Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Realities of Renewable Energy

The power system in our house is very modestly sized. Before leaving Berkeley we went around the house with a clipboard and took notes on how many watts for how much time each appliance we were taking with us used. We bought a small system, knowing that we would have to economize power-wise when cloudy weather prevailed.

This is one of those times. We are still building the Mercantile, and the power that we have is being prioritized for power tools used in construction.

The sun is scheduled to come back out on Sunday (hmmmm, how appropriate!) and I'll have more to post then.

Internet use aside, this is a lovely opportunity to catch up on reading, hanging out with friends, and sitting by the fire with a nice cup of Peace Coffee. Yum.

And just in case you're worried, the Mercantile's power system will be much larger, to accommodate the number of guests we expect to have at any one time.

Have a great day!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shop Locally, Save Your Community

This post is an entry in the November APLS (Affluent People Living Sustainably) Carnival hosted by Green Phone Booth. This month's theme is "Buying Local." There are some fantastic posts there - check it out! But first, here's mine:
Until June of 1999, I lived in Berkeley, California. It was a pretty blissful existence – my husband (who I met in 1993 while leading a Sierra Club backpacking trip) and I sold our car in 1995. From then on, we did everything by bike. Equipped with a BOB Trailer . We did all of our shopping, and even took our voluminous laundry to the laundromat. In Berkeley it was all so easy – it was (geographically) pretty flat, and there was an abundant variety of stores from which to choose. Monterey Market, a mere four blocks from our house, always had the first organic strawberries of the season. Next door was a bakery and a fish market. Further a field were other stores and farmer’s markets, and BART was usually bike accessible (although not particularly bike friendly).

But buying locally came easy. There was a long established local hardware store and a lumber yard, both within cycling distance. I was thrilled when my employer, Clif Bar, moved two blocks away from where we were living. Kurt worked up at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, which was up in the hills. He had amazing thighs from his commute.

But Utopia it was not, at least for us. Yearning for a life that was a bit less crazy (we still had those serious jobs, after all - paying rent in the Bay Area is no joke!) we began to look for other options. We loved the idea of cohousing - we really wanted to know our neighbors, to be involved, and be part of a community. But it came down to real estate – we had found a lovely place to live, but would have to leave it all day in order to pay for it. Not the solution for us.

When Kurt found Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage on the web, I was rather skeptical. For one thing, I was a California-born snob, and really didn’t know where Missouri even was. But we came to visit in the freezing cold February of 1999 and fell in love. Not with the physical landscape – there wasn’t much here then, just an old beater farm, with two barely-begun strawbale buildings. But we loved the idea, and the thoughtfulness and integrity with which the community had been designed. We went home, had a few yard sales, informed my (horrified) parents, and moved to the rural Midwest.

Having only been here the one time, I fully expected to find the mythical farmland I had seen on TV and in movies. You know: chickens in the yard, mom inside baking bread, a family cow to be milked twice a day, healthy food straight from the garden. Cute small towns around a town square, July 4th parades, hokey events and tractor pulls. Was I in for a surprise!

Mom was working full-time in town, so there were no chickens, or cows, or gardens. Dad was often driving a truck when he wasn’t farming corn or soy beans, in order to make ends meet. And every single small town was dying. Every. Single. One. All around the Midwest once-thriving town squares were filled with boarded up shops and restaurants. Many people did not shop locally – they preferred to drive an hour to go to WalMart and Home Depot, where they “could save some money.” And without this local support, small local stores continued to struggle.

I'll bet you don't have tractors in YOUR local parades!

I became intensely aware of how important my few dollars were. We began patronizing Hopkins Lumber, the local lumberyard. It has proven to be an absolute delight. Aaron and Bekka go out of their way to provide stellar customer service – drive supplies out here when we’re in a rush, and even share their favorite recipes. Jack and Darlene, their parents, are equally supportive. We’ve found that if they don’t carry something, they can usually order it. And while it is not always the cheapest option, we would be devastated if they were to close. So we do our part to support them, and they support us in turn. The local butcher (not many of those left!) is a great resource. And we can get HUGE bags of bones for the dogs for a mere 50 cents.

Three miles away, Zimmerman’s, a Mennonite-run general store, lets members of Dancing Rabbit order through the Natural Foods Wholesaler that they use. They charge us only an additional 5% (above wholesale), which is a fantastic deal. It has been wonderful to get to know this previously impenetrable community – there is a lot of mutual affection and respect between us, and we have found that we have more in common than we ever suspected.

The ladies who work in the local “men’s store” have been there for at least 30 years. They can tell you your jeans size better then you can, and lead you around by the hand as you shop. They write the sales tickets out by hand – no fancy schmancy computers here – and remember what project you’re working on, what boots you bought last year, and what kind of tomatoes you planted. There’s really something special going on.

Deny Clatt, who was just elected to local office, his daughter Abby (who takes fiddle lessons at DR from Tamar) and Danette, who runs the local florist shop, and is Aunt to Aaron and Bekka at Hopkins Lumber. Tiny world, eh?

Long story short: shop locally. Let me say that again: shop locally. Big box stores don’t care about you. They may talk a good game, but they’re not going to come to your son’s baseball game, or extend you credit when you get laid off. They don’t know your dog’s name, and don’t care if your community survives or not. The local banker, clothing store, grocery store and butcher are all invested in the success of YOU, and of your community. This is what we were searching for in Berkeley – a sense of belonging, of being able to make a difference. It is one of the things we cherish most about being here.

I am not suggesting that you move to the rural Midwest (in fact, those of you in cities: please go have a really good Indian or Chinese meal and know that I'll be drooling in absentia), or an ecovillage. I just wanted to share my experience, and to let you know that where ever you live you CAN make a difference. I encourage you to find your own locally owned businesses and patronize them. I promise you will receive extraordinary service, and that your lives will be richer for the experience!