Sunday, September 06, 2009

I'm moving! New name, new URL

To here, to there
Image: © L. Kathryn Grace
Six years ago, when I first published this blog, I had two objectives: To encourage discussion about the Village of Ordinary, and to collect stories about real people and real technology that show just how possible Ordinary is today.

What I've discovered is absolutely amazing: Thousands and thousands, perhaps millions of people, all over the world are working to grow a social structure more like Ordinary than not. I've posted a few of their stories along the way, but there are many, many more.

To reflect that Ordinary is no longer merely a vision--a dream to which we can only hope and aspire--but a real-world possibility right now, I am pursuing the work under a more appropriate name: Building Ordinary. You may not see a big difference right away. Cosmetically, only the name and URL have changed, but you may notice that the new blog is more personal in nature, occasionally more political, and more strongly encourages your participation. That's because we need each other. Building a sustainable, peaceful community requires connection, a deepening understanding of one another.

Join me there, won't you? Together, we are building a better world, one blog post, one energy-efficient light bulb, one straw bale house, one organic garden, one micro-loan, one eco-village, one re-charged aquifer, one political action, one kindness, one life saved, and surely one day at a time.

All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Padmashree Dr. Anil Joshi

One of the most exciting environmental stories in a long time is this one. A dedicated researcher/activist in rural India, Padmashree Dr. Anil Joshi, using modern and ancient technologies, proved that it is possible to recharge small aquifers and spring catchments. Why is this exciting, you ask? Because water is life. Without it we die. In recharging dormant springs, Dr. Joshi brought life and hope for a better future to one of the poorest regions of India, and just possibly to all of us, as water shortages loom worldwide. Here's the story.

Thousands of years ago, the people who live in India's Himalayas built their villages near natural springs sheltered by dense forests. For eons, annual rains recharged the forest-shrouded springs and the aquifers that fed them. The tree canopy, and the organic offal it sacrificed to the forest floor, preserved moisture and assured the springs continued to bubble year round. The springs nourished the rural agricultural economy of the region, and the villagers were well-fed and content.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century. After almost two hundred years of British colonial rule (pp.3, pdf file), India leapt into the industrialized world as a sovereign state and began its steady march toward becoming the fourth largest economy in the world (4th largest in 2009 GDP PPI). India's rapid growth, industrialization and centralization took their toll on the forests and watersheds of the Himalayas. Deforestation laid so much land bare that the spring catchments no longer held enough water to serve the villages year round. Many dried up altogether.

Without water, the people could not survive. Many abandoned their waterless villages. Others struggled with increasing poverty and hunger as their crops no longer supported them. Families were broken: The men moved to urban centers, often thousands of kilometers away, looking for jobs, leaving the women and children behind to work the land alone, dependent on their husbands and fathers to send money to get them through the drought seasons.

Enter Dr. Joshi and his organization Himalayan Environmental studies & Conservation Organization (HESCO). Himself once a child of the hills. Dr. Joshi believed that science and technology, together with ancient, tested wisdom, were the keys to improving quality of life and to developing the region economically.

Dr. Joshi recruited a team of scientists to locate a number of spring catchments. When they knew where the springs collected water, they built small dams and embankments called green bunds, which is ancient Hindu technology, to capture moisture and recharge the springs during the rainy season. Villagers built and filled storage tanks to provide a year-round water supply. Now the villages grow and harvest crops for food and for markets outside their area. Farms are prospering once again. Young farmers are staying in the region to till the land and turn a profit.

More, the villages are tweaking another ancient technology, water mills, many of which have been operating for centuries, to provide power from their springs and streams. Generating their own electricity takes them off the less reliable, centralized national grid. With plenty of dependable, locally-generated power streaming to their homes and businesses, in some cases for the first time, the people of the Himalayas can start new businesses and cottage industries with confidence, knowing they will not have to work in the dark, or wait for sporadic energy to power their equipment.

That's not all. Most of India's energy is derived through coal-fired plants. By generating their own power using their recharged streams and springs, rural communities are lowering their carbon output.

Not only is this story exciting for the people whose lives it has changed so dramatically in India, it is exciting for the world as we all face more and more severe water shortages in the decades to come. Dr. Joshi's work shows us that a decentralized water supply, using a mixture of new and time-tested technology, can save and sustain lives, spur local economies, and save the planet.

