Sunday Small-Business Blues

So this is the first “nice” weekend of spring (after that extra-nasty winter), and we were out and about today like good American consumers, spending money here, and planning to spend money later there. (That IS what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Must “stimulate the economy” and all that…)

We were returning from Antioch (’cause who doesn’t like Antioch?) when we passed the Sweetwater Crossing shopping center. Something about it caught our collective eye, so we stopped and took this picture in the middle of a GORGEOUS Sunday afternoon.

Compared to the almost bustling downtown we had just left, and the packed Walmart parking lot we just passed at Monaville Road, things seemed rather… quiet… at this cluster of storefronts.

Busy Sweetwater Crossing commerce on a Sunday afternoon!
Busy Sweetwater Crossing commerce on a Sunday afternoon!

 The Home Depot parking lot across the street was also PACKED, and the roads were filled with cars full of area residents trying to cure the “Cabin Fever” of a very long, arduous winter.

Why so few here? Admitedly not EVERY one of these businesses has Sunday hours, but several do. The cars you see don’t belong to customers; they’re owned by the business owners / employees trying to stay productive while waiting for customers to serve.

100% occupancy at Sweetwater Crossing! That's a GOOD thing... right?
100% occupancy at Sweetwater Crossing! That’s a GOOD thing… right?

 Why is basically no one making use of these local small businesses in particular on a day which seems designed for people to be out shopping, with other shopping venues (“Big Box stores and walkable downtowns) enjoying a steady flow of customers.

Turns out that the “strip mall” format is NOT supportive of small businesses, or at least not many of them. For example, you’re NOT going to just happen to stroll by the eatery there and be drawn-in by the sound of people enjoying themselves at the cozy “Bistro” seating outside, or by the aroma wafting out as you pass. If you’re in this (optimistically-designated) “shopping center” at all, you’re coming in for ONE business, you’ll park directly in front, do your business, and leave.

Unlike a multi-user “downtown” or any other decent shopping/market area, there is no “stickiness” to a strip mall. There is no reason to visit for pleasure, and no reason to stay if something did happen to draw you in. There’s no outside seating, no shade, no public art, no touchable history, no trees/greenery, no ameneties like water fountains, no “gathering place”, no natural “venue” for performers… and certainly no people for which to perform. So nothing to keep you, and very little to draw you in in the first place.

In fact, if local residents DID try to use all that unused space, they’d get booted-away for “Trespassing”, the property manager would be worried about insurance and “incidents” (and lawsuits) on their property, and some business owners would actually (be in left-field enough to) complain that the activity outside their stores is “driving away customers”.

Have you ever heard the expression The bigger a crowd gets, the more people show up for it“? Turns out that one of the best ways to attract people is the presence of OTHER PEOPLE… and THAT simply does not happen in a strip mall!

We have many small businesses of the type which would THRIVE with a storefront right up to the sidewalk, able to tempt passers-by with window displays or the sight of happy customers inside, the tempting smells and sounds emitting from within, seating outside for customers to wait for their friends or just watch the world go by, etc. They WOULD thrive given the proper venue, which RLB unfortunately cannot offer.

Here’s the zany part: From the perspective of the Village, everything is just fine with this situation. There are ZERO VACANCIES on this property, which means every “unit” has a business sign out front, a business occupant with a license, and is paying taxes. After all, what more can be done? The property is zoned for commercial use, and that’s what we’ve got!

Our poor civic infrastructure really does make a significant negative impact on our local business community, not just our residents. Until we can offer an additional type of “place” (a market place, a downtown, or both) for businesses to operate, we place a serious barrier on our ability to have a robust, diversified business community.

If we really want locally-owned, small and start-up businesses, we HAVE to offer them the environment in which they can succeed. If we don’t, we lose those businesses (and their tax revenue) to neighboring communities, and maintain the reputation as not being a great place to start up shop.

Posted in Business, Downtown, Economics, Planning, Resilience, Walkability | Leave a comment

About those jobs…

While we’re waiting for the economy to “rebound” (ain’t gonna happen, but that’s another post), it is important to really understand that a lot of the well-paying, benefits-providing jobs that existed before the recession just aren’t coming back. More and more of the “middle class” are finding it increasingly difficult to find work in their professions.

