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Why Living Local Matters, Right Now

Posted by Susie Middleton

If you’re like me, you may’ve suddenly felt a little unqualified to be an earthling in the last few weeks.  I’m not sure what planet I’ve been on, but I thought we had a little time to develop alternative energy sources, rebuild our local economies, and revitalize small family farms. Heck, I was just starting to feel good about using canvas bags for groceries and feeding my scraps to the pigs.

Then how is it, in just the space of a few weeks, that I suddenly feel like the future has landed in our midst like a space module? I’m not usually the gloomy type, but after driving my gas-guzzling SUV to the Chilmark Community Center last Friday night for the kick off of our Living Local event, I came home and looked through the want ads for a used bicycle. With all the economic turmoil, it was just spooky that the evening (designed to be a community discussion of “What is Living Local and Why Does It Matter?”) began with a short video of a talk given a few years ago by economist David Korten. According to Korten, author of The Great Turning, a “perfect economic storm” of rising oil prices, climate change, and a falling U.S. dollar was threatening to cause a fundamental restructuring of modern life. I have to tell you, there was a bit of nervous laughter in the room, as the prediction seemed all too prescient.

When the lights came back up, I was clutching my coffee cup close and nibbling feverishly on the homemade pumpkin scone in my hand. I was definitely spooked. But once I began to listen to voices in the room—voices of fisherman, farmers, conservationists, business owners, college students—I realized something extraordinary. This quirky island, which I sometimes describe as anachronistic, has ironically, by holding on to its values, been able to leapfrog over modern ills like Walmart and McDonalds, and head straight into the sustainable future: Wind and solar power, more local food production, affordable housing and land, home building with green and recycled materials, large-scale composting, natural resource preservation—all of it is already happening here, and in other proactive communities round the country.

The next day I got to see the living proof at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, where the Living Local weekend continued with a harvest festival designed to highlight sustainable  ideas. Despite the rain, 1200 people showed up, not just to eat pie, milk a goat, or carve a pumpkin (at right), but to participate in panel discussions like “Home Energy Options” and “Increasing Island Food Production,” and to learn about seed saving, raising chickens, and honey extraction. It was a fine thing to hear the thoughts of some pretty dedicated people on Friday night, but even better to see the ground troops on Saturday engaging in the solutions.

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