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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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How Do You Participate In Your Community?

by Clifbar&co on Flickr


It has been a while since we’ve discussed community building!  I think it’s an extremely important part of living sustainably, and there are lots of different ways to do it.


Why Participate in Your Community?


  1. To help make your community what you want it to be.
  2. To build a support network in case of a family, town, or national emergency.
  3. To learn from your neighbors.
  4. To borrow and barter rather than pay for new things.
  5. To support your local economy and infrastructure, and make it more self-reliant.
  6. To know where your food, clothing, and supplies come from.
  7. To make our schools, homes, and governments stronger.
  8. To better enjoy our lives by surrounding ourselves with people and ideas that we enjoy.
  9. To help set its course so that you and your children will live in a place you enjoy living in.


How Do You Build Your Community?


I’ve listed a number of ways here, but essentially you find your niche and go for it.  What do you like to do?  Then go find some other people who like to do it too!  What do you need that you can’t (or don’t want to) make yourself?  Find someone in your community who makes it!  Something not working right in your community?  Figure out how to make it right and then make that happen!  Children’s school need a new roof?  Get together with other parents and raise the money, or build it yourself!


I’ve written about how to start forming a group, so if you can’t find the group you’re looking for please read that post.


What Ways Do You Participate In Your Community?


You all have seen and read several of the ways I participate in my community – from planting roundabouts and buying local food at home, to supporting local infrastructure and bartering with local businesses at work.

I would love to know what you do!  How do you find ways to participate in your community?   What kinds of things do you enjoy?  Please give us all some ideas for ways we can engage more!

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9 comments to How Do You Participate In Your Community?

  • Sophie

    I think that bartering within your community is such a good idea. There is a great site called where you can barter all your goods, but the good thing about this site is that it allows you to search locally, so you can see if anyone in your area has something you are looking for. Plus it will automatically match your wants with other peoples haves.

  • I volunteer my time teaching computer skills at the local retirement home. I give away my extra produce to anyone that wants it. I also try to support local entrepreneurs whenever I can. I do it help others, to network with people for business and to have a support network in case the worst happens.

  • Your list of ways to live locally is great, and most become easier if you can make the jump to completely getting rid of your car. I know this is an extreme step for many families (though within closer reach for many than they realize), but if you can pull it off, suddenly the local stores are also the easiest to get to so you shop there. You know all your neighbors because you see them every day while you are out and about. Without an easy driving option, it makes sense to find a religious community in your own neighborhood instead of driving to one that might seem a little bit preferable. Come to find out that it’s a wonderful community, and as a bonus, it’s filled with people who live close by, who can then become a true support network, not just folks you see every now and then at services. You invest energy in your local school to improve it, instead of driving across town to one that might be marginally better.

    When the path of least resistance keeps you close to home because you can’t easily hop in a car and go elsewhere, suddenly living locally isn’t a choice you have to make every day, it’s just the way you live.

    We didn’t transition to a carfree life for any big ideological reason, either environmental or to focus on local living. Our motivations were primarily financial. But now that we’re living this way, we don’t want to go back.

  • I run a group called Preserving Traditions, which teaches people how to can, pickle, bake, and otherwise preserve and cook food. We are also building a kitchen full of tools group members can use – the bigger items that you only need a couple times a year but that make a huge difference, like a pressure canner and kraut slicer.

    I also like Google Maps as a tool. You can create maps of community resources that anyone can add to. Two that I’ve got going right now are “feral” fruit trees (untended fruit trees on public or commercial land) and a map of people who are interested in getting to know their neighbors. There’s a great neighborhood breakfast in our town, and while I always find great conversations when I’m at the breakfast, I don’t know who attends that might live near me. So we’re starting a map where people can share their contact info and interests – and we can learn who our like-minded neighbors are without those awkward “cold calls.”

