Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project

September 16th, 2015 by James Russell

NYT Review of ‘This Changes Everything’

The New York Times raved about Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” in its 2014 review:

To change economic norms and ethical perceptions in tandem is even more formidable than the technological battle to adapt to the heavy weather coming down the tubes. Yet “This Changes Everything” is, improbably, Klein’s most optimistic book. She braids together the science, psychology, geopolitics, economics, ethics and activism that shape the climate question. The result is the most momentous and contentious environmental book since “Silent Spring.”

Check out the full review here. And pick up your copy today for the Nov. 17 discussion.

May 14th, 2015 by James Russell

Why Read and Discuss ‘Engaging Voices’

From discussion leaders Sally Van Vleck and Jim Crowfoot

We look forward to discussing this book with you on May 19th at Horizon Books on Front St. in TC.

We encourage you to read as much of this book as you are able and please come even if you have not read the book!

Reading and discussing this book is an opportunity to step back from our own strongly held perspectives and ideas to consider “why it is so hard for us to talk reasonably and openly to people who disagree with us”, particularly over what is to be done about our socio-environmental problems. (Gottlieb, 2011) Whether the problem involves climate change, water pollution, species loss or proposed developments like new bypass highways and housing projects or educational requirements for environmental literacy, there are opposing views, conflicts and opportunities to learn from and influence each other.

How can people and organizations with very different perspectives and positions talk respectfully with each other and, in the process, learn as well as build rapport?   More specifically, what experiences have each of us had trying to do this?   What have we learned?   What can we do individually and collectively to communicate more effectively, learn from each other, and better appreciate each other while we seek to collaborate?

To examine these questions Gottlieb has written fictional accounts of 7 (Chapters 1-7) describing interactions among diverse people with conflicting values, ideas and priorities. Each of these conversations is about a different topic related to the environment and in each, the people involved vary from strangers to co-workers to family members. In some of these accounts, the participants are activists trying to work together, while in others they are trying to share their views in an informal social setting and in still others, the participants are trying to persuade each other that their own views and priorities are the ones that should be adopted by the group or individually by members of the group.

Reading and reflecting on Gottlieb’s different stories can enable you to experience and reflect on how you react to the involved characters and their views and .the interactions that that are taking place among them. Based on your reading we suggest you consider answering the following questions:

  • Are any of the characters like me? If yes, which one (ones)? How is she/he like me?
  • Which characters do I disagree with and/or dislike? And why?
  • If I was involved in the particular account described by Gottlieb, what would I say or do to contribute to the interactions that are taking place?
  • What do I suggest would make what is taking place in a specific account described by Gottlieb more satisfying for all the participants and contribute to improving the level of respect and trust among the participants?
  • How can we apply our learning from this book to our individual behaviors, to the groups we are members of and to our communities?

If you have very limited time to read we suggest that you begin by reading one of the following chapters:

Chapter 5,  “Whose Woods are These?” (pp. 111-136): This story is about a group of strangers who meet each other on a hike and get into a discussion about each other’s views about the relationship between the environment , science and ultimate values including religions.

Chapter 3,   “What Is to Be Done?” (pp. 63-90):   This story is about an activist group and its members who have been seeking to protect a wetlands.   They are in an escalating conflict with other contending groups and this along with personal concerns are influencing individuals’ commitments and ideas about what to do next.

Chapter 4,   “Pass the Turkey,” (pp.91-110): This is a story about a family home for a holiday meal whose members get into a discussion about socio-environmental change and what is necessary to bring this about.   Each person has established different roles and perspectives that they hold deeply as individuals and differing feelings about what this means for their family.

Please join us on Tuesday, May 19th at Horizon Bookstore at 7:00 PM! Sally Van Vleck and I are hoping that the conversation will be relevant and useful as we addess issues in our own communities, families and workplaces.

–Jim Crowfoot

March 23rd, 2015 by James Russell

Two months till our spring discussion!

Now’s the time to get reading! We have just under two months until our spring discussion, when we’ll be focusing on “Engaging Voices: Tales of Mortality and Meaning in an Age of Global Warming,” by Roger S. Gottlieb.

When: Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m.

Where: Horizon Books (Horizon Shine Cafe) at 243 East Front Street, Traverse City

What: Our ecological dilemmas provoke powerful emotions and deeply contested views. How should we think about them? And how can we live together, or even talk together, when we cannot listen to people who think differently?

In a lively and at times very funny book, Roger S. Gottlieb (A Greener Faith, This Sacred Earth, A Spirituality of Resistance) explores these questions in a collection of distinct but related philosophical short stories. Fictional characters with personalities, individual histories, and strong opinions wrestle with the meaning of life, the value of nature, animal rights, the roles of science and religion in environmentalism, and political choices facing environmental activists—as well as their own anger, fear, despair, and close-mindedness.

The May 19 discussion will be led by Sally Van Vleck and Jim Crowfoot.

August 7th, 2014 by James Russell

Rebuilding ‘foodshed’ and community resilience

By Diane Conners

In my previous life as a reporter for the Record-Eagle from 1986 to 1998, I remember reporting on two words that were new to me at the time.

