A movement for the Earth

Sustainability Movement in the Amazon Neighborhood of Eugene, Oregon is driving change and bringing residents closer together.

By Matthew Taylor Jordan

The beauty of Sustainability

There are few places where “welcome” takes on a greater significance than words stitched in a floor mat. Then again, there are few places like the Amazon Neighborhood, and there are few people like those that live there.

It’s a place where community takes on a new meaning. A place where the definition of neighbor stretches beyond redwood fences and street crossings. It’s a place where sustainability and living green isn’t a personal goal but a communal effort. These neighbors dig, plant, sow and grow, together. Isn’t that the meaning of being neighborly? What brings them together is an idea and a movement. An idea that the world can be a better place by simply stopping to smell the roses (after planting and pruning them, of course). And a movement towards the earth and away from the hunter/gatherer society of the American supermarket where your food may be shipped hundred or thousands of miles to reach the check stand. Residents of the quiet, tree-filled Amazon neighborhood understand, what’s good for them, is good for the earth and good for each other.

[Daily Produce Movement – PDF examining the movement of produce by gas-guzzling trucks, planes and trains through the United States. ]

“People tell me, it must be a lot of work, and it’s funny, I don’t consider this work, it’s what I’ve been doing.” Whitey Lueck is considered by some to be a “local legend” in the realm of sustainability. Lueck lives on a self-limited budget and grow much of his own food, “A third of my property is set aside for food production, another third is meadow.” Along with dozens of fruits and vegetables that Lueck cares for, he puts a great deal of pride in his “meadow”, land he dedicates to growing plants “that you would find in Oregon, 150 years ago when people first came here.” This native Oregonian sanctuary is heaven to the bees that own the airspace in Lueck’s cozy garden.

People tell me, it must be a lot of work, and it’s funny, I don’t consider this work, it’s what I’ve been doing.”

Lueck’s mission is to preach the path of sustainability to others by opening his vine-covered trellis’ so that everyone can experience what he does every day. Like an art gallery for all five senses, Lueck’s garden is visually stunning and aesthetically pleasing. “Anyone can come through my garden and look at the plants and the bees and the chickens,” says Lueck, referring to the four Barred Rock hens that pace their coop. Lueck’s garden is also a study in contrast. In many Scandinavian country’s they practice something called “Universal Access” or the “Freedom to Roam“, where (withing the realm of reason) all public and sometimes private services, nature and properties are open to everyone, regardless of class or ethnicity. Lueck has brought this to his doorstep with signs guiding visitors to his garden and explaining everything from the names of his hens to a how-to on making your own fertilizer.

[Everyman’s right in Finland – PDF detailing right to access all natural and public lands in Finland]

Now, why does he do it? Why would anyone live on a strict budget and sacrifice their driveway for a native Oregon White Oak? For Lueck, it’s natural, he grew up in a region of Pennsylvania surrounded by Amish farmers, he’s never owned a car and values quiet forest paths over busy city streets. For others, it’s a way of maintaining a greener future for Amazon and Eugene.

David Stucky lives just a few blocks away from Lueck. His garden is modeled on a similar idea that the best way to spread sustainability in the community is to let the community see it in action. Stucky can often be found in his workshop crafting a new raised bed for potatoes or sitting down enjoying the company of his bee hives. “You can just watch them for hours, it’s almost better than TV”, says a fearless Stucky, inches from the opening of the hive. “We call him the bee man” says Ann Hubbird, another member of Amazon’s sustainable community. Stucky has organized a bee co-op within the Amazon community which currently boasts 13 hives, many of which were made by Stucky with the help of fellow neighbors.

Stucky's two hives

[Temporal Polytheism in Bees – PDF describing division of labor and habits of the common honey bee]

For Stucky and Hubbird, sustainability in their neighborhood is only the beginning. What all began as a pro-peace book club before the Iraq war in 2003 has evolved into a community-wide and city-wide movement. The group now meets at the end of every month to discuss green living, swap ideas, and even swap plants. Hubbird hosts potlucks and started a plant swap in March where residents could exchange seeds, tools and plants without money. “There’s groups of 6 or so people who meet regularly, but everyone is invited to join and learn”, says Hubbird, who also participated with a group that went around the Amazon neighborhood pruning trees.

