Sustainable Putnam

First Responses

Governor Cuomo’s March 20 order to shelter in place has had enormous impacts on our daily lives. While many may long for “normalcy”, some of us are using this moment to “shake things up.” Some of us are using this moment to live more intentionally, more fully, and in ways that are more sustainable. (Who wants normal, anyway?) And maybe, just maybe, those changes will ripple outward to create lasting change, and a more sustainable society.

No doubt many people will look back and laugh at the toilet paper shortage. It is pretty funny in hindsight, but it also woke us up to the fact that the modern industrial supply chain is not as unstoppable as we may have thought. Shortages of essential goods are real. Online shopping provided an amazing alternative to the potential exposure of shopping in brick and mortar stores, but it also allowed for panic purchasing that depleted stocks of goods.

Over the past seven weeks, many of us have taken advantage of this shelter-in-place moment in ways that are nothing short of profound. Eating out has presented challenges, though supporting local restaurants is still feasible to do so safely. The call to “buy local” has been echoed throughout Putnam County as Main Street was cleared and we all retreated to our homes. We’ve recognized that our beloved local restaurants, pharmacies, hardware stores, nurseries, and independent grocery stores are endangered in this moment of physical distancing. No one wants to see a shuttered Main St. “Buy local” should become a habit, not merely an alternative. The social, environmental, and economic benefits are well documented in study after study.

“No matter how your favorite businesses are offering goods and services now, keep supporting them with your purchases.”

— Institute for Local Self Reliance

Many of us are also spending more time preparing our own meals, using basic ingredients, rather than “instant” or processed foods. The number of social media posts concerning cooking and recipes reflects this change. And have you also been sharing mealtime conversations about the aromas, flavors, and textures of the food you’ve prepared? What a pleasant way to spend that time together, relishing the simple wonder of good food, thoughtfully and lovingly prepared. Shouldn’t this be “our new normal”?

No doubt it’s the additional time some of us have had at home that has led to store shelves being cleared of yeast and … organic whole wheat flour?! Who would have thought it two months ago? Apparently, many of us are now baking our own whole grain breads and cakes. My family got off to a later start than some, and given the lack of yeast resorted to sourdough baking. It’s a whole ‘nother world. Science and art combined, we’re slowly learning what it takes to maintain and bake with a sourdough starter.

Likewise, the interest in vegetable gardening has also taken off. Local farms and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners’s Annual Plant Sale went online, and sold out of many of their offerings. The Mahopac Public Library and other Putnam libraries have also responded with an online focus — their website home pages now features eBooks, audiobooks, and web links to useful household information. No surprise that they’re putting a strong emphasis on gardening and other home crafts as we shelter in place.

Interest in composting yard wastes has also increased with new articles and webinars cropping up weekly. My family has begun to think about expanding our garden and with it, our preservation of foods. Yogurt, pickles, and sauerkraut are old hat for us. What else can we preserve through through fermentation, canning, and freezing this growing season?

Have you heard that “mending is trending?” With more time on our hands (and limited ability to purchase new clothes while shops are closed), traditional “domestic” crafts like sewing and mending are suddenly in the mainstream again — how do we make it last?

— The Craftsmanship Initiative

The shortage of masks for our first responders led a few civic minded individuals to found the Mask Makers Guild, and local Putnam volunteers have provided thousands of masks to hospitals, EMT, police, and fire fighting personnel. Some volunteers brushed up their sewing skills, and others began to develop them for the first time.

The Hudson Valley Repair Café, where people gather to repair their their beloved, but broken possessions, has halted during the pandemic. But more folks than ever have pulled out their sewing machines and tool boxes to patch old clothes and rewire old lamps. “Mending is trending” despite the shutdown.

YouTube provides a wide array of video instructions on everything from cooking to mending clothes, to cutting hair. The Craftsmanship Initiative, a long standing online magazine, has also seen a surge of interest in its offerings.

Will these developments outlast the pandemic? What would our society look like if we embrace and continue these lifestyle changes? What if we use this moment to develop and champion a more sane, more humane, more intentional and sustainable lifestyle as an alternative to “normalcy”?

What new skills have you been developing or brushing up? And what’s next for you in shifting your life to sustainability — social, economic, and environmental? Share your story, provide a link or other resource you found helpful below.

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