On Choosing - A Hyperlocavore Responds to Catastrophe

This is a guest post by Liz McLellan. Liz is the builder of hyperlocavore.com a free yard sharing community. After 25 years in the tech field as a user interface specialist and web strategist, Liz moved to the country. She describes herself as farm nerd. She likes to spend her time between gardening, geeking out and community building. Liz started hyperlocavore.com to encourage people to grow food with their friends, family and neighbors in yard sharing groups to build community and food security close to home. She's blogging about the experience of building the site, the community and all her about growing food and tending her beasties. (you can e-mail her hyperlocavore at gmail and tweet her @hyperlocavore...don't forget you can tweet us at @theoildrum !)

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

One of the most useful things I have ever learned in my life is that the most effective way to deal with worry and anxiety is to act on those things in your life that you can control, and leave the rest up to the Universe. Some call it the “Serenity Prayer.” Whatever you believe in or do not believe in, knowing just what you can control in your life and what you cannot is the key to your joy. This much I know.

Everyday we are presented with immense immanent rolling overlapping catastrophes, environmental devastation, societal malaise and violence, running out of the stuff that we are told underpins our every creature comfort - oil. All of these things are true. That hand basket you’ve heard so much about, we riding in it!

How do we “carry on”, as the Brits used to say. Well, I’m not at all interested in “carrying on” actually. Nose down, joy in check, plodding and miserable. I want to thrive. I was raised with mighty high expectations of what this life can be, and I’m not giving those expectations up. I want to reach the top of Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. I want to love and live well. And I want to eat REALLY well. I got used to that in the 1990’s.

Well, first I would like to suggest some humility, for many on the planet, this rolling crisis has been their daily experience for as long as they have lived. It is nothing new. Check in with yourself. What are you grateful for? What have you been given in life by your community, your family, your beloveds, your friends and your neighbors, by this Earth? You can read this. There must be someone who taught you to read. Take a moment. Sit with your gratitude.

That’s where I began when I built hyperlocavore.com - a free yard sharing community, sitting with gratitude. I had just been laid off. It was April. I had been a tech strategy person at a 35 year old sustainability non-profit that had been fighting the good fight as long as I had been on the planet. I took an inventory…

OK. Stop. Honestly? I can’t lie. First, I felt terror. Then, blind rage with a dollop of total panic. Boiling blood, fist shaking, laying curses on all who had done me wrong - all that. That lasted for a few months, if I tell the truth. Then there was a substantial period of pouting and just feeling so sad for myself. My poor pitiful sorry self. That got old really fast. I bore easily. And I got bored with myself behaving that way, pretty quickly.

When I moved on, it was via gratitude. Sitting with and contemplating all that I was and am grateful for, after all the crying, bargaining and bemoaning had subsided. What did I have, well besides the sweatpants I had been wearing for a few weeks? I am literate and reasonably intelligent, if broke. I have knowledge that people can band together and build amazing fantastical giant things, cities even, because I’ve been part of a community that does that for more than a decade now. I speak of the Burning Man festival and year round astounding creative beautiful community made of doers. I believe I write well enough.

And I have an good idea that has been bugging me since I was about 5. I used to look at the inside of city blocks in San Francisco and wonder, why the heck were the yards all fenced off, in the middle and mostly unused. Why not, I thought way back then, tear those fences down and build a garden full of fruit trees, nut trees and veggie patches? Why don’t people grow food there?

I am grateful that I grew up in the Silicon Valley, a place that fed my voracious curiousity and kept me tinkering. I am grateful for growing up in the Bay Area, a place absolutely crammed with practical minded revolutionaries and doing daring dreamers. The rest of the country seems to think the only thing we gave them was tie-dye and 4 foot bongs, but they would be mistaken. The Bay Area is a place that teaches everyone “Why Not?” A society of people that does not let you just talk about a good idea without telling you, in chorus, to “DO IT!” It is tough to get away with a lot moaning and jaw flapping in a place like that.

Yard sharing is all about being grateful for what you have, not anxious about what you don’t. It’s about responding practically to chaos, to the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. Never in all my life did I think I would quote Donald Rumsfeld but, there you are. These are strange days, indeed!

You do know these things for sure. You know you need healthy food and you know you need it cheap. So do all your friends and neighbors, the members of your faith communities, so does your slacker posse. So does your family. Doing for yourself, deepening your food security and your community resilience is the most direct thing you can do to bring your rational and general anxiety down to a manageable size. Sit down to a meal that you grew yourself from seeds which you saved, bread you baked, eggs you gathered, and you will know in your bones that you and yours will be alright.

