In our previous column, we defined what a sustainable community is and how our communities here in rural Minnesota have become less self-sufficient and sustainable over the last 70 years.

In this column, we will briefly discuss some of the initiatives that are beginning to reestablish some local control over essential aspects of our lives.

First of all, what kinds of things make communities more sustainable, self-sufficient and resilient? Sustainable communities work toward: 1. meeting our basic needs for food, housing, health care, education, personal safety; 2. providing our needs for clean air, water and nutritious food while protecting the local ecosystem, land and energy sources; 3. providing economic opportunities that include meaningful employment with adequate pay; 4. fostering a sense of community that creates feelings of belonging and self-worth, safety and security.

One hopeful sign is that we are beginning to raise healthy, nutritious food in our communities. Some of us are raising our own fruit and vegetable gardens applying organic growing methods. Others are even producing meat, eggs, milk etc.

Many small-scale growers/producers are marketing locally through direct sales, farm markets, co-ops or consumer-supported agriculture (CSAs). Further, local member-owned cooperative grocery stores not only provide a market for locally produced goods, they also provide access to a broad spectrum of other organic foods.

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These endeavors support local farmers and provide access to nutritious organic foods. Locally produced vegetables and fruit, which are harvested when ripe and sold within hours of harvest, are much more nutrient dense than those picked green and transported thousands of miles to get to local markets.

Another hopeful sign is that sustainable and organic farming practices are being adopted by farmers in our communities. Some farmers have switched from monoculture practices to organic and permaculture practices thanks to the support and education of organizations like the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota .

We’ve learned conventional farming that plants a single crop year after year (monoculture), has many negative effects on our local communities. These include erosion of topsoil, damage to soil ecology and environmental contamination by herbicides and pesticides contributing to food contamination and species die off (birds, fish and pollinators to name a few).

Organic and permaculture practices result in healthier food and a healthier environment for ourselves and for the wildlife and plants around us.

A third hopeful sign we see is provision of some of our own energy needs. Some of us have begun to use solar energy in a variety of ways. The decreasing cost of photovoltaic panels has dramatically increased access to solar electric systems. Solar electricity can be used in a variety of ways from powering our homes and businesses to powering our cars.

Electric cars are increasingly popular and appear to be the future of transportation. A new, cheaper battery (quantum glass battery) is being developed that offers the possibility of a lower sticker price, and delivering 1,000 miles on a single charge.

Beyond powering automobiles there is now an array of battery-operated power equipment from chain saws to lawn tractors. There are even electric tractors and trucks on the market.

The ability to produce our own electricity permits us to reduce our dependence on oil, gasoline, diesel and coal and thus become more energy independent. This makes us less impacted by fluctuating foreign fossil fuel prices, increased demand driving up prices, or major power disruptions associated with storms or other catastrophic events.

Solar hot air furnaces are also available to heat our houses. Originally locally built by Rural Renewable Energy Alliance in Pine River, these are now produced on the White Earth Reservation. Additionally, south-facing windows can be used for passive solar heating in winter.

When combined with insulating and tightening our homes, these solar adaptations can significantly reduce our consumption of fossil fuels or electricity needed for heating our homes.

These are a few signs that our local rural communities are becoming more sustainable and self-sufficient. As we begin to depend on neighbors to supply our basic needs, rather than distant, impersonal corporations, relationships are built leading to stronger communities with local accountability.

Our growing inter-dependence on the diversity of our neighbors’ skills and talents ultimately leads to stronger social networks. The sense of community spirit grows where everyone benefits.

(References to all factual information quoted provided on request and comments and questions are encouraged: weiss005@umn.edu)

Douglas J. Weiss and Barb Mann own Balsam Moon in Pine River, a spiritual place of peace, sustainability and renewal.