Daily Green Acts Ripple Out from 350 Home and Garden Challenge
Janet Beazlie, a Sierra Club member since 1983, has always been involved with conservation and growing food. Her grandparents homesteaded a dry-land wheat farm in western Montana, and she grew up hearing stories her mother told about living in a frontier farming community and riding her horse Brownie to the one-room schoolhouse. Life was challenging, and as her mother used to say, "We didn't know we were poor, because no one else in our community had more."
Her mom's stories were often about their neighbors banding together to build a barn and then holding a barn dance. Neighbors didn't always like each other, but people knew they only had each other to depend on. They shared food and water and pulled together in tough times.
Times have been tough recently for a lot of people in Sonoma County, California, where Janet now lives, and she has been involved with a special community event, the 350 Home & Garden Challenge, designed to bring people together, grow their own food, and save energy and water. That's Janet with her stepson Finn, at right, in their family garden.
In May 2010, community groups and county government agencies collaborated to kick off the inaugural event. The target was to start 350 gardens in Sonoma County over one weekend. People came together and planted nearly twice that many—628 gardens—many of them community gardens at churches, hospitals, and schools.
Last year, the event was coordinated by the group Daily Acts, whose mission is "to transform our communities through inspired action and education which builds leadership and local self-reliance." Home energy efficiency and water conservation were added to the list of actions people could take, and 1,044 such actions were officially registered throughout the county, including installation of 21 grey-water systems and transforming nearly 250 lawns through sheet mulching. Through Transitions US, the challenge was extended nationwide to so-called Transition Towns.
This year, the slogan in Sonoma County is, "it's time to stand up and be counted," and the 2012 target is 2,012 actions. Registered actions show up on a map on the 350 Home & Garden Challenge website. "We see we are not alone," says Anita Smith, the Challenge's project manager. "So often, the problems of climate change seem daunting, but this is a way to be inspired and make positive, tangible change."
Nationally, Transition US is encouraging people to register their own events to build community, grow food, save energy, and conserve water. They are urging people to register their events not only at Transition US's website, but also at www.350.org for the May 5 international climate event "Connecting the Dots" because these actions reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"My grandparents knew that all their neighbors pulling together could save them," Janet says. "Today, when we know climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, our community includes everyone on this Earth—yet it's my local neighbors who can work together to grow a community garden."
Janet and her husband David share a garden with their neighbors in the town of Forestville. They use many gardening methods to adapt their garden to climate change and they hold Climate Resilient Gardening classes there. The first year of the 350 Challenge, David worked to start a community garden at a local church. The next year he helped plant a healing herb garden at a nearby hospital. Janet is on the steering team of the Sustainable Enterprise Conference that some 400 businesspeople are expected to attend this May 11.
After pondering the appropriate decorations for a sustainable business conference, Janet asked a local nursery, Harmony Farm Supply, to donate organic vegetable and flower seedlings, which she arranged in wicker baskets and placed throughout the conference with little signs describing the 350 Home and Garden Challenge. The next day conference volunteers delivered them to community gardens.
People participate in the 350 Challenge in many ways. Actions can include something as simple as hanging a clothesline to dry clothes for a summer, which can reduce a family's carbon emissions by up to 700 pounds a year. People do what they can and involve their neighbors, who may or may not be strangers.
Recently, Janet was driving home and saw a man digging in a pile of dirt that had been dumped by the roadside. Realizing that he was probably taking the soil for his garden, she thought he might want to know about the free cubic yard of compost that a local business was offering for registered gardens. So she turned around and pulled up next to his truck.
"For a moment, I was afraid," Janet says. "He was a tough-looking guy who probably didn't share my politics. But he was a gardener! I noticed as I approached him with my 350 Challenge flier that he looked nervous, and that set me at ease. And it turned out he was eager to register his garden for the compost and took more fliers for his friends."
Growing food, saving water, and conserving energy aren't new ideas—communities have always done these things. "Now is the time to take the challenge and do them together," Janet says, "to build a sustainable future full of fresh homegrown food, neighbors working together, and a climate that supports everyone."