Last weekend in Rhode Island, we discovered some very hopeful examples of a
more sustainable and joyful future.
Suzanne and I were enticed from the farm by the opportunity to give the
keynote speech to organic gardeners and farmers at the NOFA conference in
Providence and the Sunday morning talk at the Newport Unitarian Church. As
a bonus, the trip provided an opportunity to visit the Atlantic Ocean and
some old friends.
However disheartening the upscale malls (spreading like a cancer from
Clinton, Connecticut to the heart of Providence), the abandoned commercial
strips and so many big ugly houses were, the astounding creativity we found
among the young people we visited provides genuine hope for the future.
Mike and Polly (and their children) operate and oversee the spectacular
250-year-old Casey Farm on Narragansett Bay, owned by the Society for the
Preservation of New England Antiquities. The house and farm buildings all
face south to capture the sun's winter warmth. Beautiful stone walls still
keep cows in their pasture, just as they did 200 years ago. Polly milks
her Jersey cow by hand and makes delicious cheddar cheese. Mike showed me
the movable chicken house and yard which are being used to reclaim
pastures that were badly overgrazed when they arrived at Casey Farm five
They've established a successful Community Supported Agriculture project
(better known as a CSA). For an annual subscription fee, over 150 families
receive a share of the harvest each week for a 22-week season. Each
shareholder is responsible for working at least eight hours on the farm.
As a result, more folks can experience their food source directly.
Although Mike and Polly occasionally use a tractor, they are excited about
using their draft horses for cultivating vegetables and mowing hay. Casey
Farm also houses the office of the Rhode Island chapter of NOFA, the
Northeast Organic Farming Association, and Mike serves as its president.
The conference featured a variety of informative workshops and took place
on Saturday. I heard a state senator talk about her family's organic
potato and vegetable farm and saw a wonderful slide presentation about
Providence's Southside Community Land Trust. Its work with children and
adults in one of this city's decaying neighborhoods is truly inspiring. In
the urban farm and community gardens there, vegetables and growing methods
from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean Islands and Europe create a beautiful
and delicious ethnic mosaic.
Right after the conference, we visited an almost abandoned mill building on
Providence's West Side: home to Jeremy and his friends, mostly recent
graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design. Here we experienced
stunning visual excitement, vibrant creativity and a wonderful home-cooked
meal! These industrious young people had created a grand communal living
area and intimate personal spaces, mostly from debris collected in the
decaying industrial wasteland around them. At their studio, located in
another huge and nearly empty building, Jeremy and Jamie (who both studied
industrial design) showed us prototypes they're developing for elegant
furniture made from discarded pallets, flooring and other waste wood. We
shared their appreciation for the value of this irreplaceable old-growth
lumber that would otherwise be thrown away.
On Sunday morning, we were pleased to find a receptive audience to our
message about the importance of feeding ourselves from local ecosystems.
In the long run, this is the only way we can actually have any real control
over, or knowledge of, what we eat. This approach can also result in
radically reduced fossil-energy use and create nurturing communities. So
many people at the service had a garden or some other connection to the
land. Some had already changed their buying habits or lifestyles away from
dependence on the global, industrial food system and toward a local,
Our visit to the ocean was made memorable and sad by the presence of a
young, 60-foot-long blue whale which died at sea and had been pulled up
onto the beach. Seeing such a remarkable and awe-inspiring creature was a
once in a lifetime experience.
This trip reminded us that nearly everywhere, people are joyfully creating
a more sustainable future out of the abandoned and abused resources all
around us - a future which relies more on sunlight, recycling, and
community and less on conspicuous consumption.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing
and those since November 1995 are available there.
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