By Dee Reid
At the Chatham Obama supporters' retreat in January, one sub-group formed around making Chatham a SUSTAINABLE community -- with policies and practices in every aspect of county life -- sustainable community design, sustainable agriculture, sustainable transportation, and sustainable agriculture. The participants in this discussion were Gail Crider, Bill Dow, Nia Marsh, Steve Marsh, Dee Reid, and Jeffrey Starkweather.
Sustainable Community Design
Public policies, ordinances, planning regulations and homeowners’ association rules and covenants should support sustainable practices and discourage unsustainable practices.
* A sustainable community would encourage and allow residents to: use recycled gray water on lawns and gardens (conserves water), hang clothes out to dry (saves energy), install rain barrels to catch and use rainwater for lawns and gardens (conserves water), grow vegetables and raise chickens in their yards or in green spaces in the community (saves energy, encourages growth of whole healthy food), have a compost file (recycles waste), etc.
* A sustainable community encourages walking or cycling instead of driving, with sidewalks and trails (saves energy, protects environment, promotes health and wellness).
* A sustainable community encourages arts and recreation through: public arts (some communities have a fraction of public construction dedicated to purchasing and installing art in public spaces. We discussed having an arts and cultural center in downtown Pittsboro (promotes arts and economic development).
* A sustainable community would have tax incentives and/or zoning regulations that encourage the preservation of farmland (saves family farms, encourages economic development, provides whole healthy food), through farmland trusts, lower property tax rates for agriculture and/or ways for farmer to derive value from preserving land by transferring development rights.
* A sustainable community encourages residential and commercial development near towns and employment centers, rather than sprawling in the countryside. This saves energy in transportation costs, protects environment and natural resource assets of the county, promotes local shopping and local business, and enhances quality of life for residents who can live near where they work.
* A sustainable community encourages housing near town and employment in wide-ranging prices affordable and sustainable for workers, retirees, students and families.
* A sustainable community has mass transportation (encourages economic development, saves energy, reduces global warming, reduces traffic, enhances quality of life and well being)
* A sustainable community has affordable medical care.
* A sustainable community encourages and supports local businesses and local industry that offer good jobs, decent wages, protect the environment.
We discussed the challenges facing farmers who would like to stay on their land and diversify their crops but can no longer afford it because of high energy and input costs associated with traditional commercial farming. We also discussed the challenges facing young people and new farmers who would like to get started in sustainable farming but can’t afford the price of even a small amount of land.
* What can be done to help commodity farmers diversity into more sustainable crops or practices?
* What can be done to preserve farmland at reasonable prices so new farmers can get started?
* How can we encourage small-farm incubation projects on land that is not currently being used for farming?
* Could farm land owners use part or all of their land for alternative energy development: bio fuels, biomass, methane, wind?
* How can we help farmers or farm land owners get involved in agro-tourism, which would bring them value added and bring visitors/tourists to Chatham?
* Why don’t we have community gardens where people who don’t own land could raise their own food, or school children could learn about growing food?
* Why don’t we have sustainable whole food in our school lunch programs?
* How about a Farmers Market in our downtowns on Saturdays? That would promote the farmers, encourage healthy food consumption, and bring business to our downtowns. Dee mentioned that Carolina Brewery and local farmers are exploring possibility of a Saturday market at the brewery parking lot. We also talked about the old Piggly Wiggly parking lot, now vacant, in downtown Pittsboro as a prime location for Farmers Market (we also discussed it as prime location for a cultural arts center, or maybe both uses?)