Conservation initiatives that started years ago

Published 7:21 pm Thursday, November 12, 2009

Im writing this Corner from a moving Amtrak train, the Vermonter, coming home from a week in Mass. and Vermont. Right this minute Im looking at a trail parallelling this trains route, obviously created when an abandoned rail line was converted to a trail. It is absolutely beauty-ful.

A group of eight people made the trip, thanks to Polk County Community Foundation and the Bradley Educational Fund, to learn from successful conservation initiatives and programs that started 20 or so years ago. The goal was to hear about their early mistakes, and successes, and thus enable us Polk County folk to make the right choices for our future.

The 1st day in Mass. centered around greenways and affordable housing projects of the Great Barrington Land Trust. Their projects are small, but they filled real community needs and they have been of great benefit to the community. The greenways being created now are an expansion of greenways begun, unofficially, many years ago.

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The 2nd day was spent at the 29th annual lectures of the Schumacher Society. E.F Schumacher wrote a book 30 years ago called Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. I will add to that title…as if people and the land mattered. The lectures were outstanding; my head is swimming with ideas that I want to write down for you right now, but Im sure the train would be in Philadelphia before Id finish.

The 1st speaker, Bill McKibbon, urged us to speak up and&bsp; pressure&bsp; our leaders to deal with dangerous CO2 levels affecting climate change, before its too late. Denial of the problem at this point in time would be catastrophic, and times running out. As with inappropriate land use, long-term consequences are rarely seen before 20 years hence. Air pollution is all the more dangerous because we cant see IT at all. Look up if you are interested.

The 2nd speaker, Benjamin Barber, talked about the testy relationship between democracy and capitalism, and he got into the issue of our current paper economy that is profiting on our faux needs&bsp; rather than real needs. This is where I could go down the tubes very quickly trying to relate what was said. But, for us, the message is that we have to address our real needs in Polk County in order to build a vibrant and sustainable local economy.&bsp; Maybe a new&bsp; business that sells things no one really needs will&bsp; reward the individual business owner at the cost of the people around that business. A local farm or cottage-type business tends to strengthen a community; a big box store or motel tends to fragment the community. As citizens of a democracy, we are responsible for nurturing the community that we want. Capitalism will not do that for us on its own. To leave everything up to the markets would mean that people, the land, and our natural environment, are inconsequential.

The 3rd speaker gave us nuts and bolts ideas of ways to&bsp; involve the the whole community&bsp; in co-operative type enterprises for the benefit of all, thus building a stronger economy and community. The main one liner for me on that thought is that we need to carefully look at what is important to each of us in order to be happy.

I suspect that we all value our family, our friends, and where we live. For me that includes being able to take a walk in a beautiful forest out the back door, going to the grill to have coffee with friends, leaving the doors unlocked without fear, riding my pony to Aarons house across the creek, buying cheese and crackers at the shop even if I forgot my purse: just pay us the next time you come to town. Those perks are part of what we call community values, and our investments need to reflect the values that we want to preserve.

The 2nd half of our trip was in Burlington, VT, particularly the Intervale Community. Twenty years ago Intervale was a dump. It is now a combination of privately owned working organic farms, co-op farms, a huge public composting site, a (scrap) wood fired electric generating plant, a bikeway, a privately owned garden supply, and an agricultural educational facility. The message is Use what youve got, and make the best of it. Intervale was a dump because it is&bsp; a floodplain right in the middle of downtown Burlington, and it is illegal to develop on a floodplain. But were country folk, and we know that bottomland is fertile land. Intervale now supplies Burlington with 15% if its food needs, converts waste to black gold organic fertilizer, and mentors young farmers to take us into the future. All this was possible through partnerships between private businesses, public and government entities, and people who invested their time, money and energy in what they wanted. Now they are reaping the benefits.

I got stuck waiting at the car yesterday at the airport while one of our group was being dropped off at the Burlington airport. I observed a man saying goodbye to another man, most likely a family member. The man departing was dressed in camo, work boots and a cowboy hat, a far cry from the urban attire of other passengers. The two men hugged goodbye, and I thought about how nice it is that men can huge each other these days, remembering that my father would never allow himself to hug my brothers once they grew up. The family member then drove away, and the passenger started to carry his bags in the airport doorway. But he had to stop. He put down the bags, took off his glasses, wiped both eyes with a handkerchief, then picked up is bags and went on his journey.

All that really matters is being with those we love and who love us, and having a home to go to where we are at peace and warm. The rest is stuff. Economics as if people and&bsp; community matter thats the path we must choose to preserve the quality of life….maybe even to preserve life itself.~ Conservation Corner written by Betsy Burdette