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This article just in from Axiom News per the effects of Northwest Earth Institute’s programs and the work of Clevelanders in creating more sustainable local food systems. Thanks to all the people taking part in this inspiring effort! Read on to see what Clevelanders are doing as a result of participation in Menu for the Future.

With its array of homemade goat cheese, pasta made with basil pesto grown onsite, chili with local venison and spicy collard greens, a local food potluck last night captures the difference a growing underground movement around local food is making in Cleveland.

The potluck’s location, Gardens Under Glass, is a story in itself. Situated in Cleveland’s downtown Galleria mall, the core of Gardens Under Glass is a demonstration greenhouse with food grown there now used in some of the food court businesses…Then there’s the fact the potluck was held at all.

Clevelanders talk local food.

Capping off six weeks of small group conversations around food, it was intended to be a celebration of what the more than 30 people engaged in these conversations have learned, and the new micro-communities they’re beginning to create.

Perhaps most powerful is how these conversations are sparking change at the citizen level, as people shared at last night’s event, says champion for the effort Nancy King Smith.

A young couple has been inspired to start growing some food even though they don’t have any garden space. So they put buckets of dirt on their balcony and have planted several vegetables.

Someone else has learned more about CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), and now he and his family have joined one.

A woman noted that in spite of her busy schedule, she has a new commitment to put time into her food choices and preparation because that’s what’s important to her.

The owner of a local business  is now committing to become a City Fresh stop and provide fresh, local, sustainably-grown produce in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood.

One urban farmer noted that through these conversations he could “see the light bulbs” of understanding going off for people.

Based on a curriculum developed by the Northwest Earth Institute, called Menu for the Future, the conversations spin out of handbook readings and a set of questions. They have been credited with changing the nature of the food conversation in the community of Port Townsend, Washington.

The goal for the budget-less Cleveland project, relaying entirely on word-of-mouth, is that 50 groups have met by the end of the year, with a farmers’ potluck in the fall to celebrate and share experiences.

“They had a fall potluck in Port Townsend, and people did share some pretty exciting things that they were motivated to do as a result,” says Nancy, noting she’s hoping for a similar experience in Cleveland.

The Menu for the Future movement was sparked at last year’s Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit, an initiative to turn the city into a world-leader in sustainable practice.

For the initiative, a theme is chosen for each year, with events, education and activities all lifting it up. Local food is the 2012 theme.

The city’s chief sustainability officer, Jenita McGowan, who is the lead connection point on this citizen-driven project, points to Menu for the Future as a favourite example of several highlighting the growth of the local food ecology in Cleveland.

It certainly aligns with what she sees as the greatest possibilities for the local food movement in the city in 2012, which is “lots of unsolicited comments from regular Clevelanders around the fact that their city is a leader in local food, that they’re proud about it and know how to participate in it.”

For the full article, please click here.


This week we are sharing a letter written to fellow Unitarian Universalists from Bill Sinkford, Senior Pastor at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Portland. As many of you may know, Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth is one of NWEI’s 30 organizational partners. Thanks to Bill and the hundreds of congregations who are putting NWEI programs into action in their communities!

A recent Yale study highlights a significant gap between what we as citizens say we value and the actions we take.  For instance – “76 percent say it is important to buy locally grown food, but only 26 percent ‘often’ or  ‘always’ do.”

I’d like to think that, as Unitarian Universalists, our values and myriad food choices are much closer in alignment. Many of us engaged in the reflective process leading to the adoption of the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating last year. But even we have more work to do as we take this process deeper and broader.

How much thought have you given to the social justice implications of your food choices? Have you considered the environmental impacts of the food we waste? What are the real and potential impacts of our food system on wild lands here and abroad?

Shortly after I accepted the call as Senior Minister here at First Church in Portland, Oregon, I was introduced to the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI). Our church has used its discussion courses for several years and found them to be an invaluable resource. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that I was so impressed that I agreed to serve on the NWEI’s Board of Directors.

