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How Do We Build Our Communities?

My Community


This weekend I am madly rushing toward a deadline on Monday. And Monday I am going out with Matt for our second anniversary! So bear with me through these next couple of days – the posts may be a bit light. In the meantime, though, I want to ask you your thoughts about something….


Community Building. This is something that I believe is very important as we face a volatile economy, agricultural and environmental issues, climate change, peak energy, and a whole host of other issues facing us today and in the future. I believe we must work to make our communities more resilient, more adaptable, and more sustainable. But how do we do it??!! That’s the real question, isn’t it?


Below is what I’ve written from the Building Communities page here – some of you may have already read it, others may not have. I just realized I’d missed Kate’s great comment there, so I guess this is a page I’ve been putting on the backburner a bit myself. But it’s time to revisit it. What I’ve written needs to be expanded (I’m embarrassed by it)! So read what little I have written, if you will, and then let me know what your thoughts are. Maybe together we can make some sense of this next stage. Thank you.


Building Community


The idea of community building is a growing interest of mine. I believe many of us sustainability bloggers are beginning to write and read about this. I suppose the reason for that is very simple. Once you become aware of your impact on the planet’s health, your health, and your children’s futures, you take steps to create a sustainable lifestyle for yourself and your family. And after a year or a few of doing this, of learning ways of living simply, frugally, and sustainably, you begin to realize that you’re happier. And healthier. And you feel good.


And then the realization hits. You’re pretty nearly alone, others around you are not living this same lifestyle. And wait, if others aren’t doing it, how is the planet going to be saved? How are we going to fight climate change, and save that finite amount of oil left on the planet, and live in communities that can adapt to changing economies and weather patterns and … and … and … sigh.


Maybe what we’re doing is not enough. It’s good, but we have to shout out to others to come along with us. We have help them also feel happier and healthier plus save the planet, our children, and our communities in the process. We can’t do it alone!


How do we do that?


I think we start by living locally, and becoming an active part of our communities. And we can work on our family and friends, carefully raising their awareness about issues we care about, showing them how we live our lives and how happy we are.


The blog world here is a great community. We all push one another to do more, go further, learn and grow. And we share resources and even meet with one another in the real world, too. So we learn here, we are pushed here, and then we go out into our neighborhoods and do what we write about!


Each person we affect will affect others, so it multiplies. Slowly but surely, we will change the world. It’s an over-used quote, but one I’m very fond of:


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead


Resources.


Here are a few links to get you started thinking about these ideas.


A Film to Watch.


And a couple of books I’ve read, with more on the way from my local library.


As I said, clearly that is not enough! So how do we build our communities to make them more sustainable and resilient? How do we convince others that we need to change our lifestyles, to redefine normal? And what areas should we work on first? Please also feel free to share anything you’ve read that the rest of us should read.

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18 comments to How Do We Build Our Communities?

  • I’m on staff at a church, and we talk about building community all the time, usually using the term fellowship. Fellowship has two elements: 1.-common experiences and time spent together, like having potlucks, working on projects together, sharing baby-sitting, getting to church a little early so you can chat with people by the coffee pot, etc.
    2.-Deep fellowship, such as small Bible study discussion groups, mentoring relationships, support relationships for those grieving or raising teens or newly married, etc. These are the harder step to take. Without the things on the first list, you have a hard time getting to the second list.
    It seems to me that your first steps are things like meeting neighbors, participating in community groups like PTA, etc., helping with projects in your commuity. Your next steps are purposefully pursuing deeper relationships where you really share your lives on a deeper level. That’s always going to be the harder thing to accompllish. It requires a lot of time, and a willingness to let down your guard and be real with your friends. I sure don’t have the answer, but investing in the people right around you is going to be the most fruitful thing in the long run. When you get to that level, you begin to influence and support each other, and become visible to others as united by your common purpose.

