As many of you know, we are gearing up for NWEI’s North American Gathering, a conference on sustainable food and community – to be held in a few short weeks in Port Townsend, Washington (September 15-18th).  One of the co-hosts of this conference is Judy Alexander who serves on the NWEI Port Townsend Steering Committee.  She recently wrote an article for her local paper, entitled Feed your Desire for Change; Join Conference, Conversation.  Enjoy!  And, if you are in the area (or beyond!) and would like to join us, please do!  For more information visit

How does one “do the right thing” when it is so darn easy to behave in ways that we know are not good for our world? Eating non-nutritious junk food. Spending money on non-essential things. Using resources wastefully. Flying on airplanes. Driving unnecessarily.   You know what I mean. The temptations abound.

I am practicing living with a paradigm shift made clear to me by taking courses from the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI).  NWEI is a nonprofit organization founded in Portland in 1993 that has since been replicated more than 20 times across the U.S. and Canada.  What helped me is to find others who were equally interested in changing. Back in 2005 I invited 12 of my friends to take several of the NWEI courses with me to create a support system for living differently, specifically because I knew support for making changes would be necessary for me to succeed.  To this day, many of us are close friends, almost like family, knowing we share core values that we clarified taking NWEI courses together.

Learning to step outside my previously held views was one of the most potent things I could do. What a concept!

The way NWEI courses work is this: You buy a book for a little over $20, books are available online at
Any group can self-organize, neighbors, church members, people at work on their lunch hour. There is no group leader and there’s no teacher. It’s like a book discussion group and it meets weekly for six to eight sessions. But rather than just discussing “concepts” from the reading, what happens is you explore how you feel about what was read based on your life experiences. You also explore possibilities for changed behavior, and launch yourself, step by step, as you desire, if you desire, into a new way of living. If you choose to change, it’s from the inside – not from outside pressure.

For the past decade, NWEI courses have been alive and well in Jefferson County.  10 courses are available including: Voluntary Simplicity; Healthy Children, Healthy Planet; Just Below the Surface: Perspectives on the Gulf Coast Oil Spill; Choices for Sustainable Living, Menu for the Future; and many more. Another course that deepens the dialogue about food is being launched mid-September. It has to do with ethical eating.

More than 1,100 people in Jefferson County have taken one or more of the courses. More than 25 groups discussed the Menu for the Future course on food, locally, in the past three years alone. Each group had a farmer or food producer as a participant, often motivating people to directly support their local farmers with their food dollars.

This September, Fort Worden is hosting a NWEI conference titled “If Not Me,Then Who? Building Healthy Communities and Local Food Systems One Conversation at a Time.”  By attending this conference, just as my personal group of friends did for me, we can inspire each other with healthy behavior change around food choices and other habits. With this conference right in our backyard, the opportunity is at our fingertips.

Keep in mind that your decision to attend this conference won’t just inspire you.
It will feed our collective local enthusiasm for change.

Judith Alexander is a long-time Port Townsend resident, private practice therapist, and enthusiastic volunteer for a sustainable world.