Monday June 24, 2013

It’s been quite a ride so far! And it’s not about to stop.

As Post Oil Solutions celebrates its eighth anniversary, we’re in the midst of our third transition. This is indicative not only of the challenges we face in a post petroleum world, but also of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Post Oil began in June, 2005 as a community organizing project whose vision is to build sustainable, collaborative, and socially just communities as the necessary response to a world of peak oil and global warming. We are action oriented, believing that empowered citizens and collaborative communities can successfully transition to a post petroleum world by re-localizing their food, energy, economies, health care, etc. To that end, we set out immediately to initiate projects, get people involved, and worked toward becoming a more self- and community-sufficient people.

Our initial phase was characterized by initiatives like the localvore movement, (Re)learning to Feed Ourselves workshop series, Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market and Townshend Farmers Market, Wilmington CSA, gleaning initiative with Salvation Farms, 5 acre farm at SIT and No Gardener Left Behind Expos.

Although we organized a variety of projects (e.g., the monthly "Building Sustainable Communities" forums, Windham Energy Group, Brattleboro Peak Oil Task Force) while helping to support others (Brattleboro Time Trade, Common Good Bank, Ride Buzz, No-Idle Campaign), our main focus has always been on local food. More random than strategic in the beginning, our purpose was to create a presence and build community. It was only with the second phase that we became more intentional in creating a community-based food system in our region.

This vision was significantly advanced by the VISTA volunteers who came on board in 2008. We were blessed with these people for three years (and then for two more by two who stayed on as paid staff). They provided great energy and momentum in our efforts to develop a regional food system.

Notable projects during this time included our Windham County Farm to School Program. This effort organized veggie tastings for students and incorporated local food into school lunches, started school gardens and visits to local farms, and provided in-service teacher training and introduced food into standards-based curriculum.

Other major endeavors were Post Oil’s management of the Windham Farm and Food Network (WFFN), a distribution service of local produce to schools and other institutions that had been initiated by Westminister Organics and UVM Extension; the Neighborhood Market on Elliot Street in Brattleboro, that provided local produce at wholesale prices to EBT-eligible customers; Buying Clubs in the Brattleboro-area schools; Greater Falls Community Garden Collaborative, a network of 10 school and community gardens; and a continuing effort to realize a food hub in our region that would process and store local produce for distribution to both institutional and retail outlets.

In 2010, the Vermont Sustainable Agriculture Council recognized our work when it gave its annual award to Post Oil, the first non-farm entity to be so honored.

But success brought with it new challenges and the need to make changes. For one thing, Post Oil had drifted into an emphasis on program building, and gotten away from its purpose as a community organizing project. This consumed time and energy as programs meant staff, and staff necessitated a focus on Board meetings and financial concerns that precluded community participation, and distracted from our larger mission.

Happily, a resolution was arrived at that was perfectly in keeping with the Post Oil philosophy of setting programs free once they were able to fly on their own. Hence, Farm to School, the Neighborhood Market and the Brattleboro Buying Clubs have become Food Connects, a non-profit entity currently applying for 501c3 status. This move, along with the divestment of the management of WFFN, enabled Post Oil to return to its monthly Community Meeting: fourth Tuesday of the month, 6 p.m., Brooks Memorial Library. This allows us to engage with the larger community around projects that we and they are working on, or want to initiate.

Most significantly, however, Post Oil has recognized that it’s at a critical crossroad. We’ve come to see that just as we need to continue to build resilient communities in order to successfully transition into the post petroleum world we’ve entered, so, too, do we need to be active with the grassroots resistance movement that’s emerging around the country to stop Big Oil, the corporate state and their fossil fuel policy of extreme extraction that threatens to drive humanity over the climate cliff. We need to do what we can to stop the burning of fossil fuels. For if we’re not successful in doing so, the question of sustainable communities becomes very problematic, indeed.

Hence, Post Oil has started a Community Resistance project, one that looks to engage the entire community of concerned citizens around climate change, and its implications for our children’s and grandchildren’s (not to mention our own) future. This project is for all who both recognize the need to greatly and immediately reduce our burning of fossil fuels, and are willing to do something about it. Whether it’s calling President Obama, writing letters to the editor, encouraging the Vermont’s legislature to pass a fossil fuel divestment bill, attending a peaceful demonstration, or committing acts of non-violent civil disobedience to stop a tar sands pipeline or fracking well, all efforts of peaceful resistance are both welcomed and valued.

Resilience and Resistance: as we enter our ninth year, these are the two paths that we’ll have to travel if we’re to have a future we can live with.

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and can be reached at 802-869-2141 and info@postoilsolutions.org