Unauthorized beautification of public spaces through flower plantings – we called it Guerilla Gardening. I am sure others have done this in the past, but yesterday was my first experience as a “guerilla gardener.” A local florist donated flats of annuals to help beautify the TART bike trail in town. Near Jupiter Park a group of us hauled out our shovels and spades and began digging little flower beds. Bikers and walkers whizzed past and strolled by – almost all told us they were impressed with our plantings. With dirt under my nails and sweat dripping down my face, I stepped back to look at one of our little plots of eclectic flowers. If Guerilla Gardening isn’t already a movement – I hope it becomes one.
Archive for July, 2011
Three days of music, three stages, three camping fields, and three interns.
Mary (the thriving communities intern at MLUI), Branden (the intern at one of our partner organizations SEEDS), and I loaded into a gold minivan, threw our sleeping bags on top of the EzUp Tent and headed up to Bliss, MI. Passing miles of hay fields, cherry orchards, and small towns we turned right, left, then left again and finally found ourselves in Bliss. The aptly name middle-of-no-where town is home to Bliss Fest – a folk music festival. But the remote location didn’t stop the approximately 6-8 thousand people from making the trek for a little weekend of Bliss, “camping,” and awesome music.
We made our way to the Non-Profit section and set up shop; arriving Saturday (rather than Friday) meant we were less than 50 feet away from the main stage, arguably one of the best seats in the “house”. The music was playing, vendors were selling everything from clothing and jewelry to Pot Heads (statues of people with flower pots as heads), and people were dancing. We were ready to talk about MLUI and Bioneers (a national conference about environmental issues and social justice) to anyone who was interested.
And they were!
People signed up for more information, talked to us about work they were doing, were enthusiastic about our work, and interrogated us about energy policy. We were ready to listen and talk to anyone who found themselves under our new tent.
Learning what people in the area were thinking about energy in their state was great! And so was the music. Though talking land use for an entire weekend was fun – so was packing up the booklets and brochures and heading out into the fest.
We camped Saturday night with Mary’s family, explored the Christmas light lit woods, listened to over a dozen bands, and experienced all three stages. When we packed up our stuff late Sunday Mary’s dad drove and the three of us fell asleep, blissful and exhausted from a great Northern MI weekend.
I am going to try to keep posts shorter in the future – sorry about the length of the first two.
I mentioned my first reporting project, but there is a whole OTHER side of energy and efficiency I get to think about.
I am working of completing an “UpNorth Energy Saver Guide” – an online data base for residents in a 9 county region in North West (lower) MI. The guide will function as a “one-stop shop” for energy efficiency and will point people to 1) advice about how to easily be more energy efficient 2) existing online data bases about the subsidies and tax breaks available 3) contractors and retailers in the area who can help make a home (or business) more energy efficient.
Having this be “my project” means making hundreds of phone calls, standardizing data, and working with a 10 book excel spread sheet, each book with “a – v” columns. Basically, its an exercise in being organized, talking to people on the phone, and data collection. But, the result will be pretty helpful I think. Then again, maybe I’m biased.
I am about half way through my time here at MLUI, so I am going to do some back tracking to start.
MLUI, the Michigan Land Use Institute, was founded in 1995 by Keith Schneider (a Haverford alumni!), and has grown from 3 employees to around 16. There are three main areas where we work: Food and Farming, Thriving Communities, and Energy and Environment. I am working in “Energy and Environment” but hopefully will be able to write about the fascinating things the others are doing as well.
Right now the foci of “Energy and Environment” are promoting energy efficiency, working to encourage smart renewable energy plans for the state, fighting the Michigan “coal rush,” and generally being tuned into energy (and environment) policies and programs.
So what does this mean for me?
Well, it meant learning A LOT more about MI than ever before. Trying to navigate my way through the policies of a state I had never been to before July took some work – but I have been wrapping my head around it with the help of Jim and Brian (my bosses).
MI is in a unique place in terms of energy. The previous governor (Jennifer Granholm) really promoted expanding renewable energy and bringing more of it to the state. But unlike states where that might JUST mean encouraging installing wind and solar – in MI this means manufacturing and designing it. Having been hit hard by the recession and the decline in the automotive industry, MI had a lot of un-used potential. There is a great capacity for R&D, it is the largest producer of engineering degrees per capita than any other state, and there is a “heritage of production” here. AND it’s a swing state.
Many people, including the former governor, see this huge capacity as a reason to emphasize the renewable energy industry in the state: a chance to diversify the economy, create jobs, and help propel MI to the future.
Others are skeptical about putting too much emphasis on renewables and think that “forcing” the market toward “green” industries is not sustainable or helpful. The new governor, Governor Snyder, has reduced the corporate tax for ALL industries, and has eliminated many of the incentives and programs set up by Granholm. He has only been in office for 6 months, but his failure to show sincere interest in the renewable energy and related industry is a cause for concern amongst many.
And that’s where I find project number one. I have been working on trying to better understand the information available about Snyder’s reorganization of the government and about the programs created by Granholm. It is still unclear whether or not Snyder’s “economic gardening” approach will attract the same volume of renewable companies to the state and what this will mean for MI in the future. Right now I am trying to see what the actual businesses – the ones impacted by the changing tax rate and loss of funding for certain programs – think about the shifts. Within the next little while the research and interviews will turn into advocacy articles talking about the innovative, exciting work already being done by MI based renewable energy companies AND about the lessened focus on renewable energy in the new administration. I have never been a “journalist” before, let alone written advocacy articles – so this process has been delightfully NEW for me.
Check out our website: www.mlui.org/
I hope that posts will be a mix of Traverse City happenings and Internship happenings, I will try to find a balance, but I would be remiss if today, July second, I did not start by writing about CHERRIES.
I had never given much thought to our national “cherry capital” but that’s because I had never had the opportunity to spend time in Traverse City Michigan. You don’t have to be here long to realize that Traverse City is just that, the cherry capital of the country and, therefore, host to the National Cherry Festival. If you didn’t notice from the Google searches, the cherry souvenirs in all the gift shops, or the street banners on every street light, you would certainly have to notice now. Now that the festival has officially begun.
There is everything: cherry socks, cherry peanut butter, cherry spreads, cherry shirts, cherry jam, cherry aprons, cherry ice cream, cherry pie, even cherry underwear, if you can imagine it, probably you can find it here with a cherry on it. But what is surprisingly difficult to find are actual Michigan cherries. Or at least that is what I hear.
Apparently, cherry festival was once later during the cherry harvests, but was moved years ago to take advantage of the fourth of July tourism. And it worked. Today the streets were packed, the beaches were more crowded than I have seen in a month, and Saturday Farmers Market was relocated to make way for the largest collection of fair rides I have ever seen. (Yes, there are TWO Ferris Wheels)
So after I made my way through the neon lights and over to the two stages, vender area, and beaches, I had gotten over my initial surprise about eating potentially WA grown cherries in an area of MI so focused on local food. I bought myself a cup of cherries and happily weaved my way through the sweaty crowds. I am sure there will be more festival related adventures in the next week, but taking my first handful of cherries for the summer, was certainly a good way to start.