We get new people signing up to the social network every single day, practical people looking to get down to business. I built the site because lots of people don’t have all resources or skills they need to grow their own. Some of us lack time, some lack space, some have physical limitations, or lack certain tools. Some have so little experience growing things that the task seems overwhelming. Where do you start? All of these issues can be minimized in a well gathered and tended yard sharing group, a healthy community.

Some folks are linking up yards and creating mini suburban farm/CSAs, like Kipp Nash in Boulder, Colorado. Each family gets a weekly box of the freshest produce and the rest he sells at the farmers market. If this looks like the job for you, come on by the site and find some farm clients and yards to tend! Kipp’s got eight yards he is farming. Will you ever look at a lawn again in the same way? When I see a sad lone Honey-Doer on a loud riding mower all I see is wasted space, wasted water and meaningless work.

Green thumbs will appear and share the secrets of plant whispering, food waste will be gathered from multiple households and make a formidable sweet smelling compost pile. Friends will band together to buy 3 year old apple trees, for a lifetime of apples. Abuelitas will pass on magic recipes and kids will coax worms to party in warm living soil. Their curiosity will catch fire! Streets will become neighborhoods, neighbors will become friends. No one will feel alone, frozen or powerless, because no one will be alone, frozen or powerless. Potlucks will abound! All will eat better.

This is the future we see, us hyperlocavores. We know it’s coming, because we’re building it right now. Who has time to fret? Pass the cornbread and fresh salsa. Look someone brought the boom box!

Our great great grandparents used to have victory gardens but, they also had rent parties. Londoners danced in underground tunnels as fire came down from the sky. They stayed put. They raised rent, barns and kids together. They didn’t just survive, many of them thrived. I hope we will all use this compound crisis as a reminder that the hard times are very often the very best of times. Take note of what you have, be grateful for your loved ones. Take note of those around you that may feel alone. They are not and you are not, alone.

We each of us every moment of the day will choose our responses to what’s happening. Some will choose to go numb, watch more TV, play more video games, surf mindlessly. Some will chose hate, rage, to nurse grievances and will choose take their pain out on the people around them, the people they love most in this world.

Will you choose another day of fear, of distrust, anger or powerlessness, of envy and isolation or will you choose the plentiful garden, the neighborhood, real community, real food and pleasure?



“There’s only two things that money can’t buy,
That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes!”

- Guy Clark
I would add ‘real community’ to that list of things money can’t buy.
I choose real community, dancing in the chaos, pleasure, delectable food and the edible and musical neighborhood.
Happy Digging!

Thanks PG for this locavore story from Liz McLellan. I'm also somewhat of a locavore, though not yet near 100%. I too saw pointless grass-covered land and converted it to raising fruit and nut trees (and small plots of grat ns).

For those who have neighbors who are selfless and are immune to the "Tragedy of the Commons", I salute you. I'm afraid it will take many more years here in Virginia for us to reach that point. And yes, homegrown tomatoes are indeed a pleasure almost beyond ken.

The more yards that are converted to gardens means that much more resilience in the neighborhood.

Thank you for bringing up Garret Hardin's very influential 1968 essay, The Tragedy of The Commons. I would start by saying that though it's an interesting point, in my opinion it is irrelevant. A yard share strictly speaking is not a 'commons.' Though it may seem like one, it is not. In a yard share arrangement the owner of the property has dominion over his or her yard. It's an ugly word, but I suspect, the only way we would see yard sharing widely adopted at a peak oil/climate impact strategy. However, there is no 'common' as I understand it used in Hardin's essay. We can say whatever we like about private property, but yard sharing is not in any way a strategy to eliminate it, or the property owners rights with respect to it.

Though I encourage each small group to make up what ever rules they feel will work for them, it's my feeling that the person who opens their yard maintains the strongest interest in keeping the garden viable. If that person assesses that a member of the yard sharing group is not fulfilling commitments, or over using the shared harvest, they can simply tell the person that they are no longer welcome as a member of the group. The parameters of the yard sharing arrangement are up to the folks of each group, the comfort level for risk of the owner.
The yard share arrangement might very well happen within a family as well. Which of course does not mean it will be without conflict. As with any endeavor, our ability to manage and resolve conflicts as they arise, actively, will determine the long term viability of the group.

