Leading By Example

By Eliza Sherpa

As our week in Lowell comes to a close, the incredible generosity of the people there resounds with our team.  From offering food, to showers, to a comfortable place to hang out, it seemed everyone we met reached out to us and offered us something.  Throughout the week we’ve attended a great number of spectacular events allowing us to see the city of Lowell from a city planning perspective, a historical perspective, an individual’s perspective, and the perspective of a wet, hungry activist.

Interior of Life Alive Cafe

On Wednesday we rose early and biked downtown to interview Jess, the owner of Life Alive cafe.  Life Alive is one of the six restaurants that has chosen to be part of the Lowell Green Restaurants program, a group that is just taking off as a way for restaurants to work together to create standards and shift their businesses towards more sustainable practices.  Upon entering into the cafe, I felt at peace.  The warm and homey atmosphere was made complete with everything from tables to chairs being turned into pieces of artwork. Uplifting quotes and eccentric colors covered the walls, as well as eco tips stuck in obscure places throughout the building.  Perhaps most pleasantly shocking was the bathroom, complete with a bathtub filled with plants creating a jungle aura.  From interviewing Jess, it became clear that the mission of Life Alive isn’t just to be a business entity, but to create a relaxing and nurturing environment where people can have healthy and sustainable food options and build community.  Jess made clear that her decision to integrate greener practices into her restaurant wasn’t driven externally, but that this was how she believes she should live her life and there were financial sacrifices made.  However, her reason for being part of the Green Restaurants program is to show other restaurants that creating a healthier and more sustainable business model is possible and that it’s everyone’s social responsibility to be active.

Jess left us with the message, “if you lead by example, you become part of a greater movement.”  This is not only what Life Alive is doing on a local scale, but this is what is happening in the greater context of the environmental movement.  We often underestimate the power of our own actions in creating change.  But as Chip pointed out, we, as climate summer riders, are not forcing our ideas down people’s throats nor criticizing individual’s actions.  Instead, we are highlighting the positive changes that are taking place in the communities we visit and demonstrating, through our own actions, that we can live life differently.

Us with Deb, the manager of the Community Garden

Later in the afternoon we were greeted with a beautiful potluck lunch at the Greenhouse and Community Gardens thanks to Deb, Shannon, and Sharol.  We learned about the great work the garden was doing, as well as left with our panniers full to the brim with bread, chips, hummus, fresh basil and mint from the garden, and countless other snacks.  I was also met with a beautiful birthday cake, complete with an icing bicycle.  By the time we left the greenhouse, it was pouring – just in time for our boated tour of the city.  Before long we were drenched and freezing, but laughing just the same.  In our dripping clothes we descended upon the french bistro, La Boniche for the Green Restaurants Summit.  Despite our embarrassment of our unsightly appearances, we were greeted with open arms by the community at the meeting.  After nearly two hours the meeting had adjourned and, expecting to be rushed out of the restaurant so as to not distract from the appeal of the dining experience, we were astounded when the manager ordered us to sit for dinner on the house, thanks to the generosity of the owner and active member of the Green Restaurants program, Anna. After a delicious vegetarian meal we left La Boniche, to bike home in the rain, our stomachs full and our hearts warmed.

From the moment we entered Life Alive and throughout the day, I could not keep a smile off my face.  Whether it was the atmosphere that reminded me so much of my Ithaca home, or the encouraging words Jess said that gave me so much hope for the future of the sustainability movement in Lowell, or the kindness we were met with at lunch and dinner, or some combination of all of it, my mind felt both exhilarated and at peace.

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