Bound by Beauty is kicking off a new year and a new decade with Saving Butterflies 101, a call to link arms in the fight against climate change, a battle in which we all must engage. Our newest program is designed to bring neighbors together to create a safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient and sustainable community. Wow! Those are lofty goals, but we think everyone would agree they are worth pursuing with all our might — and we have lots of ideas about how to do that.
We will begin on two blocks of NE 101st Street in Miami Shores, FL, anchored by the birthplace of Bound by Beauty, and we will make everything we do replicable so that residents on blocks all around can join forces with their own neighbors. We can even think outside the “block” and connect with our alley neighbors! Read on to see our vision, and envision ways in which your own block can unite. There are lots of embedded links to provide more information.
The key to making our blocks safer is getting to know our neighbors and spending more time outdoors. It really is that simple. This used to happen organically before the advent of air-conditioning and television, back in the day when dads and teenagers mowed the lawn on Saturdays, families went outside to garden or play, and people sat on their porches to feel the breeze off the bay and watch the goings-on in the neighborhood. Nowadays, those of us with butterfly gardens are drawn outside frequently to see what visions of beauty we can find, and vegetable gardeners venture outdoors a lot to check on what is growing. Imagine if more neighbors planted butterfly gardens and vegetables?
We have to get back to that level of connectedness as best we can, with whatever tools and pathways we can create and utilize. We envision many gatherings on our blocks that will help us work together to achieve our lofty goals, like closing down our block some sunny weekend day to plant native trees and pollinator plants in our neighbors’ gardens, and to share a meal. Doesn’t that sound like fun? What can you imagine doing to weave a stronger connection with the neighbors on your block?
Together with our neighbors, we need to weave a safer and stronger fabric of connection and community. If we are connected via a smartphone group-chat app, for example, neighbors can instantly reach out to each other in case of a suspicious incident or extreme weather event. What a great combination that would be of old-fashioned neighborliness and modern technology! We will also find a way to connect with those who don’t have a smartphone, and make sure they’re not left behind. Think of how much more we can accomplish in groups of committed, connected neighbors rather than as individual residents, locked in our own little isolated bubbles (which most of us are, we have to admit). This is just common sense; united, we are stronger and more able to face whatever the future has in store.
We have lots of ideas as to how we can make our blocks healthier. Now that it is possible for residents to plant vegetables wherever they’ll get the requisite amount of sunlight in their gardens — thanks to determined neighbors who fought the ordinance that banished vegetables to the backyard — we will encourage our neighbors to grow their own organic vegetables, perhaps weaving them into the existing landscape, or creating food forests.
Bound by Beauty recently gave an Organic Vegetable Gardening Workshop, in honor of those determined residents, and we’re looking to do more to educate and encourage neighbors to follow their example, including those with more limited mobility such as seniors. If you are a vegetable gardener, can you envision giving a workshop to interested neighbors on your block?
Study after study affirms the mental and physical health benefits of both growing and eating homegrown organic veggies. And since crops can sometimes grow in overabundance, neighbors will be sharing and trading their produce with other neighbors, making all who participate in this exchange stronger and healthier, and weaving the fabric of our little community even tighter. If you’re a neighbor who likes organic gardening or just wants to ask questions and learn more from a kindred community on Facebook, please join the Miami Shores and Neighbors Fruit Veggie and Seed Exchange group.
Many vegetables require pollination, so we will be encouraging our neighbors to work together to create pollinator corridors with locally-sourced native plants (more in a blog post coming soon on Natives for Neighbors). In fact, we’re even planning a gathering to help neighbors get their plants in the ground! And stay tuned for news about a Bound by Beauty butterfly and bird garden workshop (hint: butterflies are pollinators too, and flowers attract bees as well as butterflies). If you are currently a butterfly gardener, you can join Bound by Beauty’s Foster Butterfly Gardeners of South Florida Facebook group, that helps prevent butterfly host plants from being decimated and their caterpillars from running out of food. See what we can do together?
Since synthetic chemical herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers make no sense in a habitat for pollinators, or where organic vegetables are grown for that matter, every household on our block that switches to organic practices and products will make us all healthier. And we can likely get a block discount from an organic pest company! Just imagine how we will increase the biodiversity of our block’s ecosystem, and work with Mother Nature to take care of pests naturally and organically, instead of poisoning our environment with toxic chemicals. Being mindful of our environment and ecosystems is essential in creating a healthy community. And think of all the birds that will find sanctuary and sustenance on your block!
A bonus will be that our gardens will have the potential to provide sanctuary to endangered plant species, such as those that grow in the rapidly disappearing Pine Rockland habitats and are given out at no cost to members of Fairchild’s wonderful Connect to Protect Network. Creating a healthier block that safeguards threatened species would be healthier for the planet and a wonderfully laudable goal, no? And just think of what we’ll be teaching our kids! Wouldn’t you like to turn your garden into a sanctuary for endangered plants and animals? Those of us who have are repaid many times over in joy and awe and wonder!
The social interaction that will occur with all these activities, from meeting our neighbors, to being connected via group chat and gatherings, working together to plant trees or clean up after a storm, will go a long way toward reducing the amount of loneliness some of our neighbors may feel. This is a growing problem in our country, but one that is easily rectified.
