2009: Connecting the Dots
Jamaica Plain, a diverse Boston neighborhood, has a rich history of activism and organizing. Back in 2009, many neighbors were taking innovative action to address the ecological and economic crises impacting America, the world, and the neighborhood they knew and loved. For example, Orion Kriegman and his neighbors were turning a trash-strewn, 30-year vacant lot into the Egleston Community Orchard. Andree Zaleska was creating a zero-carbon demonstration home known as the Jamaica Plain Greenhouse. And Chuck Collins was launching the Jamaica Plain Forum to promote community discussion on the urgent issues of the day. As these three friends talked about their work and the crises they faced, it became clearer and clearer that all this, and much more, is interconnected.
Andree, Chuck, and Orion connected with each other in part through their work at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Andree and Orion both worked with Chuck, founder of the Jamaica Plain Forum and Director of the IPS Boston office, to support the “Common Security Clubs” network—a network of small groups interested in mutual support and social action. Common Security Clubs were originally oriented primarily toward those precariously employed in the deepening economic crises. Andree and Orion both shared an interest in helping people make the connections between economic and ecological challenges – and they were both personally connected to the local efforts to create community resilience that were bubbling up in the burgeoning grassroots food movement. In 2010 Orion went to a “relocalization conference” at Roxbury Community College and was struck by how much was going on all across Greater Boston, and yet how disparate and hidden it was to those not directly involved. The work was not recognized as part of common effort.
Orion wanted to fix that. He suggested that IPS create a pilot project to “connect the dots” among things such as Andree’s JP Greenhouse, Chuck’s work to support the unemployed and fight extreme inequality, and the many thriving community food and energy projects. By locating this pilot at IPS, Orion hoped it would link the big-picture policy ideas developed by the IPS’ New Economy Working Group with the practical, daily concerns of real people. This pilot effort became known as the Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition (JP NET). JP NET has been connecting dots ever since.
2010: The New Economy Movement
It is clear that the “Old Economy”—based on unfettered growth and resource extraction—is not working, and that we are of necessity entering into a “New Economy.” Earth is going through a deep transformation, requiring new adaptations for individuals, families, communities, and institutions. One possibility is the acceleration of an increasingly unequal society where only a few people have access to resources. A more hopeful vision is a society where resources are shared and the economy transitions towards greater well-being for all people and the planet. A growing movement calls this the New Economy Transition.
Many components of a desirable New Economy have already existed for decades and are proven models. The growing movement for a New Economy seeks to build on traditions such as producer and consumer cooperatives, community financing, land trusts, other forms of community ownership, and elements of an “informal” economy that have long been the backbone of immigrant and low-income communities (e.g., sharing, solidarity, do-it-yourself, re-use, etc.). The New Economy movement wants to increase the visibility of these practices and amplify their impact, realigning the mainstream of the economy toward community repairing and life sustaining activity.
In 2010, luminaries involved in the IPS New Economy Working Group, such as Gus Speth, Gar Alperovitz, and Neva Goodwin, joined the board of the newly created New Economics Institute (NEI). NEI was launched by a joint effort of the E.F. Schumacher Society in Western MA and the New Economy Foundation in the UK to “build a New Economy that prioritizes the well being of people and the planet.” NEI has since merged with the New Economy Network to form the New Economy Coalition (NEC) which “convenes and supports all those who might contribute to an economy that is restorative to people, place, and planet” into a common movement. JP NET has been an active member of this coalition from its inception.
JP NET is also inspired by the grassroots, community-based approach of the Transition movement, and in 2010 became the 95th official Transition Town in the United States. JP NET has been actively collaborating with the Transition movement in New England and beyond since this time, and Transition movement founder Rob Hopkins has visited us and written about our work.
2011: The First “State of Our Neighborhood” Forum
A lot of amazing community building has been happening in Jamaica Plain for a long time. Recognizing this, as JP NET took shape Chuck and Orion met with JP’s prominent community organizations. They asked leaders at these organizations if they were concerned about the twin challenges of economic and ecological crisis. While some organizations said this was outside their mission scope, most replied that they were concerned, but so busy with current projects they hadn’t found time to reflect on what these trends mean in the context of their work. These organizations were happy to help convene a local initiative to support neighborhood leaders seeking to build community resilience.
With their endorsements, in February 2011, JP NET brought together the neighborhood’s organizations to co-convene the first annual State of Our Neighborhood forum, involving over 250 neighbors, city councilors, state reps, and the state senator for JP. Co-conveners included the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, JP Forum, Bikes not Bombs, Boston Centers for Youth & Families, Boston Climate Action Network, City Growers, City Feed & Supply, Common Security Clubs, Egleston Square Main Streets, Ecumenical Social Action Committee, Franklin Park Coalition, Neighborhood Pesticide Action Committee, NeighborsforNeighbors.org, and the JP Greenhouse.
Out of this initial meeting, JP NET worked with neighbors to catalyze new initiatives. One was Jenny Jones, who had a vision that public space can be used to address food security. Jenny worked with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to allow volunteers to grow food in former flower beds along the Southwest Corridor Park. This expanding garden space on public land is now known as Festival Gardens.
