350 home and garden challenge logo
Here’s a chance to get off your duff and plant that darn garden already. Image: Transition US.

So, icecaps are melting, oil is surging and the economy is still in the tank. You’ve given up on Congress, you’ve lost faith in Obama and you aren’t impressed with what’s coming out of your statehouse these days.

Whaddya gonna do?

You could get ready for the collapse of society. Maybe pick up a few dozen cans of pork-n-beans at Safeway for the basement. Drive some cases of Remington .12 gauge shells out to your bug-out location. Buy, sell, bury or do whatever you’re supposed to do with gold these days.

Or, you could get together with some neighbors, dig up the nearest weed-patch and start a community garden.

Garden as if your life depended on it

That’s what Transition US hopes you’ll do on the weekend of May 14 and 15 this year. And they hope you’ll let them know about it, as they’re aiming to get hundreds of new gardens planted around the country as part of their 350 Home and Garden Challenge.

“It’s about growing food, saving water and increasing the resilience of our communities,” says Trathen Heckman, chair of the Transition US board of directors. “We want and need new actions but we also want to connect with existing projects.”

The idea got started in Sonoma County last year, when folks who weren’t spending the morning sampling Fumé Blanc in the Kendall-Jackson tasting room were instead out in the fresh air of California wine country planting or sprucing up more than 600 gardens in a single weekend. A coalition of groups was behind the successful push, convened by Daily Acts, a Bay Area sustainability and community-building group

Heckman, founder of Daily Acts, then brought the garden challenge idea to Transition US when he joined the group’s board last year.

Now, Transition US is running a nationwide version of the Sonoma program in conjunction with its own coalition of groups, including Transition Voice along with Yes! magazine, the Post Carbon Institute and publisher Chelsea Green.

Another partner is 350.org. The Home and Garden Challenge is not named for them, but it shares an interest in the same climate-saving goal, namely getting atmospheric carbon dioxide back down to 350 parts per million, the maximum to avoid total freaking climate hell, according to many scientists.

Water, kilowatts and community too

The 350 Challenge is not just about gardens. Among the 2,000 actions the initiative wants to see nationwide are those that will:

  • Conserve water — install a greywater system to fill your toilets from your used bathwater or plant water-sipping landscaping in your front yard (that is, if you haven’t replaced it already with a vegetable garden);
  • Save energy — get a home energy audit or blow in insulation;
  • Build community — start a co-op to share tools or throw a neighborhood potluck.

In typical Transition US fashion, the campaign’s messages are overwhelmingly upbeat.

“See what’s alive and help the creativity flourish where you’re at,” says Heckman, urging Transition organizers to make friends with leaders of other groups that are already doing local food or conservation work in their communities and to help promote those groups’ projects.

Community makin’ saving our bacon

“Given what’s happening the world today, it’s more important than ever to focus on positive solutions,” Heckman adds, acknowledging that while taking actions for the 350 Challenge may be a fun way to make new friends, there are very serious reasons to start making ourselves and our cities more resilient sooner rather than later.

It’s that whole melting icecaps, $200-per-barrel oil and unemployment-and-home-foreclosure thing, of course.

Transition US turns three this year and the 350 Challenge is the group’s maiden effort at a big national campaign. But Heckman says it won’t be the last.

Look for collaborative actions with groups such as 350.org and the Pachamama Alliance as well as an Art in Action project to raise awareness about climate change and the challenges facing the economy as corporate globalization begins to unwind in the face of peak oil.

Meantime, stand up and be counted. Sign up your action or find one near you at the 350 Home and Garden Challenge website.

— Erik Curren