How do we make our block more beautiful? Our community of Miami Shores is called The Village Beautiful, but we believe it is time to revisit what constitutes beauty. Is a weed-free green lawn beautiful, if we know that it hastens our demise as a village due to its carbon footprint and its toxicity to people, pets, and pollinators? Or is beauty a flower-filled sanctuary that provides sustenance for butterflies and birds and other beneficial — and sadly disappearing — wildlife? Do we want cookie-cutter conformity or do we want our children and grandchildren to feel wonder and awe at the sight of beautiful butterflies or the sound of a Mockingbird? We hear all the time about habitat loss; we want to work with our neighbors to create habitat gain, native pollinator plant by native bird plant, chemical-free garden by chemical-free garden, block by block with locally grown native trees planted in all the right places. Imagine the beauty our community could create by working together. How can you envision making your block more beautiful?
How do we achieve our goal of making our blocks more resilient? Growing organic vegetables and creating a pollinator corridor free of synthetic chemicals helps safeguard our food and water supplies and that makes us more resilient. We’ll also be more resilient if we replace as much lawn as possible with drought-tolerant native plants that provide us with shade, offer us food, and provide sustenance to butterflies, bees and birds. We can work together with our neighbors to create bioswales and rain gardens that protect all of our properties from flooding. And we can help each other install rain barrels to make us more resilient in the case of prolonged droughts.
As neighbors we can join forces and get a discounted price from an arborist for pruning trees before their limbs become a hazard. It is hard to be resilient if a tree has knocked out your power, crushed your vegetables and destroyed your pollinator plants (not to mention your house). We can get block discounts for installing solar panels with battery backup, for the purchase and installation of generators, for installing hurricane impact windows and fabric. It is so much easier to be resilient when you have a means to cool yourself and your windows are intact.
We’ll be more resilient if we know ahead of a hurricane which of our neighbors has a chain saw, a gas can, a generator, or a means of cooking thawed food. Above all, we’ll be more resilient if we know our neighbors have our backs if we need help.
Resiliency can be as simple as planting a passion vine awning instead of using cloth. The passion vine shades the house like a cloth awning, but it also provides fruit for humans and animals, and the leaves provide sustenance for three species of butterfly caterpillars. As you can see in the photo below, the passion vine awning in the background survived Irma. It is doubtful a cloth awning would have. Can you think of other simple changes you could make to increase the resiliency of your home or garden?
The goal of a sustainable village presents the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge. We need to figure out ways to work with our neighbors to create a situation where our needs can be met, without compromising the needs of future generations. Many of us are waking up to the fact that we aren’t doing a very good job at that presently, and we must change our ways — and our notion of what our “needs” truly are — if we want our children and grandchildren to have good lives in a safe, healthy, and beautiful environment.
But how do we go about accomplishing this most worthy and urgent goal? It all comes down to our carbon footprint, which is the total greenhouse gas emissions we produce as we live our lives. The more carbon we produce, the less sustainable we are. The truth is, though, that we can lower our carbon footprint, we must lower our carbon footprint, and it will be easier to do so with the creative ideas, collaboration, and positive reinforcement (and perhaps some friendly competition) from neighbors.
Some of it is easy enough and we’ve gone over some of the ways above. For example, if you replace your green, chemical-soaked lawn with drought-tolerant native plants, you will reduce the amount of carbon emitted by mowers, blowers, and weed whackers (and you will reduce the loathsome noise they emit, thank you very much, and also save yourself some money!). And we have to keep in mind that we don’t mow and blow just once or twice a year; rather, this is repeated over and over and over, enlarging our carbon footprints, instead of shrinking them with carbon sinks in the form of trees, shrubs, ground covers, and healthy soil. You can learn more about how you can lower your carbon footprint without leaving your garden by reading Climate-Wise Landscaping: Practical Actions for a Sustainable Future (which is available from Brockway Library).
Besides saving money by not having to pay as much for landscaping your lawn, you can save money in the long term and lower your carbon footprint immediately by installing solar panels. If enough neighbors go for it, you could probably get a block discount, making your savings go even further.
Composting our food scraps and yard waste is an easy way to reduce our carbon footprints. Likewise, putting our leaves in a plastic bag and sending them off to the landfill makes no sense from a carbon footprint perspective. If we use our leaves as mulch, we are conserving moisture, discouraging weeds, enriching our soil, and reducing our carbon footprint.
Neighbors coming together could share their own ideas, expertise, and knowledge in ways that could make the whole block more sustainable with a lower carbon footprint. There is a lot we can do and the time to start is now.
We’ll leave you with a photo of two neighbors, Roberto Guzman and John Ise. They are taking a break after a lot of work in the hot sun cleaning up the damage left by Irma. This photo encapsulates Saving Butterflies 101. They are safer when they are working together, and there is no question two sets of muscles makes them stronger as a team. Working alone would likely take a toll on their health, and it is doubtful we would see such beautiful smiles. Working together makes us more resilient, and our efforts more sustainable. Join Roberto and John in making your block safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient and sustainable! Stay tuned on our blog for updates on this program, and feel free to share your ideas when we post on social media! And, if you are on Facebook and live in Miami Shores and surrounding communities, please join our Bound by Beauty group for updates and sharing ideas.