Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Post - On Sharing and Alternative Economies as Climate Action

On this Thanksgiving Day, this inspiring NYT dotearth blog--featuring "Reverend" Billy Talen preaching to people to share rather than shop, partly as a strategy for climate action--inspired me to write a special holiday post on this topic, and to hold my 2nd post on Sensory Engagement for next week.

But, Talen's group, The Church of Stop Shopping, is in fact a stellar example of sensory engagement. Talen is not a reverend but a performance artist, and the church is not a church. Here is how they describe themselves and their mission on their website:

"The Church of Stop Shopping is a New York City based radical performance community, with 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands. They are wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters, earth loving urban activists who have worked with communities on 4 continents defending land, life and imagination from reckless development and the extractive imperatives of global capital. They employ multiple tactics and creative strategies, including cash register exorcisms, retail interventions, cell phone operas combined with grass roots organizing and media activism. They are entertainers and artists, performing regularly throughout The US and Europe."

My team's research and my work on climate action have revealed some wonderful local examples of how Chicago communities are enacting and creating alternative consumer systems, some of which focus on sharing and others of which focus on DIY (do-it-yourself) and local economies. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. A young Polish woman founded and runs the Chicago Dog Academy, which she calls "the first Polish dog academy" at her home, serving a primarily Polish clientele. She is concerned about the environment and climate change and expresses this concern in her business by selling natural dog food and grooming products. Read more about her work in our report on the Polish community (see p.21).

 2. Gingko Organic Gardens in Uptown is run by community volunteers but they don't grow the produce for themselves. Rather, they donate all of it to a food pantry; and the parts of the veggies that people don't eat, they donate to a local rabbit animal shelter.

3. In Chicago’s Roseland neighborhoodFernwood United Methodist Church and their organization, George Washington Carver F.A.R.M.S., hosts a Soul Food Farmers’ Market featuring African-American farmers from the Pembroke community in Kankakee, just outside of Chicago. The market promotes the living traditions of African-American farmers to counter negative associations that many African Americans make with slave-farming and sharecropping. The church composts and encourages community members to donate leaves and food scraps in return for a discount on market goods. Read more about Fernwood in the Roseland community report.

 4. Billy Talen, along with others, has been writing about the sharing, gift economy, and sense of community that has emerged from Hurricane Sandy. Our research revealed a few examples of the strong sense of community that disaster can lead to. Indeed, in the Polish community study, we highlight "mobilizing the community to address crises" as a model of community engagement and explain that Chicago's Polish community institutions and individuals have been generously responding to crises in Poland since WWII. This includes contractors travelling back to Poland at their own expense to help people rebuild homes that collapsed from severe flooding.

5. Our best example of social entrepreneurship and local economic development is Toolkit Bronzeville partners' efforts to revitalize their community by making it a hub for sustainable, healthy, African cuisine. To learn more, watch the Bronzeville Toolkit documentary.

6. And finally, the Pilsen report and others highlight repurposing as a type of "DIY" take on the climate action strategy of waste reduction, and all our reports feature a number of stories and photos of creating re-use, thrift stores, flea markets, and repair shops.

Not to mention...we emphasize sharing STORIES!

So please share yours...
How do you participate in alternative economies?
What does Thanksgiving prompt you to think about?



  1. Hi Jenny,
    Have you heard about Chicago's Community Glue Workshop? Part of a growing trend of people who are moving away from our disposable society to repair, reuse, and mend our material culture:

    1. I'd heard about them vaguely but glad to have the actual name and link! Thanks, just shared it on the Toolkit Facebook page too.

  2. I have a friend who has long been an enthusiastic promoter of Billy Talen. Whatever the theatrics, the message is spot-on. Terry

  3. Hi Jenny,

    I can't say I participate in this alternative economy (yet), but I think The Plant in Back of the Yards is the best (food inspired) example I can think of in Chicago. The plant is "alternative," because--once it's operational--the only input into the system would be food waste and the outputs would be Kombucha tea, beer, mushrooms, microgreens, and a food desert!

    The idea of turning a waste stream into a resource is very exciting. At a much larger scale, the MWRD has some excited plans to do just that.


  4. I'd love to participate in a community garden (or my own!) someday, but for now I think the biggest alternative economy for me is the re-use one. A huge trigger for this has been my 15 month-old son: maternity clothes, baby "equipment", toys, clothes....I've sought out so much of it second-hand, mostly from friends. I just dropped off two boxes of clothes with a friend who just had a baby boy, and it will all come back to me plus some if I have another son someday, or her daughter's old stuff if I have a girl. Craiglist, freecycle, thrift makes buying new seem silly and almost eco-criminal.