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Alternative Economies: Groups Working Towards A More Resilient Future

alternative-economies
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

BRUNSWICK TOOL LIBRARY

Interview by Samantha Allemann

Bought a whipper snipper and only used it once? Fret no more, as tool libraries will stop you from buying things you rarely use by allowing you to instead borrow what you need. Brunswick Tool Library has 250 active members who utilise the shovels, mattocks, axes and many other handy tools available to them, all for the cost of a small annual fee. Karleng Lim tells us how it works.

alternative-economies
Photo by Karleng Lim

What was the impetus for starting Brunswick Tool Library?

Our founder Joleen Hess lives in Portland, Oregon, where there are four tool libraries. When she was living in Melbourne, she lamented the fact that there weren’t any in what was considered to be a progressive part of town. Being quite the DIY-er herself, she thought that one day she might start one. When the proverbial stars aligned and an opportunity came up at NORM Warehouse in Brunswick in early 2013, she took it!

What are the guiding ideologies behind what you do?

The Brunswick Tool Library is a non-profit organisation whose primary objective is to share skills and resources, as well as help build community and livability in this dense and diverse area of the city. The purpose is to provide community members access to a range of home-improvement and garden tools, and try to ensure that members know how to safely use them. Reducing waste is also something that drives us, because most tools are bought for one job and are then left unused and later thrown out. This reduces negative impacts on our environment all along the chain.

How is Brunswick Tool Library creating resilience in its local community?

Resource and knowledge sharing is one way of creating resilience in communities. People are realising that it makes more sense to share resources that are expensive to buy and they don’t use very often. Often members come in to borrow a tool and stick around for a yarn, provide assistance or share DIY knowledge with other members.

What is Brunswick Tool Library hoping to achieve?

On some level, that we exist is a reflection of a shift in our collective thinking and habits of consumption, from one of private ownership towards a more collective form of ownership and consumption. There is a sense that bringing people together helps to strengthen and empower that community, especially when viewed through the lens of climate change and a changing socio-economic landscape. We hope that we are contributing towards building a more resilient community in the face of these changes.

What is it that makes your group function effectively?

Teamwork! We have an amazing team of very dedicated staffers, coordinators and board members, all volunteers, without whom the Brunswick Tool Library would cease to exist. We understand that an organisation like ours depend wholly on volunteers who generously give their time and efforts. We have to respect that, so part of our strategy is to continue to try to get as many people to volunteer as possible, because there’s always work to do!

CENTs

Interview by Samantha Allemann

The Community Exchange Network Tasmania (CENTs) brings locals together to trade goods, services and skills. It’s free to join and allows members to list what they can offer as well as what they want, explains Tania Brookes.

alternative-economies
Photo by Tania Brookes

What was the impetus for starting CENTs?

CENTs is a project initiative of the North West Environment Centre and a program of Live Well Tasmania. It was identified that more could be done within the community to work towards the preservation and valuing of skills, meeting basic needs through sharing abundance and encouraging people through empowerment to value the skills they possess. When CENTs was established, it became apparent that the broader Tasmanian community were also interested in trading, so it was expanded to a statewide program with multiple sub-branches.

What are the guiding ideologies behind what you do?

Sustainability is the overarching ideology for CENTs. CENTs endorses the Earth Charter, an ethical framework for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It is centrally concerned with the transition to sustainable ways of living and sustainable human development.

How is CENTs creating resilience in its local community?

Building community at the grassroots level has been very rewarding. In particular the relationships have allowed traders to tap into the abundance of resources at the local level. Old time skills are being preserved and taught to the next generation, and that knowledge and wisdom is being retained in our communities—important skills not traditionally valued in the normal monetary economy, such as preserving food, growing crops, weaving, knitting and other artisan skills and crafts.

What feedback have you received from your members?

We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our members, particularly from those who are frequent traders. Trading goods and services is only one aspect of CENTs. Many of our traders have gone on to develop close friendships with other traders—we have even had traders providing low interest cash loans to other traders.

