situation in New York, you find a way to keep it in the family. So on that block people had known each other for a very long time. Just like a small town if you were not careful about it everyone on the block knew what was up with you.

I don’t want to idealize the situation because a lot of folks there were poor. But people had networks of mutual trust and help. Folks knew who was good and who was not to be trusted with anything. The streets in the summer were full of kids playing, people BBQing on the steps of their apartment buildings, people asking after each other’s mothers. There were sometimes gunshots, but I felt safer there in a way than I had ever felt in my life, even though I was mostly, an outsider looking in. I was treated as a neighbor, once folks got to know me and I miss it every day.

I now live in a tiny town in the wild west of Eastern Oregon. We go back generations here…I just heard a story of my great great grandpa who had a pet bear that road around with him on the runner boards of his Model T Ford at a funeral for a cousin. We are less than 300 here. Mutuality thrives through informal networks of assistance that also go back generations. My mother has been here 10 years and has so many stories of people just doing for her without request. People here too,  know how to take care of each other. It is what makes life worth living. It gives me buoyancy. It dulls all fears. I am learning every day what it means to be a neighbor.

As we all walk towards the future I think we need to understand that there is no way to thrive under a peak everything scenario without building communities and real neighborhoods. There is no escape to the hills, no thriving without mutuality. Look to your left and look to your right. These are the people who will make you or break you. There is no escape from that. And who would want to?

The fantasy of the solo hero is just that. It is based on ideology not reality. It’s based on a psychological need of the person who engages in it. To me it screams a need for therapy to address some deep parental drama that is unresolved. Your mileage may vary. And I do not intend to insult the rugged individualists among you. I am one and I am learning that it is an internally impoverished way of being.

We are primates, and therefore social creatures. Our gene line is not the baboon but the bonobo. That fact alone should give you some hope. It’s our nature to soothe and to cooperate. But even baboon culture, which was thought to be permanently hierarchical, alpha male dominated and warlike has been shown to develop new communal behaviors which profit and protect all in the band. The key is getting the alpha males to calm down and it’s possible.

For a little more on this – take a look at Standford neurobiologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky’s work.

A Primate’s Memoir – Robert M. Sapolsky

New Normal – A Radio Lab podcast with Prof. Sapolsky on his experience with the changing nature of his troop of baboons.

We cannot separate easily into tiny roving bands. It would be disastrous for us and for the planet if we did. There are simply too many of us. Our thinking has the potential to evolve. We are rapidly waking up to our nature as a primate with an ability to fly out into space and look back at our home, the pale blue dot. Us monkeys have gone to space. Think about that. Just sit with it for a while.

These changes may be a gift if seen as such.
Our task is to look up the block and down the block and see only us.
More of us.
Our ability to thrive depends on it.
The future is a choice.

What choices are you making to make where you live a neighborhood?
Are you focused on your ability to aide others or only to profit in the future?
Do you plan to evolve your thinking or play out an atavistic scenario?
Do you feel responsibility to grow or simply to survive?
Are you thinking ideologically or practically?

Do you have good memories of where you grew up?
Examples of neighborly behavior?

Some sharing resources:
swapmamas.com
sharable.net

and hyperlocavore.com – a yard sharing community.

We are currently crowd funding our next phase of growth. We are happy to report that this model is working very well. We have just three days to cover the last 25% of our pledge drive but we are happy to report mutuality works! (Deadline March 28th at precisely 4:05 PM PDT)

To help with the last 3 days of the crowd funding project click here.

For more about Liz McLellan and Hyperlocavore.com:

Cooking up a Story
Greenopolis
More Minimal

Previous Campfire post:
On Choosing: How a Hyperlocavore Responds to Catastrophe

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. As a woman in tech since I got my first computer in 1981 celebration is mandatory. This post is about my site and community building through technology and low tech combined. I am of the opinion that balance between the virtual and the real is important to our survival. I hope hyperlocavore.com helps you make those connections real.

This is cross posted at TheOilDrum – Please participate in the conversation! We need all voices.

20 Tips for a Successful Yardsharing Group

Yardsharing (or yard sharing, garden sharing, land sharing or roof sharing) is a new idea and a new way to develop community resilience. Set to be a huge trend in 2010, people are looking for ways to save money, eat better and get their kids active again.

Yard sharing has a long list of advantages. Let’s assume you are already sold on the idea and you looking to get started. How do you begin it in a way that makes your success much more likely?

