Written by Community Solutions Senior Fellow Don Hollister
At Community Solutions we have begun to inventory examples of regional collaboration, multi-community initiatives in our Greater Miami Valley region of Ohio. How are organizations helping communities cope with change? This information will be shared on a Regional Resilience website that is under construction. We have found interest in convening a periodic Regional Community Roundtable to share our stories of success and challenges.
This undertaking seems historically fitting as our organization name, the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, identifies us with Morgan’s ambitious regional work as director of the Miami Conservancy District. However, our concern is broader than preventing physical floods. We see shifts in the climate, the economy and social health that threaten the region.
We suspect that the worst is yet to come and just as no individual stands alone, no community can survive and thrive on its own. Colleges and universities in the region, county soil and water conservation districts and a small network of conservation advocacy non-profits have begun the work of connecting stewardship of the physical region with the social and economic changes that are underway.
By buying a farm to serve as the home for a Center for Regenerative Agriculture, Community Solutions has taken a dramatic step in its service to the region. In addition to research on soils, the Center will be a facility for research, education about and demonstration of best practices in land use, community economy, decentralized generation of electricity and social resilience. This will be an educational resource for SW Ohio, in particular..
[Establishing a land base for our research and education mission makes Community Solutions more like our sister organization Mitraniketan that Arthur Morgan encouraged and supported starting in 1956. Mitraniketan school and People’s College now has Indian government status as the Farm Science Centre for their region of Kerala state.]
Our new farm Center puts a land based emphasis on our regional resilience work. Regional foodshed analysis, local food production, issues of storm runoff, distributed energy and energy efficient buildings now will be less abstract. We will continue to develop relationships with area universities, non-profits and local agencies, looking for stories of their successes to share with others. This networking will inevitably develop with a connection to our projects at the farm Center.
So many towns across America have been like the legendary frog in a pot of water slowly heating up until cooked. Circumstances have changed slowly enough that there was not a broad sense of crisis. Different regions have faced varying circumstances, yet now there is a wide spread sense of malaise. In our corner of the Rust Belt, the Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, metropolitan region, the news headlines are full of deaths from drug overdoses. That is the extreme, a symptom of widespread hopelessness.
There are many factors at play here. Automation and global competition have reduced the number of manufacturing jobs. Agriculture has been consolidated and focused on commodity production for a national and international market. A century of industrial land use has begun to show chemical residues in all of our surface water and increasingly in our groundwater. A widely mobile population no longer shares decades or generations of memories and experiences that provide the basis of neighborly trust.
Yet most people in this region, as most people in the world, are coping in their daily lives. It is just that so many are not. We have an elaborate sophisticated economy that supports social interactions at the workplace, in sports and other recreation, at church and, yes, on the internet. And those who do not have a job or a supporting network of friends and family are struggling.
Step back and examine our daily system. It is very fragile, dependent on transport of materials and energy over great distances. Most people drive a car to work. We drive to see family and friends. We tend to forget or ignore the times when there was a regional power outage, a gas shortage or spike in cost, the hundred year flood, the devastating tornado.
Where our energy sources are close by, where food is produced locally, our communities will be more likely to survive the unexpected crisis.
In the long run those more dramatic crises may be less threatening than the slow longer term changes. Just as the frog in a pot of water would jump out if the heat spiked, it enjoys swimming in the gently warming water. Wake up. Our temperature is slowly rising. You do not have to drive far to see blocks of boarded up houses. There are people dying of hopelessness. Although these are not all from the same direct causes we will better be able to cope together.