Recently NWEI released a new discussion course on sustainable and ethical eating titled Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. Many UUs have used NWEI’s previous curricula to create awareness, action and common purpose on these issues. Hungry for Change ties directly to our UU Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience by exploring the social justice, environmental and health components of a food system shaped by our individual and collective food choices.  

A recent UU participant had this to say, “The Hungry for Change course book and the dialog served up a huge dose of reality, but at the same time gave me the skills to take action for a healthier environment, a healthier humanity and a healthier me.” We used the course at First Church this winter.

I recommend Hungry for Change as a resource for your congregation in taking its next steps. More than 130,000 people have tested the self-facilitated process of shared discovery, personal reflection and action. It might also help to know that Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) gains a bit of financial support with each course started. You can learn more about the course by contacting either NWEI or UUMFE.


One of NWEI’s 30 partner organizations, Catamount Earth Institute, is wrapping up their Healthy People, Healthy Planet initiative, celebrating 17 discussion courses completed this Winter and Spring! They ran 12 World of Health groups, 4 Choices for Sustainable Living groups and one Menu for the Future group. CEI is now gearing up to host two programs on lawn chemicals as follow up, providing tangible information and action opportunities for course participants. Follow up offerings will focus on “Creating a Healthy Landscape” and how to have lawns without chemicals.

Catamount Earth Institute director Barbara Duncan says “It was Northwest Earth Institute activists from Port Townsend, Washington that spurred me on to try organizing multiple groups of one program…” There are two more World of Health courses starting in April at the Richards Free Library in Newport, NH and the Canaan Town Library in Canaan, NH. The Catamount Earth Institute focuses outreach in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire.

“Since 1900, US population has tripled but use of materials has increased 17-fold.”

-David Wann

Would you like to reduce your waste and your impact on the planet?

Long time NWEI volunteer Betty Shelley will be offering her three-session “Reduce Your Waste, Reduce Your Impact” class at the Northwest Earth Institute office for three consecutive Tuesdays, beginning Tuesday April 17th from 6:30 to 8:30. The class will deal with solid waste/garbage, but will also touch on reducing water, energy, and other resource use.

The format is interactive with the goal of engaging participants through discussion and assignments to explore their actions and behaviors, and learn ways to make lasting changes. Learn Betty’s techniques and share your own.

The number of participants needed is a minimum of eight and a maximum of twelve. The $25 fee (cash only) is due in full at the first meeting. Please share this with anyone you know who is interested in making a commitment to reducing their impact.

*To register, contact Betty directly at  503-244-8044  or via email:

“It was great to talk to other people about their efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. Just going to the class made me feel great and inspired to take more action.”  Barbara

“Even knowing as much as I know, I still learned quite a bit that I take and use at home and in my business.”  Lane’

“The activities and lecture portions were just short enough to keep people interested. The small tips had the best impact for me.”  Jessica


NWEI’s New Mini-Course, Powering a Bright Future, is now available! The Northwest Earth Institute is proud to announce the release of its newest mini-course, Powering A Bright Future.  This two-session course explores issues related to the current energy crises, and what we can do to take action as individuals and communities interested in promoting energy sustainability.
Powering a Bright Future contains solution-based curriculum providing discourse on energy use and extraction, peak oil, fossil fuel subsidies, energy efficiency, equity, energy policy and even low carbon food tips. Authors include Lester Brown, Richard Heinberg, Amory Lovins, Sandra Steingraber, and others.
Download the flyer here for more information.
What you need to know:
  • This mini-course can be offered as a stand alone two-session course, or used as a supplement to complement any of NWEI’s other courses.
  • Cost is $10, and this course is only available in PDF format.
  • Due to the inherent connections between climate change and energy use, we are offering this new mini-course in conjunction with Global Warming: Changing CO2urse. You can now participate in both courses for $15.  

We hope you will consider participating in this new mini-course in honor of upcoming Earth Day, or in light of 2012 being the United Nations Year of Sustainable Energy for All. You can order your copy online here, or by calling us directly at 503.227.2807. We look forward to working with you in the weeks and months to come!

