Chelsea Green Publishing

Slow Democracy

Pages:280 pages
Size: 6 x 9 inch
Publisher:Chelsea Green Publishing
Paperback: 9781603584135
Pub. Date October 10, 2012

Slow Democracy

Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home

Availability: In Stock


Available Date:
October 10, 2012


Reconnecting with the sources of decisions that affect us, and with the processes of democracy itself, is at the heart of 21st-century sustainable communities.

Slow Democracy chronicles the ways in which ordinary people have mobilized to find local solutions to local problems. It invites us to bring the advantages of "slow" to our community decision making. Just as slow food encourages chefs and eaters to become more intimately involved with the production of local food, slow democracy encourages us to govern ourselves locally with processes that are inclusive, deliberative, and citizen powered.

Susan Clark and Woden Teachout outline the qualities of real, local decision making and show us the range of ways that communities are breathing new life into participatory democracy around the country. We meet residents who seize back control of their municipal water systems from global corporations, parents who find unique solutions to seemingly divisive school-redistricting issues, and a host of other citizens across the nation who have designed local decision-making systems to solve the problems unique to their area in ways that work best for their communities.

Though rooted in the direct participation that defined our nation's early days, slow democracy is not a romantic vision for reigniting the ways of old. Rather, the strategies outlined here are uniquely suited to 21st-century technologies and culture.If our future holds an increased focus on local food, local energy, and local economy, then surely we will need to improve our skills at local governance as well.


"Slow democracy is the only kind that can take root, because it answers our deepest longings for connection, community, and voice. Clark and Teachout provide compelling examples and guiding principles for nurturing inclusive, participatory communities that work for everyone. Read this book, and then put it into action!"--Martha McCoy, executive director, Everyday Democracy   

"The time is exactly right for a book that takes democracy seriously, and knows where to look for it.  Clark and Teachout recognize that representative democracy must be rooted in the fertile soil of face-to-face, local, problem-solving democracy.  With engaging storytelling skills, they remind us of how vibrant these civic roots still are, and they encourage us to give this democratic garden even greater care and attention, and to enjoy its fruits while we’re at it."--Daniel Kemmis, former mayor of Missoula, Montana; author of Community and the Politics of Place

"Slow Democracy is a lively and significant book. Clark and Teachout use a broad array of stories to illustrate how our democracy is changing, and how we can capitalize on the pressures and opportunities we face in our communities. They describe how carefully structured public engagement can lead, ironically, to faster, better solutions to public problems. Finally, they show how improving local democracy, one place at a time, can add up quickly to much larger national and global impacts."--Matt Leighninger, executive director, Deliberative Democracy Consortium

"It is all too easy to be cynical about the contemporary democratic process. Clark and Teachout provide a roadmap for turning that cynicism into the sort of regionalized action that can improve lives and transform communities. Don't give up on democracy: Read this book and get to work!"--Ben Hewitt, author of The Town that Food Saved and Making Supper Safe


"The "slow" in Slow Democracy doesn't mean decision-making needs to take longer. It's an acknowledgement that investing in inclusive, deliberative, and empowered local decision-making is worth the time. Here are community stories that will fill you with hope for American politics."--Sandy Heierbacher, director, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation

"Great stories about democracy-showing us that democracy is not what we have but what we do. So if you've been 'looking for hope in all the wrong places,' now you've found one that's right! Enjoy."--Frances Moore Lappé, author of EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want

"This is a truly important book: it explains, with copious example and lots of common sense, why democracy works better close to home. If you've begun to think the carrot from the farmer's market tastes better, this volume will lead you (liberal or conservative) down the logical path towards a working society."--Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

"Slow Democracy just may be the best thing happening in America today. Connecting in a meaningful way with our community and reclaiming our power as citizens is both powerful and possible. Read this book and consider how this movement can revitalize the communities you care about!"--Joan Blades, cofounder,