From the original group a website was created promoting sustainability in Eugene, Stucky’s bee co-op is featured, as are Hubbird’s potlucks and plants swaps. It’s an open forum where anyone interested in green living can offer advice, post pictures or set up events to help others around the city. But Eugene Sustainability isn’t the only example of the internet promoting green living. Blogs and forums are growing like weeds all over the country and the exchange of ideas is helping people in Eugene discover the power of plants.

[Urban Homestead – household in Pasadena California operating completely sustainably]

Sustainabilty has been playing a big part in local politics as well. “The city has two choices, to increase density or expand the urban growth boundaries.” After the Envision Eugene project in May 2010 projected an increase of 34,000 people in two decades, Stucky saw the need for sustainability to play a major role in decision making for the city. “Without sustainability as a focus, it puts the rest of the city’s interests at risk.” Stucky has proposed setting aside urban land for public, agrarian purposes, such as community gardens and orchards. According to (-) the food stocks in Eugene would only last three or four days in the event of a crisis. Sustainable practices like the ones proposed by Stucky, Hubbird and Lueck would put a greater focus on local business and agriculture.

– Video on the Envision Eugene Website

[Envision Eugene – PDF about efficiency practices]

The benefits of sustainability aren’t always obvious, but a little extra time and some dirt under your fingernails is only the beginning of something huge. The Amazon Neighborhood understands that eating closer to the earth is important to staying healthy and happy. But how do you begin? Stucky put it best, “living sustainably, first you need to start cooking your own food, then you begin to grow your own food, know where your food comes from and develop a personal connection with what you eat. But first of all, just be happy.”

Sustainable Recipes Courtesy of David Stucky:

For Lentil and Greens soup you need:
  • A marked lack of regard for measurement.
  • Some lentils…1 1/2 cups more or less
  • Olive oil…about a 1/4 cup
  • An onion, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • The frilly end of a celery bunch (that you never eat anyhow).  Try lovage if you grow it.
  • Herbs of just about any sort…whatever’s about in the fridge or cupboard or garden
  • A carrot or two chopped doesn’t hurt.  If you have a potato, that’s OK as well.
  • Some veggie/fish/beef stock if it’s available.  I like Japanese dashi.
Heat olive oil in a big soup pan.  Toss in lentils and fry for about 5 minutes.  Add chopped onions.  Fry another 3 minutes or so.  Add enough water to make a soup and bring to a boil.  Add remaining chopped vegetable ingredients, herbs, and salt/pepper to taste.  Cook until lentils mush down as far as you like them.  Serve with bread.

Best simple pie crust in the universe: (double crust)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup of COLD water more or less
Making a pie is easy.  Once you get the hang of it, you can do one from scratch in about 20 minutes…quicker than it’d take you to buy some sorry thing at the market.
Place shortening, flour, and salt into a bowl but DO NOT MIX.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled.  (DO THIS AHEAD OF TIME.)  Remove and cut shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter or two table knives until only small lumps of shortening are visible.  Add cold water a sprinkle at a time, stirring with a rubber spatula.  Add only enough to BARELY make the dough hang together.  Turn out onto a floured board and kneed only enough to form two round patties.  Roll them out to pie shell shape, flouring each side frequently and heavily to avoid sticking.  Work quickly and gingerly.  Avoid warming the dough as much as possible.  Add fruit filling, cover with the top crust, and bake…usually 15 minutes at 425 then 30-40 more at 350 or until crust is just beginning to brown.
You can put about anything into a fruit pie once you get the feel of it.  I add a handful or so of flour to apples to help them thicken up (along with sugar for sweetening).  I add more flour to really wet fruit (e.g. plums or blueberries).  After you’ve done a few pies, you’ll get a sense of how much flour to use.  Corn starch and tapioca are good alternatives, but flour will do and unless you really clobber it, won’t make the pie taste starchy.  Use ginger, lemon zest, etc. to keep things interesting.  Always allow a pie to sit for a while until mostly cooled before cutting it…otherwise you’ll need a spoon to eat it!

About eminormajor

More fun than a barrel full of monkeys
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