Creating community where you are will help you weather tough times but, community doesn’t just fall into place on it’s own. Real community building needs to start with clear intention, anticipation of issues and, especially with a garden, some basic planning.

How do you build a group that gets along?

  1. Pick you growing partners with the same attention you would any relationship but, know it only has to last a season if it turns out you haven’t found the right mix of folks.
  2. Start with a party not with a meeting.
  3. For a long-term group have seasonal parties to mark the year. Planning party on the winter solstice and harvest party in September.
  4. Gather resources you already have. Create a garden book share to start.
  5. Set realistic boundaries (garden hours, rules for broken items, distribution of produce)
  6. Involve all ages.
  7. Remember novice gardeners don’t always have immediate bountiful success.
  8. Take bad weather in stride. Some seasons are just bad.
  9. Set up a kitty for garden expenses and put a cap on it.(Some folks can really get crazy with those catalogs!)
  10. There’s no need to spend lots of money to get started. Don’t make it expensive to “buy in”
  11. Take a ‘resourcefulness vow.’ Have all members agree to try to solve issues the least expensive most resourceful way.
  12. Make it possible for people to exchange hours for financial commitment.
  13. Know that critters will occasionally get to things.
  14. Conflict is inevitable. Anticipate it and resolve it openly!
  15. Respect people’s time and property.
  16. Be ready to let someone know when it’s not working for you. Don’t blame ‘yard sharing.’
  17. Be fair. Share failure and triumph.
  18. If you are the landowner don’t treat people like “hired help.” They are your partners.
  19. Agree on growing methods and principles before breaking ground.
  20. If you have concerns about liability issues get a copy of The Sharing Solution by Nolo Press.


Shop Indie Bookstores

And a bonus!

Remember why you are doing it and enjoy every second of eating the scrumptious bounty from your efforts!

Join hyperlocavore today – We are here to help you get started with yard sharing, neighborhood produce exchanges, seed sharing and, much more!

We have some more tips and fliers you can download on the site to help get your communities growing together!

On Choosing – A Hyperlocavore Responds to Catastrophe

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has
genius, power and magic in it!”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Please note: a discussion with the community at ongoing on The Oil Drum in their Campfire section. Please participate.

One of the most useful things I have ever learned in my life is that the most effective way to deal with worry and anxiety is to act on those things in your life that you can control, and leave the rest up to the Universe. Some call it the “Serenity Prayer.” Whatever you believe in or do not believe in, knowing just what you can control in your life and what you cannot is the key to your joy. This much I know.

Everyday we are presented with immense, rolling, overlapping catastrophes; environmental devastation, [swineflu!?] societal malaise and violence, and running out of the stuff that, we are told, underpins our every creature comfort – oil. All of these things are true. That hand basket you’ve heard so much about, we’re riding in it!

How do we “carry on”, as the Brits used to say? Well, I’m not at all interested in “carrying on” actually. Nose down, joy in check, plodding and miserable. I want to thrive. I was raised with mighty high expectations of what this life can be, and I’m not giving those expectations up. I want to reach the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I want to love and live well. And I want to eat REALLY well. I got used to that in the 1990’s.

Well, first I would like to suggest some humility, for many on the planet, this rolling crisis has been their daily experience for as long as they have lived. It is nothing new. Check in with yourself. What are you grateful for? What have you been given in life by your community, your family, your beloveds, your friends and your neighbors, by this Earth? You can read this. There must be someone who taught you to read. Take a moment. Sit with your gratitude.

That’s where I began when I starting building hyperlocavore.com – a free yard sharing community, sitting with my gratitude. I had just been laid off. It was April. I had been a tech strategy person at a 35 year old sustainability non-profit that had been fighting the good fight as long as I had been on the planet. I took an inventory…

OK. Stop.

Honestly? I can’t lie. First, I felt terror. Then, blind rage with a dollop of total panic. Boiling blood, fist shaking, laying curses on all who had done me wrong – all that. That lasted for a few months, if I tell the truth. Then there was a substantial period of pouting and just feeling so sad for myself, my poor pitiful sorry self. I bore easily. And I got bored with myself behaving that way, pretty quickly.

When I moved on, it was via gratitude. Sitting with and contemplating all that I was and am grateful for, after all the crying, bargaining and bemoaning had subsided. What did I have, well, besides the sweatpants I had been wearing for a few weeks? I am literate and reasonably intelligent, if broke. I have knowledge that people can band together and build amazing fantastical giant things, cities even, because I’ve been part of a community that does that every year now for much more than a decade. I speak of the Burning Man festival and year round astounding creative beautiful community made of doers. I believe I write well enough.

