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Fostering strong community bonds can help us care for the environment. Here's how.
You have hundreds of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but can you name people who live down the street? And do you know who grew the vegetables on your plate? Those face-to-face connections, commonplace 100 years ago, are important to sustaining and caring for the world around us. "Throughout history, the way that we were able to get our goods and services was through relationships," explains Severn Cullis-Suzuki. "Now, with the explosion of the globalized economy, we've replaced relationships with economic interactions."
When our food comes from across the ocean, we don't think to ask how its production has impacted the land, the water or the people who live there. That disconnect allows for injustices to go unnoticed and our planet to go unprotected. "We live in a way that doesn't allow us to see our exquisite dependence on nature for our health and well-being," says Cullis-Suzuki's father, David Suzuki.
Community building, suggest David and Severn, is part of the solution to environmental degradation, whether you live in a small town or a big city. And guess what? Strengthening community ties can be fun, says Lindsay Coulter, the David Suzuki Foundation's Queen of Green. Here are some tips for creating stronger, greener neighbourhoods.
1. Host a repair café
We often rely a bit too much on the third R: recycle. A repair café refocuses our attention to reusing and refurbishing household items, and it allows participants to learn basic repair skills. Enlist the help of some tech wizards and handy people in the community, then put ads in the local newspaper or spread the word through Facebook. "Fixers can repair computers, toasters, lamps, chairs, clothes, jewellery, books and more," says Coulter. "It's one way neighbours can help neighbours keep things out of the landfill and shift us from a throwaway to a fix-it society."
2. Get involved at your child's school
"Engaging with your school as a unit of community is pretty powerful," says Severn. Her own mother started a greening committee at Severn's elementary school, which, at the time, featured a concrete yard. With the committee, she started a butterfly garden and got the kids to help with planting. Now, Severn is on the parent advisory committee of her child's school, where she can work with teachers and other parents to help make the school better.
3. Host a clothing swap
Gather your neighbours, coworkers and friends to trade their gently used clothes with someone else's for a wardrobe refresh. A swap is a great way to pass along kids' items, and anything that's left over can be donated to charity. "It's a simple way to keep textile waste out of the landfill and to fashionably embrace ‘reduce, reuse and recycle,' " says Coulter.
4. Plan an outdoor project
There are all kinds of ways to clean up your community. Coulter suggests taking advantage of organizations that help you create your own local program; for example, registering for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup or with Nature Watch, an organization that gets everyday Canadians involved in environmental study by gathering local data for scientific research. "Listen for frog calls, record flowering time and monitor worms to help foster understanding of global warming," says Coulter.
5. Get groceries straight from the farm
Sign up for community-supported agriculture (CSA), in which you invest money in a farm. As a kind of shareholder, you reap rewards when the farm succeeds and you get fresh produce each week. Just search online for a CSA in your area. Online directories such as csafarms.ca (Ontario), acornorganic.org (Atlantic Canada) and csamanitoba.org (Manitoba) help you find a farm near you. Taking this easy step will "get you one step closer to the farmer who grows your food," says Coulter. You'll not only help support local farmers but also gain a greater connection to your food.