UNEMPLOYMENT-LINE 

As if that’s not bad enough, there will still be a significant loss of even more jobs over the next decade as technology continues to replace many of the practices and processes which kept us employed.

Job_Losses

According to an AP analysis of the changing job market:

The AP found that almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. Jobs that form the backbone of the middle class in developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia.

In the United States, half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession paid middle-class wages, and the numbers are even more grim in the 17 European countries that use the euro as their currency. A total of 7.6 million midpay jobs disappeared in those countries from January 2008 through last June.

Those jobs are being replaced in many cases by machines and software that can do the same work better and cheaper.

The jobs they are being replaced with will pay absolutely miserable salaries… at least based on the needs of an average 2-car, house in the suburbs with a 30-year mortgage family. This is due in large part to the projected increase in service-sector jobs.

JobShifts

Jobs are disappearing not only for the “middle class”, but ALL income levels. Check out this excellent (and disheartening) graph by MIT researcher Andrew McAfee:

JobDisconnectMcAfee

From his piece “The Great Decoupling of the US Economy“:

“We’ve been experiencing a long, slow decoupling between “output and productivity” (Blue & Grey) and “jobs and wages” (Red & Green). For more than three decades after the end of World War II all four of these measures went up together.

In the early 1980s the picture started to change for the average American worker. There were still a lot of jobs available, but they started to pay less well. Median household income became decoupled from the other three stats and grew more slowly than they did. By the time of the 2001 recession, median income was lagging behind pretty badly.

… digital technologies have been able to do routine work for a while now. This allows them to substitute for less-skilled and -educated workers, and puts a lot of downward pressure on the median wage. As computers and robots get more and more powerful while simultaneously getting cheaper and more widespread this phenomenon spreads, to the point where economically rational employers prefer buying more technology over hiring more workers.

I don’t see the four lines in the graph above re-converging any time soon.”

Of expected “new job growth for the near future, take a look at the annual salaries associated with the jobs in the chart below (showing most new jobs available) and see how well you can support your self or your family:

For more detail, you can read the article: “How Technology is Destroying Jobs“.

MostNewJobs

RLB isn’t in the position to land a “large” employer; we depend on companies around us. From that perspective, Lake County loses at least a couple of companies a year to WI, thanks to aggressive, consistent, and obviously tempting offerings by WI state and local officials, commercial property holders and partner financiers. Of course, Illinois has a rather unfavorable business climate, which has helped motivate potential employers to relocate to more favorable climes.

THAT is a BIG part of why we keep going on about “resilience“, about “not having all our eggs in one basket” as far as our local economic model is concerned, and why an interconnected, multi-user infrastructure is so important, why we need our own aggressive plan to not only attract existing businesses here but create conditions favorable to small and new-business start-ups and home-based businesses.

Car_Costs

According to the AAA, the average cost in 2013 to own a sedan was over $9,000! At least one car in a 2-car family is often used for commuting to work from the suburbs; with fewer jobs, fewer breadwinners, and 2nd-cars for long-commutes less necessary… physically-accessible in-town jobs will be especially important. IN-TOWN jobs. “New Economy” jobs. “Sharing Economy” Jobs. Jobs of the type which didn’t exist before. 

Pizza_eBike

Current rules, ordinances, and “mindsets” are unprepared to handle these new types of jobs, nor can they easily deal with the structural and policy changes in residences and neighborhoods that would allow our residents to do more with their own homes to  significantly reduce expenses and cost-of-living… essential with fewer “traditional” jobs around.

“Let’s get a move on!”

