Sustainable Berea Celebrates its First Decade!

Submitted by Richard Olson, Sustainable Berea (

In the fall of 2005, 15 people met in the conference room of a local church to share their concerns regarding energy, climate and economy, and to discuss what might be done to prepare the city of Berea Kentucky for these challenges.  Following a brief period operating as the Berea Outpost (under the Post Carbon Institute), this group became Sustainable Berea and eventually the 13th official Transition Initiative in the United States

Regardless of its name, the organization followed the standard transition script of building awareness and interest through a film series, beginning of course with The End of Suburbia. Our first major event was the Rain Barrel Festival at which 127 rain barrels painted by members of the community were auctioned, and 75 unpainted rain barrels were sold with orders taken for another 200 barrels. Fifteen local and regional organizations dealing with water conservation and protection had booths to educate the roughly 1500 people who attended. The festival was a success for raising funds and awareness, but more importantly, Sustainable Berea gained a reputation as an organization that could make things happen. Now other community groups – of which there are many in Berea – were open to partnering with us.

As part of our 10th anniversary celebration, we reviewed the main activities accomplished by Sustainable Berea during the decade, which included:

  • A city-wide rain barrel festival
  • Four 100-mile potlucks
  • Nine solar tours
  • Five local food expos
  • A dozen neighborhood food feasts
  • Many reskilling workshops
  • Cooking classes
  • Two local foods/local recipe books
  • Two informational wall calendars on household resilience and gardening
  • Manufactured and sold raised beds, rain barrels and compost tumblers
  • Established a seed library with Madison County Public Library
  • Fruit and nut tree sales and give-aways
  • Several educational film series
  • Many guest speakers

Sustainable Berea also partnered with the city and another organization to obtain a grant for a city-wide energy use assessment and conservation plan, and then helped to promote the sale of leases for panels in the city solar farm. In this and many other activities, partnerships were the key to success.

Only when you pause and reflect can you appreciate all that your organization has accomplished. Half the battle is showing up, and as Sustainable Berea’s members kept showing up for 10 years, things (or should I say “stuff”) got done.

While Sustainable Berea has addressed many different aspects of community resilience, its emphasis most recently is on participation in the development of Berea’s burgeoning local food system. Last May, Sustainable Berea’s Victory Garden Blitz, modelled after the Milwaukee Victory Garden Initiative, had 108 volunteers install 132 raised beds throughout the city. Two-thirds of the beds went to low-income households on a sliding scale as low as $25.  The Blitz built raised beds, but it also built relationships among people who had not previously worked together. The second Berea Victory Garden Blitz is scheduled for April 12-16 with higher goals for numbers of beds installed, low-income households served and volunteers involved. A series of classes on basic gardening in raised beds will be offered to Blitz participants.

Sustainable Berea’s biggest new project is the Berea Urban Farm (BUF). Occupying 1.4 acres in the center of town, BUF’s mission is summarized as Grow Food – Improve the Land – Create Jobs – Teach Urban Agriculture.  During the past two years we have addressed issues of codes and leases, demolished four derelict houses, and built water lines, a tool shed and a high tunnel. We installed two top-bar bee hives, planted the first 20 trees in the permaculture orchard, and began limited vegetable production.  BUF also contributed to the inclusion of “urban farm” as a defined land use in the city land management ordinance, and its listing as a permitted use in some zones. This codification of urban farming in Berea should ease the way for future urban agriculture projects.

BUF’s plans for 2016 include installation of medicinal herb and pollinator gardens, expanded vegetable production, and the design of a bioshelter to anchor the farm with space for year-round production, packing and sorting, and education. Also on tap is a continuation of the Edible Streets Project (fruit and nut trees as street trees), the Backyard Bees Project, and the promotion of Berea as a destination for “vegetable tourism” (ala Todmorden UK).

At Sustainable Berea’s 10th anniversary celebration, 200 people gathered to eat food prepared by eight local restaurants, bid on rain barrels painted by local artists, and sign up for projects such as the Bee-friendly Plants Project. Central to the evening was a poster presentation by a group of Berea College students. For each of 10 areas of resilience (e.g., food, energy, education, health…), the students proposed eight actions that a household could take and eight that could be taken at the community scale. Viewers interested in implementing any of the 160 proposed actions were given a card with three or four sources of information on taking the action. One Berea homeowner commented “I have been wanting to make my household more resilient, and feel that I’ve gotten a month’s worth of research in one evening.” If we can keep young people like this involved and moving into leadership positions, a 20th anniversary for Sustainable Berea is all but assured.

News of Sustainable Berea and of the Berea Urban Farm is available at

Newsletter Signup