The EcoGrrl Interview: Michelle L



This is what I love about Portland – in discussions about possibly getting more involved with SOLVE, I met Michelle, their executive assistant, and we hit it off immediately!  Along with working at a totally awesome Oregon nonprofit, Michelle organizes the North Portland Buying Club, where she coordinates with 20+ local distributors and producers to serve their 75 member families.  Brilliant!  She’s such an interesting woman – read more about how she’s changing the world…

What or who inspires you most? The women who inspire me the most are the ones who have been in or are in my food buying club. This has been a group of women who, while being focused on a goal, are also focused on ensuring each other has what they need. For example, when we have a lot going on with the club, but it’s apparent that another has a lot going on in their home life – we are able to tell each other to step back. So, I am inspired by the warmth, the nurturing, the focus on whole-health balance and simultaneously what our club needs.

What do you turn to when you need strength? My husband or internally. I read this as “what do I do when I need to refresh?” And, to refresh, I turn inward – self reflection, writing, reading fiction, physical journaling (you know, in a bound book!).

How can women best support and/or empower other women? Something that amazes me, while working with women is how hard women can be on each other. So, how women can empower other women the most is to first stop being so hard on each other. I struggle with this with those closest to me, because I want them to be the best they can be – so we should first try to understand. That would mean the next step in supporting women is to share stories and understand.

What do you love to grow? What would you like to try growing someday? Tomatoes. On both counts. I love it when they grow, but we struggle growing them every year! So, someday, I wish to have a plentiful, well timed tomato crop to support our yearly tomato needs!

What are your creative outlets?  Is there anything you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t? Art. Doing or seeing art. Drawing, sketching, painting, going to the museum. But, also on projects – brainstorming, tackling problems, engineering solutions. Travel through the Loire Valley seeing the amazing castles of France → beauty, inspiration, peaceful countryside.

In what environment(s) do you feel most in your element? I feel most in my element when I’m working with a group to make change by helping people through change. It’s awkward, and it’s frustrating, and it’s scary during the moment. But, when I’ve been able to manage it right I’ve been part of healthier groups for it. It’s amazing to watch as people who had preconceived notions of how a thing should work, they bring it to the table, give space for everyone to share their thoughts, and how solutions emerge.

Who are your top three nonprofits you support and/or volunteer with and why?

  1. SOLVE – I work there! We work to engage people to take care of the places they love: their work, their home, and where they play.

  2. Community Alliance of Tenants – I have been volunteering with them since 2008, and am currently the Board Secretary. CAT empowers tenants by helping them understand their rights and responsibilities, the first step towards ensuring everyone has access to safe, stable, and affordable housing.

  3. McKenzie River Gathering – they promote social justice causes, locally supporting CAT, the Center for Diversity & the Environment, OPAL, Jobs with Justice, Street Roots, and many more. It is an amazing, committed group, passionately working to really making our world a more just society.

What recent “green” change have you made in your own life?  What’s next? I’m not sure how to define “recent”, so some things we’ve done that I think has got us to a pretty good space that my family can handle include buying our food through our food club. At its most verdant, we had milk in glass bottles delivered to our door, eggs from a farmer where we reused egg cartons, and bought 80-90% of our purchases in bulk. That amount of strategy eliminates so much weekly waste, it boggles my mind when we do have to shop at a local grocery store and all the packaging we bring home.

Next, I need to get back to bus riding. Managing it around the logistics of picking up the kiddo by 6pm is a challenge that I haven’t figured out!

Where in the world do you consider a sanctuary?  Why? Near water. Lately, it’s the ocean. Growing up, we’d frequently (multiple times a week in the summer) visit my Aunt who has a house on the shores of Lake Superior. In Michigan, beaches can be private, so we’d have her little frontage of sand to ourselves. Waves, sand, warmth, shock of the cold water, left to your own fantasies and dreams = bliss.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Get over other people and what you think they think of you. Just keep steady, do your thing, love your thing, and it will all work out.

How can we as a society be more radical in supporting a healthy planet? The most radical thing I’ve done was to spend time as a Radical Housewife, where I find the balance of doing more for myself and my family, instead of outsourcing it. I’m not in my twenties anymore. I am no longer inspired by big splashy shows, and I think the Bush Years are an example of how it’s not inspired by people in power either. The media picks it up for a bit, and then it goes away and people go on about their business.

Radically, when we make choices to opt out of the status quo. Some people teach their own kids instead of going through the “normal” school system. Some people buy through buying clubs. Some people make their own food. Some people make their own clothes or things. Some people make their own cleaning supplies.

I would encourage people to explore and find one thing they can do well. My friend Kristina makes her own soap (and sells it), really well. So, I make bread, and she makes soap. Do you have a friend where you can do that sort of exchange? Can your own food. It’s easy and you can do small or large batches. Then, you can have a canned-swap party to get new varieties of anything.

What sparked your interest in environmental issues?   What’s the first “eco” thing you ever did? The first eco-thing I ever did was what my mom forced upon us by sometimes wearing second hand clothes or living on a simple budget – because we had to. The first conscious eco-thing I did was reading Fifty Ways You Can Save the Planet when I was in 5th grade. It was gifted to my family by my Aunt Betsy. So, from that, I learned there was a problem. So, in 8th grade, my friend and I started a recycling program in our junior high.

How do you live simply? My husband maintains our cars, so we own them outright and they are both more than 14 years old. We live in a smallish house. We try to use things up before we move them to another space (Goodwill or otherwise). We use the library for many of our media desires. We used to do a lot better when we had a much, much smaller income to deal with. So, I think we’re actually challenged by this right now. Forcing yourself to live on a smaller budget is hard! And, that’s what I think we should strive for.

Could you leave us with a favorite quote of yours? “La majestueuse egalite des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.” (The majestic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” ~ Anatole France


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