ForeWord Reviews-
In the nineteenth century, robust public participation and civic action was part of the American character. By contrast, we currently comprise a “discouraged, democratically anemic citizenry,” feeling disempowered and voiceless when it comes to influencing the outcome of public policy issues that affect us, our cities, towns, and neighborhoods.
  Nevertheless, there is a way out of this morass—it’s called ‘slow democracy.’ Taking its cue from the slow food movement (a global, grassroots effort that links a way of living and a way of eating with a commitment to community and sustainability), slow democracy encourages democratic decision-making at the local level by members of the community. It forgoes the ideological divisions of left vs. right and promotes self-governance through processes that are inclusive, deliberative, and citizen-powered.
  While the notion of wresting power and decision making from the federal level and returning it to citizens and local governments may seem like pie-in-the-sky optimism, activist [Susan] Clark and historian [Woden] Teachout cite numerous places where slow democracy is producing results. In New York City; Chicago; Gloucester, Massachusetts; New Orleans; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Hacker Valley, West Virginia “painful issues” like racism and crime and ‘too-hot-to-handle concerns’ like budget cuts, school redistricting, environmental protection, and housing are being addressed by ordinary people committed to citizen engagement and collaborative problem-solving.  Slow Democracy is a user-friendly ‘blueprint for American redemption.’ It inspires the belief that our dwindling democracy can be invigorated. City councilors, town managers, community organizers, politicians, and average Americans will find wisdom in Slow Democracy and will learn strategies to bolster public participation and thus transform our political landscape.

Library Journal-
Clark (All Those in Favor) and Teachout (Union Inst. & Univ.; Capture the Flag) make a strong case for ‘slow democracy’—the inclusive, deliberative, locally based way to reinvigorate American politics. Based on the slow food movement’s principles of localism, community involvement, and sustainability, slow democracy taps the energy, concerns, and common sense of local citizens to improve local decisions. Clark and Teachout explain slow democracy in action, discuss reframing debates to avoid the polarization that passes for politics in the United States, and suggest ways for people to adapt the principles of slow democracy for use in their own political lives. The authors admit that slow democracy takes time—time to gather community members, time for all to tell their stories, and time for citizen groups to find practical and affordable solutions to local problems. VERDICT: This is a convincing argument that time invested in this way benefits everyone in the community and reconnects citizens with their governments and each other. Recommended for anyone interested in being more politically engaged.

Publisher's Weekly-
Making the case for local control and community action while offering plenty of worthwhile advice, community leader Clark and democracy scholar Teachout tell how to get things done in the public sphere. The authors are open about their leftist leanings but make it clear that "slow democracy" is not about partisanship or political labels. On issues including community control of water systems and school re-districting, the authors paint an upbeat picture of participatory democracy. They devote much of the book to success stories, mainly from small cities like Portsmouth, N.H. Intending to be inspirational, sometimes lyrical and crunchy-granola in spirit, Clark and Teachout can resort to the obvious or mundane: "[s]low democracy is about inviting neighbors into community conversations about issues that matter." But readers who instinctively resist suffocating regulations and Big Brother authorities will welcome the book's insights. Clark and Teachout favor a New England-style town-hall political culture that wouldn't last five minutes in Chicago or Los Angeles, yet anyone who wants to reinvigorate grass-roots involvement and moderate top-down rule can benefit from this earnest volume. Activists and organizers will appreciate the useful tips, and Clark and Teachout's community strategies will resonate with both conservatives and progressives.

Kirkus Reviews-
How community deliberative processes can provide an alternative to divisive party politics and technocratic expertise. Community organizer Clark (co-author: All Those in Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community, 2005) and historian Teachout (Graduate Studies/Union Institute and Univ.; Capture the Flag: A Political History of American Patriotism, 2009, etc.) believe that genuine deliberations by citizens have too often been replaced by top-down political decision-making, in much the same way fast food has been substituted for the genuine article. The authors present case studies in which citizens have come together to solve problems faced by their communities. They cite the city of Portsmouth, N.H., which has won international awards for the way citizens acted together to solve problems confronting their school system when the experts failed. They chronicle citizen transformation of social services, such as Chicago's Police Department, and citizen interventions to take control of municipal or county water supplies. The authors highlight the way Pennsylvanians have organized against fracking through town and county institutions. Each of these cases, they note, was precipitated by a particular set of circumstances that needed to be addressed in a timely way. Clark and Teachout complement their case studies with discussions of useful methodologies to bring people together for common purposes and with a brief history of the New England town meeting format. The major problem local communities face, they write, is outside “efficiency experts” armed with charts and graphs and prepackaged solutions. The authors offer the history of the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, as a dramatic example of how “slow politics” works over an extended period of time to build something of lasting value. A valuable tool for improving the way government operates at the local level.