References:
http://andrewmcafee.org/2012/12/the-great-decoupling-of-the-us-economy/
http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2013/10/rise-invisible-work/7412/
http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-01-10/good-and-bad-news-future-americas-jobs

http://www.chicagobusiness.com/realestate/20130911/CRED03/130919948/lighting-firm-400-jobs-leaving-gurnee-for-wisconsin
http://newsroom.aaa.com/2013/04/cost-of-owning-and-operating-vehicle-in-u-s-increases-nearly-two-percent-according-to-aaas-2013-your-driving-costs-study/
http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21594264-previous-technological-innovation-has-always-delivered-more-long-run-employment-not-less
http://www.resilience.org/communities-guide
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/radioshack-close-500-stores-wsj-175605794.html

Posted in Business, Economics, Planning | Leave a comment

Local beats Corporate… again!

Have you shopped for a snow-shovel in Round Lake Beach lately? Maybe reload on some other supplies like roof de-icer?

Unable to wait any longer, the RLB Home Depot removed their “Winter is here!” section the second week of January, and replaced it with this:

Snow4

Snow1

The only snow shovels to be had for purchase are a dwindling pile of collapsable shovels intended for your car or truck, to help dig you out after getting stuck in a snow drift.

We wonder… are the folks at the Home Depot corporate headquarters in Atlanta Georgia THAT far removed from real-world siturations?

We wonder because, when we checked (with several employees) about stocking and inventory policy, the universal answer was to point to the plentiful cameras hanging from the ceiling and mention that ALL such decisions were made by the HD employees at the OTHER end, monitoring stock levels, employee-customer interactions, in-store traffic flow, impact of promotional displays, etc.

We wonder because the our colder-and-snowier midwest winter didn’t just “appear”… it’s been here for a while, revisiting us with storm after storm. It IS national news.

We wonder because the HD employees have been turning away customers seeking snow-related supplies for several weeks now (other than periodically getting a couple of pallets of salt). Either their feedback going up their chain-of-command has fallen on deaf ears, or the company really IS that inflexible.

We wonder because this winter presented a great opportunity for HD to cement itself in the minds of its customers as the “Go To!” place for snow/ice supplies. It blew THAT opportunity!

Let’s swing to the other end of the spectrum and visit the Round Lake area Ace Hardware, and see if they can hook us up with some anti-snow materials:

Snow2

Snow3

Much better. Front-row center, as a matter of fact.

When you think “Ace Hardware”, you may envision that it is a smaller version of a “national chain” like Home Depot, but in fact it is quite different. The basic details are here if you’re interested, but basically every Ace Hardware is locally-owned and locally-operated. That local focus makes a significant difference!

A true local focus enables businesses to respond to the needs of customers and their area. The flexibility, the freedom from compliance with burdensom one-size fits-the-entire-nation corporate policies means that … when you “shop local”, you can get snow shovels when there is snow!

Next time you need something for a home project, consider the ENTIRE costs of supporting the big-box stores. Have you ever heard of “Vote with your dollars”? What are you endorsing with your purchases?

Posted in Business, Resilience | Leave a comment

“Rental Bubble” on the way?

Perhaps coincidentally, this article in the New York Times was published the day before the Daily Herald’s article about Round Lake Beach village leadership being concerned by the relative lack of sales of single-family homes to actual homeowners, and more-so to investors:

Wall Street’s New Housing Bonanza: Wall Street’s latest trillion-dollar idea involves slicing and dicing debt tied to single-family homes and selling the bonds to investors around the world.”

For familiarization with the current markets, here are screen-captures from Zillow.com taken today showing publicly-listed properties for sale and for rent in Round Lake Beach (click images for full-size): 

Jan 2014 Residential Properties for sale (regular and "distressed") in RLB according to Zillow.com

Jan 2014 Residential Properties for sale (regular and “distressed”) in RLB according to Zillow.com

Jan 2014 Residential Rentals in RLB according to Zillow.com

Jan 2014 Residential Rentals in RLB according to Zillow.com

Turns out that there’s a new income opportunity to be had by corporate investors buying-up homes which aren’t moving, packaging them into a type of “bond”, and offering the properties to landlords to rent, repair and manage.

This is very reminiscent of the mortgage-backed securities which caused the recent real-estate bubble (and housing melt-down) from which we are still recovering. A lot of people are looking for investments which will recoup their previous losses, and this could be very tempting to many of them:

“While this securitization market is still in its infancy, a recent Wall Street estimate put potential financing opportunities for the single-family rental industry as high as $1.5 trillion. Already some members of Congress and economists are worried about another credit bubble.”

