About a dozen of us filled the living room, sitting on all surfaces available and balancing plates on knees or floor boards. The room was full of relative strangers, from high school up to mid-20s, from nearby towns and every corner of New England, sharing company and a meal of lasagna. Energy was high as we discussed the projects that lie ahead this summer, and the ideas we have for our two months together.
This is Summer of Solutions Pioneer Valley, a program in sustainable community development and youth leadership, based in the towns of Turners Falls and Greenfield in northern Massachusetts.
We are a group of about fifteen full and part-time members who are all dedicated to learning how to create solutions in our communities. This summer, that means working on a local farm, learning home weatherization techniques, improving our bike maintenance skills, facilitating and organizing free local classes on topics from food preservation to stone-masonry and much more. Beyond these tangible skills, we’re learning the pieces that make it all fit together.
How do you start a community project? How can you make environmental solutions accessible? What is solidarity? What does it mean to be a sustainable business? How do you sustain yourself while you’re at it?
Working with an exciting variety of community partners, our participants will have the chance to:
1. Become competent in bike commuting and bike maintenance. In our rural corner of New England, cars are a near necessity. We will explore how transportation in our area can become more sustainable, starting with ourselves.
2. Grow their own food and share it with the local community. Through a partnership with Harvest Moon Farm, we will be doing a “workshare” to exchange our labor for produce. We will also be creating a garden at a local community resource center, the Brick House, to provide food and education in the center of Turners Falls.
3. Weatherize a local home and public building under the guidance of a local cooperative, Co-op Power. We will also develop materials to help renters secure energy audits and improvements on their homes.
4. Take and facilitate courses at the Brick House Summer Workshop Series, which offers free classes to the community on topics from gardening to wood working to meditation.
Summer of Solutions goes beyond the tangible work we will be doing, to instill a mindset for the rest of our lives. It’s the mindset that we have everything we are looking for to solve environmental, economic and social challenges. It’s the mindset that people are the key ingredient to make the changes communities are desperately seeking. It’s the mindset that the future can actually look brighter than our present today, and rolling up our sleeves to make it so.