What's more, this is only one of literally dozens of innovative, life-changing, life-enhancing projects Dr. Joshi has initiated to help rural India raise itself from poverty to an ever-improving quality of life. Learn more about the man and his life work at HESCO, whose creed could be a model for any of us.

HESCO Philosophy
  • Serve in the spirit of dedicated volunteerism
  • Acknowledge and develop the natural talents of the people you serve
  • Give freely of your knowledge and time
  • Encourage self-sufficient and "simple" solutions to the practical problems of those you serve
  • Promote the practice of "shridan": that every village which is helped with development, will in turn, adopt and help another village in their locality
  • Promote sustainable development with a priority on environmental protection and economic independence


For choosing to return to his homelands and utilize his training and knowledge to help his people lift themselves from poverty to prosperity, for honoring the wisdom of millenia and melding it with the science and technology of today, for committing to utilizing local materials and resources to solve local problems, for decentralizing energy and water sources while improving their reliability and availability, and for living among and listening to the people he serves, the Ordinary Heroes Award is offered to Padmashree Dr. Anil Joshi with respect and gratitude.

With gratitude to Tweet timlawler who introduced me to Dr. Joshi in his 6/28 tweet: "The Mountain Man The Better India: A bright student, he did well through school and college and after completi..".

All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace, all rights reserved.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Making ripples: Three bloggers whose word pebbles tickle my toes

TranquilityImage by Sean Rogers1 via Flickr

I just discovered another must-read, must-follow blogger, Tamara Cameron of A passion shared. A "seeker of health, happiness and all things green and local," Tamara's latest posts include Food, Health, Life & Michael Pollan and Local Beef -IT's What's For Dinner!

Another greenie, and one I read every chance I get, is Wendy Gabriel of My Green Side. She's on top of green parenting, does a regular and fun Photo Friday post and frequently interviews an eco mover and shaker with four questions. Her latest is green foodie, mom and writer Robin Shreeves.

Heart-shaped strawberry on leafFor thought-provoking discussion, a sparkling photo journal (one a day, almost, like the strawberry shown here) and respite from the storms, I visit Wanda at What would Wanda do?. It's my cup of tea moment on the weekends, and almost always the last thing I do Sunday night before sleep. Wanda's posts calm the mind and spur the spirit to right choices, right living.

Wanda, Wendy and Tamara touch me with their energy, passion, love and spirit. I give gratitude for their commitment to share their wisdom and lives with their readers. They are among the many people in this world whose work brings us all a little closer every day to the vision of the Village of Ordinary. Who are you reading today, and what do you learn from them?

Content spacer graphicStrawberry image courtesy Wanda of What Would Wanda Do?
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Fourth of July all!

May all people everywhere soon celebrate independence and freedom, and may we all make peace. Thomas Berry gives us much reason to hope.

May peace prevail
I would suggest that we see these early years of the 21st century as the period when we discover the great community of the Earth, a comprehensive community of all the living and non-living components of the planet. We are just discovering that the human project is itself a component of the Earth project, that our intimacy with the Earth is our way to intimacy with each other. Such are the foundations of our journey into the future.

Yes! Magazine: "A New Culture Emerges"

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Denise Cerreta

Denise greeting customers
Denise Cerreta wants to eliminate world hunger. She started in her own neighborhood, Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2003, when she opened One World Cafe, serving delicious, in-season organic food. Her vision was to provide a living wage to each of her employees, turn no one away for lack of money, and care for the planet by minimizing waste.

One more thing. Patrons would pay what they felt their meal was worth--in cash or in a work exchange.

  • We are dedicated to eliminating world hunger.
  • We are dedicated to serving organic unprocessed food.
  • We are dedicated to feeding and including all members of our community.
  • We are dedicated to eliminating waste in the food industry.
  • We believe that we can trust our customers to be inspired, honest and fair in their exchange of money and/or work for the fresh, gourmet, organic food we prepare both mindfully and in a heartfelt way each day.
  • We will keep believing.

One World Everybody Eats vision statement

One of Cerreta's chief concerns in opening One World Cafe was the tremendous food waste from commercial kitchens. American restaurants are particularly notorious for serving enormous portions. How many times does your order arrive at the table piled high enough to serve a family of four? Do you ask for a box and bag to take the leftovers home? How often do you (or your dog) actually eat them? Or do they languish in the refrigerator, pushed ever further back, until one day you open them to find something that looks like a science experiment gone awry?