It is also disturbingly similar to a major part of the economic model in our village, where so much of the commercial/retail property is owned by out-of-town “property management companies”, which then lease units to (mostly) franchisees. At each level, some of the profits end up leaving the village instead of being re-invested here as would be much-more likely to occur with greater local property and business ownership.    

About the potential “landlords”:

“Investment bankers and lawyers are now lining up to finance investors, from big private equity firms to plumbers and dentists moonlighting as landlords, who are buying up foreclosed houses and renting them out.”

You know, it takes a LOT of work, often “hands-on”, to be a good landlord, even with a “small package” of only a few properties. Rentals have been called “money machines”, but the often previously-distressed, gone-through-foreclosure properties which are prime candidates for this scheme often come with unseen problems which can eat up profit.

For Rent

So, in addition to our “absentee business property owners”, if this new model were deployed in RLB, we would also have an increased number of “absentee residential property owners”… all of which would continue to suck money out of the village while not needing to be concerned about the long-term “best interests” of the area residents.

In light of the existing concern about short-term investors-versus-long-term homeowners, we strongly encourage that the RLB Village Staff keep a close watch on this new development to ensure that it doesn’t negatively impact us.  

Just so you know, we are strongly supportive of at least a modest increase in rental properties, since a big factor in the previous housing bubble was WAY too many people trying to be homeowners before they were ready and able to meet the committment.

Our area is economically attractive to those trying to start-up (or start over), and a good supply of responsibly-managed rental properties can attract new families as well as maintaining a needed critical-mass of young professionals (like teachers, police officers, etc.) who still need to save up BEFORE purchasing a home. 

BTW… this new investment model described in the article requires LESS buy-in ability by prospective landlords (only 25% equity instead of the normal 40%)… which could have its own negative ripple-effect by them taking on more than they can handle!

Let’s keep an eye on this one!

Article: “Wall Street’s New Housing Bonanza – New York Times
Article: “Lack of single-family home investment concerns Round Lake Beach officials – Chicago Daily Herald

Posted in Economics, Planning | Leave a comment

Webinar: Countermeasure Costs – Putting a price on Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure

Webinar: Countermeasure Costs – Putting a price on Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2013
Time: 1:00 p.m. — 2:30 p.m. Central Time
Cost: Free (Advance Registration Required HERE)

Logo of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) is pleased to announce the next free Webinar in its “Livable Communities Webinar Series”.

Nationwide, the demand for walkable and bikeable communities is growing, and creating such communities starts with the built environment. Having appropriate pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure reduces the risk of crashes and injuries, as well as encourages healthier lifestyles through more walking and biking for health and transportation.

Family Bike Ride

Yet, with transportation budgets continually stretched, finding dollars to build walking and bicycling facilities and improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety can be a challenge.

This webinar provides an overview of the cost for installing a variety of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and facilities. It provides meaningful estimates of infrastructure costs based on up-to-date cost information from states and cities across the country.

With this information, researchers, engineers, planners, and the general public can better understand the cost of pedestrian and bicycle treatments in their communities and, in doing so, make more informed planning, prioritization, and budgeting decisions.

PBIC offers free, public Webinars approximately every month. To register for upcoming Webinars and to access archived presentations, please visit their WEBINAR page. .

Posted in Bicycling, Meeting / Webinar, Planning, Walkability | Leave a comment

Bike-To-Metra Guides

Bike-to-Metra Pamphlet for the village of LaGrange IL.

Bike-to-Metra Pamphlet for LaGrange IL.

Our RL villages ought to get together, along with the Round Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, to think about the marketing potential of a professionally-produced “Bike-to-Metra Guide” for our villages, especially in light of the Millennium Trail passing through RL & RLB.

