What if some of your guiding principles were what Martin Luther King Jr. called “The Beloved Community”, and you created project after outreach project to also move your home, your neighborhood and your town in that direction, not worrying about social media likes, keeping up with the Joneses new plasma TV or even completing tax forms?
For Katy and Kyle Chandler-Isacksen, full-time change activists and parents of two “unschooled” boys, former teachers and cross-country travelers, their Be the Change Project in Reno has recently included producing a play on undocumented immigration, organizing events related to Standing Rock protests and going themselves, helping with community gardens, starting a garlic community festival, and leading a local bike-powered compost collection system for residences and restaurants.
From Reno Rot Riders to Worm Topiaries
One idea they are looking forward to is expanding their Reno Rot Riders initiative, which turns waste around town into compost to build healthier soil and grow local food.
“We're also creating a new entity called Wormtopia,” Chandler-Isacksen explained, “which is going to expand on that. So it's going to be using food scraps and other green waste too and then using worms to make even more compost which goes to healthy soil.”
Any conversation with Chandler-Isacksen can quickly turn into big picture common sense reasoning.
“For the last several hundred years, particularly in the West, we have degraded our soil so much that some people estimate that 40 percent of the anthropogenically-sourced carbon dioxide that's been admitted into the atmosphere has come from the degradation of our soils through poor agricultural practices,” he explained.
“So we started the Rot Riders to bring awareness to that like, ‘hey we shouldn't be throwing this stuff in the trash, we shouldn't be throwing food waste out into the landfill.’ And so that's been an amazing project for a couple of years and it's been quite successful and it's growing. And now offshoot worm topiaries is coming out of that. It's an even better way that we can deal locally, hyper-locally, with the waste that we create. So it serves people and it also serves planet.”
Chandler-Isacksen is particularly proud of the Be the Change garden, on the half acre of land around his family’s home, bought dilapidated in 2011 with the help of fundraising related to their overall project.
He says this is an escape from what he calls “very violent” industrial food production. Their garden serves as an example to others, and a place for workshops for those thinking of starting their own backyard gardens.
“A lot of times people just pull up and say ‘what's going on here’ because it looks different. We have cornstalks in the back yard that are like 12 feet high right now. So it kind of drives a little bit of curiosity and opens up some people to coming in and seeing what's going on.”
Challenges and Hurdles
Challenges include some loneliness of not having more people around live the same way. “I think the biggest challenge we face is that some of the things we're doing are kind of wacky and weird or that could be seen that way like living without electricity," Chandler-Isacksen said. "So it's hard to do that without having a large group, that's doing that as well. So sometimes we feel isolated, and a little lonely in our work, especially around sustainability, but overall, we feel very supported.”
Attempts to start a new urban farm have also been challenging.
“Sometimes, it's hard to do what we want to do in the existing kind of legal structures like we've got this lot of land a couple doors down that we were able to fundraise for and we would love to make it into an urban farm and community space,” Chandler-Isacksen said. “But there's several hurdles to making that happen. And some of them are kind of code and permitting, and I think they could be overcome but it's a lot of energy and it will take more time and more money.”
Limits and Possibilities
There are limits too, Chandler-Isacksen admits, to saving the planet while so many humans suffer from poverty. “I feel strongly that we can’t have any sort of environmental sustainability when people are struggling to have food, shelter, clothing and things like that.”
His advice for what others should do, as the globe teeters and political divisions within the United States and elsewhere deepen and divide?
“We need to be taking some risks and we need to be making changes because it's not going to happen at the federal level …. we can't wait. We can't wait for those solutions to come down the pipe. So it's what can we do in our own lives. That's why we call it Be The Change Project… People need to look into their own lives. What are their gifts? What do they have to share with the world? What is it that they can bring to the table?"
Combating Apathy and Getting Wings
Chandler-Isacksen says many people feel overwhelmed by the news cycles they are sometimes bombarded with, which can lead to apathy.
“I experienced that too. It's like ‘oh my gosh! How are we going to do this? How are we going to combat this? How are we going to you know make this better? But just go do it, go do something. And try to do it with a smile. There's positive feedback loops in that... you start doing stuff, you start getting support, you start getting some recognition maybe and it makes everything easier. So take the risk. You'll be given wings.”