Patrons would pay what they felt their meal was worth--in cash or in a work exchange.

Denise greeting customersWhen Cerreta's guests choose their prices and their portions, she says they tend to take only what they will eat, eliminating much of the food waste we see so often in traditional establishments.

Serving those less fortunate, and helping them retain their dignity, is another of Cerreta's objectives. One hour's work in the restaurant earns a voucher for one meal. Out of work parent? If your children are under eight, they eat free on the same one-meal voucher. If you have neither money nor time, there is always at least one staple dish, such as rice and lentils or rice and dahl, available to the hungry with no strings attached.

In 2006, spurred by requests from all over the country for help establishing similar ventures, Cerreta filed for non-profit 501(3)c status and founded the One World Everybody Eats Foundation. Since then, she has referred to the cafe as a community kitchen. The foundation explains the change this way.

Since our beginning, we have recognized the spontaneous community building that happens as a result of our venue, which we now call a "community kitchen" rather than a "cafe". We also believe that nothing will further our vision better than having the strength of community behind us.

Denise Cerreta in "Message from Founder Denise Cerreta"

One World Organic GardenEventually, Cerreta established gardens to support another of their founding principles: To serve wholesome, nutritious, organically grown foods. Much of the organic produce used in the kitchen comes from the garden in this image. Some also comes from kindly gardeners who produce far more than they can eat, preserve and give away.

These values and principles are among those that make Denise Cerreta a fine candidate for the Ordinary Heroes Award.

The reason our heroes are so important to us is because they do extraordinary things. They take risks, venturing into untraveled territory, often with inadequate preparation. High risk almost guarantees some failure. Mistakes will be made.

It's not easy launching a restaurant which expects its patrons to set the price they're willing to pay for their food. Keeping the cafe going for six years borders on the miraculous. There have been less-than miraculous bumps along the way. Cerreta herself has said more than once that she was ill-prepared for the venture.

In October 2008, she and the foundation's board reportedly fired its "long-time" manager, which in turn spurred the entire staff to walk out, alleging bounced paychecks and disrespectful treatment.

The One World Everybody Eats web site does not address the staff allegations directly, though you will find mention of it in some of the articles posted on their newsroom page. While I hope Cerreta will confront the allegations head on at some point, her initial vision to serve the hungry as well as the affluent, and expect each to pay as they are able for the bounty they receive, along with the courage and stamina she has shown in keeping faith with her vision, are heroic acts at a time in which we hear so much of rampant greed and outright swindling (Bernie Madoff, anyone?).

Despite the near loss of the One World venue, as Cerreta calls it, she and One World Everybody Eats are back on track in 2009 and continue to inspire others. There are now five similar kitchens in the United States, in Denver, CO, Spokane, WA, Charleston, SC, Durham, NC, and a brand new one in Arlington, TX.

Cerreta plans to focus more and more on helping others found community kitchens with no menu and no prices. "Our goal is to continue to move the One World Everybody Eats vision to larger audiences," she says in a personal message. She continues:

We see that mentoring and networking fledgling efforts around the country is where our energy can be best spent. And we are working to connect those people and efforts. Because by letting everyone who is striving to establish their own effort in their own community see they are not alone, we think it may help the establishment of successful endeavors nationwide even faster. And we relish the role and opportunity to help the no-menu, no-prices community building model to fruition everywhere.

To that end, Cerreta travels wherever she is needed to assist in establishing a new community kitchen. She has volunteered as much as a month of her time, working the counter in new kitchens. She and the foundation provide a free online how-to, "Spirit in Business: A Guide for Starting a Community Kitchen," (pdf format) which they are planning to expand to a full book.

Ordinary Heroes Award Badge

For visioning a world free of hunger, for trusting her patrons to pay a fair price for the food she serves, for assuring no one who enters her doors leaves hungry whatever their circumstances, for setting the standard of serving wholesome, organically grown, nutritious foods, for encouraging other food purveyors to consider the no menu-no price model, for working diligently to eliminate food waste and for making a commitment to pay employees a living wage, this week's Ordinary Hero Award is humbly and gratefully offered to Denise Cerreta.

Content spacer graphicImages of the One World community kitchen and garden courtesy One World Everybody Eats newsroom.