From the League of Illinois Bicyclists:

“From 1998-2008, there was a tripling of Chicago area residents riding to and parking their bikes at their local Metra commuter rail stations, as part of their work commute.  Others not only bike to Metra, but also bring their bikes on-board during reverse commute and off-peak hours. And, the bike + transit option is not just great for commuting; trails, shopping centers, museums, sporting venues and other popular destinations around the region are located within easy biking distance of a Metra station.”

Also from the site: “Status (Dec 2013) – We still have grant money available for 4-5 towns’ guides, to be developed in early 2014.”

Since there’s not much PR for our area, this could be a great (i.e.: mostly subsidized!) way to let recreational cyclists and day-hikers know about opportunities and connections we offer, and others who want to learn more about our area, esp. the wonderful access to the Lake County Forest Preserves.

If you’re a typically car-dependent couch-potato, this might not seem enticing (or even logical) to you, but a growing number of people are looking for opportunities to visit other communities, and to walk / shop / hike / cycle without having to endure traffic and a lengthy drive to get there.

It works the other way too: in our group members use a Metra $7 Unlimited Weekend Pass to do things like ride up to the VFW in Lake Villa, enjoy downtown Antioch and Libertyville, and Deerfield for restaurants, shopping trips, and more. You can bring your bike onboard the train and enjoy riding around these other villages as well!

Did you know that a Whole Foods is just 2 blocks from the Deerfield Metra station?

Metra Deerfield

BTW… we know several moms-of-toddlers who are looking forward to taking “field trips” by train from RLB up to Lake Villa to visit the Busy Brains Children’s Museum when it opens.

Busy Brains

This may sound like we’re recruiting you to go everywhere BUT our Round Lake area; what it’s TRYING to say is how accessible a lot of pedestrian-friendly places are using Metra from Round Lake Beach. Even the best-planned, most-complete town can’t contain EVERYTHING for its residents. It’s not an “us-versus-them” all-or-nothing situation…  part of what makes a community appealing is its proximity to desireable areas and activities.

http://www.bikelib.org/maps-and-rides/bike-to-metra-guides/
http://www.triblocal.com/schaumburg/2012/05/10/schaumburg-to-offer-bike-to-metra-guides/

Posted in Bicycling, Millennium Trail, Transit, Walkability | Leave a comment

“Showrooming” and the Local Economy

BusinessEnvironment

“Showrooming” is the practice of customers going into a retailer to investigate a product, whether for fit, complexity, size, operation, etc. They often rely on the expertise and knowledge of an employee or the business owner to find out more details as well.

Once they have decided on the product, they will order it instead from an internet vendor for a lower price, congratulating themselves for being a smart shopper if saving even only a few dollars.

SHOWROOMING3

Not only does the local merchant lose the sale but the profit which would have been re-invested locally goes (usually) out of state. Products also experience wear-and-tear (or damage) and often become unusable for sale as “new” items.

Showrooming

This practice is discouraging to business start-ups and entrepreneurs who are considering reselling products out of a brick-and-mortar (AKA: “Real!”) store, and is damaging to the local economy when the practice becomes wide-spread.

There IS a way to balance the worlds of physical and online retailing, to reach a sustainable medium and keep small and medium-sized businesses IN business. It involves customizing their operation in a manner similar to how shops in towns and villages near Walmart or other “big box” stores have re-invented themselves and are now thriving (look at downtown Antioch, for instance).

The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) has long been a champion of independent small and medium-sized businesses, the success of which are so critical to local economies. They have compiled a list of seven ways to counter showrooming to help businesses tactically re-focus and thrive in a challenging marketplace (follow the link for details/examples of each):

  1. “Turn apples into oranges”: Ways to differentiate your products
  2. Develop cooperative partnerships with other nearby businesses to “bundle” products and/or services
  3. Engage customers
  4. Train your staff to handle potential “showrooming” scenarios: One key is to make sure you are training salespeople, not mere clerks.
  5. Educate your customers and your community about the benefits of doing business locally.
  6. Seek suppliers that demonstrate their long-term interest in your business
  7. Embrace technology and turn the tables: Make sure your employees have fast access to product information systems — and capable knowledge to use them — to answer customers’ questions.