What is CENTs hoping to achieve?

CENTs aspires to provide a platform within Tasmania which is robust, innovative and cohesive in times of economic uncertainty or collapse. We want to enable people to meet their needs through a process of collaboration, networking and co-production.

What is it that makes your group function effectively?

Our valued volunteers. Their dedication and commitment to a meaningful program for exchange allows our community to value the surplus, and encourage one another to share and gift the abundance. As a moneyless platform, we have demonstrated it is possible to operate a grassroots community group without money. CENTs is not a funded program. Notwithstanding a lack of funding, the program continues to grow organically as the underlying purpose resonates with so many people around our beautiful island.

FOOD CONNECT BRISBANE

Interview by Samantha Allemann

Food Connect is a social enterprise founded in 2005 by ex-dairy farmer Robert Pekin. Forced off his dairy farm, Robert decided to create a fairer food system. Food Connect sells boxes of seasonal produce from local farmers within a 500 km radius of Brisbane. Emma-Kate Rose from Food Connect answered our questions about how this ethical food distribution network operates.

alternative-economies
Photo by Emma-Kate Rose

What are the guiding ideologies behind what you do?

It starts with standing with our local growers, listening to our urban eaters, and recognising the opportunities to demonstrate practical solutions. It demands fairness in acknowledging the true costs of growing food ecologically and caring for landscapes, and that all people in the value chain are rewarded and recognised for their contribution. Business relationships are based on mutual reciprocity and transparency. It is daring customers, staff, growers, eaters, investors and supporters to go where markets have failed and government assistance has fallen short. It makes capital work for all players in the value chain, not controlled by a few. It connects a grower with an eater so they can create a world as they imagine it to be. It’s having authentic conversations that lead to greater accountability and participatory solutions. It thrives on moral collaboration with local and global friends to create, fail, learn and have the courage to create again.

How is Food Connect creating resilience in its local community?

We reduce, reuse and recycle. At Food Connect you will never find citrus in summer or peaches in winter. Eating locally goes hand in hand with eating seasonally. Our farmers grow to suit the local climatic conditions in order to minimise the energy and chemical inputs required to grow produce. They grow within the rhythms of nature, not against them. At our homestead in Brisbane we have a 10.93kW solar system on our roof, powering our cold rooms and lighting. We deliver food in boxes which are returned for reuse, we donate or compost leftover food, and encourage staff to cycle to work by offering bike racks and showers.

What is Food Connect hoping to achieve?

We have been trialling a Food Hub model which will allow us to scale our impact, while deepening our values related to the true cost of production, quality, zero waste, community ownership and collaborations, transparency and local economic resilience. We look forward to the next 13 years of transforming the food system.

What is it that makes your group function effectively?

We have organisational rhythms embedded in our operational system. We have weekly ‘huddles’ with the whole team to go through the numbers from the previous week, the management team meet fortnightly to discuss progress on projects and goals, each manager has a one-on-one session with each staff member on a monthly basis, the whole team meets twice a year for a seasonal review, and each staff member meets with the GM and their manager once a year on their work anniversary. We use a bottom-up communication process to ensure we are adapting to our environment at all times.

HEPBURN RELOCALISATION NETWORK

Interview by Robyn Rosenfeldt

The Hepburn Relocalisation Network is a community group based in the Shire of Hepburn in Central Victoria. It aims to strengthen the local food network as well as share practical skills and useful knowledge across generations. Su Dennett, co-founder and longtime organiser of the group, discusses the network with us.

alternative-economies
Photo by Kirsten Bradley

What was the impetus for starting the Hepburn Relocalisation Network?

Our aim was to share our skills and ideas. We want to get people motivated to see a different reality other than the moneyed economy. To see that the household economy is so rich and beneficial to everybody, and we don’t need to be spending all of our time making money.

Can you describe what the Hepburn Relocalisation Network does?

