As the "real people" in Hope and Hard Times check-in, I gain new understandings of the obvious threads running through these stories as well as subtle backfires to what may have seemed good ideas a couple of years ago. Here are several examples from Monhegan---that small island off mid-coastal Maine with more than seven generations of striving toward sustainable living. These arrived in a beautifully handwritten four page letter from Kathie Iannicelli, a long term year-round resident I've known since the 1990s. Enclosed in her letter is a two page handout describing what Kathie calls her "developed dream." That dream is about food sufficiency on Monhegan. She writes, "After all, the first recorded garden on a Maine Island was a lettuce patch planted by Captain John Smith on Monhegan (in 1614 or 1615). In the past Monhegan has fed itself. My own developed dream of a future Monhegan includes larger areas under cultivation, small fruit production, orchards, management of existing wild apple trees, large scale composters, and farm jobs for residents. Out of this would come more healthy fresh, local produce (at the very least), more food independence, the satisfaction of increasing our use of local resources, reduction in the amount of fossil fuel connected to the food we put on our tables, and employment opportunities." Details, logistical and economic, are raised as questions for Monhegan readers (Could this actually happen? Is it worth a try? Who will do the work? Who will pay for startup materials? Can the initial farm be scaled upward?) And finally, do you know what you are doing, Kathie? The plan was to begin in this growing season. I have no idea what has happened to this dream, but I'm guessing somebody reading this blog will help me update this new/old Monhegan sustainability dream, one I'll follow with great interest.
A second initiative has apparently been scuppered. Investigations and extended discussions of wind power for the island ended up in a clash of values: solitude and quiet on the island (a value that year-rounders and tourists highly treasure) versus energy self-sufficiency. The wind turbine chosen to power the island apparently was way too noisy and the ideal site was within earshot of most residents. A second option---a University of Maine offshore deep water wind generation test site about two miles off Monhegan---is on track with federal funding. Some electric power from this site may find its way to Monhegan
Finally, what seemed like a fine example of living within limits in the lobster fishery has backfired a bit. In exchange for a longer fishing season in 2007, fishers agreed to live with a 300 trap limit (the old limit was 600). This worked well in the first two seasons when lobster prices were high and yields were sufficient. In the past season, though, the bottom has dropped out of the lobster market, thanks to the great recession, and fishers in the Monhegan fleet are having an exceptionally hard time making a living. Kathie writes, "Many do not fish hard (or at all) mid-January to mid-March, so sternmen (key shipmates of the captains) are hard pressed to make a living. Some leave. Those sternmen are often our next generation of islanders." So, sustaining a year-round community on Monhegan is crucially connected to the success of the Monhegan fleet. The next chapter in this saga is yet to be written, but I reckon that discussions about trap limits will come up again soon---maybe as "we speak."
As Michigan professor Thomas Princen writes in his new book, Treading Softly, the principles of living in restrained ways are quite simple, but the practice of sustainability in this global economy sure isn't easy.