This just in from our guest conference blogger, Shelly Randall of SustainableTogether.com, who took the time to recap the events of NWEI’s multi-day biannual gathering a few weeks ago. Thanks Shelly! For those who weren’t able to join, this will fill you in on gathering highlights and outcomes.

Salutations from Port Townsend, a community that is still reverberating with the excitement of hosting NWEI’s biannual North American gathering last month (Sept. 15-18, 2011). The “Will Allen buzz” has yet to wear off, and every one of the 500-odd people who attended his public keynote address seems to still be talking about it. Everyone else in town is eagerly awaiting the video that was shot that night to be edited and released.

Our grassroots efforts to create a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy have gained visibility and been bolstered by the opportunity to host NWEI’s conference, “If Not Me, Then Who? Building Healthy Communities and Local Food Systems One Conversation at a Time.” (Thanks to NWEI for offering reasonable day rates that made it possible for many Port Townsendites to attend the conference part-time.)

In addition to the conversations that started, “Did you hear Will Allen?”, conversations here in Port Townsend are spinning off everywhere:

  • Through new NWEI discussion courses that are starting up this month, in homes and churches;
  • At a talk this week on reconnecting urban consumers to agricultural producers, presented by the director of our state Department of Agriculture and hosted by Port Townsend’s Citizens for Local Food;
  • At this week’s kick-off event for Our Watershed, a NWEI-style, 7-week course being offered at no charge to participants, and available in two geographic versions: the Pacific Northwest and more specifically Puget Sound. Click here to learn more.
  • At meet-the-candidate events with conference attendee and local economy advocate Deborah Stinson, who is running for City Council;
  • Between my 3-year-old son and the 4-year-old son of a climate researcher I met at the conference whose family just happens to live four blocks from mine!

Best yet, our local Chamber of Commerce has invited me and Judy Alexander (chair of Port Townsend’s NWEI steering committee and Local 2020 leader) to present back-to-back in November, and is dedicating two of its weekly meetings to the topic of local sustainability. The Chamber director was inspired by local media coverage of the NWEI conference, and her phone message was waiting for me at the end of the day Friday. What a wonderful and direct outcome!

Before my inspiration from the conference is redirected to these worthy conversations, I want to present some easily scannable conference highlights from sessions I attended. Below, please find short summaries and relevant links to more information. The conference schedule contains details on all the presentations held Thursday-Sunday at Fort Worden State Park…

*Below are just a few excerpts from Shelly’s full post. To read the full recap, visit www.sustainabletogether.com

Conference Highlights – FRIDAY

Community Building, Sustainable Food and Neighborhood Activism: A Port Townsend NWEI Case Study

Imagine if every Menu for the Future course had a farmer or food producer at the table? That was the case for the 28 NWEI discussion courses organized in our county in 2010. Judy Alexander and Peter Bates (both NWEI organizers) and local Grange President Dick Bergeron shared how they found common ground to pull off this ambitious, and how it helped grow the customer base for local food.

It was an inspiring first session, notable for its outcomes (our county now spends 4% of its food dollars locally, compared with less than 1% nationwide, and there is a push to get that to 20% by 2020), its specificity (how a Google Docs spreadsheet enabled course coordination), and its enduring themes (partnerships, identity politics, how food brings people together).

Peak Moment TV interviewed these three in Fall 2010, and the interviewer’s notes nicely summarize this Town Mouse/Country Mouse collaboration. Click here to read them, and click here to watch the 28-minute video.

Accelerating Community Capital: Developing a Local Investing Ecosystem

I heard this called “the most paradigm-shifting session” of the weekend, and with the Occupy Wall Street protests now in full swing, learning how to promote local investing seems more relevant than ever.

One of the key factors driving Port Townsend’s relatively thriving local economy is the Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION), a clearinghouse between business owners who need capital and potential investors in their community. It’s not a pooled investment or a loan fund, and business owners are not making public offerings—transactions are based on one-to-one personal relationships (which gets around SEC restrictions). Since LION formed in 2006 (it was formalized in 2008), it has facilitated more than $2 million in local investments (primarily loans), with an average investment of $132,000 per active investor.

“It has been not only a huge economic boost for us, but also a profoundly hopeful thing to be a part of,” said presenter Deborah Stinson. She was joined by fellow LION investor Michelle Sandoval and locally financed business owner Crystie Kisler of Finnriver Farm “What we’re finding with LION investors is they have truly aligned their values with their actions and their bank accounts,” said Kisler.

LION’s website offers Local Investing Kits with templates of its legal agreements and forms. Peak Moment TV interviewed LION’s co-founder, an investor, and a locally financed entrepreneur in Summer 2011. Click here to watch the 28-minute video.

Becoming a Hyper-Locavore: Lessons from a 10-Mile Diet

I hadn’t read my conference schedule close enough to realize Vicki Robin would be here, and when I was casually introduced to the co-author of Your Money or Your Life—one of the most influential books of my past year—I couldn’t even speak, I just genuflected. So of course I had to attend Vicki’s presentation later that day.

Who knew it would be so funny? It turned out to be the trial run of her “relational eating” talk, describing her extreme eco-challenge to eat only what grew within 10 miles of her Whidbey Island home for one month in 2010—and she had us all laughing hysterically. Thankfully, she chose September. Thankfully her neighbors bootleg raw milk and cheese, and sell eggs and free range chickens. But at a “shocking” $5/lb, Vicki was forced to cut way back on eating the only meat available to her. In the midst of describing this protein dilemma to us, Vicki happened to look out the window and caught one of Port Townsend’s feral deer in her sights. Instantly, she leaped into a bow-and-arrow stance. “That would’ve been dinner,” she declared, to her audience’s great delight.

Look for her undoubtedly good-humored book to come out next year: Blessing the Hands that Feed Us: Lessons from a 10-Mile Diet (Viking 2012). Vicki blogs at http://ymoyl.wordpress.com/

To read more about Kurt Hoelting’s keynote address about Harnessing the Power of Place to Build More Resilient Lives and Communities, workshops on community walkability, NWEI’s new course Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability and highlights from Farmer’s Market tour and the Farm Tour, click here.

Shelly Randall blogs at SustainableTogether.com and can be reached at shelly@sustainabletogether.com or 360-301-2540.

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