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Life after cheap oil: Got a blueprint?

"There's something happening here...What it is ain't exactly clear." -- words by Stephen Stills, Buffalo Springfield

There was standing room only at the library conference room, Monday night, as people crowded into the second Willits showing of The End of Suburbia.

Willits is not exactly suburban, but it is heavily dependent on gasoline-based transportation of people and goods, a recipe for severe hardship if the film's analysis of the world's dwindling oil supply is accurate.

"We're all dependent on a lifeline of Safeway trucks," said Dr. Jason Bradford, Ph.D., who brought in the film and facilitated the meeting. "If that stops, we die."

While most of those remaining after the film discussed working toward a more self-sustaining local economy, a few predicted the existing system would self-correct and continue to function much as it does now.

One said cars and trucks could be built to get twice the mileage with a "simple mechanical change." Another said "the market" would solve the problem. A third expanded on the idea: "People will grow vegetables when it gets too expensive to go to Safeway."

Bradford countered that developing an alternative support structure takes time. "You can't say the trucks didn't come in with cherries, so I'm planting a tree."

At an earlier meeting, he predicted economic decline would accompany oil scarcity and advised those considering purchase of alternate energy systems to do so now, before they, too, are priced out of reach.

The November 8 discussion included both visions for a future community and concrete suggestions for localizing the economy, or, at least, for cutting down on the use of petroleum products. One immediate result of the gathering was the formation of a carpooling group for those who regularly travel to the Bay Area.

It was also noted that immediate oil shortage or not sustainable energy systems, eco-friendly products and services, and locally grown food would be good for Willits.

Several people, including Bradford, are already seeking land for more local food production. Bradford, formerly on the faculty of the University of California Davis Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, estimates most of the local population could be fed from food grown on 1,200 to 2,400 acres of crops, roughly a quarter of the land in the Little Lake Valley.

One participant mentioned a woman who refuses to eat anything grown outside of Mendocino county. Reportedly, she misses bread and butter.

Ellen Bartholomew, garden manager for the Golden Rule church community, assured listeners that wheat, as well as a wide variety of other grains is, in fact, being grown locally.

"We're keeping a grain bank of different types for different habitats," she said.

Her community of about 30 people, located on Ridgewood Ranch about eight miles south of Willits, is reportedly able to supply most of its food needs on three acres by using "raised beds" (biointensive gardening).

According to the website for Ecology Action, an internationally known demonstration project located southeast of Willits, "a complete year's diet for one person can be raised on the equivalent of 3,303 square feet," an area a little over half the size of an average city lot.

The use of biodiesel fuel, a combination of vegetable oil, methanol and lye, was also discussed in terms of related crop production.

Turning from crops to shelter, participants noted that straw bale and rammed earth construction don't require such imports as factory-produced insulation.

Future showings of The End of Suburbia are likely to be accompanied by alternate study quarters for people meeting to plan for viable alternatives to an oil-based economy. In sum, Bradford urged the public to be flexible in its approach to the future:

"If you're rigid and the wind blows," he warned, "you break."

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