Saturday May 25, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- For the third edition of the Slow Living Summit, things are slowing down a bit.

Based on feedback from those who attended last year's event, organizers have allowed for more free time for attendees to interact, network and "take it all in."

Nevertheless, the summit -- scheduled for June 5, 6 and 7 in downtown Brattleboro -- still features numerous plenary and breakout sessions dedicated to the concept of "slow living" in all its forms -- including a few topics that will be new to this year's participants.

"I don't think that, in terms of quality, slowing down means we've lost anything," said Martin Langeveld, the summit's coordinator and marketing director.

The summit is a project of Strolling of the Heifers, and its three days of events -- many held at the Latchis Theater -- precede the June 8 stroll parade in Brattleboro.

Summit organizers believe the word "slow" embodies such values as cooperation, respect, sustainability, gratitude and resilience. And they define "slow living" as "a more reflective approach to answering how we live, work and play as human beings on a fragile Earth."

Prominent themes this year include sustainable living, resilient communities and inner transformation, Langeveld said.

Put another way, he said, a key question is this: "What can you learn in the slow lane that you can't learn in the fast lane?"

Attempts to answer that question begin in the Latchis' main theater on the afternoon of June 5 with an opening plenary session titled "The quest for sustainability: What do we do now?"

That features speakers including Robert Repetto, a United Nations Foundation senior fellow and author of "America's Climate Problem: The Way Forward."

Also included in that session is Jonathan Lash, Hampshire College president and former head of the World Resources Institute.

"They kind of kick it off with a global perspective," Langeveld said.

Day two starts with a plenary dedicated to "agriculture, food and food systems." The session includes Frances Moore Lappé, founder of the Small Planet Institute, a contributor to The Huffington Post and the author of 18 books including, most recently, "EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want."

Langeveld said summit administrators -- again taking a cue from past attendees -- have tried to focus on speakers who can both define problems and offer potential solutions.

Lappé is one of those speakers.

"What really does in the human spirit is not a challenge -- we love challenges," she said. "The real problem is people feeling powerless."

So Lappé urges her audiences to "step up" and take responsibility for creating change, and she offers detailed ways in which that can happen.

"To the degree that people aren't changing -- or that our system isn't changing -- there are ways that we can change in how we think, act and talk," she said.

Lappé, who was a Brattleboro resident for about seven years, said she was drawn to the ideals promoted by the Slow Living Summit.

"It's sort of the world that I'm in," she said. "It takes in every aspect of what I call ‘living democracy,' which I distinguish from the failing form of democracy we have now."

Lappé espouses "democracy as a culture" in the form of values such as fairness, inclusion, participation and transparency. And agriculture and food systems are part of that conversation, with Lappé arguing for methods to make food both healthier and more plentiful.

"Why have we created a food system that is one of our greatest health hazards?" she asked.

Thursday, June 6, also features what Langeveld said is a new topic for the summit -- "slow design," or, as a plenary session is titled, "The impact of mindful design on the quality of public spaces and their communities."

That features speakers from a Florida design studio and from Community Solutions in New York.

"It's the idea of designing buildings and spaces that help to foster participatory democracy," Langeveld said.

The evening of the summit's second day features "ecstatic dance" led by Ivan McBeth and Fearn Lickfield, described as shamanic and druidic teachers. Langeveld said such events illustrate the summit's inclusion of spiritual themes, which proved popular at last year's summit.

"We've tried to integrate this into all of the sessions," he said. "We've urged speakers to talk about their own inner transformation."

The summit's final day opens with a plenary titled "Transitioning to a New Economy," and it includes other sessions on a variety of topics including "slow medicine" and "slow transportation."

The latter features Dr. Rebecca Jones of Brattleboro, representing 350.org, an organization dedicated to combating climate change.

There is plenty of local representation throughout the Slow Living Summit. A June 7 breakout session, for example, focuses on "achieving resilience in Brattleboro" and includes information on the new Brattleboro Food Co-op and the Brooks House revival project.

The previous day includes a talk by Leigh Merinoff, Robert DuGrenier and Clare Adams of the West River Community Project, a nonprofit that has revived the West Townshend Country Store.

"We're going to go over what's happening now and what our future plans are," DuGrenier said.

"We're going to talk about recreating a community," he added. "I think that a lot of places in America have lost their sense of place and community. And that's what we're trying to build here."

DuGrenier said he attended last year's Slow Living Summit and it "just really struck a chord with me."

That may be the case with many who have participated in the first two summits. Langeveld said about 350 people attended last year, and roughly the same number is expected this year.

"We have a good number of people returning from previous summits," Langeveld said, adding that visitors are expected from several states including Ohio, Illinois, California and Florida.

The summit's plenary sessions are open to the public, with a suggested donation of $10, Langeveld said.

For access to all events, general registration is $249, and there are lesser spouse, one-day and student rates. There also is a local "limited-means" rate of $125 for Brattleboro-area residents who "cannot afford the full fare," Langeveld said.

Detailed registration and schedule information is available at www.slowlivingsummit.org.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.