Earth Day is around the corner! For those of you in the Portland area, join NWEI founders Dick and Jeanne Roy and the Center for Earth Leadership on Friday April 20th for an Earth Day Evening of Music and Song.

The event will be from 7:30 to 9:00 pm, at the First Unitarian Church, SW 12th and Salmon St., Portland, in Eliot Chapel.  The featured artist is Michael Allan Harrison.  The program will also include other instrumental and vocal offerings.  Everyone is welcome.  Donations gratefully accepted.  Please RSVP to the Center for Earth Leadership, 503.227.2315 or contact Jeanne Roy for more information at 503.244.0026.

In honor of Earth Day, the Center for Earth Leadership invites you to set aside this special time to celebrate our remarkable planet.  The program includes instrumental and vocal performances, meditative singing, poetry, candle lighting, and time for reflection.  Refreshments and conversation will follow. 


We just learned about a blog entitled Nourishing Words, which recently featured reflections from a Hungry for Change discussion course currently taking place in Concord, New Hampshire. Read on for more musings on local food, gardening, healthy living and sustainability. Follow future Hungry for Change posts from this blog here.


This post relates to the first week discussion of Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. We have an enthusiastic group of eleven people participating in this series, and we were off to a fine start in our first week. Week One readings included writings by Andrea Wulf, Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, Barry Estabrook, Scott Dodd, Zoe Weil, Lisa Bennett and Vanessa Barrington.

Never heard of most of those writers? Neither had I—and that’s actually one of the things I love most about Northwest Earth Institute courses. They serve up ideas that I might never have otherwise encountered.

Our discussion circled around the idea of our own food traditions, both old and new. In our group, many of us grew up in the days of Campbell Cream of ______ Soup casseroles, the introduction of boxed cake mixes, lots of canned vegetables, Friendly’s “fribbles” and more. Beyond those childhood basics, our paths diverged. Some remembered gardens (or even farms) playing a role in their childhoods, some did not. Most of us experienced significant shifts in our eating as we moved into and through adulthood. Not surprisingly, since we were all drawn to participate in this discussion series, we’re all pretty thoughtful eaters today, and our traditions continue to shift.

I’ve often thought about how the food of my childhood shaped me (figuratively and quite literally) as an adult, and written about it a few times. Hearing other people reflect on their own food stories makes my own all the more interesting to me. I find myself searching the shadowy places of my memories for just a little more detail—one more bite of my food story. What DID my aunt pour all over that ham before it went into the oven? Where was that ham from, anyway? Did I like it? How about the strange pitchers of punch she’d prepare? What was tossed into that pitcher?

The Working Mom’s Eating In Challenge, by Lisa Bennett, got us thinking about what it takes to make it through a week without eating (or taking) out. The discussion sorted us out into roughly two groups: the planners and the “wingers.” Whether cooking for myself or for my family, I’ve always been the latter. Sure, about once a week I cook something in a big enough batch to ensure leftovers (usually soup), but that’s not a function of planning, by any means. Even when I was cooking for two, not much planning went on—although probably more eating out. I’m comfortable as a winger. Give me a grain and some vegetables and I’ll cook up a meal.

Barbara Kingsolver launched us into talk of the challenge of eating locally in January. A few years ago, the same group might have bemoaned all that we can’t have in January, but that seems to be changing. We’ve adapted by learning to freeze and store what we produce ourselves and local farms are rising to the challenge of feeding us throughout the winter. The boom in winter farmers markets here in New Hampshire is astonishing, as is the commitment of the hoards of shoppers who support them. We want this. We’re becoming more and more curious (suspicious?) about our food every day. Eating locally is still a challenge, but it’s getting easier. What foods would we all miss if we ate absolutely nothing from far away? You guessed it: coffee, tea, olive oil, citrus fruit…chocolate!

