SUSAN: Let me ask about you and your home community of
Sudbury. Tell me about your experiences there in trying to build a more
equitable and sustainable community.
JOAN: We do all sorts of things. One example that leaps
to mind is the Burwash prison project A group of us in Sudbury decided to form
an organization called the Sudbury Citizens Movement Together we developed an
idea for an abandoned prison farm thirty minutes' drive from the city on the
Trans Canada highway. The farm had over 26,000 acres of forest and grasslands.
It was on a major canoe route and close to a provincial park of extraordinary
beauty. Three thousand acres were cleared land, and had once raised enough food
to feed the entire prison population of 700 and a small village that was on the
site. Fourteen years before it had been self-sufficient in vegetables, meat,
and dairy production.
The year before the
provincial government closed it down in a construction boondoggle, they spent
$4.5 million renovating the sixty-nine houses, thirty-eight bed single staff
quarters and the six shops and three barns. There was also a gymnasium that had
never been used, big enough for two basketball courts. A feasibility study was
done in 1975 by a large consulting firm, indicating that a number of business
ideas were feasible, but would only create about 8 to 10 jobs each. Our group
spent two entire years working out a plan for the site, and proposed that it
was an ideal place for a regenerative form of agriculture and an interlocking
set of worker cooperatives engaged in farming, dairy processing, construction,
tourism and the establishment of a group home for kids who were presently in
foster care. Our own feasibility study indicated this plan might be
self-sufficient within ten years, but it would require about $2 million
investment from the province in order to bring the housing, etc., back up to
We spent two years pressuring the
government to take us seriously. Finally, we reached a level of community
acceptance that forced the government to respond and they hired a consulting
firm to do a feasibility study. The study cost $80,000. Many of the same
conclusions were reached except where they said we were not feasible because we
could only create 35 jobs in five years, and would not yet be self-sufficient
They had no way to measure the impact of our
proposal on the long term health of the land or the forest. No way for them to
measure the long term benefits for the children that could be there. No way for
them to measure the benefits of restoring the housing instead of tearing it
down. In fact the indices of "success" were such that the government sold the
land to the Department of National Defense at $65 an acre for a rifle range,
and destroyed the houses.
What this example makes
clear is the need to demystify the kind of mentality and language that
separates social, political and economic spheres of life, and then attaches
value only to the economic. We need a vision of a world that goes beyond cost
benefit analysis, or we need to expand that analysis to take in more than the
individual's present well-being.
SUSAN: And what about the future? What thoughts do you
have about your personal role in reclaiming a better world?
JOAN: A few years ago we had a group called the
Neighborhood Action Project. About every six months we'd get together all the
people we knew who were involved in community action and we'd do a day of
workshops. We'd do visioning, make up some songs, have a potluck dinner with
all of our kids there. And dance. It was fun. We haven't done that for two
years and I think we're ready for more of it.
like to start doing that sort of thing much more deliberately in my
neighborhood, to start treating my friends as people I would want as allies.
Maybe we could set up a buyer's club and start buying our groceries together.
Maybe we should be taking a look at buying up some of the housing in the area
and making it non-profit, so that we could have rent-geared-to-income units.
Then when some of us are losing our jobs, we could stay in our homes. Why
couldn't we have a greenhouse? Close one of our streets and put a greenhouse
down the middle? Maybe we could talk about having a van that did transportation
for things like kids' sports. It's worth a try and as we get older, it becomes
I think too that politically we're
coming to a time of incredible crisis in this country. I think we have to get
our act together and start rebuilding this world. We've got 30 years, I don't
think we have more than that. The greenhouse effect, the erosion of the ozone
layer, the pollution of the waters, and acid rain have reached total crisis
proportions. In me, as I'm talking about this, there's a desperation that's
really really deep. I talk to my children and I say "The world you'll live in
is going to be very different. I don't want you to be privileged kids because
you won't have the skills you'll need to cope with what's going to happen in
this world." We can't go on pretending that the skills they need are how to be
good consumers and great hockey players.
know there's something wrong. And what we need is the kind of support that
enables us to take the risks involved in declaring ourselves on the "other
side." I guess that's why my own interest is in building communities.
Joan Kuyek has been involved in community organizing
for 23 years, during which time she has also been a nurse's aide, a service
representative at Bell Canada, a community college teacher and a community
legal worker, among other things. She is the author of a book, The Phone
Book: Working at Bell Canada (1979), and is the mother of two. She has been
in her present job with the United Church for two and a half years.