And I have a good idea that has been bugging me since I was about 5. I used to look at the inside of city blocks in San Francisco and wonder, why the heck were the yards all fenced off, in the middle and mostly unused. Why not, I thought way back then, tear those fences down and build a garden full of fruit trees, nut trees and veggie patches? Why don’t people grow food there?

I am grateful that I grew up in the Silicon Valley, a place that fed my voracious curiosity and kept me tinkering. I am grateful for growing up in the Bay Area, a place absolutely crammed with practical minded revolutionaries and doing daring dreamers. The rest of the country seems to think the only thing we gave them was tie-dye and 4 foot bongs, but they would be mistaken. The Bay Area is a place that teaches everyone “Why Not?” A society of people that does not let you just talk about a good idea without telling you, in chorus, to “DO IT!” It is tough to get away with a lot moaning and jaw flapping in a place like that.

Yard sharing is all about being grateful for what you have, not anxious about what you don’t. It’s about responding practically to chaos, to the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. Never in all my life did I think I would quote Donald Rumsfeld but, there you are. These are strange days, indeed!

You do know these things for sure. You know you need healthy food and you know you need it cheap. So do all your friends and neighbors, the members of your faith communities, so does your slacker posse. So does your family. Doing for yourself, deepening your food security and your community resilience is the most direct thing you can do to bring your rational and general anxiety down to a manageable size. Sit down to a meal that you grew yourself from seeds which you saved, bread you baked, eggs you gathered, and you will know in your bones that you and yours will be alright.

We get new people signing up to the social network every single day, practical people looking to get down to business. I built the site because a lot of us don’t have all resources or skills we need to grow our own. Some of us lack time, some lack space, some have physical limitations, or lack certain tools. Some have so little experience growing things that the task seems overwhelming. Where do we start? All of these issues can be minimized in a well gathered and tended yard sharing group, a healthy community.

Some folks are linking up yards and creating mini suburban farm/CSAs, like Kipp Nash in Boulder, Colorado. Each family gets a weekly box of the freshest produce and the rest he sells at the farmers market. If this looks like the job for you, come on by the site and find some farm clients and yards to tend! Kipp’s got eight yards he is farming. Will you ever look at a lawn again in the same way? When I see a sad lone Honey-Doer on a loud riding mower all I see is wasted space, wasted water and meaningless work.

Look at the world with this skew and green thumbs will appear and share the secrets of plant whispering, food waste will be gathered from multiple households and make a formidable sweet smelling compost pile. Friends will band together to buy 3 year old apple trees, for a lifetime of apples. Abuelitas will pass on magic recipes and kids will coax worms to party in warm living soil. Their curiosity will catch fire! Streets will become neighborhoods, neighbors will become friends. No one will feel alone, frozen or powerless, because no one will be alone, frozen or powerless. Potlucks will abound! All will eat better.

This is the future we see, we hyperlocavores. We know it’s coming, because we’re building it right now. Who has time to fret? Pass the cornbread and fresh salsa. Look someone brought the boom box! Start building, now.

Our great, great grandparents used to have victory gardens but, they also had rent parties. Londoners danced in underground tunnels as fire came down from the sky. They stayed put. They raised rent, barns and kids together. They didn’t just survive, many of them thrived. I hope we will all use this compound crisis as a reminder that the hard times are very often the very best of times. Take note of what you have, be grateful for your loved ones. Take note of those around you who may feel alone. They are not and you are not, alone.

We, each of us every moment of the day, will choose our responses to what’s happening. Some will choose to go numb, watch more TV, play more video games, surf mindlessly. Some will chose hate, rage, to nurse grievances or will choose take their pain out on the people around them, in most cases it will be the people they love most in this world. Look around. Is that what you want for your beloveds?

Will you choose another day of fear, of distrust, anger or powerlessness, of envy, isolation …complaining or will you choose the plentiful garden, the neighborhood, real community, real food and pleasure?

Yes.
Pleasure.

“There’s only two things that money can’t buy,
That’s true love and homegrown
tomatoes
!”

– Guy Clark

I would add ‘real community’ to that list of things money can’t buy.

I choose real community, dancing in the chaos, pleasure, delectable
food and the edible and musical neighborhood.

Happy Digging!
LizM – connector/maker/digger
twitter me @hyperlocavore


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Creative Commons License
On Choosing – A Hyperlocavore Responds to
Catastrophe by Liz McLellan is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
License
.
Based on a work at hyperlocavore.wordpress.com.