I’m encouraged by the softness of the self-imposed rules implied by our discussion. Indeed, many of us spoke of a need to avoid the all-or-nothingness of locavorism. There’s so much more to it than that, not the least of which is pleasure. Conscious eating, rather than hard and fast rules, suits me. Asking questions, finding answers and making thoughtful choices is worth so much more to me than turning away from the questions to adopt rigid rules.

The Indignity of Industrial Tomatoes, by Barry Estabrook, fired us up about Florida’s shocking tomato industry. Raised on chemicals and harvested long, long before ripe, “green tennis ball” tomatoes depend on ethylene gas to turn red. I’d read Barry Estabrook’s book Tomatoland a year or so ago, so I was beyond shock. It’s safe to say, I’ll regard store-bought tomatoes with suspicion—deserved or not—for the rest of my life. The discussion did bring up for me that ever-present worry that I’ll simply never know everything about the food I eat.

And that worry relates to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: the role of non-farmers in creating a better food system. A writer friend, who’s a subsistence farmer up in Vermont, writes beautifully about life on the farm. Life separate from the nonsense of big box grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and all the challenges associated with eating well in the city. So many of us yearn for that kind of independence and connection to the land. It’s easy to think (and I’ve thought this many times) that the “best” way to live would be to raise all my food myself. Therein lies the rub: I’m not going to do that. Many, many other people are also not going to do that. 

So, how can we all manage to feel good about who we are, and how we live and eat? I suspect the answer to that question lies in appreciating the complexity of the challenge. For me, there are many answers:

  • For the local farm where I get my organic vegetables to be successful, people like me need to commit to buying their products.
  • For my local food coop to offer more and more local, organic food—and to do that at affordable prices—people like me need to commit to shopping there as well as voicing our hopes for how the store will run.
  • To achieve the dream of living in a neighborhood with more than a scant handful of homes featuring vegetable gardens, I have to step into the front yard to garden more publicly than I might like.
  • I need to say no to those Florida tomatoes, California strawberries and continue to read and learn about food—where it comes from, who’s involved in producing it and what my purchase of it might mean to the environment.
  • I need to dive into food questions as I find them, and be willing to scratch around for answers. Where do those cashews I love come from, and what’s involved in growing them?
  • I need to continue to ask my local food coop to please label produce with state of origin, helping me and other shoppers to make more conscious food decisions.

The reality is that relatively few people these days are able to feed themselves from their own land. But that fact doesn’t leave the rest of us behind in the quest for a more viable food system. There’s plenty for us to do. We are not without power. Not as long as dollars buy food.

The Hungry for Change discussion guide nudges us gently to take action, and to consider the impact of our own choices on our lives and the world around us. One by one, we tentatively committed to an action for which we’ll be accountable to the group next week. We spoke of things like journaling about our food, going without white flour and sugar, trying to crack the breakfast cereal habit and shopping completely from the farmers market for one week. It’s kind of scary to voice a commitment, even a small one, to a group. Mine was to journal about my food for a week.

I’m grateful to the Northwest Earth Institute for courses like this one. I’m a naturally curious person. I read a lot. I have tons of information rattling around in my head all the time. Talking about those thoughts breathes life into them and hearing what other people are thinking teaches me so much—even about myself. More importantly, once I talk about what’s really important to me, I really do want to do something to bring about change.

There’s a lot of work to be done. Every bit of it begins with becoming aware of what’s important to each of us. That’s the first bite.

Today’s guest blogger is Sharon Shier (Huxford), who currently lives with her husband Alexander on a 1986 Bestway Trawler anchored at a secluded marina in Goodland, Florida, nestled among beautiful mangrove islands. She has 4 children, and 4 grandchildren with a 5th on the way.  Sharon has published one book, titled Initiation, about her life experiences living in a monastery under the tutelage of a Buddhist teacher. She is currently working on two books, one titled Mangrove Mysteries, the other titled Transitions, Life after the Monastery. Thanks Sharon for your reflections here.