  • Winner - Atlas Awards, 2012 Accomplishments


Susan Clark

Susan Clark is a writer and facilitator focusing on community sustainability and citizen participation. She is an award-winning radio commentator and former talk show co-host. Her democratic activism has earned her broad recognition, including the 2010 Vermont Secretary of State's Enduring Democracy Award.  Clark is the coauthor of Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home (Chelsea Green, 2012), and All Those In Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community (RavenMark, 2005). Her work strengthening communities has included directing a community activists' network and facilitating town visioning forums. She served as communication and education director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council and Coordinator of the University of Vermont's Environmental Programs In Communities (EPIC) project.  Clark lives in Middlesex, Vermont, where she chairs a committee that encourages citizen involvement, and serves as town-meeting moderator.

Woden Teachout

Woden Teachout is an historian and cultural critic interested in the development of American patriotic culture.  She is currently professor of graduate studies at Union Institute and University and has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Middlebury College, and Goddard College. She is the co-author, with Susan Clark, of Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home (Chelsea Green).


Susan Clark interview




By David Holmgren

David Holmgren brings into sharper focus the powerful and still evolving Permaculture concept he pioneered with Bill Mollison in the 1970s. It draws together and integrates 25 years of thinking and teaching to reveal a whole new way of understanding and action behind a simple set of design principles. The 12 design principles are each represented by a positive action statement, an icon and a traditional proverb or two that captures the essence of each principle.

Holmgren draws a correlation between every aspect of how we organize our lives, communities and landscapes and our ability to creatively adapt to the ecological realities that shape human destiny. For students and teachers of Permaculture this book provides something more fundamental and distilled than Mollison's encyclopedic Designers Manual. For the general reader it provides refreshing perspectives on a range of environmental issues and shows how permaculture is much more than just a system of gardening. For anyone seriously interested in understanding the foundations of sustainable design and culture, this book is essential reading. Although a book of ideas, the big picture is repeatedly grounded by reference to Holmgren's own place, Melliodora, and other practical examples.

Available in: Paperback

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David Holmgren

Paperback $30.00

The Bio-Integrated Farm

The Bio-Integrated Farm

By Shawn Jadrnicek and Stephanie Jadrnicek

The Bio-Integrated Farm is a twenty-first-century manual for managing nature’s resources. This groundbreaking book brings “system farming” and permaculture to a whole new level. Author Shawn Jadrnicek presents new insights into permaculture, moving beyond the philosophical foundation to practical advanced designs based on a functional analysis. Holding his designs to a higher standard, Jadrnicek’s components serve at least seven functions (classical permaculture theory only seeks at least two functions). With every additional function a component performs, the design becomes more advanced and saves more energy.

A bio-integrated greenhouse, for example, doesn’t just extend the season for growing vegetables; it also serves as a rainwater collector, a pond site, an aquaponics system, and a heat generator. Jadrnicek’s prevalent theme is using water to do the work. Although applicable in many climates, his designs are particularly important for areas coping with water scarcity.

Jadrnicek focuses on his experience as farm manager at the Clemson University Student Organic Farm and at his residence in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  These locations lie at the cooler northern edge of a humid subtropical climate that extends west to the middle of Texas and north along the coast to New Jersey. He has created permaculture patterns ranging from raising transplants and field design to freshwater prawn production and composting. These patterns have simplified the operation of the 125-share CSA farm while reducing reliance on outside resources. In less time than it takes to mow his two-acre homestead, Jadrnicek is building a you-pick fruit farm using permaculture patterns. His landscape requires only the labor of harvesting, and the only outside input he buys is a small amount of chicken feed. By carefully engaging the free forces of nature—water, wind, sunlight, convection, gravity, and decomposition—Jadrnicek creates sustenance without maintenance and transforms waste into valuable farm resources.

