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.

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