In the international marketplace of ideas, Lyle Estill is not a widely known expert on human-scale, local economies. He may never attain that status, if only be because he's too busy making economic theory a sustainable reality in his little corner of North Carolina.
In Small Is Possible, Estill chronicles the failures and victories of an ongoing movement for sustainability and local resiliency in Chatham County, located in the piedmont region of North Carolina. Estill is a legitimate source on the subject: he co-founded Piedmont Biofuels, a biodiesel co-op that went from backyard operation into an industrial plant in a few short years. He has recorded his adventures with biodiesel and other sustainable businesses in his first book, Biodiesel Power, as well as in local newspaper columns and on his own Energy Blog.
The characters in Estill's world are both entertaining and endearing. Many of them show a flinty defiance, positioning themselves as courageous Daniels against the Goliaths of corporate greed and globalization. Just as important, they are also innovators and risk-takers. The author often leads the charge with business incubators, co-housing experiments, agricultural experiments, and college loan schemes that keep money in town.
Keeping track of this book's huge cast of characters is not easy. It doesn t make for smooth reading, but it does illustrate Estill's intimate knowledge of his neighbors and the gains he's made to foster interdependent networks of sustainable enterprise. Good economic development is little more than an effective Rolodex, he writes, thereby dispelling the mystery. What Estill calls Hometown Security is possible. Theory can become practice.
Readers interested in academic arguments for local economies can find other books on the subject, but if they want a compelling story about noble attempts to walk the talk, Small Is Possible delivers.
- Brian Baughan