New Initiatives Could Address Systemic Issues

Making the transition to a more sustainable society is a complex endeavor, a cultural shift, that requires a holistic approach. As the inspiring ecologist (and Cobb Hill community founder) Donella Meadows taught, we need to “think in systems.” We need to understand how economics and ecology, personal choices and social institutions, food and energy, and, indeed, all aspects of a culture are intertwined and interdependent. Only then can we get to the roots of the environmental challenges we face.

New initiatives are brewing in our region that reflect this systemic perspective, and I urge everyone to get involved and support them.

First, the Woodstock Area Nonprofit Network is exploring a “collective impact” strategy that will pool the strengths and resources of multiple organizations to achieve meaningful progress in our community. The effort has recently begun with a survey of nonprofits to look for common goals in their missions. They hope to find how organizations that work in such diverse areas as the arts, public health, seniors, youth, economic development and employment, environmental preservation and other issues can contribute to a unified (and unifying) campaign to improve our community.

Another initiative may be arising from the “Creating Common Good” symposium in New York that St. James church broadcasted a couple weeks ago. A series of passionate speakers and thoughtful panels addressed the plague of rising inequality in American society, and about twenty of us held a conversation about how this issue plays out in the Woodstock area. Many expressed a keen desire to roll up their sleeves and start doing more to address the effects of gross disparities of wealth here.

The group briefly considered systemic problems that disproportionately affect those with fewer resources: transportation, affordability of housing and food, availability of medical care, class discrimination in schools, and the need for broad-based (beyond tourism-oriented) economic development.

Clearly there is work to be done on all these fronts. While the effort can and should be spurred by the moral conscience of the faith community, my hope is that this awakening awareness will inform the Nonprofit Network’s collective impact strategy, and that such hard and complex issues will be the focus of their collaborative campaign.

A third new endeavor is a food system task force that Sustainable Woodstock launched at the end of January. Several of our board members, and others in the community representing schools, farmers and gardeners, food producers and restaurants, will explore what specific projects we can undertake to improve food security and self-reliance in our community.

We already have a great head start: farmers’ markets and community gardens, restaurants that source locally, farm-to-school programs and school greenhouses, and several dynamic food production businesses. Can we do more? Can we, for example, do anything about the nonaffordability of quality food for our low income neighbors? Can we make the connection between food, economics, and sustainability? I look forward to this task force’s recommendations.

This is a call to action! Please consider how you might support these endeavors or initiate another, so that we can work together to improve our community systematically. Contact me at to talk about the possibilities.

One immediate place to begin is to attend the third in our sustainability film series, “The Economics of Happiness,” which describes the systemic impact of the global economy. Join us next Wednesday at 7:00, at Norman Williams Library, for this provocative film and discussion.

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