Greening in the red zone: resilience in broken places

Looking for some hopeful, practical stories of personal and community resilience?  Check out Greening in the Red Zone, which compiles inspiring stories of regenerative commitment from parts of the world where things have fallen apart, ranging from Syrian war zones to tornado-wracked towns in the midwest.  This project from members of the faculty at Cornell’s Civic Ecology Lab produced a book (academic pricing) and ongoing coverage on an active Facebook page.  The Facebook page compiles news articles, agency reports, and academic news, and is a steady stream of heartening stories and case studies that could be replicated elsewhere in any community where there’s a few folks ready to invest some of their time and attention (and a bit of money) in our Zone 4, Tangible Assets/Close to Home.

The photo above is a rooftop garden in Syria, from a long and fascinating Al-Jazeera article focusing on local resilience in the face of the long-term siege of Yarmouk:

Jafra made a deal with his neighbor: I’ll get you $50 for seeds if you agree to share them. The next day, Jafra recruited staffers and volunteers to cleaned up the camp to cultivate the abandoned play area. Neighbors saw what they were doing and began to help. Even children pitched in. They finished in four hours.  “When the people and the children started to work with us, everybody was so happy,” says Jafra. They planted dandelions, parsley, tomatoes, eggplants and lentils. They called it the Palestine Garden.

And so a transformation began among the urban inhabitants of Yarmouk. They discovered the secrets of farming, like the best time to water the garden — at night, so the precious water would not evaporate. They learned how certain plants, like fava beans, can renew exhausted soil. They found seeds and farming skills among the rural farmers who had fled to Yarmouk when drought and later war engulfed the Syrian countryside.

Another recent post shared a Missouri Department of Conservation update about a massive tree-planting effort in Joplin, which was devastated by a tornado in 2011:

Mayer says, even if no more donations come in for residential trees, Joplin can expect to plant 2,000 right-of-way trees each year through 2017. If donations for home trees continue, he says it’s hard to estimate the number of residential plantings that could take place in the coming years. Though the multi-organization, multi-stage nature of Joplin’s tree recovery project has made it difficult to put a cost estimate on the effort, Mayer says it’s easy to estimate its value.

“A house is not a home until people make it so,” he says. “When we plant trees, we are certainly recovering, getting ourselves and the landscape healthy. We all have memories of our families that are tied to our natural surroundings—how our sisters played in the shade of the corner maple tree, how the wild cherries stained our hands. A lot of good times are remembered in the shade of an old oak tree. Those memories are the basis for living good times in the future.”

One of the co-authors of the volume recently published an article in the Guardian that expresses hope that perhaps the citizens of Ferguson and Baltimore could follow in these footsteps and find some healing, and rejuvenated community coherence, by getting their hands into the soil together.

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