A small group of concerned citizens can change the world, as Trathen Heckman discovered in 2001. He has built upon that lesson ever since, relying upon grassroots organizing skills to build a thriving environmentally focused nonprofit.
Still reeling from the national shock wave of 9/11, Heckman lost his mother a month later and decided to dramatically change the direction of his life.
His a-ha moment occurred later that year at the Permaculture Institute of Northern California in Point Reyes Station, where he was astounded to see how land could be transformed from lawn into a “fecund forest of food, medicine and wonder.”
It just “sort of rewired me,” he said. “Wow, you really can change the world with a garden. You can build ecosystems that can transform people’s lives and save resources and even change policy.”
Heckman soon sought ways to connect with like-minded people to show how local actions can have global impacts and, in 2002, he founded Daily Acts in Petaluma. Since then, the group has turned more than 232,000 square feet of lawn into gardens and other less water-intensive uses, including land at the Sebastopol Police Department and in front of Petaluma City Hall. They also installed Sonoma County’s first permitted gray-water system and have worked with youth to create communities dedicated to sustainability.
But that was just the beginning for Heckman, 46, who had read Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and was impressed by the concept of working within one’s circle of influence.
“The core belief of Daily Acts is that by reclaiming the power of our daily actions, we can transform ourselves, our homes, our gardens and our neighborhoods,” he said. “When we work together and leverage our power, we can transform our communities and the world beyond.”
Heckman describes the organization’s goal as infusing a “sense of heart and community and connection” so that people feel they’re “being a part of work that matters and makes a real difference.”
The power of that bond took on a new urgency in the days after Donald Trump was elected president. Daily Acts became a gathering place for people worried about the future of the planet in light of a new political climate.
“A number of volunteers felt like they just had to be here,” Heckman said. “Especially now, we are getting a number of calls and emails (from people) breathing a sigh of relief that we are here and doing what we do,” he said.
“We get that in general, but even more now that we’ve got people concerned about where our future is going.”
At Daily Acts, the answers are simple: “Start with the only power we have, which is the power of our daily actions,” he said.
“Be concerned about all the things on the planet, but spend most of your time in your circle of influence, and your circle of influence will grow.”
Heckman breaks that message down into three main components.
The first is solutions for sustainable living.
“We help people grow food, save water, reduce waste, build soil and reduce resource consumption while building local self-reliance and resilience.”