Loud and clear, COVID-19 has been a wake-up call.
Waking up to what?
The lack of established epidemic protocol?
Our shared dependence on continuous commerce?
The fragility of the global economy?
As Vashon residents specifically, it’s not hard to imagine just how easily we could be cut off from the mainland, meaning no gas, toilet paper, medical supplies and, more importantly, food. Having an emergency preparedness kit is essential: non-perishable food items, fresh water, a first-aid kit, blankets, batteries, flashlights, radio, etc. But this palliative strategy assumes that, in just a matter of weeks, society will be “back to normal,” which, using no great power of the imagination, may not be the case. Vashon needs to become more resilient as a community and has a special opportunity to do so.
We, as Islanders, pride ourselves in being different from everyone else in King County (which is true) and feel a sense of freedom and independence (which is absolutely false). Nearly everything we buy is brought to us on trucks that ride ferries, and much of it is also flown in airplanes at the cost of huge carbon emissions —but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Creating economic resilience would be easy in a place like Vashon. We are rich with small farms, artisan craftspeople, handymen and women, community organizers and a culture that values its small-town feel. The necessary (and most difficult) shift is looking to our community to meet our needs, instead of some other remote source.
Turning our attention inward is an important part of the shift. Here are a few questions to ask ourselves:
- What are my actual needs? The needs of my family? My community? And how can I bring them all into harmony?
- What are my priorities? Are my actions dictated by those priorities — or a desire for convenience, stimulation or something else?
- How can I strengthen my community so that we are less affected by global economic fluctuation?
Creating stability means meeting needs, and one need we can all agree on is food.
When I asked a local farmer how many people his farm could feed year-round, he said, “none.” To my knowledge, only one farm stand is fully stocked all year. More islanders could be fed with food grown on island farms, but because we choose Thriftway over farm stands and the Farmers’ Market, there is a lack of viability for island farmers to maximize their agricultural potential. If we start buying up everything the farmers have, and supporting island businesses who do the same, the farmers will grow more food — and perhaps more people will become farmers. Who knows?
And don’t just depend on someone else to grow your food for you. During World War II, a third of the vegetables grown in the U.S. were grown in Victory Gardens — cultivated plots in people’s yards and public places. They produced food and boosted the morale of the populace.
Resilient communities require self-reliant individuals who can give, and also ask for, help. The late author John Seymour (1914-2004), who was considered to be the “father of self-sufficiency,” said, “If you really want to make a change in your lifestyle, you are going to need help from others.”
Becoming resilient and self-reliant as a community does not happen overnight, but will happen gradually as we cultivate our awareness and personal self-sufficiency. This can be as simple as mending a torn garment or taking it to a community member who does alterations, instead of defaulting to the habit of buying a new one. Or ordering groceries at vashonfresh.com — Vashon’s own online local food marketplace — before (or in lieu of) going to the store. Or just going without, whether it’s a latte, an avocado, coconut milk, or that thing you really want to order on Amazon that you didn’t even know existed an hour ago.
The more we do for ourselves, the less we need to depend on the larger societal infrastructure over which we have little to no control. And if we need help, we look around and find a strong community of capable people who share the same self-reliant intentions.
It will take some time, but we can create a local economy that will be resilient, regardless of what happens with the global economy. Let’s start by:
- Keeping our dollars here on the island.
- Supporting businesses that source locally.
- Reducing our needs by simplifying our lives.
- Exploring the freedom of self-sufficiency.
If anybody can do it, it’s the people of Vashon-Maury Island.
Camille Reeves is a third-generation islander, gardener, teacher and independent scholar who writes about self-sufficiency, history and modern American ethnography.