When we’re not living aboard our boat, my husband and I live in a small town on a small lake in northern Michigan that those of us who live there call our secret paradise. Were it not for the cold winters, our population would rise dramatically; but we do have cold winters. The people who do choose to live in our area are a hearty, independent, often off-the-grid folk, and I love being a part of that community. To my surprise and delight as a newer arrival to the area, they are also warmly embracing of newcomers…

Early last spring, my husband Alex and I were invited to a friends’ maple tree farm to ‘tap’ the maple trees for the sap that would soon be flowing. He is a small producer of maple syrup, a ‘hobbyist’ he told us, and since we love maple syrup as well and this would be a totally new experience for us, we eagerly accepted the invitation. The way it worked was that a group of us gathered at the farm, got our instructions and then were led by our friend as he drove his tractor around marking the trees that would be tapped. All the equipment for tapping was on the sled behind the tractor.

Our jobs were to work in teams drilling holes into the trees, then putting metal wedges into the holes so the sap can drain into the buckets that we attached to the wedges.

Everyone was in high spirits; the day was bright and sunny and the land we were on was gorgeous.

As we set about to tap the trees, I did have some concern that it might be painful for the trees to have their trunks drilled into, and their juices drained, so I asked our friend Bob about it. He said as long as we didn’t drill in too far the trees would heal over by next year, but if we drilled in past a certain point it could damage the tree seriously. He was convinced there was no pain involved. As we moved through the day I kept seeing the image of a human with IV lines running out their arms and legs, giving their blood. Overall it was a wonderful day and we learned about the entire process of producing maple syrup. His equipment was state of the art.

Later in the evening though, after we left the farm and were driving home, I began to have strange feelings coming at me, into me, from me…I wasn’t sure which, but at some point it finally penetrated my consciousness and I began to pay attention. There was this loud wailing…not exactly a sound but more of a vibration…again, I didn’t know what was happening but it kept on and on and on. So I stopped DOing and went to sit in my meditation room and quiet my mind. As my body became still and the thought fragments from the day faded into the background, an image flashed so clearly in my mind’s eye; I saw all 300 trees we had tapped. They were crying, and crying and crying. It was awful feeling their sadness, and I was stunned. I cried and they cried and finally I began apologizing and telling them how sorry I was for having hurt them. After awhile the crying stopped and I had the sense that they accepted my apology and my promise to never hurt them again.

For days afterward I felt the imprint of this experience as a weight, but also as an incompletion…something wasn’t quite understood by me. Once again I stopped and sat quietly for a bit, posing the question, ‘what am I missing’…and what came to me was ‘you didn’t ask; you just took from us’. “Oh my,” I thought. “That’s what I wasn’t seeing clearly.” And I realized then what I had been missing: The trees are living beings. I wouldn’t take blood from a human without asking nor should I take from the trees, just because they don’t have an obvious voice to speak with. So I asked then. “Would you have given me permission?” And what I heard was, ‘you have to ask each tree as you approach it’. Even though in some sense they have a collective consciousness, there is also an individuality that must be respected.

I wanted to share this experience because it penetrated me so deeply and was such a profound wake-up call. All life is sacred and here I had spent an entire day taking from these beautiful trees, without giving anything in return.

I do understand that this is an unusual twist to a simple article about tapping maple trees. Even though I consider myself a spiritual being, frankly ‘talking’ trees were not anything I’ve experienced before, which is probably why it took me so long to ‘hear’ them. I am truly grateful that the trees cared enough to reach out to me so persistently until I was finally able to hear them…they gave me a second chance.

Since that day I’ve done a lot of research on the internet to see if anyone else has had similar experiences with trees, plants and such, and come to find out, this is not an uncommon experience. There is a large group in Northern Italy at a place called Damanhur who work with and record singing plants and trees. I’m headed out there in September of this year for a tour of their place and to satisfy that part of my brain that says ‘talking plants’? I don’t think so. If you’re interested, why not do some experimenting for yourself?


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