‘Frog Rock Forum’ connects the resiliency dots

Nancy and Bob Fortner and Poppy, their energetic Jack Russell Terrier, enjoy a quiet moment under the grape arbor which abuts a small apple orchard on Sweetlife Farm. The Fortners, sans Poppy, will participate in “Frog Rock Forum” Sunday at IslandWood.    - Connie Mears/Staff Photo
Nancy and Bob Fortner and Poppy, their energetic Jack Russell Terrier, enjoy a quiet moment under the grape arbor which abuts a small apple orchard on Sweetlife Farm. The Fortners, sans Poppy, will participate in “Frog Rock Forum” Sunday at IslandWood.
— image credit: Connie Mears/Staff Photo

Open pollination

Sustainable Bainbridge presents “Frog Rock Forum,” a free educational fair on community resilience and sustainability, from 2-5 p.m. Sunday at IslandWood.

For more information, visit www.sustainable



Nancy and Bob Fortner sat outside their Bainbridge Island home as the song of a Swainson’s thrush spiraled upward among the tall cedars surrounding the pond. Bees buzzed lightly on blossoms, as a rooster let out an impressive crow.

It’s easy to count your blessings at a place called Sweetlife Farm: Two arbors hold four varieties of grapes and kiwi, the orchard grows apples, plums and cherries; the smokehouse cures ham and other locally grown meats; 10 varieties of berries soak up the late afternoon sun; the wine cellar stores homemade wines; the pantry and root cellars hold staples and produce.

Often when people talk about sustainability the focus is on what you have to give up. It’s about reducing: waste, consumption, energy usage. The Fortners simply follow their bliss.

“We focused on things we were already interested in,” Nancy said. “Beekeeping, soapmaking — we started fooling around and one thing led to 27 others.”

Nancy’s love of blossoms gave way to more edibles “and then Michael Pollen came along.”

The Fortners will offer a glimpse of the Sweetlife as they join more than 40 other exhibitors at “Frog Rock Forum: Connections for Community Resilience,” an educational fair from 2-5 p.m. Sunday at IslandWood.

“Accidental homesteaders,” Bob joked. “We approached it the same way we approached the book business,” referring to Fortner’s Books, a used bookstore that used to grace downtown Winslow.

While running the bookstore, they came across a vintage title, “Living the Good Life,” copyrighted in 1954 by Helen and Scott Nearing.

“I wanted to be just like them,” Bob said. “It was such a cool way to live long before it was on anybody’s radar.”

“We were just talking with our house guest,” Nancy said. “There’s a whole set of skills that are just going away and not being passed on.”

The Fortners derive deep satisfaction from growing, preserving and raising their own food.

They also sell eggs, produce, honey, crafts and bath and body products at the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market.

“No time goes by that I don’t think how much I love this place, this island and the people,” Nancy said.

They’re clear that the choices they’ve made aren’t for everyone.

“To be honest, I don’t feel rabid about it. We just do what we do for us and for the environment,” Nancy said. “But I don’t feel the need to try to change anybody.”


Not easy being green

Frog Rock Forum, a Sustainable Bainbridge initiative, will provide the community an opportunity to learn about the variety of resources already in place that help Bainbridge stay resilient. The purpose is to show the concentration of resources and efforts on the island that support resilience: a strong sense of community, economic and environmental sustainability.

Organizers toyed with names for quite some time before settling on Frog Rock Forum, a uniquely Bainbridge name. (See sidebar at right).

“The word sustainable is a little clunky and green is overused,” said event co-organizer Jaco ten Hove, Sustainable Bainbridge member and co-minister of Cedars Unitarian Universalist Church.

“Being resilient is not just a bounce-back or oppositional response to a particular external force,” he wrote in a recent column in the Review. “It is also an ongoing quality of internal strength and hardiness, producing a supple capacity for prospering amid whatever ‘difficult conditions’ might emerge. It is an overarching practice, a ‘way of life,’ both individually and together.”

Sustainable Bainbridge Board President Sallie Maron provided a distilling question: Would you want a sustainable marriage or a resilient one? Resilience seems to have a broader connotation and speaks of a deeper emotional commitment, she said, something she and co-organizer and Sustainable Bainbridge board member Maradel Gale think is critical if we are to weather whatever storms may come.

“People can come together around planning for disaster, but how do we get people to change before a disaster?” she asked rhetorically.

Last fall Bainbridge-based YES! Magazine devoted an entire issue to that question, emphasizing resilience over sustainability, which for some, carries a sense of stasis, rather than vibrant health.

Semantics aside, YES! Magazine will be one of the exhibitors at IslandWood Sunday.

“I see right here on Bainbridge the forefront of some of those efforts,” said YES! Publisher Fran Korten, on the phone before leaving for the 2011 Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (BALLE) Conference. “Bainbridge is not unique, but it is a leader.”


Leading the way

With a little intention, ten Hove thinks Bainbridge could easily package itself as a leader – even a model community – in the movement toward greater resiliency.

“I think we could recast the island as a go-to place, to model community, and social, environmental and economic resiliency,” he said. “A whole lot is already concentrated on this one island, yet it’s very accessible. It’s conceivable to reframe our image as a center, a frontline model of what happens when you have empowering entrepreneurial activity.”

When a grant to develop a resiliency educational center here was turned down, ten Hove, Maron and Gale sat down to create an event that was focused on proactive change and could be organized by volunteers.

About the same time, Grace Episcopal Church’s Earth and Spirit group was thinking about organizing a similar event among the Interfaith community. Enter Demi Allen, Karen Casey and Emily Chamberlain, who brought a new component to the mix: spirituality.

“Coming from a faith-based perspective creates an imperative to care for the Earth,” said Allen. “For me, it’s important to connect with the beauty.”

For Casey, the spiritual component manifests deeply in regard to the social aspect.

“We’re all connected,” she said. “A resilient community is about heart connections with others.”

Indeed a spirit of inclusion was important to the organizing committee.

“The best scenario is bringing people into the conversation who aren’t already involved,” Allen said.

In other words, they didn’t want to just sing to the choir.

“In any given group, you’ll have about 15 percent who are open to an idea, 15 percent who are resistant, and about 70 percent in the middle,” ten Hove said. “We want the middle chunk.”

A community experiment

The event, which lands smack dab on Father’s Day, is a family friendly event. Activities for kids, including painting their own miniature “Frog Rock,” are included in the admission price, which happens to be free.

Beyond disseminating a ton of information, organizers are open to what else might come of corralling a bunch of intensely passionate, visionary entrepreneurs and activists together for an afternoon.

“There’s so much potential,” said Gale. “It’s a community experiment. I don’t have any expectations, but we hope that new combinations will come out of this.”

This open-pollination method will include a white board to share and inspire ideas, but the post-event supper has been canceled.

For more information, visit



Staff Writer



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