Sewing Reusable Produce Bags: Action as Antidote to Despair

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It’s easy for me slip into despair in these dark days.  The ice is melting, the animals are disappearing, people are hungry & sick, bombs are falling, fires rage, the sea is a soupy plastic mess.  I feel an underlying, steady pulse of anxiety, deepening into feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and despairing.  Oftentimes I feel like hiding, shrinking myself to the size of a single small dandelion, and floating away on the afternoon breeze.  This is fear, this is flight.

But sometimes a ray of clarity breaks through - I’m reminded that the future is not yet written, thank goodness.  It very well may be doom, but it also may not.  We just can’t know.

I find this liberating — there may still be time to shape the future.  There is still room to be hopeful.

“The idea and practice of prefigurative resistance,” Nina beautifully explains, “is…the practice of creating—and living—in the future we want to see. This requires a great deal of imagination, discipline, and creativity. We get so stuck in thinking that the way things are now are the only way they could be, when in fact, things are changing every second.  We all have a role in co-authoring the future…”

I hope to live in a world one day where plastic bags are not ubiquitous, their presence forgiven in the name of convenience, and any and all other options forgotten. I hope to live in a world some day where a single delicata squash, already equipped with a perfectly good natural container (its hard outer shell!) is not automatically placed into a plastic bag (and sometimes then into another plastic bag) to go the short distance between store and home.  

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We recently had an opportunity to practice creating another possible way — a little moment to woo folks into choosing reusable bags and empower them with a demonstration that they too could make the simple bags.

Here’s how it went:  On a beautiful late Fall day — sunny & crisp — we set up an army of six (!) sewing machines outdoors at the Portland Farmers Market.  Along with a handful of incredibly warm and friendly volunteers, we spent the afternoon sewing up reusable produce bags and giving them away for free (we estimate 100+ handmade bags went out into the world!)  

There was a steady stream of visitors to our booth: 

Curious about why were we doing this?  

Excited for a free useful item, no strings attached!  

Confused - free? REALLY?? 

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Grateful - free? for me?  REALLY??  

Some folks (nearly 27 people!) actually wanted to learn to make their own bag, and sat down at a sewing machine (most for the first time in their lives!) as we guided them through the simple steps.  It made my heart sing to see the “aha!” moment on these folks’ faces - having come to the market and unexpectedly stumbling upon an opportunity to be creative.

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But something else happened that I didn’t quite expect.  People felt taken care of.  And I felt alive.  I was acutely aware that each bag I sewed was a gift, to the person smiling in front of me but also for the whale that washed up with a stomach full of plastic, for the river choked with plastic, for the person across the world who’s coastline home is buried in a tide of plastic.  It felt good, to do something, and I can’t wait to do it again.

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{{Notes for next time:  

1. Hand out MORE info about plastic’s impact on our world — and offer info on lots of other ways to change this status quo:  how to put pressure on companies and restaurants to change their dependence on plastic, how to contact legislators about changing legislation, rad local groups already working on these initiatives….

2.  Get the other market vendors involved!  Let them know in advance about our workshop and that they can direct folks to our way to receive a free bag for shopping!!  It’s important that we ALL tackle this - share the responsibility! - some vendors may feel financial pressure to offer plastic bags, bc if they don’t, they may lose money, and we don’t want them to shoulder that responsibility alone, it’s also important to encourage customers to bring their own bags to use instead!}}

This is a very replicable event!!  Feel free to contact us with your own thoughts & ideas for this kind of event and/or if you’d like to hear more details on our experience, it’d be great to see this popping up in lots of places all over.

And lastly, here is the downloadable PDF with simple instructions for how to make your own drawstring bags - download, print, giveaway, sew sew sew!!

With love,

Sonya

Photos by Corrinne Theodoru {{www.corrinnetheo.com // @corrinnetheo}}

Special thank you to Heather at the Portland Farmers Market for organizing & excellent support in co-hosting this event!