JP NET members were involved with Legalize Chickens, which pushed for clarity with the city about permitting egg-laying hens. Their work was part of the public pressure that led to the rezoning of the city to allow urban agriculture.
Other JP NET members met in their spare evenings to launch the JP Resiliency Measures Project. This group issued annual reports at the 2012 and 2013 State of Our Neighborhood events about “indicators of community resilience” to help neighbors think about how to gauge our progress as community.
In 2012, after attending numerous community potlucks, several JP NET members came together to organize a Winter Farmer’s Market that would link New England farmers to the market in JP. Led by Kate Peppard, these neighbors felt strongly that the Market should be located in Egleston Square and be bi-lingual and affordable, so that it was accessible to the full diversity of residents in JP.
The Egleston Farmers Market has since become a year-round market, and is working with Partners Health to develop a coupon program to be distributed at community health centers. It is the only Farmers Market in JP to accept SNAP/EBT (e.g., Food Stamps) and Bounty Bucks (the City doubling program for purchases made at Farmers Markets). The Egleston Farmers Market not only addresses access to affordable healthy food for low-income people, but also directly supports new farmers such as Jim Buckle. According to Jim, Buckle Farms would not have survived its first year without access to the year-round market open in the winter months. As Buckle Farms expanded, Jim was able to use the relationships he developed with customers of the market to raise capital and purchase his land.
JP NET’s wide range of neighbor-led food activities—such as the Egleston Community Orchard, Seed Swap potlucks, and JP Yard Sharing—led to the formation of the Boston Food Forest Coalition and the launch of its flagship permaculture education site at the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan in 2014. This ambitious effort is held together by a vast amount of volunteer energy from committed folks and operations support from JP NET. The volunteer executive team includes Allison Meirding, Dan Schenk, Jes Watts, and Rachele Rosi-Kessel, Kelly Cannon, and Jenny Hauf.
A constant part of JP NET’s activities are potlucks, movies and forums that highlight local leaders and entrepreneurs and bring in big name speakers. Many of these are co-produced with the JP Forum. These events are touchstones that bring us together, and they keep us engaged and thinking about the big picture.
2013: Hiring a Community Organizer
After three years of work, we raised the resources to hire Carlos Espinoza-Toro – a full-time bi-lingual community organizer who has been doing an outstanding job of reaching out to every corner of our community. As active community members involved in JP NET are investing their volunteer time on specific projects, the connections between efforts would get lost and the center would not hold without the tireless work of Carlos.
With Carlos’ added capacity and expertise, in 2013 JP NET started a Community Leaders Fellowship to support innovative change-makers in JP to understand they are part of a movement. The Fellowship directly supports them and their projects with space, promotions, coaching, outreach, strategic planning, community organizing, and fundraising.
For example, Carlos and Community Fellows are working with J&P Cleaners, a neighborhood dry cleaner owned by Central American immigrants. J&P uses perchloroethylene, a highly toxic carcinogen, but with support from the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI), JP NET is helping J&P to relocate and become Boston’s first exclusively “wet cleaner.” Under this business plan, we are assembling different tranches of capital and other resources for J&P’s transition, including grant funds from public agencies for wet cleaning technology and building improvements; crowd-sourced “equity” contributions; unsecured, low-interest, fixed rate, mid-term funds from Boston Impact Initiative; medium-interest loan from traditional bank; multi-year contracts from anchor institutions for laundry services; and mobilization of customers through our network and social media. In 2014 JP NET was recognized at the State House for this work.
2014: New Economy Enterprise Hub
Building on the groundwork we have laid, in the Fall of 2014 we are launching a New Economy Enterprise Hub with a focus on quality jobs and livelihoods that are place-based and sustainable, and that promote racial justice and equity. Resting in the multi-year experience of JP NET, the following six spokes form the wheel of our proposed New Economy Enterprise Hub, capturing synergies and amplifying the work of each:
1. Entrepreneurship – Incubating new enterprises with an aggressive import substitution strategy, taking advantage of the procurement needs of anchor institutions.
2. Anchor Institutions – Pressing anchor institutions to redirect contract services, consumption and investment to create local jobs.
3. Community Capital – Providing bridge capital to emerging businesses and support to existing enterprises.
4. Livelihood Businesses – Assisting locally-rooted businesses that are not poised to grow but do provide a livelihood to transition to more sustainable models.
5. Consumer Culture – Redirecting local consumption and capital through place-based businesses that give back to the community.
6. People Power – Developing grassroots power to shape policy.
The Bottom Line: Building Community
JP NET is about many things and multiple initiatives. But at heart, JP NET is about building community and forming relationships. And it is these relationships—when they are strong and focused—that give us the power to shape the future we want.
JP NET recognizes that we are bound in a common destiny with no separate solutions for individuals, communities or nations – it is co-existence or no-existence. We are only as resilient as our neighbors, and true community resilience requires regional resilience. To this end JP NET began reaching out to other grassroots groups across New England—regional neighbors doing similar and inspiring work in their own communities—to share lessons and affirm that we are not alone in these efforts. JP NET is an active member of the emerging Regional Organizing Committee of this New England Resilience and Transition Hub.