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Rich life in the valley

Much going on with sustainability

Life in the Pioneer Valley is rich. Statistically, our median income is below the state and national averages, but our life is rich. Take a recent week, for example.

It started out with a talk by Mike Cole on the Deerfield River. It was the Deerfield River Watershed Association’s (DRWA) annual meeting, and Mike talked about research he and the DRWA have been doing over the past eight years to learn more about water quality in the Deerfield River.

He explained how you can measure water quality by looking at tiny critters — ones you can see and have no backbone, called macroinvertibrates. Each year the DRWA looked at a different section of the watershed. Among other things, they found that in general, the Deerfield River water is great! Good news for fish and Greenfield residents who get much of their drinking water from the Green River, a tributary of the Deerfield.

They also found four critters that are not documented as living in Massachusetts! How cool is that? DRWA is now looking at the effects of Irene, and the effects of river level changes caused by dam releases to generate electricity on the macroinvertibrates, and by extension, our water quality. Thank you Mike and the DRWA for your work. Fascinating!

That was followed the next day by a semi-annual meeting organized by Pioneer Valley Grows (PVGrows). Inspirational talks by folks doing everything from growing food to preparing nutritious school lunches. This was followed by a local food lunch and lively discussions in work groups about how we can improve food access and community health, improve agricultural land preservation and progress being made by PVGrows loan fund, which offers low-interest loans to folks working in the food world, and much more. PVGrows is a program of CISA, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, creator of the Local Hero campaign and much more.

The next day brought an opportunity to spend time with an orchardist and author, Michael Phillips. Brought to the area by Smith College, where he spoke at Smith College’s new zero-net-energy building in Whately, Phillips talked about what he does to grow organic fruit — not an easy feat! His observations of nature, and understanding of how to partner with nature to grow nutritious saleable fruit, in spite of the many pests that like fruit, was eye opening and fascinating!

The first annual Pioneer Valley Transition Towns film festival capped off my week. Nine of the 18 submissions were shown and awards given. This event, the brainchild of Judy Phillips of Northfield Transition Towns, was incredibly uplifting, as each film introduced us to a person or group doing amazing things in the Valley! All the films shared stories of what people are doing in response to the threats of depleting oil supplies, our degraded environment and climate change, and the Great Recession.

We learned about Nuestras Raices’ 20-year growth to create a vibrant and thriving community in Holyoke while growing organic food, and many other local food growers such as Deb Habib and Rickie Baruc at Seeds of Solidarity, and Danny Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm, to name a few.

We also learned about Tom Sullivan, who designs gardens for pollinators, and Leni Fried who has developed a unique community-building bag share program, and much more! We also saw a very humorous piece by Greenfield High School students called the Eco Team, about students on the prowl to find recycling offenders.

At the end of the week, I was exhausted, but exuberant! Filled with new ideas of better ways of doing things. I now understand better what folks are talking about when they say the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is a poor measure of our well-being. What does GDP have to do with my week and my well-being? Surveys show that after people achieve a certain level of income, their happiness does not go up.

Bhutan created the Gross Happiness Index (GHI) about 40 years ago in an effort to redefine what is important and what government should foster. Several other countries in Europe are exploring the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as a way of measuring our wellbeing.

For me, an information and sustainability junkie, this week was a week in heaven. Without having to spend a penny, I met hundreds of people who are making a living, having fun, and building community while making our world a better place to live. Isn’t this what life should be all about?

Nancy Hazard is the former director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) and the Tour de Sol, America’s Green Car Festival and Competition. She is co-author of the Greenfield Energy Audit. She can be reached at nhazard@WorldSustain.net.

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