Just weeks after our program ended last summer, the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts was hit by Hurricane Irene. Bad.
I was in North Carolina for the Grand Aspirations National Gathering as the storm worked its way up the East Coast. The GA crew was fine, albeit delayed in our travel plans. But when I got back to Franklin County, the home of program, I could see Irene had done serious damage. Turners Falls and Greenfield, the hubs of activity for Summer of Solutions, were spared the worst of it, but near-by neighbors in Shelburne Falls, Conway and many other small towns lost roads, homes, electricity, farm crops, animals and more. Seeing news footage of the main bridge being wiped out in Shelburne Falls was devastating. We had helped partner Co-op Power to weatherize several homes in this beautiful and tight-knit community.
A big lesson of 2011 for me has been that unprecedented weather in our rural river valley and the surrounding mountain towns is incredibly devastating. This lesson came in waves: first the tornado which struck Springfield and other towns south of us in June, causing massive damage, then the hurricane in August, and most recently with the surprise Halloween snowstorm, which dumped a foot of snow overnight and knocked out power for almost a week in many parts of the region. Narrow mountain roads aren’t built to withhold major flooding; aging bridges across the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers can’t handle 100 Year Floods every year. In an area which depends on agriculture, many small farmers had their worst season in years and lost thousands of dollars in crops.
While it has been a sobering year to the realities of climate change, I feel hopeful for what we are building in the Pioneer Valley. I also feel a new commitment to learning how to sustain ourselves and our communities in a changing climate. We will be at it again in 2012.
Pioneer Valley Summer of Solutions is based in Greenfield and Turners Falls, MA, two towns in western Massachusetts along the Connecticut River. These towns were rooted in manufacturing industries and are traditional crossing points for the surrounding communities, as far back as when the Pocumtuc tribe lived on the land.
SoS in 2012 will continue our farming and community education projects from 2011 and expand in new directions. In 2011 we helped start the Summer Workshop Series, hosted at the Brick House Community Resource Center in Turners, which was made up of dozens of free classes on topics from wood-working to self-defense to herbal medicine. We will continue this partnership with the Brick House, including the Snack Garden, which we planted and tended with Spanish-speaking neighbors kids in the Kids Gardening Class.
We also are continuing a fruitful partnership with Harvest Moon Farm, across the river in Greenfield. We started a “work-share” in 2011, helping with the Gwen and Eric’s crops in exchange for a quarter acre plot of our own. We’ll be expanding to grow more vegetables to sell, and expand options for Greenfield residents to eat healthy, affordable and local food and be a part of its production. We also will be using the Greenfield Community Kitchen to develop our own prepared food product.
As a program in a small, rural community (combined Greenfield and Turners are under 25,000 people) we face challenges and advantages. Living in the heart of amazing natural resources reminds me how we depend on them for everyday existence, and even in rural communities, access is lacking. Learning how to create prosperity in a community which has been abandoned by many commercial industries is more than a summer experience, but we’re lucky to work with a lot of other dedicated residents.
Myself (Martha Pskowski) and Erika Linenfelser are returning as second year program leaders, and we’re hiring new local leaders. Erika and I are both students at Hampshire College in near-by Amherst. I am excited to deepen my connections in this community and explore ways to make more self-sustaining options for youth in Franklin County, who often relocate to find opportunities. SoS is an exciting way to connect youth to older residents of the area to create a shared vision for the community. I also can’t wait for more harrowing bike rides on our narrow roads, and refreshing swims in the Connecticut River after work days. If you make it out to the Pioneer Valley, you’re sure to be charmed by our beautiful surroundings, and taken aback by the vitality of our local community.