Nancy Oden

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Machias Valley News Observer, May 1, 2009

NEWS with VIEWS

by Nancy Oden

On Surviving a Devastated Economy

It’s good that County Commissioner Chris Gardner is working so hard to save jobs at the Port of Eastport. But these windmill imports only come in every few months, and the work is very temporary, hardly enough to sustain a family.

Since windmills are hot items now and into the future, why not build them here instead of importing them from Brazil?

Even if Eastport found another steady customer like the Canadian corporation Domtar (highly unlikely), that would only provide jobs for about one percent of Washington County’s people. What about the rest?

We need to go back to this region’s agricultural roots, although we don’t have to go back to life in the 1800’s; we know how to live well in today’s world without using much in the way of fossil fuels. Many Washington County old-timers, and new-comers for that matter, live simply but quite comfortably, thank you.

We have abundant land and water, so farm enterprises are a natural for us. What we don’t need are more highly-poisoned, so-called “wild” blueberry fields.

Family farms, an excellent way to raise our children, are what’s needed. Washington County alone needs about 2,500 more small to mid-sized farms growing diverse crops to provide our food needs. This is becoming more important as foreign food is proven unsafe, and transportation increases costs of food in the stores.

When workers, such as those at Domtar or the Port of Eastport, lose their jobs, they lose their incomes, which can lead pretty soon to losing one’s home. What can people do to keep themselves together with warm shelter and enough to eat when they have no money?

Here’s my basic idea: that $240,000 kick-back the county commissioners will be getting this Fall from the windmill tax break could be used as seed money for government grants to:

This would be a College of Practical Skills, teaching out-of-work workers new/old skills so they can go off on their own as farmers, or any number of related small businesses/trades. If they’re unable to start a good business with their new skills, they could stay on with their families to help build multiple-housing units and raised-bed gardens for more out-of-work workers in other parts of Washington County.

What’s different about this idea is that the workers would get to live in, just like a college dormitory (although with their families, if necessary), rather than having to commute every day. This would save on transportation, too.

They would pay for their warm shelter and food by growing seedlings and food in the greenhouses and fields year around for themselves, and for others in need. This way they learn new trades and pay their way at the same time.

Because these buildings would use almost no fossil fuels, costs would be negligible once the project is up and running. People have already volunteered to teach certain skills, and many more will, too, I’m sure, once they know what this is about.

What is needed now is a way to fund this project. The “economic development” people, so skilled at writing grants and getting government money for themselves, hold lots of meetings, but these meetings never seem to lead to real WORK getting done, just telling people what they ought to do.

Certainly some meetings are needed, but not as a way of life. At some point actual WORK needs to be done to actually solve economic problems, not just talk about them.

No, we need to find money to ensure our citizens have warm shelter and enough food. It’s our obligation, as responsible citizens, to help our neighbors when they’re in desperate straits. That’s why the $240,000 would be best spent starting projects that will help real people, not funding more giveaways to “economic development” groups or foreign corporations.

Public money should be spent on public needs: Real Help for Real People. I propose this year’s $240,00. be spent on ensuring warm shelter and enough food for Washington County’s out-of-work workers.

I welcome your ideas, especially if you know where we might get some serious money to turn these ideas into reality to help out-of-work workers.

This economy isn’t going to “turn around” anytime soon, if ever, because the corporations have laid off/impoverished us so we cannot spend money on their products. Without our spending, the economy cannot rise again, and will stay down for a long, long time.

The old Girl and Boy Scout motto still holds: BE PREPARED.

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