Friday night, at the Avenue Theatre (in one of the last events that will be held there) The Local Good was awarded the Best in Edmonton award at the Yeggies (Edmonton’s social media awards night).
This piece of recognition was made extra sweet by getting our 7,000th follower while we sat in the audience and before learning about the prize.
Given the strength of the other nominees (and I can’t bring myself to call them competition unless we use the Greek meaning of “striving together,” as we have all been doing to make Edmonton a more wonderful place to be) I did not expect us to win tonight. I thought that, likely, next year would be our year. I have to give a special bow of admiration to the other nominee I know best — The Wanderer, who has done such incredible work to create a platform for students to share their views and creativity. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment that I hope only grows and grows over the years.
It is 11:43 p.m. I am sitting in my porch with a candle lit in my TARDIS lantern listening to a mix I made of some of my favourite Edmonton music (currently, Braden Gate’s We Sing the Beatles).
And I am reflecting on how extraordinary it is to be here.
It was December 2007 and I had just gotten home from a trip leading workshops out east and Maureen Abram told me that she’d created a group and called it SAGE (embarrassing admission — I have no idea what that stands for anymore but it was an acronym for something). We’d talked about creating a sort of green business or local economy network in town. But it had just been talk. Or so I had thought. Until she went ahead and created it.
So, we called a meeting of who we felt were the who’s who of the sustainability scene. And then another. In those two meetings, we heard three clear themes. People wanted to network with each other (but didn’t have time to organize that), they wanted to learn how to be more sustainable, and they wanted the capacity to organize and do things together.
Over the years, we’ve narrowed our focus down to one of those: community building. And it’s become what it is today.
But projects like this are never the result of one person. Or two. They are such community endeavours.
And so I want to shower appreciations on the good people who have brought The Local Good to where it is today.
First and foremost, Maureen Abram for starting this whole damned thing and helping me co-run it for years.
We built up a board of advisors: Rob Berezan, Ivor Mackay, Jessie Radies, Lewis Cardinal, Joey Hundert and others whose names I am, unforgivably, forgetting. They reigned us in again and again. They kept us focused and gave us good counsel when we were needing it most.
When Maureen moved down south, Terra Fleenor stepped in and helped things keep going. Without her, as has been the case constantly in the story of this project, the entire venture would have collapsed.
And then one day, at one of the many educational workshops we ran on some form of sustainable living, Terra and I sat, exhausted with it all, looking at each other, knowing we had to bring someone else in.
“What about Deborah Merriam?” I asked. Deb had come to so many of our events and been such an incredible source of warmth, encouragement and support.
Terra’s eyes lit up as if she could see down the road to May 9, 2014, where we would win this award in no small part due to her efforts. “Yes. She’d be perfect.”
After the workshop, we pulled Deb aside and invited her on board. And, as has been the case constantly in the story of this project, it was the best decision we could have made.
Deb brought on such a steady energy, keen insight into what was needed and wanted in the community and a Twitter savvy that Terra and I were utterly bereft of.
Next came Robyn Jacobsen. Robyn had been running the Young Environmental Professionals group in Edmonton, and, after a good run, she decided it was time to close it down. But, she told me, they had $600 in their bank account and they wanted it to go to E-SAGE (which is what SAGE turned into and stood for — at the suggestion of Jessie Radies — Edmontonians Supporting a Green Economy).
I told Robyn that we would gratefully accept the money but that I wanted something else as well. I wanted her on board.
And, once again, as has been the case constantly in the story of this project, it was the best decision ever. Robyn brought a constant sense of support, helped us incorporate as a society and open a bank account (things we’d talked about for years and years).
Over this time, our focus shifted and narrowed more. We looked at the shifting landscape of Edmonton. Jessie Radies had started Original Fare (which was to become Live Local) and it was clear that our efforts to rally local, progressive entrepreneurs was redundant there and could be let go. We saw that others were running other educational workshops. And, at one meeting, as has been the case countless times in the history of this venture, a moment of clarity hit us. “What if we just focused on Green Drinks?”
Asia Szkudlareck was the next to join and took on running Green Drinks. After using a number of different venues (from The Black Dog to the Kasbar) she settled on The Common (back when it was on 124 Street).
During that time, Nadine Riopel and I started a project under the banner of The Local Good called The Good Hundred Experiment.
After a few months, we decided that we were all burned out and exhausted and a break was needed.
And, as has been the case countless times, the new energy needed came in summer 2012 in the form of new arrival from Cape Breton — Hannah MacDonald. A friend of a mutual Cape Breton friend, Amber MacDonald, I met with Hannah to help her figure out who to meet in Edmonton. And then, she ended up being a kindred spirit. And I asked her to be involved in E-SAGE. In an undeserved stroke of luck, she said “Yes.”
And for the next glorious year, Hannah and I reimagined and rebuilt Green Drinks from the ground up, built systems, created checklists, tried new ideas for themes: Local Food, Good Business, Hidden Gems, Activism and Advocacy, Alternative Energy, Local Arts & Crafts and more. And, slowly but surely, Green Drinks began to become a thing.
During this same time, partly due to my long-standing hatred of acronyms but mostly due to the constant assumption that E-SAGE was SAGE (the project working with the elderly in Edmonton, leading to many conversations that went something like this: “Oh! E-SAGE! I love your work!” to which I’d reply, “Ah… But I don’t think you do.”) we changed our name to The Local Good. We built a new website. We created a blog.
And somehow, local badasses Toscha Turner and Tonia LaRiviere decided that they wanted to become involved with us in our work. As Tolkien put it, “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”
And then we saw the need to create a more robust presence on social media — someone who could focus on the events page (a long standing favourite of our community) and build up our Twitter following from the then, if memory serves, 900 or so followers. A job description was drawn up, interviews were done and Breanna was chosen. And, once again, as has been the case constantly in the story of this project, it was the most impossible stroke of good fortune.
And it is primarily Breanna we are celebrating tonight. In the past year and a half she has massively grown our Twitter following by engaging people in conversations, sharing the good things and, rather than trying to put herself or The Local Good in the spotlight, becoming the spotlight to shine on others. She has consistently celebrated the best of Edmonton and so it is, in many ways, no surprise that she should drive this team to the hoop and be the person most responsible for us winning Best of Edmonton.
The next year holds so many wonderful plans that we’ll hold close to our chest for a little while longer. But it’s our hope that they continue to offer something in the greater work we’re all secretly involved in — weaving this community a little closer.
We can say that Catherine Szabo, our new blog coordinator is one to watch as she begins to form her blog team into something formidable. And Danielle Hiscock will be spearheading The Resilience Festival in the first weekend of February. And more. But more on those at another time.
This award means so much to us. It is a confirmation of everything we have tried to do over the years. And it’s also a beautiful debt. An award like this (and any help we ever receive in this short life) is always a trust; it is the community investing something in us that we are blessed with the opportunity to repay again and again.
When we’re involved in this larger work of community building there can’t be any winners or losers. We can only ever all win when our community becomes an expression of the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible. The spotlight of The Local Good is only of any use because there are so many good locals upon which it can be shone.
A shower of gratitude upon everyone who has been involved in The Local Good becoming what it is today — one of many strings that holds together of of many bouquets of the incredible wildflowers that grow in this city.