In response to my post about climate change from the Parliament, my new friend Ashley Price offered to share how her community is addressing these concerns, building a resilient network of initiatives and community resources. Perhaps her community will inspire yours also – join in the comments or on Facebook to discuss how you can contribute in your own community.
A Community Response to Climate Change
Climate change is a global phenomenon fundamentally caused by the excesses of modern capitalism and a profound objectification for the Earth and all her inhabitants. The systems causing the degradation of the environment are large scale and deeply woven into our society’s values and goals.
In short, the problem is almost unimaginably large.
Most discussions about climate change go in one of two directions: emphasizing individual responsibility and action for reducing carbon footprint, or expecting a large-scale top-down radical realignment of society. Neither approach is effective, sustainable, or just. The scientific community’s most recent warning about climate change being irreversible unless something big happens now has intensified these two discussions, but there’s a fundamental flaw in that argument. It presumes that we are at a point that we can still reverse climate change, and I have to disagree. Climate change is happening, we’re already seeing the effects, and the conversation needs to shift to how to respond to our new climate.
I strongly believe that the best way to approach climate change and other such large scale problems is through diverse, varied, grassroots efforts that each tackle one or another aspect of the problem and work primarily on the local, community level.
The community based model of climate change response is achievable, allowing people to take advantage of their own interests, skills, and resources. It’s effective, because smaller group organizing creates solutions that are relevant to the needs and situation at the local level. It’s also radical, because community-based solutions contradict the rhetoric of global capitalism.
I live in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, a college town about 100 miles south of Chicago. Over the past several decades Chambana has developed a culture that nurtures a variety of enterprises and initiatives which, among other goals, build up local resiliency to the effects of climate change.
What follows is my community’s efforts to build a sustainable future. These are undertaken by businesses, charitable organizations, and local government.
Vegetables: Central Illinois has many sustainable vegetable farms, most of which focus on direct-to-consumer sales. CSAs are common, and a few are within Urbana city limits. I’m a long time customer of Sola Gratia, which is located only 2 miles from my house and donates ~ ⅓ of produce grown to area food pantries.
Fruit: There are of course many fruit farms, some of which offer fruit CSAs.
The cities have also planted lots of fruit on public land, which have been mapped by foragers. Urban foraging is pretty popular here, and you find mulberry, serviceberry, apples, raspberry, blackberry, elderberry, paw paw, hazelnut, black walnut, and more, all within Chambana city limits.
Meat: We have beef, chicken, pork, and lamb produced and butchered locally, often on small family farms, and many farmers will do bulk orders to consumers or buying clubs.
Dairy: It’s possible to buy raw milk from the nearby Amish community, though the legality of that is questionable (I did so for over a decade). We also have an area dairy farmer whose milk is sold in most grocery stores here and is frequently used by local bakeries and ice cream shops. We also have a thriving and popular goat farm.
Grain: Illinois is known for corn and soy, and that remains the bulk of our food production. Lately wheat, barley, and hops have been brought in thanks to our many craft breweries, and my buying club is now able to get a wide variety of baking flours from a farm and miller only an hour away.
Flowers: We have several local flower farmers, two of whom are in Chambana city limits. Both offer flower CSAs.
Chambana boasts two thriving farmer’s markets, both of which only sell products made or grown in Illinois. Both markets also accept food stamps.
Common Ground Food Co-op is a hub of our community. It prioritizes making local, organic, sustainable, and high quality food accessible to all people through it’s Food for All program.
Fresh, locally grown produce is distributed in low-income areas through a variety of organizations, and I’d like to highlight one in particular. Lierman Neighborhood is probably our poorest neighborhood, and undeniably racist city planning in the 80s effectively cut off Lierman from the rest of Urbana. In the past few years the residents have banded together to create the Lierman Neighborhood Action Committee. 3 years ago the city began leasing the empty lot at the entrance of the neighborhood to LNAC, who promptly turned it into a large organic garden managed by the residents. Each week during the growing season fresh produce is distributed for free to the residents of Lierman, who otherwise live in a food desert.
While fabric is not produced locally (except by hobbyists), central Illinois also has a few sheep and alpaca farms. As a knitter and spinner, I love that I can feed my hobby with local products.
We have an excellent public transit system and a growing number of bike paths throughout both Champaign and Urbana.
Lately Champaign and Vermillion counties have been working together to develop a multi-purpose bike and foot path. The first 7 miles are completed and link Urbana to one of the neighboring small towns.
We have many parks, a thriving Master Naturalist program, and several conservation areas within city limits. My favorites include:
Meadowbrook Park which has a large prairie area with both paved and unpaved paths. There you can find raspberry, blackberry, elderberry, and serviceberry.
Weaver Park, which is a very short walk from my front door, is a wetland and prairie restoration still under development.
Kickapoo State Park, a constantly improving woodland restoration project that began after the coal mine closed down in the 30s. You can even take scuba lessons there!
Urbana has municipal recycling (Champaign doesn’t), and a landscape recycling center. This means that most gardeners’ mulch and compost are produced locally.
Rain barrels and rain gardens are common here, and promoted by both cities.
Urbana, more so than Champaign, is a community of engaged activists. Because of this, when the largest and oldest tree in Urbana was due to be cut down, there was a large protest. This led to the creation of the Legacy Tree Program, and the city now marks and formally honors specific trees.
Art and Politics
A lot of the above wouldn’t happen without our local arts and activism scene.
Urbana is home to the School for Designing a Society.
The Independent Media Center is at the literal and figurative heart of our community and much of the above happens because of the organization of people involved with the IMC.
Our community radio station, WEFT, is amazing and community members are welcome to create their own shows on any topic they deem fit. There’s everything from radical politics to experimental music to lunchtime blues to the decades-long Celtic Music Go Bragh Go Bragh.
What I’ve just presented is the highlights of how one community has incubated projects that help create a sustainable future, mitigate the impact of climate change, and help us develop resiliency in a challenging time.
The efforts above include non-profits and entrepreneurs, large-scale city planning and regular people just doing what’s easiest. Because our producers are local farmers growing for the local market, prices are affordable to most people in our community, and many of our charitable organizations are working primarily with local producers and initiatives. It’s truly a bottom up chaotically organized system, and I love the beauty of it.
Of course, this is not a universal model; what Champaign-Urbana is doing may not make sense in your area. My sincere hope is that you may see what one community has done, and find the people and the projects in your area that may be doing something similar.
What can you encourage to grow in your community?
What skills do you have that you can share with others, or develop further to build local resiliency?
Answering those two questions can give you something you can do, today, that honors both your individuality and your connection with your community. And that’s how we build a more sustainable, beautiful, and resilient world.
Ashley Price is an Initiate of ADF and the organizer of Prairie Sky Protogrove. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, she moved to central Illinois for college and quickly developed a close relationship with the land and community of Champaign-Urbana. Much of her work, spiritual, and personal life revolves around deepening that relationship with the land, its spirits and human community.
She works as a therapeutic movement teacher and homeschools her two children, which allows plenty of time for crafting and visiting the many ecological restoration projects of central Illinois.