Monday, May 24, 2010

BALLE High: Back and ready to rumble

The CPNC and STARworks crew just got back from the BALLE conference held in Charleston SC. For those of you unfamiliar with the organization, BALLE stands for Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. BALLE is a network of more than 80 community networks with more than 21,000 independent business members across the U.S. and Canada. Every year, their annual conference brings together community leaders in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, zero waste manufacturing, independent retail, community capital and pretty much green everything.

Because the conference was in Charleston this year we were able to take a whole crew of us down for the weekend to get inspired and re-energized for the work we do.

David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World and most recently Agenda for a New Economy and The Great Turning, kicked off with a call to arms to change Wall Street and “bigger at any cost” business by changing our “stories” from fictional stories of empire to authentic “earth community” stories that highlight local self reliance, social justice and living capital.

Marjorie Kelly, author of The Divine Right of Capital and Michael Shuman, author of Going Local and The Small-mart Revolution did a great job describing new models for alternative economies that include innovative tax laws and community land trusts, “B” corporation models and cooperatives.

India Pierce Lee of the Cleveland Foundation gave an inspiring presentation about Evergreen Cooperatives and their Cooperative Laundry project that demonstrates there is far more to eradicating poverty than merely creating “jobs.”

North Carolina was well represented at BALLE this year: Our good friend Eric Henry of TS Designs, along with farmer Ronnie Burleson of Stanly County and Brian Morell of Mortex Apparel wowed the crowd with their brilliant Cotton of the Carolinas Project. T-shirts made from cotton that is grown, ginned, spun, sewn and printed within 750 miles! Dirt to shirt!

Lyle Estill talked about Pittsboro's Piedmont Biofuels and Piedmont Biofarms. I also ran into Tony Kleese from Earthwise, and it was great catching up and talking to him about community based food systems.

Probably the most moving presentation was Lily Yeh’s story of The Village of Arts and Humanities, a community-based art organization in a North Philadelphia inner city neighborhood. Yeh, a native of China, says leadership is an art and art is a form of leadership. She told the story of how art helped people in her adopted community reconnect with each other and new community values. Yeh, members of her staff, and people in her community have quietly used sweat-equity, recycled materials, and other community resources to refurbish abandoned homes and construct new ones. They have also created after-school programs, a youth theater, a crafts center, and 14 parks for more than 10,000 people. Watch her presentation at the Bioneers Conference here.

Just when you think you’re doing all these brilliant things, you go and hear someone like Ms. Yeh. Humbling. Just plain humbling.

There was too much information and too many incredible experiences and people to write about here. But that's BALLE: there are mighty big shoes to fill in even the smallest communities. If you’re looking for glory, go somewhere else. If you’re looking for energy, inspiration, humility, and transformation, go to BALLE.

We're back and we've got a lot of work to do. The good news is that there are a lot of good people to help us. We just need to connect.

So it’s Monday, and I’ve got a lot of new websites to check out and emails to send and new ideas to think about. I hope you do too.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Refuge Christmas Bird Count nets thousands

When I told my 10-year-old grandson I was going to the Christmas Bird Count at Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, he looked at me a little strangely and asked what a Christmas Bird was. Well, we didn’t see any Christmas Birds, but we did see thousands of waterfowl and hundreds of upland birds.

My friend Alice had come up from the beach New Years weekend and as she and I arose at 5 a.m. to temperatures in the mid-teens, I begged her to talk me out of going. I was joking, of course, we’d signed up and we were going.

I’ve attended the count twice before, and still I’m just a birder wannabe. The Mecklenburg Audubon Society organizes the count at the Refuge, which is located off of U.S. 52 in Anson County, and those folks are serious birders.

J.D. Bricken, manager of the 8,000 acre Refuge, was at the maintenance barn when we arrived at 7 a.m. We signed in, got a cup of coffee and waited for our assignment. The waterfowl counters were going to be the first ones heading out and we jumped at the chance to do that. J.D. and Bob Kluttz, president of Friends of the PDNWR, led as we caravanned 15 miles back the way Alice and I had come to 1,000 acres of the protected land that lies across the river in Richmond.

Being from Richmond County, this was an area I had hiked before, but not during the waterfowl season. Heading down into the woods, we stopped first at Andrews Pond. There, we saw our first mallards, ring necks, black ducks, mergansers and widgeons.

As you can imagine, it’s impossible to count the birds individually when there hundreds flying around. J.D. and Bob have done this countless times before, so they’d study the formation for a few seconds and say something like “400 — half mallards, 100 ring necks and 100 black ducks.”

Moving down to the impoundment area, we flushed about 2,000 birds all at once. The impoundment area right along the Pee Dee River consists of fields where corn grew in the summer. There area dikes and a pump station on the river floods the area each year right for the migratory waterfowl season. We kept our position there for more than an hour. It was fascinating for me to watch and learn. The guys were great to describe each bird, so Alice and I could pick them out through our binoculars. To our previous list, we added mergansers, teals, widgeons and others I don’t remember. Just when we were ready to move on, a pair of Tundra Swans flew in. Most of these big birds winter down on the coast, but the Refuge gets just a few. We were thrilled.

Our waterfowl count concluded with over 4,000 on our list and we spent the next three hours walking through the woods and fields looking for upland birds. There were plenty — cardinals, chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, mocking birds, thrushes and many more. As we returned to our vehicles, we were checking out the ducks that had returned to Andrews Pond and we spotted a young bald eagle and a harrier.

Heading back to the barn, we enjoyed some of the best chili I’ve ever had, thanks to Bob, and we heard about the successes of the other teams.

It was an amazing morning for me. It made me more acutely aware of birds and more than ever, it made me wannabe a birder. It isn’t easy. They know the calls, and can pick distinguish one variety of a species from the other just from minute differences in their markings.

Audubon Christmas Bird Counts are held over a two-week period every year across the country. Two Greensboro guys on our team were actually heading down that afternoon to Oak Island where Alice lives to a bird count the following day. It’s great fun and educational. To learn more, visit