The Bio-Integrated Farm offers in-depth information about designing and building a wide range of bio-integrated projects including reflecting ponds, water-storage ponds, multipurpose basins, greenhouses, compost heat extraction, pastured chicken systems, aquaculture, hydroponics, hydronic heating, water filtration and aeration, cover cropping, and innovative rainwater-harvesting systems that supply water for drip irrigation and flushing toilets.

Available in: Paperback

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The Bio-Integrated Farm

Shawn Jadrnicek, Stephanie Jadrnicek

Paperback $39.95

The New Bread Basket

The New Bread Basket

By Amy Halloran

For more than 10,000 years, grains have been the staples of Western civilization. The stored energy of grain allowed our ancestors to shift from nomadic hunting and gathering and build settled communities—even great cities. Though most bread now comes from factory bakeries, the symbolism of wheat and bread—amber waves of grain, the staff of life—still carries great meaning.

Today, bread and beer are once again building community as a new band of farmers, bakers, millers, and maltsters work to reinvent local grain systems. The New Bread Basket tells their stories and reveals the village that stands behind every loaf and every pint.

While eating locally grown crops like heirloom tomatoes has become almost a cliché, grains are late in arriving to local tables, because growing them requires a lot of land and equipment. Milling, malting, and marketing take both tools and cooperation. The New Bread Basket reveals the bones of that cooperation, profiling the seed breeders, agronomists, and grassroots food activists who are collaborating with farmers, millers, bakers, and other local producers.

Take Andrea and Christian Stanley, a couple who taught themselves the craft of malting and opened the first malthouse in New England in one hundred years. Outside Ithaca, New York, bread from a farmer-miller-baker partnership has become an emblem in the battle against shale gas fracking. And in the Pacific Northwest, people are shifting grain markets from commodity exports to regional feed, food, and alcohol production. Such pioneering grain projects give consumers an alternative to industrial bread and beer, and return their production to a scale that respects people, local communities, and the health of the environment.

Many Americans today avoid gluten and carbohydrates. Yet, our shared history with grains—from the village baker to Wonder Bread—suggests that modern changes in farming and processing could be the real reason that grains have become suspect in popular nutrition. The people profiled in The New Bread Basket are returning to traditional methods like long sourdough fermentations that might address the dietary ills attributed to wheat. Their work and lives make our foundational crops visible, and vital, again.

Available in: Paperback

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The New Bread Basket

Amy Halloran

Paperback $17.95

Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares

Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares

By Greg Marley

2011 Winner, International Association of Culinary Professionals Jane Grigson Award2011 Finalist, International Association of Culinary Professionals in the Culinary History categoryThroughout history, people have had a complex and confusing relationship with mushrooms. Are fungi food or medicine, beneficial decomposers or deadly "toadstools" ready to kill anyone foolhardy enough to eat them? In fact, there is truth in all these statements. In Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares, author Greg Marley reveals some of the wonders and mysteries of mushrooms, and our conflicting human reactions to them.

With tales from around the world, Marley, a seasoned mushroom expert, explains that some cultures are mycophilic (mushroom-loving), like those of Russia and Eastern Europe, while others are intensely mycophobic (mushroom-fearing), including, the US. He shares stories from China, Japan, and Korea-where mushrooms are interwoven into the fabric of daily life as food, medicine, fable, and folklore-and from Slavic countries where whole families leave villages and cities during rainy periods of the late summer and fall and traipse into the forests for mushroom-collecting excursions.

From the famous Amanita phalloides (aka "the Death Cap"), reputed killer of Emperor Claudius in the first century AD, to the beloved chanterelle (cantharellus cibarius) known by at least eighty-nine different common names in almost twenty-five languages, Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares explores the ways that mushrooms have shaped societies all over the globe.

This fascinating and fresh look at mushrooms-their natural history, their uses and abuses, their pleasures and dangers-is a splendid introduction to both fungi themselves and to our human fascination with them. From useful descriptions of the most foolproof edible species to revealing stories about hallucinogenic or poisonous, yet often beautiful, fungi, Marley's long and passionate experience will inform and inspire readers with the stories of these dark and mysterious denizens of our forest floor.

Available in: Paperback

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Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares

Greg Marley

Paperback $19.95