The first was “watershed”—how our streams, bays and lakes are connected, and require a bigger-picture look at water quality in our region. Then came “viewshed,” as land preservationists described what was being lost during an era of rapid and sprawling growth.

Now comes “foodshed,” which again defines something of value and something that, by its very nature, is local.

“Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems,” by farmer and university professor Philip Ackerman-Leist, is the third book in the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project, which draws upon a list of books the local activist felt people should read and discuss together. Ackerman-Leist starts with a history of how we came to the largely industrial food system that we have today, where it’s often easier for a school in our region to purchase lettuce from California, for example, rather than from farmers right down the road. Technology like refrigeration and railroads played a role in making this happen, as did the entrepreneurial acts of men like the Gold Rush-era Armour brothers.

Ackerman-Leist’s book is laced with humor, research, maps—even references to literature—and he cautions against polarization and preaching for “local-only.” He notes that a diversity of options provides resilience in the face of local disasters like drought, hurricanes, and industrial accidents.

Nonetheless, he says, modernization did not require the wholesale destruction of our ability to buy from local farmers, or farmers’ ability to sell nearby. He calls on us to be food “citizens” rather than just consumers, and to identify opportunities to “re-localize” our food system for things of value to our communities that we lost by allowing only national and international food systems to dominate.

Ackerman-Leist also makes the case for communities to invest in rich soils for growing food and in recycling waste into energy, with local job opportunities in both. He advocates for valuing everyone from low-income families to farmers, farm workers, and local processors, distributors and buyers. He provides models of edible landscape initiatives; local food-oriented employee wellness benefits; food hubs; and apprenticeships and community capital for young farmers.

A foodshed—like a watershed and a viewshed—is local. And local, Ackerman-Leist says, is “within the sphere of our influence and care. “

“Rebuilding the Foodshed,” available at local bookstores, will be discussed at Meadowlark Farm near Lake Leelanau starting with a potluck at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 20. More information is available at

Diane Conners is a senior policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute. She is a board member of the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance.

April 1st, 2014 by James Russell

Watch the ‘Cooked’ Discussion

If you missed the Feb. 24 discussion of Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked,” you’re in luck. This month’s Investigating Community Resilience (iCR) show features the highlights from the night! Big thanks to Dave Barrons for taking the time to put it together.

Watch now:

January 13th, 2014 by James Russell

BRRRP featured in Record-Eagle

Check it out! The Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project was featured in Sunday’s Record-Eagle:

“An area slogan, “one book, one community,” could change to “two books, several communities” with the addition of a new regional reading project.

“The Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project kicks off this winter with the first of several books recommended by the late local activist and environmentalist.

“Russell died in August from cancer, but not before approaching the Michigan Land Use Institute about promoting books he considered key in helping people understand what they can do to make their communities as economically, environmentally and socially healthy and resilient as possible.”

Click here for the whole article.

December 23rd, 2013 by James Russell

Review: ‘Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation’

By Bill Palladino

My first Michael Pollan book, “The Botany of Desire,” was one I instantly fell for. That book casually tossed upon my table the relationship humans have with plants, and reciprocally the relationship they seem to have developed with us. It sounded vaguely alien-esque, so I went off into the void of two of my favorite reading genres: food and sci-fi. It was followed by a succession of other Pollan books through the years, each with the promise of keeping my foodie mind burbling with anticipation.

If you’ve read Pollan’s other books, “Cooked” one arrives a bit off-camber. It’s not the same rip-out-the-heart, traditional food system skewering we’re used to. “Cooked” starts with a frank admission from Pollan: “Cooking has always been a part of my life, but more like the furniture than an object of scrutiny, much less a passion.”  What he’s saying is that he’s made a career out of talking about food without ever understanding its true relationship personally.

Read the rest of this entry »

November 4th, 2013 by James Russell

Welcome to the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project

The death of local activist and environmentalist Bob Russell left a huge void in northern Michigan. His longtime dedication to justice, connection to the earth, and his belief in the importance of knowledge anchored a life of service and achievement. Bob had many talents indeed, but it was his passion for learning—his discipline to study and his unyielding drive to gather information—that, as much as anything, defined his effectiveness as a leader, and will be missed in northern Michigan.

It’s in that spirit of knowledge and learning that the Michigan Land Use Institute, along with several other regional groups and businesses, are launching the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project.

Before Bob’s passing, he shared with his friends and colleagues a carefully curated list of books he felt can help us understand what we can do to make sure our community is economically, environmentally, and socially as healthy and resilient as possible.

The idea behind the new reading project is a simple one: In each season of the year, a broad community will come together to read one of the books recommended by Bob, discuss its themes and lessons, celebrate the region’s strengths, and acknowledge the work that remains.

The project kicks off this winter with “Cooked,” by Michael Pollan, who argues that our own health and the health of our food system depend on one rule: Cook your own food. The book taps into northern Michigan’s incredible agricultural heritage, our love of great dishes, and our booming local food economy.

You can pick up a copy of “Cooked”—and all the other books on Bob’s list—at Horizon Books and local libraries. Then follow along with fellow readers at, and join us in February for the inaugural book club meeting at Horizon.