Small communities filled with people sharing their time and skills will help build local resiliency as the climate changes. Plus you’ll meet the nicest people!
Just some community activities
During the pandemic, empty grocery store shelves, shuttered food processing plants and reduced-capacity farmers’ markets all highlighted the importance of food security. A community garden provides space for people to not only grow food but to also share seeds and knowledge. Many cities rent out plots to residents in community gardens for a small fee. Some also operate demonstration gardens for teaching classes and holding events in addition to providing a place in urban areas for residents to grow some of their own food. Contact your city to find out if it has a community garden.
Everyone who attends brings jars or other containers to take home a bunch of food—some to enjoy now and some to freeze for later.
Although you’d cook slow food (i.e., fresh seasonal produce and whole ingredients that require time to prepare, unlike highly processed food), a cooking club can save so much time. This kind of high-efficiency cooking can also help reduce food waste and if you have extra ingredients at the end of your cooking session, someone in the group will be happy to take them home.
You could plan to get together every month or every other month. In advance, decide:
What you’ll cook
What you’ll buy
What equipment you’ll need
Who will shop
How you’ll pay
Where you’ll cook
Who preps what
Specialization and skill sharing
Soon after I went plastic-free, I started fermenting more foods. I am convinced that many people who reduce their waste will stumble onto fermentation. How else will you get your vinegar? One person can do only so much though.
I envision forming a group of fermentos to trade with. Each of us would specialize in certain ferments—one person would make the kombucha, another the sauerkraut, someone else the kefir, and we would make enough for the group. I have five starters to care for at the moment—two different sourdough starters, kombucha SCOBYs, my ginger bug for brewing ginger beer and my vinegar mothers. Starters—like pets—will die without proper care. I am nearly maxed out. But if I bake the bread and someone else makes the kimchi, we both will save a pile of time—while not sacrificing taste or quality (we’ll save money too).
In addition to specializing, we can also teach these specific skills. When I first started my blog, Zero-Waste Chef, I thought about calling it “Lost Knowledge.” At the time, I wondered (and still do) when else in human history people have not possessed the basic knowledge necessary to feed themselves. Consumer culture rendered many skills obsolete, leaving us helpless and dependent on corporations to fulfill our every need. And as those same corporations squeezed more out of their workers and drove down wages, many people, working longer hours just to make ends meet, lost an element crucial to applying these skills—time.
(Go here for a blog post, “Make Making Great Again.”)
I love my zero-waste community. To find a group near you, search Meetup in your city. Use terms like “zero waste,” “sustainability,” “climate change” and so on. If you don’t find a specifically zero-waste group, you’ll certainly find like-minded people, some of whom may want to join a zero-waste group, should you decide to start one.
Your group might pick up trash at the beach, tour waste-management facilities, attend talks on sustainability or do community outreach to raise awareness of plastic pollution.
During a Plastic-Free July picnic last year with my group, I floated the idea for Silicon Valley Reduces, based on Canada Reduces, as a way to help connect local restaurants, cafés and stores with customers wanting to BYO clean containers for filling their orders. Go here for more information on starting a group of your own. And if you do start a group and would like to join our network of reuse groups in the US (there are now five groups!), please email me here.
Our sewing bee group has sewn over 3,000 produce bags to give away at the farmers’ market. Not everyone who has attended the sewing bees has known how to sew but several have learned the basics by making these very simple bags. The most important—and tedious task—is cutting the fabric. Ideally, at least a couple of us get together before the actual sewing bee and cut bags out for a couple of hours. When the rest of my lovely volunteers arrive, they then crank out the pre-cut bags. We also need one person to iron and one to do quality control. I’m usually busy managing people, wielding large pieces of fabric and making tea and snacks.
Read more about organizing a sewing bee here.
Hang out with friends, unload items you no longer want, find items you do want—for free!—and keep piles of stuff out of landfill. I’ve organized a few of these and each time have been amazed by the quality stuff people bring. On a Facebook page, Meetup event page or shared Google Doc that you use to organize your event, do some pre-swap swapping. And ask people what they need. Someone at my first event asked for a very small cast-iron skillet. I had forgotten I had one of these, dug it out and brought it to the swap for her. She was thrilled.
Read more about organizing a swap here.
You could do a combo event and incorporate a swap with one of the other ideas listed here. At one of my last produce bag sewing events, a few of us brought things we thought other attendees could use. At my community garden’s monthly garden share, gardeners bring seeds, cuttings and produce, but also other items like books or food from their pantry.
Letter or email writing
You can write to politicians, asking them to support climate policies (see day 10), for example, or write to your municipality to push for bylaws to reduce plastic waste. Before you get together (virtually or in person), vote for a target.
Once you have chosen the company, create a template for everyone to use. You can work on this template together during the meeting or one of you can draft it beforehand. After you’ve settled on the template, each of you can customize it if you wish, sign it and email it.
Remark is an app that writes letters for you in order to send businesses feedback on their sustainability measures (or lack thereof). When you shop in a store, look the business up on the app and then grade it across various categories: product packaging, organic options, bulk options, produce bags, vegan options, meat sourcing and so on. The app will then write a kindly worded letter based on your inputs and send it on your behalf—anonymously—to the business.
How to find people to join your community
You really need only a few people to get a community started. Once you get going, your enthusiasm will attract more people. Community is infectious!
Our zero-waste group started on Meetup, which costs $15 a month but you could also form a Facebook group for your community. Scout out prospective members at work, school and your neighborhood.
If you belong to one, a church might be your best bet for finding recruits. The moral issue of environmental destruction affects the poor and marginalized most.
Do you belong to a community group? If so, what type?
I love the idea of a cooking club. A women’s group at my church has been meeting for several years (before pandemic restrictions) in the church kitchen to make large batches of soup which are then stored in a communal freezer and taken to those who are sick, shut-in or grieving or just need a culinary “hug”. Given that there are a lot of singles In the congregation, and it is challenging to cook for one, there could be an opportunity to gather and cook meals to be shared.
A couple of years ago, I made my own grocery produce bags. I took the project a step further by sourcing my material from thrift stores - I used drapery sheers that had been donated but were unsaleable. Didn’t matter that there were holes or paint spatters as I wasn’t going to hang them on a window.
Day 21 post has prompted me to get involved with like minded people. I am tired of that look of people that tells me they think I am fit for the loony bin when I say, "No, I won't shop at Cdn. Super store, as I took a No Plastic Initiative in July, and I don't want to buy produce encased in shrink wrap". So I thought I would get involved in the community garden. I have only seen people in it once, but it is next store to the local RCMP office, so I will give them a call tomorrow morning as I am sure they will know who to contact. The times, "they are a changin", as my daughters' Middle School has had a huge overgrown lot in front of their school apparently for years. Well, next year the school is building a garden to get student's involved in growing their own food, and education evolving thereof. The other aspect, is the lot has a huge border along the main street, so gardening activities, and ?produce, will pretty up the block which has car selling companies and also currently looks a bit "strip mall-esh"!