Conflicts will be inevitable. It is natural that they will occur in any group with more than one person in the set. As with any group you form it's members are it's most important element. I have said elsewhere, yard sharing is like dating. You don't just jump into it with anyone unless you are the thrill seeking type. Careful evaluation of members is really up to the property owner in the end. And being part of a yard share group requires the off site members respect the person who is opening their space. We are developing a work book, which is essentially a process for a prospective group to come up with their own structures and mores.

I think - from my POV - it makes sense to keep the groups fairly small for manageability's sake, but also so that no one's contribution or misbehavior can go unaddressed or unrecognized.

A yard share is not an open field, the river or the sky. The people participating have names and addresses that are directly linked to the yard share group. If that makes sense, with regard to our understanding of 'the commons.'

To the above, I would add "written agreements" as an essential part of yardsharing, as described above.

And when it comes down to it, lack of firm, concise agreements is what Hardin was railing against in Tragedy of the Commons. Humans really have no effective agreements regarding the atmosphere, ocean, or soil of the world. Yardsharing could be a start in that direction, no?

A written agreement is only as strong as the positive intent and resolve to create relationship that people put into it... without these things, it end up being just a piece of paper. I do agree that within a group there should be explicit agreements worked out...another part of me knows perfectly amiable people breaking up are often turned into bitter enemies by opposing counsel. We need to enter the future with a different approach. More important than that document is the willingness of everyone to work through inevitable conflict - well. That takes intent to do to create real relationships not just 'contractual engagements.' Think about all the papers that are signed without thought in the financial industry every day. Was there any lack of litigious stance, foresight and self 'protection' between those very lawyer-ed up parties? More importantly were any of us protected by those signatures in triplicate?

These are philosophical ramblings of a non-lawyer and in no way constitute legal advice.

I shall put your site in My Favourites and interact there if possible/appropriate. Perhaps you could pop in here at TOD Campfire from time to time, whilst intelligence is certainly never lacking, Wisdom is occasionally in short supply.

Why thank you, Earnest!

A great attitude--and a good idea. So what if it is not the "commons" proper; start where you are. Some people seem to want utopia handed to them on a platter--and if they don't get it, which they never will, they pout.

My one suggestion would be to change the name of your website; the one you have now sounds so nerdy, it's hard to pronounce, and it doesn't generate warm fuzzies.

How about using your own words for your site: the plentiful garden? theplentifulgardenDOTcom.

My word you are a cheerful soul. I'm needing that thankyou button.

Some folks commented at the last campfire to the effect that "there is no solution", so I've been contemplating on that.

A solution from "without", cooked up in centralised authorities, is beyond reach. "All of It" can't be adequately rescued. (Not much of it actually)

A solution from "within" however has possibilities. This Hyperlocavore initiative is an example of solution from "within". A new form of society sprouting in the fertile compost of the form that is decaying. Attending to core prorities in a resource crisis: Food, Shelter and Security, and there be security in numbers. Minimising the need for transport in the food chain. Nurturing human intimacy and trust in a community.

Cute as a kitten.

Just as the Old Order is imperceptively fading away, so is the New Order blossoming.

Ernest Lux wrote: "Some folks commented at the last campfire to the effect that 'there is no solution.'"

I do agree. John Michael Greer points out that modern civilization is conditioned to view things as "problems" that only need the right "solution" in order to be "solved." But what we have coming at us is more properly called a predicament, which, by definition, has no solution. Rather, when faced with a predicament, one needs "coping strategies," and being a hyperlocalavore is certainly a coping strategy!

I prefer to think of hyperlocavore and yard sharing as a 'thriving strategy.' We've been coping for a very long time with 'the way things are.' I feel done with that psychological stance. It has not served me well. Coping is a very isolated mental state in the way I experience it. It's me against the world...

Hyperlocavore -- what a great post!

My personal opinion is that within a few years we in the USA will be much more concerned with how we will get enough food for the winter, and possibly many of us will be concerned with just getting enough food for the week or for one day.

I encourage my college-age child to pursue the interests she is passionate about, but also to find a class in permaculture or urban gardening -- "at least one!!!" I say, and she laughs and promises to find at least one course about local and sustainable food growing.

My other child is still middle-school age, and will be at home to see me adding rain barrels and putting out a garden each year.

The house next to me looks like the bank reposessed it -- this has been coming for awhile. I hope to get the word out and get someone of like mind to move in. Three houses down is a Hmong family that gardens and raises chickens. They seem so much more comfortable with raising food than most of us do.

Great article, keep on keeping on!

