A Sacred Act

“Healing the wounds of the earth and its people does not require saintliness or a political party, only gumption and persistence. it is not a liberal or a conservative activity; it is a sacred act. It is a massive enterprise undertaken by ordinary citizens everywhere…”

—Paul Hawken, in Blessed Unrest

People's Climate March 2014 NYC
Some 400,000 people demonstrated for climate action in New York City last weekend. (A friend and I went to the youth-led Bloomington rally to help “raise the alarm” about climate change; the best part after the hooting and hollering was singing “We’ve got the whole world in our hands.”)

Stay tuned for a guest post from someone who joined the NYC demonstration.

An Appeal Denied

Update: Community Access Television has posted a video of the April 3 Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. Minutes have not been posted on the BZA site yet.

Last night I met up with friends to drive to Bloomington, IN for a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. We were among 80 others there championing permaculture designers/teachers Peter Bane and Keith Johnson, who were pursuing variances for their small suburban lot. Since last summer, they’ve been mired in a conflict with Monroe County, primarily about placement and square footage of structures at Renaissance Farm.

The main issue was that they didn’t follow proper procedures, but they were under the impression that agricultural buildings are exempt from the process. I won’t go into detail about the legalities as that’s not the purpose of my blog—but you can refer to the meeting materials.

Peter Bane with co-teacher Rhonda Baird laying out a garden path during 2007 permaculture class

Peter Bane with co-teacher Rhonda Baird laying out a garden path, 2007 permaculture class

It was moving to hear the 30-plus testimonies of Peter and Keith’s impact. (I first met Peter in 2007 at a one-day permaculture overview class, and his passion infected me with the need to come right home and plant my entire lot in food.)

The intergenerational crowd was made up of neighbors, IU profs and grads, pastors, farmers, small business owners, a newspaper editor, a City Councilman, and young Bloomington natives who moved away and then returned, largely because they wanted to learn from these luminaries.

Neighbor after neighbor told of the duo’s generosity in sharing both knowledge and produce. Many have started gardening themselves. One said she travels all over the country; when she tells people she lives on the same street as these renowned Permaculture designers, “they are in awe.”

A sampling of comments:

“Everything they are doing is a practical and immediate way of changing the world for the better.”

“They are showing that young people can have a viable future in spite of the climatic, economic, environmental, and other issues facing us.”

“It’s beyond sustainable, it’s regenerative.”

A maypop planted along our fence, one of many plantings inspired by permaculture

A maypop planted along our fence, one of many plantings inspired by Keith and Peter’s work

There seemed to be an understanding in the room, even among officials, that we are at a crossroads. One supporter told them, “I am sympathetic to you who must uphold laws that support suburban sprawl and ignore what the future requires of us.” Another said, “We are living in a world where the rules are changing.” Another warned that big timber, big ag, and mining will dominate rural areas if we don’t change our ways.

But apparently these are not the concerns of a body pledged to oversee existing laws, faulty as they are.

After four hours the board approved all but one variance—a critical one. The barn must be moved about 10 feet from its current position to be in compliance.

It was a shock. Especially after board member Jerry Pittsford, who expressed dismay that Peter and Keith had circumvented the process, had said, “I like rules, but I’m finding very little that tells me the rules need to be followed here.”

There were a number of reasons to approve the variance and only one to deny it—the fact that they did not consult with the county and submit the proper paperwork. Even as the board expressed admiration for Peter and Keith’s work, they could not get past that lapse.

It’s unclear what the next step is for Renaissance Farm, but whatever comes, I hope these two visionaries were bolstered by the outpouring of love and appreciation from neighbors, former students, and admirers.