  • I think you are well on your way to building a great community. Down here in B-Town, though I am afraid community is something that is going to have to be learned with people kicking and screaming. Of course, that is if I listen to my mother and her crony’s- all of who go into the next stage of sustainablilty kicking and screaming- then find out it is not so bad. But I must cut them some slack- the have already lived througha stage of forced sustainabilty- WWII. And gas rationing. And sugar rationing. etc. In some ways that is why I get so surprized now, when the older generation isn’t responsive. They have done without before, shouldn’t be surprizing to them that some folks are trying to save whats left! Didn’t mean to get off the subject.

  • Great post! Because of a severe anxiety disorder, I tend to be more on the anti-social side. I also work at a local Church several hours a day and for these few hours, I’m the closest I can get to my community. Even with my small exposure to the people of my community, I feel there is room for improvement.

    Last week, I swallowed some courage and attended the dedication of our town’s newest Habitat for Humanity home. I took some great pictures and then submitted them to the local paper. Since the paper published my pix on Wednesday, I’ve had several phone calls from people in the community asking were to sign up as a HFH volunteer.

    My little effort did spawn some good!

  • Hear, hear, HEAR! This is a very important post.

    Like you, my focus has been on building community lately. Over the past year, I’ve changed my lifestyle, dramatically reduced my footprint. I emerge happier, more grounded but with the realization that reducing my footprint is not enough. It is half the solution.

    Building community is the second half – and the beauty is that it makes it easier to maintain the first half.

    In writing about creating community, I so often encounter people who write that their neighborhoods are not conducive, that no one around them cares about the environment, that most people they encounter are downright unfriendly. We need to get around those perceptions. While I’m sure they are grounded in reality, my experience has been been that there is always some wiggle room. There is always SOMEONE who would be interested. Someone we can connect with.

    The hard thing about building community is that it pushes us out of our comfort zone. It is one thing to hand laundry and ride our bike. We don’t need to talk to anyone, to put ourselves out there. Getting the guts up to take that first step and then the one after that is hard. Bobbi’s comment is great example.

    Also, remember that to build community, the connection does not have to involve the environment. Ultimately, that is the goal but just getting to know neighbors leads to a lot of the stuff that we’ve lost, that can help us when tough times hit, and that will help us live lighter lives ultimately.

  • The only thing I can think to add is that you need to keep your eyes peeled! You spot the same new neighbour a few times, then you can walk over to the other side of the street and say hi. If you live in a friendly small town you might invite them for coffee, if you’re in the inner city they’ll think you’re crazy, so take it slow. If you’re in a cafe, keep an eye on the newspaper clippings they’ve hung up on the wall and the posters advertising events, local libraries often have community ads as well. Yesterday we had lunch at a place with a photo and article on the wall about the local girl who sells them organic eggs. If nothing else things like that can be a talking point to ‘sound out’ the people around you, or the cafe owner. It’s probably worth going to any community-based activity that’s happening, whether it’s a playgroup or bookclub or choir, because you’ll meet people. If you meet a lot of people you’ll eventually meet some that you like and have things in common with. When you meet people who are more challenging you don’t have to try to change them, just be honest about why you live the way you do if they ask. Just seeing you riding your bike might be enough to make them think they could bike.

  • One of my hero’s Delores Hayden is an architect, urban planner and American studies professer at Yale. I have written about her and her books this week at my place.

    Her book, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000 describes how farms were systematically turned over to strip malls and housing growth and development. I want to look at this because of the laws in our communities that favor business over people.

    Today I had a meet and greet where I live. I invited some dynamic women running for city council to come speak to my neighbors. Happily a few people showed up and I felt it was an important first step. They are all supportive of sustainability, open space, community gardens, etc.

  • Kirk

    To me building community means really getting to know where I live. The landscape, the neighbors, the weather, the local politics. There are other aspects, I’m sure. Unfortunately this requires a conscious effort and can take a lot of time (years?). Not to mention it is also, at times, very frustrating. For me, most often it’s the politics.

