November 22nd, 2017
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
From Little Free Libraries to buy-nothing projects, these tiny grassroots movements are making a big bang.
When my young daughter and I were in Washington D.C. last year, we stumbled upon a beautiful Little Free Library during our daily meandering through the city. We were thrilled to find this wonderful treasure in such a surprising location — outside an unassuming apartment building on a tree-lined street. We selected a book (Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson) with the promise that we would not only return the book we borrowed, but also leave one of our favorites for someone else to discover.
While I’ve been aware of this grassroots movement for quite some time, it wasn’t until I began digging a little deeper that I realized how widespread it has become in communities across the nation. What’s more, I learned it’s not just little libraries mushrooming throughout the U.S. — little free seed libraries, food pantries, buy-nothing projects and tool libraries are also taking hold, bringing communities together and challenging the idea of consumerism in America.
Big Benefit by Starting Small
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world. ~ Howard Zinn
Darla Bradish, a property manager in Washington state, was so inspired by little free libraries that she decided to expand on the idea, only this time with food.
“I see the need for little free food pantries in my community,” says Darla. “It’s hard for some people, like senior citizens and people without cars, to get to the local food bank, so I thought why not place little food pantries in the neighborhoods.”
After securing approval from the county public health department, she launched her first two food pantries. But it didn’t stop there. Darla set-up a GoFundMe account and Facebook page to raise more funds and connect with people interested in volunteering for the project. Even the local corrections department is onboard, offering to build more pantry boxes.
“One guy got his paycheck, but couldn’t cash it until the next day,” Darla told Yes! Magazine. “So, he came to one of the pantries to find out what he was going to eat for dinner.”
Likewise, the Little Free Pantry project was started by Jessica McClard in Fayetteville, Arkansas over a year and a half ago, with the vision of addressing “hyperlocal food insecurity.”
Jessica saw the Little Free Libraries while jogging around her hometown, which sparked the idea for little free pantries.
“My feeling is little free structures both create space for neighborliness and address social problems,” Jessica explained to the Huffington Post. “Books nourish. Food nourishes.”
Individuals or groups who would like to participate in the project provide a small, watertight structure to be placed at a site of their choosing and coordinate the stocking however works best. It’s not just food — personal care products, school supplies and other necessities also find their way into the pantries.
“How I’d love to have it function is that it would not necessarily be a place for people who are really in need, but just for anyone,” Jessica told Shareable. “On the last day of school, I put some bubbles and jump ropes, and sidewalk chalk, and balloons in the pantry. I had to encourage the parents to send their kids there because they didn’t think it was for them.”
“I feel that the Pantry could potentially be for everyone. I took something out of it and took it home because I wanted to know what that felt like. It felt really good. It felt like community.”
Multiple spin-off organizations have since popped up, like the Blessing Box, which is run and maintained by a Christian group in Ohio.
Little free seed libraries are also sprouting up. Audrey Barbakoff, a librarian on Bainbridge Island, Washington, came together with other members of her community to create a place where people could share and donate a variety of vegetable, flower and herb seeds. As it turns out, the public library was the perfect location for the venture. Established in 2014, the group, along with library staff, created a seed shed behind the Bainbridge library branch. Anyone interested in participating brings their seeds to the library where the staff will organize, label and store them in the shed. People are then free to take as they please.
“The seed library is sustainable in all ways,” Barbakoff says. “It’s environmentally sustainable because it encourages people to grow locally and connect with what they eat. It’s socially sustainable because people are coming together to pool resources. And borrowing something is always economically sustainable.”
We’re seeing tool lending libraries as well. Berkeley, California is known for its well-established tool library that is used by hundreds of people in the community. Another is found in Seattle. Liz Mathews came upon the idea that sharing tools not only makes economic sense, but also helps build community. She established a Facebook group where almost 400 people borrow and exchange tools. Liz says that she’s found every tool she has ever needed through the group. As an added bonus, she’s also connected with fellow do-it-yourselfers and neighbors, some of whom have turned into lifelong friends.
While not a free lending library or little food pantry, another community-building, anti-consumerism movement has been gaining ground: the Buy Nothing project. Created by Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller of Bainbridge Island, Buy Nothing was inspired by a village in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal that operated a “gift economy” — currency simply wasn’t used. Instead, if someone needed something, they asked. “Residents kept communal goats and sheep and took turns watching each other’s fields,” reports the Seattle Times.
Liesl and Rebecca were curious if a high-tech version could work in their own community. They decided to create a Facebook page in July 2013 where people could locally gift and receive. The idea spread like wildfire.
“By the end of 2013, 57 groups totaled 10,000 members across the U.S. Then, Buy Nothing spread to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.
“Washington remains the U.S. state with by far the strongest following: 187,719 members in 293 groups, according to Buy Nothing volunteers.” [source]
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