“I hope this isn’t going to be gloomy,” my friend Mary Tilson grumbles jokingly one rainy evening in early April as I drag her off to a showing of Demain (Tomorrow), a documentary in which French filmmakers Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent visit 10 different countries to look in on projects offering real-time solutions to the world’s looming ecological, economic, and social crises.
“I don’t need to hear more about what a mess we’re in,” Mary adds as we splash through puddles on the way toward the church meeting hall where the community organization Transition Berkeley is screening the film.
The mood is rather different heading home through the sparkling rain. I find I have just signed myself up to be a volunteer “fixer” at Transition Berkeley’s upcoming Repair Café, where I’ll sit with my sewing machine to help people avoid tossing their damaged clothes onto the trash heap. Mary is feeling surprisingly optimistic. “Those were things we can actually do!” she says, pondering the idea of organizing a group to plant crops on unused land like the film showed people doing in her hometown of Detroit and in Todmorden, England.
The next day, Mary starts small: She cultivates a little patch outside the back door and plants some Painted Pony beans from East Bay Local Seeds. Just like others now signing up for the organization’s One Seed, One Community project, she’ll harvest and return some of her beans to the seed library to help preserve this heirloom for future generations. (Read more here.)
For weeks, Mary and I continue to discuss the broad array of initiatives illustrated in the film—successful projects that offer new paradigms in urban farming, recycling and waste cleanup, renewable energy, education, economic and social restructuring, and even governance. Two of the organizations featured, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and Recology, are doing their good work right here in the Bay Area. Most people who see the film are struck with the efficacy of the independent currency systems depicted—WIR Bank and Totnes Pounds—in keeping value rooted into the communities that are producing it. Many of these projects arose out of people working together, often in mid-size community groups, to make positive changes they could feel immediately in their own lives, and most of the projects are replicable nearly anywhere. As descriptions of the film often emphasize, these are mostly horizontal efforts, not top-down legislative initiatives. They’re about creative thinking coupled with an appetite to participate in aligning our systems with our real values.
Right about the time we saw the film, I was among the worker bees inside this publication’s editorial hive, where we were deciding to put the words “food in community” on this cover alongside Wendy Yoshimura’s troupe of dancing Romano beans. That decision came while we were remarking on how one story or event announcement after another had at its heart some active community project that strengthens connections and unites us in making changes toward a more livable, just, and hope-filled world. To name just a few, our pages feature neighborhood pasta dinners, backyard cookouts, ideas for gardening in community, and a tea business giving back to local nonprofits. I’ll leave it to you to spot even more of them on the pages.
Meanwhile, I hope you find a chance to view the documentary: Transition Berkeley purchased its own copy and is ready to lend it to other groups for showing. And consider becoming a participant in something you read about on these pages, even if it’s only cooking a recipe to share at a party. Perhaps you’ll get inspired to start some new community project of your own. Whatever you do, don’t hesitate to write and tell us about it.
Here’s to a gloom-free summer full of community connections and lots of good food!
Cheryl Angelina Koehler