    I recently finished, and recommend, Wendell Berry’s novel A Place on Earth and, yes, it may seem a bit idyllic and romantic, but then I realize the characters have really made peace with where they live and actually enjoy living there. Compared to more urban/progressive areas of the country, Kansas may seem like a cultural wasteland. I certainly was of that opinion earlier in my life, but now having lived in the same town now for 15 years and the same house for 10 of those, I am beginning to realize just how good it can be. We average about 6000 miles a year on our van because I can walk two blocks to my son’s elementary school, six blocks to the library, two blocks to a new playground and public pool, four blocks to a bike/walking trail, and 6 blocks to the food coop. I may soon be part of the my son’s school’s PTO. I’m still making peace with where I live, but right now I really can’t see being anyplace else.

    To name a few more of the good things here: there are no ozone alerts; lot’s of sunshine; The Land Institute; the Konza Prairie; Cheyenne Bottoms Wetlands; and two neighbors who jog with me regularly at 5:30 am . However, with that comes Fred Phelps, few non-chain restaurants, no easily accessible rail travel, the 47 year-old ex-con who lives with his mother and stepfather next door, and a statewide population that hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since, I believe, the 1930s.

    Your community is what you make of it – the good, the bad and the ugly.

    I’m sure I could ramble on more, but I’ll spare you all.

  • Kirk

    A couple of thoughts since adding my two cents.

    First, as much as I went on about staying in one place, I should have also said that had I experienced the indignities you and Matt encountered in California, I would have found another place as well.

    Second, I was reminded of a book my wife just finished – The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner. Searching for the answers to, as he says: “What are the essential ingredients for the good life? Why are some places happier than others? How are we shaped by our surroundings? Why can’t airlines serve a decent meal?” From Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, to America and places in between — he has fascinating stories to tell.

    - http://www.ericweinerbooks.com -

  • great post, I think sometimes my usual friends get a little sick of hearing about my garden. I drove past a house a block away that had a slough of cars parked in front that all had some kind of green/progressive bumper stickers plastered on the back and thought why not me. But my resistance probably falls closer to greeneonion’s which is probably why I married someone so gregarious and outgoing.

  • This is exactly the issue I have been obsessed with the last few months. It is what I feel is most missing in my life, in my community’s life. Last year my partner David and I tried to get people in our hippie/activist inside-the-DC-beltway community involved in the local foods movement–and our efforts totally did not succeed. I have my moments now where I feel like no matter what work I put in, I’ll just get rebuffed. It is so easy to start feeling powerless. Reading about your commitments may help me get past that fear. Thanks.

  • Coming from a small town, I have to say that getting involved with local politics is incredibly important. Both my parents were involved in town politics, Dad on Town Council and Mom on Board of Education, throughout my childhood. My dad just recently decided to get back on Town Council, after years away, because he wasn’t happy about the way the town’s heading in terms of development. I think that for both of my parents, being involved in town government was the best way for them to make changes that they could see make a difference on a local level. While I don’t currently have aspirations to follow them, you never know where the future will lead me.

    For now, I get involved by attending Town Council meetings, Agricultural Commission meetings, Board of Education meetings (even though I have no kids, I’m still a taxpayer and as a teacher I feel I have important things to add), and Zoning Board meetings. I listen to the folks who make decisions, introduce myself, and talk about what issues are important to me. I was personally against the idea of a farmer’s market in my town, since we have well-established family farm markets in town (one is my family’s) that have been here for centuries. I was afraid that the town’s farmer’s would be hurt by bringing in outside farms, and I voiced my opinion. Other farmers in town felt the same way, and eventually, the Ag. Commission came to the conclusion to put the idea on hold, and instead focus on promoting the already established farm markets. One idea they followed through on was setting up a showcase of local produce at our town’s Potato and Corn Festival, to great success. They also sent out a map of our town to all residents, with the 20+ farms marked and notes about what each farm has to offer. I was so happy with the result and so happy that I went to the meeting and voiced my opinion!

  • Happy anniversary!! Hope you had a great day. Actually, I may have helped celebrate a little by doing the unthinkable (for me): digging out weeds and plants in the backyard. Me. Getting my hands dirty. My brother thought I must have gotten sick. I doubt anyone would believe it of me. I think all my gardening-blog-reading is starting to rub off on me.