Are there any “upsides” to the practice of showrooming? The post “Why Showrooming is Good for Retail” posits that the retail marketplace “is due for a major overhaul” and that the changes brought about by showrooming are the very changes needed to survive in the new economy.

In 2012 and 2013, Vibes (a mobile marketing and technology company) released research reports revealing ways retailers can prepare to counter the “showrooming” and turn it to their advantage, securing the sale within their brick and mortar stores.

“Showrooming is a new reality that most retailers and marketers are seeking to understand and address. Research from Vibes 2013 Mobile Consumer Report shows that personalization can help retailers combat showrooming. As the holiday shopping season approaches, this research provides insights about the reality of “showrooming 2.0,” where the trend of showrooming is now a mainstream shopping behavior that most shoppers are doing.”

– If you’re a retailer, consider some of these strategies to help make your business “resilient” in this new economy with special focus on your strengths and ways to differentiate your business from “the other guys”.

– If you’re considering starting a business locally, make sure to integrate these proven practices into your business plan.

– If you’re one of those “showroomers” who fondles the local goodies for free but chooses to purchase online and abandon your community merchants… realize that your “frugality” hurts the very businesses that allow you to do it!

(… and yes, we realize that some small businesses will fail no matter WHAT happens…)

Posted in Business, Economics | Leave a comment

No Left Turns!

Read on to make sure you don’t get a traffic stop from “RLB’s Finest“!

By now, we all know that Rollins Road has that “slight” construction detour, on a dedicated bit of pavement we’ll use for most of the next year until things are dug out under the railroad tracks and new pavement is down and striped.

What is catching a LOT of area drivers off-guard though is a major change at the intersection of Mallard Creek Drive and Rollins Road. Heading south from the Round Lake Beach Cultural & Civic Center, or exiting Regal Cinemas, we’re all used to being able to turn left (eastbound) onto Rollins Road.

This is what we’ve had for a while (looking south, at Rollins Road):

What we're used to...

Photo: Google Street View

During the two weeks that the Rollins Road / Rt 83 intersection was closed, left turns from Mallard Creek Drive onto eastbound Rollins Road were insanely easy because there was virtually no cross-traffic. However…

… with the return of full traffic (ramping-up to soon become “Holiday Traffic), the removal of the traffic signal, and the pavement being displaced because of the detour, those left turns are no longer safe.

For the last week, there has been a “No Left Turns” sign posted, but it has gone un-noticed (or ignored) by most of the drivers who went through that intersection (we know this because a couple of us camped out there to observe!)

We contacted Mark Molnar, Resident Project Engineer for the Rollins Gateway Project for clarification on this potentially-troublesome intersection. From Mr. Molnar:

“Left turns will continue to be banned throughout the winter as the geometry of the roads does not make that turn safe.

We will be re-working the striping there to hopefully more strongly discourage people from making that illegal left.”

Here’s a look at the new striping. Notice that there is now no left-turn lane!

Mallard Creek Striping

If you look closely, you can see the stop line is actually a diagonal, giving drivers a strong hint to turn to the right!
Also, there is clearly no left-turn lane present.

Clear roadway markings will certainly be helpful, but then again, longtime habits can be sometimes hard to break! This guys was just one of dozens we watched over 30-minutes.

Illegal Left Turn

Same for this driver, who expects to turn left and will do so, traffic markings or not!
(Note the left turn-signal caught in mid-flash…)

Rollins Left Turn

Heck, even the project’s “Traffic Cam” is catching drivers in the act!

Traffic Cam

How it’s SPOZE’D to work:

Lining up for the turn

So, plan ahead if you’re used to being able to “Hang a Louie!” at that intersection. We have seen RLBPD out at least once on what look like “Enforcement” duties there; don’t know if they were ticketing or just “warning”.

Now you know!

Posted in Construction / Maintenance, Rollins Road Gateway | 2 Comments

Fallen Fruit

This picture shows the healthy, loaded apple tree in front of the RLB Village Hall, southwest side by the RLB Police Dept offices. The apples have a nice crunch, and a wonderful sweet/tart flavor like Gala or Braeburn.

