Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Happy Life

Slater and Bob met in jail. Slater and Bob met in jail. They had time to talk. In the hours they were forced to spend together, they devised a concept that is now spreading across the USA: Community Land Trusts. They were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and Ghandian Land Reform Movement. They agreed on a basic premise: people of color needed to reconnect with land for true freedom.  Slater King was Martin Luther King’s cousin. Bob Swann was a major civil rights activist.  

The first community land trust (CLT) rooted in Georgia in 1969, providing homes to African American families. Today there are over 250 CLTs in the USA.  Thirty eight percent are in small cities and towns, 26% in rural communities and 36% in large cites. 

23 years ago, a group of people on Lopez Island got fed up. They also got inspired. The cost of housing went up 190% that year. Lopez had the highest per capita income and highest cost of living among the San Juan Islands, but 51% of the children were living in poverty. They started the Lopez Community Land Trust. 

Today, there are five neighborhoods built by the LCLT on Lopez. Today I visited one. Rhea Miller, one of the founders, took me around. She said, “oh, your from the Happiness Initiative, let me show you some happy people!”  And she did!

Four new homes were closing, and four young families moving it.  They were glowing.  The  houses are the size of an average home in the US pre-1950s: 800 square feet.  When you walk into them, you feel like you have walked into a spread of a shiny architecture magazine.  The design is svelte, graceful, intriguing and beautiful.  Way nicer than the gargantuan 2000-3000 square foot houses we are used to.  The houses are built on common space: shared gardens, play areas, library, recycling station, [eating and cooking spaces]*, and just pure beauty. 

Each house sports 

solar hot water
energy conservation & technology
rainwater catchment
grid-tied solar
high efficiency windows and insulated shades
its own super cool customized kitchen

The housing is made affordable by donations and grants. One way the community integrates people of means who move to the island is recruit them for board positions. This helps  integrate new people into the needs of the island, like affordable housing by the Lopez CLT. Home owners put in sweat equity – meaning they help  in the construction of the homes. 

But that is not all Lopez CLT does. Some of their other activities:

  •  Co-Forming a garden for school children that the local school now operates and that provides produce to local businesses 
  • Launched a campaign that resulted in Lopez as a GMO free zone
  • Growing and sharing local food with the community
  • Forming a grain community supported agriculture (CSA) 
  • Hosting a community seed cleaner, and mill
  • Creating a seed library and holding seed saving workshops
  • Providing children education on how to be a farmer 
  • Installing gardens for the elderly
  • Supporting space for free exchanges 
  • Co-hosting tribal canoe journeys  with the local tribes
  • Incubating small businesses from fudge shop to marine research nonprofit, massage therapists and fitness center
  • Providing USDA approved mobile meat processing unit
  • Hosting food charettes to discuss how to increase access of local food.
  • Issuing a Farm Products Guide for Lopez Island

I am grateful for the day.  It is nice to have a reminder.  This is one way to have a happy life:  to live in a place where many of the conditions of happiness- community, environment, material well-being,  learning, culture – are strong and support how you feel. 
Posted by Laura Musikanaki, Executive Director of The Happiness Initiativ

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