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Reflections on the Transition

Hannah's chickens, image by Tatyana Ryevzina

Meet Buffy,  O'Malley, Spike, and Nimoy: 12-year-old Hannah Mckinney's urban backyard chickens. Photo by Tatyana Ryevzina

It's been a very wintry summer in the San Francisco Bay Area—my first tomato finally ripened in early September. Summer seems to have disappeared while I've been hunkered down in the fog. I haven't attended any Transition Albany events (except for the August showing of Dirt! The Movie), although I've received notices of walking tours, planning meetings, study groups, and even an afternoon to listen to elders sharing their memories of Albany. But looking back at the past several months, I realize that the Transition Town goal of increased local resilience and self-sufficiency has been taking root within me and among people I know.

For an example, let's start with 12-year-old Hannah Mackinney. Last fall, Hannah gave a well-researched PowerPoint presentation to her dad, Paul Mackinney, to convince him to let her keep chickens in their urban backyard. This spring, in exchange for future eggs, I sketched some plans for Hannah and Paul to build their chicken coop. In July, Paul married my business partner, Tatyana Ryevzina, and I gave Paul, Tatyana, and Hannah four pullets as a wedding present. The chickens are now almost ready to lay eggs—eventually maybe as many as one per hen every day or so. They are a constant source of entertainment, always eager to sample the latest vegetable scrap offerings. They seem happy in Albany, a city where backyard hens (though not roosters) are legal, and their neighbors seem happy with them.

Tatyana has been my food mentor in other ways. She subscribed to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) weekly produce box long before I did. Her satisfaction convinced me to subscribe myself—and the adventure has broadened my diet and taught me to distinguish rutabagas from Tokyo turnips. Tatyana is also a proponent of home fermentation. She gave me and several of our associates instructions and cultures for making kombucha tea. She has brought me tastes of homemade sauerkraut and rye bread made from wild sourdough yeast. Early this summer, Tatyana, my hyperlocavore buddy Wayde Lawler, and I attended an afternoon workshop where we learned the benefits of fermentation and how to make dill pickles and curtido, a Latin American cabbage condiment.

Self-sufficiency, I realize, is a misnomer. What I am aiming for is local sufficiency.

Wayde Lawler, of course, is another key part of my web of food production/preservation co-enthusiasts. He shows up periodically in my backyard with seedlings to plant. If I am home, I get a chance to chat with him and learn something about horticulture. If not, I come home to see the garden transformed—the former lettuce patch converted to winter greens, say, or the pea trellises expanded. Wayde and I have shared other food-related experiences: kombucha, a visit to the chickens, apples and apple pie, plum jelly, and pickled cucumbers, beans, and radishes. Most recently, we both attended a bee-keeping class. Now I'm pondering where on my 1/10th acre lot to situate a beehive.

Finally, my business, Sarana Community Acupuncture, sustains me as I reach toward community resilience. Sarana is in the process of obtaining certification as a green business. We've replaced our incandescent bulbs, installed a bicycle rack, changed the old toilet for a new low-flush one, and posted bus schedules and signs for recycling, composting, appropriate waste disposal, and Transition Albany events. We've subscribed to a weekly delivery of CSA flowers to decorate the clinic for the past two summers. We or our clients periodically bring in excess home-grown or Full Belly Farm organic produce to put in our give-away basket. Almost weekly, my volunteer receptionist, Pam Fadem, brings me homemade pesto, bean soup, salsa, or street-tree fruit. Pam, co-author of A Community Guide to Environmental Health, is a source of all kinds of do-it-yourself information, so she was the person I asked when I wanted to know how to dry apples. Now I've commandeered the back window of my roommate's car for use as a solar dehydrator.

Dehydrator, image by Glennis Briggs

Pamela's "ad hoc solar dehydrator," used to dry apples.

Photo by Glennis Briggs

I still purchase probably 90-95 percent of my food, but my environmental footprint is shrinking. My garden hasn't produced a ton of vegetables yet—at most a couple hundred pounds, even counting the apples, oranges, and my neighbor's overhanging lemons. But there have been plenty of evenings when, refrigerator bare, I've gone foraging in the backyard for something to stir-fry. My confidence in my ability to produce the things I need is increasing.

But self-sufficiency, I realize, is a misnomer. What I am aiming for is local sufficiency. While I am marginally better at providing for myself, my gradually accumulating “locafficiency” is very much dependent upon people I see day-by-day. We feed each other's enthusiasm for sowing and building, harvesting and preserving. We share knowledge as well as produce. Transition Town Albany has sown the seeds and helped us connect, but we—my business associates, clients, friends, and neighbors in wider and wider overlapping circles—are the ones creating the Transition movement. It's happening, even while I've been hunkering in the fog.


Pamela O'Malley Chang

Pamela O’Malley Chang wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful actions, as part of a series of articles on Transition Towns as seen from Albany, CA. Pamela is co-owner of Sarana Community Acupuncture and is a contributing editor to YES! Magazine.

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