Invite them over and talk. The most important thing we can do right now is get to know our neighbors.

Right -- I will do so. Mostly we smile and wave as we pass by each other.

It was so much fun to see one of the little neighbor girls chase a young rooster who had gotten loose! She had a big net and the rooster ran down the alley, but then doubled back on her and scampered back into their yard, with the youngster hot on his trail.

When I was about 7 two girls fresh from Taiwan and their parents moved in next door, in the burbs of CA. The father had always had a garden. He started growing strawberries right away. One day I climbed up the very big fence to spy, and saw the biggest juiciest strawberry ever. The father, who I was a bit scared of to be honest, caught me. He picked the strawberry and gave it to me. With one gesture our families became friends. They were no longer from 'somewhere else.' I just got in touch with his daughter on facebook and told her that her Dad was probably responsible for my relationship to real food and real neighborhoods. It is what we make it.

Thank you Earnest!

That cheer you hear is VERY hard won, and defended with great vigor every day! It if you look at my ancestors is not my natural lot in life, being of rather dour Scots Irish bunch.

I do very much think there is some level of power in the visions of the future we tend...sounds a little woo woo I know. I'm not a woo woo person, but I do think that what we imagine the future to be has a great impact on what future we strive to bring into being and what becomes manifest (to use a VERY woo woo term.)

I think there is a responsibility to it as well, embedded in our responsibility to each other as humans. Maybe this global crisis will finally make that clear to the majority of us. Most of us will sink or swim, together. Most of us don't have an island to go to or even a mountain shack with water. And who would want to go?

I hope you will visit the site to meet more determined optimists.

As for the name some love it and some hate it.I've got feedback from both camps. The investment of what meager resources I have in time and in expense, has been made. So for now this is it. My google numbers are pretty good, though so I'm not too worried. It is nerdy. I am a giant nerd. (I even wrote a post called 10 Signs You May Be a Farm Nerd) Don't let that put you off, the community is full of very un-nerdy people...who interestingly are a really good looking bunch of people so far! HA! Not that being a nerd and good looking are mutually exclusive.

Thank you both!

Way to go Liz!

Lawn Sharing, and capitalization of lawns. I registered rent-a-lawn.com in anticipation of what is to come. Whether it's peak oil, swine flu, or the latest celebrity death match - something's popping right now.

Who knows, maybe we have arrived in the lobby of hell - first floor, reality. Next floor, flu-like symptoms, third floor - power outages and food shortages, followed by, oh hell, who knows.

So yeah, whether its in Pakistan or in a can of SPAM, somethings gonna get us eventually. So in the meantime, I heartily agree with lawn sharing!

Randy / Lawns to Gardens


Lions in Aquarius

I am a giant nerd. I even wrote a post called 10 Signs You May Be a Farm Nerd.

Hey, that's worth a link!

Do I qualify? :-)

I should have provided it the first go round.

10 Signs You May Be a Farm Nerd

Oh that was really neat! I didn't check it before posting.

Judging by those links you are the King of Farm Nerds! (That's a good thing!)

I do think that what we imagine the future to be has a great impact on what future we strive to bring into being and what becomes manifest

Hold that thought close to your heart, a key to almost every door.

What a wonderful idea! Thanks for sharing (the idea as well as the lawn!) Something else to add to the "things we can do" list.

When I first read TOD, I found it worrying and depressing, but now reading all these great things that people are doing I am finding it empowering.

Too often you hear "someone should do something". The answer is "I can do something"!

So I have some tomato seeds growing in a tray. A little over a dozen have come up so far, the biggest about 2 inches tall. Quite exciting! Ok so it isn't going to feed me for a year, but it is a start. A small start, who knows where it will lead. We don't have the room for a dozen tomato plants, but we are visiting family at the weekend, so we plan to take some for them. In terms of gifts, giving someone something which you have grown from a seed, and has the potential to grow into something big is really cool. Beats chocolates!

Also growing sunflowers. Only had one last year, the slugs liked them too much. This year they are still in pots so out of slug temptations reach. Already gave some to my parents last week, still got lots. Great big flowers, and then nutritious seeds to eat.

I have realised now how embedded I am in our modern world, an accountant working for a media company. I thought someone should do something, so I am...

Please keep this in mind:

You may be able to do more than you think you can.

This is the most beautiful thing I have read for awhile, and I've been reading Dickens and Eliot of late...

Oh my, as an English major that makes me very happy! Thank-you! You made my day!