  • becky

    i didn’t respond earlier because i feel my list of actions would be rather miniscule. but for the record, here they are. in my own immediate neighborhood i regularly exchange foods with a neighbor-fresh veggies from my csa box, fresh baked cookies/cakes/bread, new recipes we’ve experimented with. it’s fun and it keeps me interested in cooking. we aren’t on the same page politically AT ALL so it’s a good stretch for my heart and mind sometimes too- i.e. we don’t have to think alike to love alike, because we do value many of the same things-good fresh food, family, a do it yourself-keep it simple mindset and love of nature. also, my husband and i walk every day and have gotten to know many of our neighbors (at least their first names) so we exchange friendly hellos or stop for a quick chat. it seems like a small thing but it builds connections.

    in my community i’ve started volunteering one morning a week at the library. they really need the help with budget cutbacks and more patronage than ever with the weakened economy.

    also, i volunteer at a local environmental education center- i’ve participated as a server at some of their fundraisers and planted transplants for a prairie restoration. also, i formed and lead a “green book club” which meets once a month at this center.

    last year i joined a local csa. after just a few months this turned into a part-time job for me as a driver on one of their delivery routes. it also led to local, fresh, free range eggs! and just last week resulted in an invitation to join a food co-op which i enthusiastically accepted!

    i have hopes for so much more and i often get frustrated with the slow nature of progress- both my own personal progress and then the progress of groups. my head and heart keeps thinking of derrick jensen’s mantra, “this culture is killing the planet.” here’s the quote from What We Leave Behind- “All of the fancy talk of sustainability-by us and others-is just dancing around the central issue: this culture is killing the planet. this culture is killing the planet. this culture is killing the planet. this culture is killing the planet. if we repeat this enough times, perhaps we will start to comprehend even the tiniest terrifying bit of what this means, and we will begin to act as if any of this matters to us.” this mantra has led to some recent new growth for me. it’s given me a little more courage in articulating my reasons for some small action- like refusing a plastic straw. i can write letters to editors, it’s the face to face confrontation from which i tend to shrink. i used to think it was okay if i just quietly walked a different path. so i guess this is the next slow, small step for me personally- speaking up more often. i try to keep my own slow but steady evolution in mind when i want to rush along the little projects with which i’m involved.

  • becky

    Dorea, i related strongly to your comment about the community building aspects of a car-free lifestyle. we were a car-lite family for over a year. it contributed in a huge way to a new perspective on my community.

    and Emily, thank you for the link to your Preserving Traditions website. i’ll start reading and learning from your great project and hard work. this is exactly what i’ve been looking for locally and not finding! so now i’m on the look out for potential co-leaders to pull it together to make it happen.

  • I think the one thing that all of us can do, no matter how busy or what other things we’ve got going on in our lives is to not be quiet about what we are doing and why. I totally agree with Dorea and Becky about living without a car. Maybe because it is still such a shocking thing to Americans (especially on the West coast), but it always creates conversation when I say I don’t own a car. And sitting on the bus knitting or with my basket of goodies from the farmers market always creates conversations there. I go to the farmers market every week, one of my favorite community building activities.

    One thing I’ve had to work out for myself is to not feel guilty that I don’t join groups, I don’t volunteer on a regular basis. I will when it doesn’t take me 11 to 12 hours to get to work, be at work and get back home five days a week. I do have an occupation that involves community building and work for a business that is locally owned, so I think I’ve got that piece in my life.

  • Trish The promised land

    I volunteer my time at my son’s school garden. We have a 1/4 acre of organic vegetable gardens. Each class has their own bed, and they decide what they would like to grow through out the seasons. We have monthly farmers markets in our garden and have the children harvest and sell the produce to our school community. The kids learn seed to table, entrepreneurship, community building, and eating healthy. Whole foods market sponsors our farmers market and provides baked goods. Any left overs from our sale go to the second harvest food bank.

  • [...] Link to another garden blog I just discovered: 1greengeneration that supports local community building and organic [...]

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