Keeping Sterling Strong

Apple Trees by Chuck Plaisted

Here in Massachusetts, we didn’t need Coolidge or Eisenhower to remind us of our Yankee mantra: “Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without.” 

This mantra contains the twin concepts of sustainability and resiliency. Sustainability and resiliency are related, but not the same. Here’s the difference.

Imagine a town on the Cape that avoids the worst effects of storm surges by stacking up sand bags. Yes, there is always some flood damage, and a few ruined cars, but the town and its inhabitants are just fine. That’s resiliency, responding effectively to an event. 

But it may not be sustainable: sea level has been rising for decades, and eventually sand bags might not stem the tides. Sustainability is being able to keep something going. In this example, sustainability might require abandoning low-lying areas. 

In more personal context, our resilient households have coped with weeks of restricted shopping and dining, social distancing, cuts in income. We now have the opportunity to apply what we’ve recently learned to making our lifestyles more sustainable, to carry us through future difficult times. 

Our efforts to “make do” have reminded us how creative we can be: preparing meals from what’s in the pantry, making repairs or jury-rigging solutions using materials at hand, or meeting or partying by Zoom when in-person is out of the question. 

“Using up, wearing out” and re-using keep us safer, because we spend less time in crowds doing our shopping. And these acts contribute to our household resilience, by saving money. 

“Doing without” has reminded us that not having what we want is not usually the end of the world. An exception is toilet paper!

How else have our lives changed this year? I asked our Sterling Community Facebook friends, and here’s what they said: 

  • I have a cleaner house.
  • I spend more time with my children, spouse, pets.
  • For the first time in years I have a garden planted.
  • We are hiking Sterling’s trails almost daily.
  • I think going forward I will continue to make fewer store trips and plan better as I’ve been doing in covid days. I spent so much time running around doing what? I don’t know lol. 
  • I miss my friends, but loving being home as well.
  • I miss the library and recycle center.
  • I miss the kids I teach.
  • I don’t miss my commute. 
  • I take a moment every morning to go outside and see the beauty in the world. I try to capture it with a photo and share it with friends.

2020 has certainly changed what we consider “worn out” and made us all more creative with “making do.” What I have learned is that I squander my scarce and precious time so thoughtlessly. This period of stay-at-home has been an opportunity to reset my habits. I think about how to make my household more sustainable, and how to best use my scarce time. I’ve reconsidered — taking much less for granted, and recognizing the world has changed — what I need to live. Part of the answer is, “less than I thought.”

Figuring out how to make our town more resilient will challenge our imaginations. When I first joined discussions of Sterling’s Municipal Vulnerability Plan (MVP), we were focused on things like heavy rains and snows, droughts, fires. Pandemics, staggering unemployment, and food chain disruptions were not on our radar. 

Prior to the pandemic, I don’t think our MVP team would have seen food safety and social isolation as critical issues. I don’t think we would have focused on longer disruptions than typical to an epic blizzard – a week or two. 

How can we prepare Sterling — as a town, and as its individual households — to meet the risk of longer periods of disrupted services, plummeting revenue and income, or shortages of crucial supplies? I think the answer lies with us, the community.

Food programs such as Food is Love, Wachusett Food Pantry and W.H.E.A.T. have been a lifeline to some. It’s not known if everyone in need is getting help now, and of course we don’t know how long the current crisis will last. Some estimates are that employment will take more than a year to rebound. Feeding our neighbors has always been a volunteer effort, and it strikes me that municipal involvement is unlikely.

The pandemic has shown us the value of being able buy local, and how important our local farms are to our food safety. Supporting local food production by farmers and in our own backyards is a logical step. Local food is not only delicious, it’s fresher by about a week vs. supermarket produce. A Victory Garden project that gets more of us growing our own would be a big help. I know I could use some coaxing and practical advice to get started.  

It is easy to overlook the importance of things we take for granted, and social activity is pretty high on that list. There are a number of volunteer efforts to reduce isolation. Perhaps an information resource could make it easier to locate those who need support and those who offer support.

In short, while each of us suffers from this pandemic in his or her own way, none of us need face this alone. We are a community, we have neighbors who care, and we are the neighbors who care. 


Published by Sue Aldrich

I'm a talented writer who connects business goals with technology, to get your message across through readable and engaging content. I have expertise in personalization, customer experience, journey optimization, recommendations, and search. I also research and write articles on sustainability for my hometown newspaper, Sterling Meetinghouse News.

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