    As for building communities, that’s something that takes a LOT of courage, I think. Especially for shy, introverted people like me. I went to a summer school once on community building and built a plan around getting to know more people in my area; alas, I never followed through on it. It was a good plan though, about getting people together to watch movies. I should try it at school.

    It really does have to do with getting outside of your house and participating in groups, or forming your own. And working hard to bring people together as well as form relationships with them personally. Well, I have no advice nor suggestions as of yet. I haven’t had much success building my own communities, but I’m ready to try again, I think.

  • Building community is one of the keys to getting our world to be more sustainable. The more ways we connect with others about what we are doing, the more we can share what we are doing and why, the more change will happen. I think it’s as easy as finding ways to slip ideas into conversations at work (“Guess what I found this really great second hand store this weekend,” for example), doing something in public that prompts questions (knitting on the bus), planting vegetables in the front garden and talking to neighbors as they pass by.

    I’m really lucky because I live in a community that (I suspect) connects better than most. Our farmer’s markets are very popular, lots of people bike, the buy local movement is very strong, there are neighborhood associations that have meetings on a regular basis, there are lots of people with dogs (I met more neighbors after I started walking the dog in Seattle than I ever did before I had a dog.), there are free outdoor concerts every summer, it goes on and on.

    Last week at one of those outdoor concerts a group of volunteers got up and explained our city’s food recycling program (we have yard waste/food waste pick-up now). I guess that brings me to one of the other things that I think is key, education. There are still a lot of people that just don’t understand yet how important our lifestyle choices are. I recently had a discussion about plastic bags with a co-worker. She had no idea how damaging they are.

  • I continue to find it surprising just how few community building skills I have. I will advocate the need for resilient, connected communities till my last breath. At this point I am still just doing my best to try and start the ball rolling with my fingers crossed that it will appeal to someone more skilled in this area than me who will be able to make things pick up speed.

    The reasons are well worth the effort but learning these skills from scratch certainly can be challenging at times.

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  • You all, these are some of my favorite comments of all time. Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your ideas. Truly insightful, and they’re really getting my brain thinking more about this. Actually, the Bicycling post was a direct result.

    Plan to see more posts focussing on these ideas. Kirk, I love Wendell Berry and I’ve been wondering which one of his books to read, so there it is! Thank you. Abbie, that is inspiring!!

    This is something we’re all grappling with, so I think I will hold my comments in response until I can devote a whole post to them. Because it’s really important stuff.

    Please continue to comment, anyone and everyone. And I will keep writing about it! Thank you.

  • We moved to our rural community for the “good life”. But Kirk is right, in that you have to make an effort to be happy with where you live, roll up your sleeves, and get involved. Many of these areas around the country have people who are friendly enough, but still treat you like you’re not from “round here”. With patience, good will, and lots of giving back, you can make an inroad to show them that you intend to be from ’round here’, whether they like it our not!:) We have a vibrant local community, with lots of farmers and active sustainable network. Check out Appalachia Sustainable Development. If anybody is interested in getting something like that started in their community, the work is worth it! This is the single most important endeavor that has helped our community to be built up on the local level, and has helped others see the importance of supporting eachother. Every community should have one.
    Sara

  • [...] And I’m lazy. Gasp. But as many of you know, I’ve been struggling to figure out how to build community and live locally. This is because I truly believe that it is the next step in this puzzle of saving [...]

  • Bobbi

    It was heartwarming reading all these comments. I’m also concentrating on learning about where I live, looking around me, listening to the birds. I’m not really a bird person but I’ve taken the time to sit in the backyard this summer and sometimes I try to count how many different sounds I hear.

    If I can make a suggestion for those who are having difficulties getting groups started, try your particular religious community. If you belong to a church, temple or mosque, you might find likeminded people there. You wouldn’t be completely reinventing the wheel.

    Also, go with something you care about deeply. There’s energy in passion and you’re less focused on getting rebuffed and it will pull you out of yourself.

    And I was looking for a Wendell Berry book too. Thanks Kirk.

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