community

Do-It-Yourself Families

A quiet revolution is rebuilding communities

community / Daniela is five months pregnant and mother to Kainoa, 20 months. She works at a full-time job for the city. Her husband, Jack, works full time as an environmental consultant.

Theirs is a life we all know too well. They often wake before the sun rises, get themselves and baby dressed, and rush off to work/childcare before 9am. Home just in time to see the sunset, they cram the rest of their lives into nights and weekends. Both Jack and Daniela need to work full time to pay their bills — covering food, rent, utilities, childcare and health insurance, they have little left over at the end of the month.

While both are educated about the importance of sustainability and are strong advocates for the local food movement, even ecofriendly living can be expensive on our isolated island chain. Social events, chores and preparing for baby No. 2 make a visit to a farmers’ market the exception, and not the rule.

Jack and Daniela crave more. They share a longing for the country, the land and a life less defined by a mundane, 9-to-5 routine that tugs at them and excludes many personal passions. Here, again, they are not alone.

Radical Homemaking is a movement–some call it a quiet revolution–taking place across the nation among men and women like Jack and Daniela, who are reconsidering the role of homemaking and seeking ways families can build healthy food systems and launch alternative livelihoods through like-minded connections within their communities. As Shannon Hayes, the author of Radical Homemakers, writes, “Faced with climate change, dwindling resources and species extinctions, most Americans understand the fundamental steps necessary to solve our global crises–drive less, consume less, increased self-reliance, buy and buying locally, eating locally, and rebuilding our local communities.”

Think about a 1960s housing commune, with a modern-day, more realistic and less utopian twist. Radical homemakers strive for the good life by adhering to simple principles of ecological sustainability, social justice, community engagement and family well-being. Rather than creating new communities, radical homemaking is about retrofitting modern lifestyles, reclaiming the creative, post-consumer culture skill sets such as growing your own food, cooking, sewing, canning and so forth, to enable community self-sufficiency.

In Hawaii, where upwards of 80 percent of our food is imported, this is not just a personal choice–it’s a political issue. The ecological, cultural and political ramifications of our dependence on foreign-grown food are increasingly apparent. However, the isolated nuclear- family units that we’ve been told are the American norm do not easily lead to democratic food security. We can’t do this alone. We must begin to share our skills with one another and pool our disparate resources.

“When I meet with potential radical homemakers,” explains Hayes, “the problem is not whether people are capable of growing food, or sewing or canning vegetables–the problem is whether or not they have the courage to build the relationships necessary to make radical homemaking possible.”

Where does community building begin? Like many who live in condos, I lack sufficient space for a garden or large social gatherings. I make up for this lack of space, however, with skills in the kitchen, earning disposable income, and flexible work hours. Patty, an Aina-Haina based, stay-at-home mom, has space for a garden, a love for her friends’ children and the ability to make things grow. Daniela has a chicken coop, a formidable garden and a yard chock full of fruit trees. What they grow, I cook–and together we raise our families as inextricable parts of the land and the environment. What we lack as individuals, we make up for as a community.

As we carefully strategize to develop our experiment in radical homemaking, we realize the possibility of forming the foundation for a new life, free from the modern-day work-a-thon. It is community connections and interdependence that lies at the core of this new social experiment–and so we must begin by strengthening and fortifying these community ties.

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Tips on Forming Community Ties Resources

- Join or volunteer at a community garden. After World War Two — Victory gardens grew upwards of 50% of fresh produce in US cities. Reclaiming parks and recreational spaces as potentially productive is the first step in building food secure communities.

- Organize a neighborhood potluck - getting to know your neighbors is the first step in establishing sound community ties for sharing resources

- Form a childcare co-op with neighbors and friends - especially for moms, helping one another out is the first step in creating the time needed for cooking and growing food.

- Encourage local neighborhood organizations and community groups to offer skill-shares: its an easy way to teach one another how to sew, fix things around the house, garden, etc.

If you’re interested in Radical Homemaking, join the Radical Homemakers Reading Group at Baby Awearness, January 20, 2011 @ 7pm.

The Green House offers classes in sustainable living practices for children and adults, with an emphasis on hands-on community learning. Classes include gardening and composting, art from nature, recycled art, “green” urban living, and renewable energy. Go to: http://[thegreenhousehawaii.com]