This post will tell you why we care enough to mention it…

RLB Apple Tree in the Fall___________________________________________________________

One of the few things worse than not having enough food is knowing of perfectly good food which is either wasted, thrown-out uneaten, or allowed to rot.

Food Waste at Dump

Throughout many of America’s suburban areas, built on formerly-productive farmlands, there are countless pockets of nature still regularly producing tasty and nutritious edibles. Sometimes a home with productive landscape has a new owner who is unable to or uninterested in maintaining or harvesting.

Others tend to be at extreme corners of commercial lots which were spared the ravages of the bulldozer, where a bit of Illinois’ awesome topsoil was allowed to remain, or scattered token “undeveloped” areas left in their natural state as a developer’s concession to tearing up the rest of the property. (Many of these become the sanctuaries for the “urban wildlife” which cruise our neighborhoods at night while we sleep.)

Leftovers of orchards and kitchen gardens of the former owners can be found along with “naturally planted” examples thanks to the robust natural processes of plant propagation, resulting in fruit and nut trees, vines, and perennial vegetables, in (usually) healthy soil, in (usually) accessible areas… but completely forgotten about, unclaimed, not-maintained, and unharvested.

The abundance goes to waste.

Pears

Sometimes the fruit is not “commercially-viable”, due to fragility, or short shelf-life. Two leading examples are Mulberries and Paw Paws, both fruit native to the US yet strangely absent from grocery stores… and our plates. There’s even an “Illinois Everbearing Mulberry“, just to show you how perfect they are for our area.

Easy to harvest. Just spread a bedsheet or tarp under a loaded branch and shake gently.

Easy to harvest. Just spread a bedsheet or tarp under a loaded branch and shake gently.

Farms and large orchards often follow a biblical principle of allowing “gleaners” to come in after the main harvest to collect the left-over and missed crops for feeding the poor in the community. We in the ‘burbs are largely disconnected from food-production processes, so the concept of “unharvested food which can be collected” is foreign to us.

So to is “foraging” for food in our neighborhoods.

What used to be a fairly common practice, even in urban areas, has fallen out of favor due to a variety of factors:

  • the perception that if you forage for food you MUST be “poor” and unable to afford “real” food to eat
  • some properties may have had illegal dumping of hazardous materials in their past
  • the general increase of people living in suburbs and cities, removing them from nature, decreasing their opportunities to learn about the natural world around them
  • scaredy-cat lawyers for municipalities, park districts, and commercial property owners  worried about injury lawsuits. They set policies discouraging the gathering and consumption of “wild” edibles in case someone mis-identifies a plant and becomes ill or is injured by traffic or from falling out of a tree while on their property. (This also discourages sustainable practices such as planting clusters of “edible landscape” in our public spaces using plants already native to our area.)

Our “orphan” food producers have no organized system of gleaners, are too scattered and have too many owners and legalities to make harvesting them commercially viable. Yet we have hungry people in our midst… maybe even next door neighbors who are one  paycheck away from losing a house.

What to do? How will we rescue these valuable resources going to waste?

Enter individuals and groups doing what “the system” can’t! As one part of a growing awareness of sustainability, of “We’re all in this together!”, of neighbor helping neighbor, of not letting things go to waste, of re-connecting to the world around us, and much more…

… individuals are working together to identify useable “Falling Fruit” in villages, towns and cities all across the county, making their locations and other information about them easily available via the internet. The information can be used by individuals either for their own uses or to gather fruit to donate, or by the groups themselves as community service groups donating time and labor in collecting fruit and donating it to local food banks.

Urban harvest group

In the case of elderly, physically-challenged, or otherwise overwhelmed homeowners  who are unable to maintain and /or harvest from the trees or vines on their property, offer to “Adopt a Tree”. Many times they are simply happy to have SOMEONE finally be able to make use of the fruit or nuts which otherwise become a nuisance to clean up every fall. Some communities actually have groups which actively “tend” the fruit producers on various properties almost as “communal” property, leading to a Win/Win with healthy fruit not gone to waste, properties not spoiled with rotting produce, and fresh tasty goods connected with people who want/need them.

