Communities Prepare to be More Self-Reliant
This was a very inspiring story for me, recorded earlier last month on the local NPR station, KUOW
Three Northwest cities have latched on to an environmental bandwagon that started a few years ago in Britain. Ashland, Oregon and Ketchum and Sandpoint, Idaho are among 130 so–called "Transition Towns" around the world. Those are communities that work to become more self–reliant and less susceptible to the vagaries of climate change and volatile energy prices. Inland Northwest Correspondent Doug Nadvornick reports on the start of the transition initiative in Sandpoint, Idaho.
In the window of the Common Knowledge Bookstore and Tea House is a sign that reads "We buy renewable energy." That tells you a little about the world view of co–owner Shelby Rognstad. He and his wife own 10 acres of mostly rocky land outside of town. They built a cabin there and have started an organic garden.
Their Internet café in town is a buzzing place this morning.
Shelby Rognstad: "I like to think that this is sort of a hub for local activism and action."
Among the local activists is Jeff Burns. He's at the next table with a few friends, developing plans for a community garden.
Jeff Burns: "We've gone to the city and said, 'Can we use a piece of one of your parks?' One of the parks in the center of town. So it'll be a very visible project and, hopefully, the beginning of creating a resilient local food system."
Burns' project would be the first to be adopted as part of the new Sandpoint Transition Initiative. That's a grassroots effort aimed at moving the north Idaho city away from its dependence on fossil fuels. It's based on the "Transition Town" movement in the United Kingdom. Nearly a hundred towns there and more than a dozen American cities have adopted the same principles.
The Sandpoint Transition Initiative started with a community event. Many of the participants were still aglow with the election of Barack Obama. Initiative co–organizer Karen Lanphear says about 500 people packed a downtown theater to hear another message about change.
Karen Lanphear: "The reason that the Sandpoint Transition Initiative was able to take off so fast was the confluence of the high gas prices, the shaky economy and back–to–back cold winters."
Then heating prices went through the roof.
Since the kickoff event, initiative organizers have created work groups. Jeff Burns' group is focusing on community gardens. Another is looking into building a power plant that would burn waste wood from the surrounding forests.
Initiative co–founder Richard Kuhnel wants to help Sandpoint become a stronger community, less susceptible to the negative ripples sent out from other parts of the world.
Richard Kuhnel: "Even if there are disruptions in the economy globally, that on the local level we can at least provide for the basic needs to a high degree."
Fellow organizer Jeff Burns has seen the headlines about disruptions in food supply. Case in point, the recent salmonella peanut scare. And he wants Sandpoint to be better prepared. He's promoting urban gardens like those tended by ordinary people during World War II. He says those "victory gardens" helped to feed the U.S. during a time of food rationing.
Jeff Burns: "We have farmers that actually want to farm peoples' backyards. It's called 'spin farming', small planting intensive farming. There are people in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, just selling produce at restaurants and farmers' markets."
Burns is seeking support for his community garden from the Sandpoint City Council. He has it from a surprising source.
Councilmember John Reuter thinks the idea is a no–brainer. Reuter is a young, bearded ball of energy. He also heads the county's Young Republicans. He's bullish on the initiative, even though he doesn't agree with some of its basic assumptions. One of those is that the world oil supply has peaked.
John Reuter: "The idea of Peak Oil, that we're gonna have this energy crisis, I personally don't buy into. That said, the idea of producing food locally, the idea of trying to produce more energy locally, which we're actively engaged in, the idea of trying to come up with local solutions to local problems, all these things appeal to me."
Appealing to others in Sandpoint is the real challenge. Organizers hope the transition initiative will build enough support to become a viable civic movement, rather than just a bright idea that peters out.
I'm Doug Nadvornick in Sandpoint.
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