We run a vegie box scheme (although our farmer recently passed away) and an informal food swap. We run all sorts of events, from working bees at our farmer’s property to workshops on things such as soap making, shoe making, pruning and foraging. We also do a lot of work focused on bushfires and have created a council-funded bushfire tool library. We have a monthly culture club where people get together and make ferments. We have community dinners, film nights and events where speakers come and talk—we have had David Asher, Sandor Katz, Bruce Pascoe and Nicole Foss, to name a few. We also do fundraisers. We always have solstice dinners and celebrate the changing of the seasons. People love the films and the community dinners. Food has always been the basis of everything for us. We love getting together, eating and sharing. We have big long tables and eat together like a family. We ask people to bring a dish of local food along.

What are the guiding ideologies behind what you do?

We recognise the urgent realities of peak oil and climate change. We are responding by raising awareness about how these issues affect our community and how to respond to these realities with a plan for the future. We are trying to wean people off supermarkets—in this town there is no excuse for going to the supermarket, as we are well-endowed with food choices. We focus very much on local expenditure and low-income. We like to have things very economical in every sense, both in resources and in money. At our events we always try and honour the origin of the resources and create no waste, with all events waste-free.

What is it that makes your group function effectively?

It works because we are just a few people who do the things we are passionate about when we have time. When we don’t have time, somebody else picks up the baton and we facilitate them to do something. It works because it is loose and we don’t have too many cooks in the driver’s seat; at most we have about six organisers, with lots of others helping out.

TRANSITION TOWN GUILDFORD

Interview by Samantha Allemann

Transition Towns, which cultivate resilient communities in the midst of climate change and peak oil, can now be found all over the world. There’s an active and thriving one in the Western Australian suburb of Guildford, bringing people together to connect and share skills. Peter Langlands from Transition Town Guildford tells us about the group.

alternative-economies
Photo by Peter Langlands

What was the impetus for starting Transition Town Guildford?

Climate change. Rod Mitchell and I met at a GetUp workshop in 2010 aimed at building the climate movement. We realised we practically lived on the same street, and got together with some friends to look at forming a group. Out of these meetings and discussions the Transition Town movement came up and it just clicked with everyone.

What are the guiding ideologies behind what you do?

We’ve always tried to be inclusive and make our events accessible to all, with most of our events free or by gold coin donation. While we have office bearers for incorporation, all steering members are equal and decisions at our meetings are made by consensus. Inherent in the Transition Town movement is care for people and the planet. We’ve recently started an outdoors group who go canoeing and bushwalking, to reconnect people with nature. We also started a No Lights No Lycra dance event once a month for a fun social night. This doesn’t directly address climate change, but it does build community and we’ve reached lots of new people. If you read the first Transition Town handbook you’ll see that permaculture was strongly promoted. Co-founder [of the Transition Network] Rob Hopkins said that he developed it as a ‘Trojan Horse to mainstream permaculture’. I and several of our members have now done the Permaculture Design Certificate.

How is Transition Town Guildford creating resilience in its local community?

We’re predominately creating resilience through skill sharing and community building. Running workshops on practical skills from mending clothing, bike maintenance, raising chickens, making compost and preserving the harvest. Much of the resilience we’re creating is probably not visible, but is part of what is called Inner Transition—the change we need inside to deal with the enormity and loss of the global challenges we face.

What feedback have you received from your members?

People are deeply appreciative for the varied events we put on. You don’t have to be a member to attend; people come from all over Perth. There really is something for everyone, from sustainability movie nights at the pub, dance events, board game nights, DIY olive preserving and a monthly produce share stall.

What is Transition Town Guildford hoping to achieve?

Our vision is ‘cultivating a strongly connected community and a healthy environment’. Ultimately we’re hoping to build community resilience. This means relocalisation (supporting or creating local businesses and services), building self-sufficiency (as individuals and a community) and creating or strengthening connection between people.

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