Group Harvest

Some community groups have scoured their neighborhoods to locate the goodies and produce foraging maps for anyone in their town to use:

Fallen Fruit Map

So how does all this relate to our Village Hall apple tree, and other producing fruit & nut plants in our area?

Well since the Village obviously has laid no claim on the produce (as you’ll see below), we have taken the helpful step of entering that tree (and a couple of others in the area) into the Falling Fruit database. This way, those willing to put in some effort to harvest the apples next fall (for either their own use or to donate) know that the tree/fruit is available. Maybe a local Boy Scout project?

Falling Fruit Screenshot

Click the picture to go to the “Falling Fruit” website. Zoom in on the map to see what opportunities exist in your neighborhood. If you know of others, you can enter them yourself or let us know in a comment to this post; we’ll verify ’em and add them to the database!

So, here’s the apple tree at the Village Hall today…RLB Apple Tree

Link: NPR – “Want To Forage In Your City? There’s A Map For That
Link
: Local group connects city dwellers with free edibles
Link: “Urban Foraging — Find Out What Your City Tastes Like”
Link: “Eat A Free Peach: Mapping Public Fruit”
Link: “Making sure Backyard Fruit isn’t Wasted”

Posted in Local Food Production, Parks, Resilience | Leave a comment

Webinar: How to Organize an Alternative Gift Fair

[Updated Wed, Nov 13 2013!]

Webinar: How to Organize an Alternative Gift Fair
Date: Thursday, Nov 7, 2013
Time: Noon – 1PM Central Time
Cost: Free

GiftFairSlides

Webinar Description: “Tired of the commercialization of the holidays? Want to build community? Join this webinar to learn how to organize an Alternative Gift Fair in your town!”

Alternative Gift Fairs promote the gift-giving tradition of the holiday season without the wastefulness and commercialization of conventional shopping.

Alternative gifts prioritize meaning over materials — they may include charitable donations, gently-used secondhand items, help for a community project, and more. Whether for a few dozen or a few hundred people, Alternative Gift Fairs are a fun and inspiring way to celebrate the holidays!

AGF_Logo

Alternative Gift Fairs provides critical support for a diverse collection of community organizations whose work has local, national, and international reach.

As the folks in Ithaca describe it:

An alternative gift is a gift that is given to someone in need, in lieu of spending money on items that your friends and family probably do not need. 

So instead of a wrapped package  of “stuff”, you will have a card which states something like “Seasons’ Greetings! In your honor, I have donated 3 children’s books to XYZ organization’s library.”  

Gifts in the past have ranged from $5 to give a compact fluorescent light bulb to a local, rural household; $10 for a week of school, clothing and two meals a day for an orphan in Zambia; to $100 for a “Golden Opportunity” scholarship fund to help students remain successful in area schools.

Join New Dream on Thursday Nov 7th, 2013 for a free webinar about how to organize an Alternative Gift Fair in your community. The webinar will cover topics such as how to get started, obtaining funding and participants, and advice on how to publicize your event.

Get inspired and hear directly from the organizers of successful and established Alternative Gift Fairs.

Link to more info / registration:

http://www.newdream.org/resources/alternative-gift-fair

Here are some event pages you can check out yourself!
Ithica NY: http://www.ithacaaltgiftfair.org/
Lancaster PA: https://www.facebook.com/LancasterAlternativeGiftFair
Charlottesville VA: http://www.theparamount.net/2013/alternative-gift-fair/

UPDATE!

The Webinar was recorded and is available for you to view at your convenience. If you couldn’t participate in the “live” presentation, this is the next best thing! The recording includes the helpful “Q&A” at the end of the session, has excellent sound quality, is one hour long, and is very informative!

You don’t have to be thinking about a “community-level” event for this to be of help to you. The concepts covered are great from organization-level events as well such as a church congregation, a fraternity/sorority, a small-medium business, etc.

Click HERE to watch the webinar on Youtube:

Webinar: Alternative Gift Fair

If you would like the presentation slides, they are available for download HERE

Posted in Community, Meeting / Webinar | Leave a comment