From Backyard Transformations to Cityscape Makeovers
Author: Erin Axelrod
May, 2012 Issue
Ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse said, “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” The lever we wield each day is each choice we make: Our decisions influence everything. This core belief fuels the work of Sonoma County-based Daily Acts, an organization that was founded in 2002 by Trathen Heckman (now the organization’s executive director) to address the many environmental and social challenges we face daily by highlighting the green citizens and leaders in our communities and the solutions they model.
Every day, our choices reach into forests, factories and families across the earth. Now in its 11th year, Daily Acts mobilizes citizens into positive action with the reminder that every choice we make matters. The organization’s mission is to transform our communities through inspired action and education, which builds leadership and local self reliance. It does this by collaborating with local groups and alliances and offering dozens of sustainability tours, workshops and presentations which teach people to grow food, conserve water, save energy and build community.
Calls to action
Engaged groups of citizen-volunteers readily come out on weekends to do a variety of skill-building projects including “sheet mulching,” a lawn transformation process done by layering recycled cardboard, compost and mulch (cycled from green waste trimmings) on top of lawns to naturally decompose them in place. Lawns use large amounts of water and necessitate the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides; plus, mower emissions create significant pollution.
In 2009, Daily Acts performed a lawn transformation at Petaluma City Hall with fellow nonprofits Rebuilding Together Petaluma and Petaluma Bounty. More than 250 volunteers gathered to sheet mulch 25,000 square feet of turf and replace some of this “thirsty lawn” with fruit-bearing kiwi vines, persimmons, citrus trees and community garden beds. The change has made the grounds a model of food production for city residents and the larger community. Daily Acts conducted similar transformations with citizen-volunteers at Sebastopol City Hall, where the lawn was replaced with native plants in 2008, and at a park in Windsor last April, which is saving the town more than 150,000 gallons of water per year. In addition to the water savings, the materials used in a sheet mulch project are recycled and sourced locally, from companies like Sonoma Compost.
Supporting green businesses is key, says Heckman, who was among those who inspired Assemblymember Jarred Huffman’s AB361. The new law that resulted from this assembly bill creates a corporate structure, called the B-Corp (for Benefit Corporation), that lets companies include a social and environmental mission so they’re beholden to the earth and people just as much as they are to their shareholders. Daily Acts also partners with local government—specifically the cities of Petaluma, Cotati and the town of Windsor, as well as the Sonoma County Water Agency—to make inspiring water conservation education programs accessible to local residents while creating model water conserving and edible landscapes. Attendees at Daily Acts events share community potlucks and learn from one another, making water conservation, gardening and greening our lives fun and accessible. The idea behind this educational model is that when people experience firsthand solutions and the everyday citizens and leaders presenting them, they’re more likely to incorporate them into simple and satisfying lifestyle changes with a significant community impact.
Daily Acts shares a vision of what’s possible when it comes to transforming our lives and communities while also providing the support and connections for citizens to find leverage points where simple, mindful actions achieve the greatest impact.
One such leverage point is reusing household greywater in your garden. Greywater is defined in the state of California as the wastewater stemming from your washing machine, shower and bathroom sinks (but not the kitchen sink, although some states do consider kitchen sink water safe for reuse). To install a greywater system, you can sign up for Daily Acts’ weekend greywater installation workshops, which will take place on July 14-15 and August 11-13. On these weekends, residents of Petaluma, Cotati and Windsor get help installing greywater systems at home, and residents of other cities get hands-on experience helping with the process. The city of Santa Rosa is a leading partner in promoting greywater use, offering classes as well. Contact Daily Acts for more information about installing a greywater system and to take part in the countywide 100 Greywater System Challenge between now and September 30.
Perhaps the greatest leverage point is taking action together, whether it’s a small group effort in a garden or thousands of people taking action together. Join Daily Acts and dozens of community partners for the third annual 350 Home & Garden Challenge on May 12 and 13. Even with small efforts (planting a fruit tree or transforming a section of lawn), when combined with thousands of people taking action, the results are significant. This year’s goal is to log 2,012 home and garden actions in a single weekend. A few of last year’s more than 1,000 actions from the 350 Challenge weekend were: 21 greywater systems installed, 234 lawns transformed and thousands of plants distributed across the county.
So start brainstorming your 350 Challenge action—maybe it’s that drip irrigation system you’ve been meaning to unclog, that rainwater harvesting cistern that’s been on the to-do list for months, installing your laundry-to-landscape greywater system or simply planting a few strawberry plants. Then, register your action on the Daily Acts website. Together, we’ll create a whirlwind of small, simple, sustainability solutions for powerful change.
Erin Axelrod is program manager of Daily Acts. For more information about Daily Acts or any of the events mentioned in this article, visit www.dailyacts.org or call (707) 789-9664.
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