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Sustainability planning underway

Despite a chill down-pour, about 60 people attended last week's workshop on creating a sustainable local economy. Newcomers watched The End of Suburbia, a documentary predicting global oil extraction will become increasingly costly, bring an end to America's gasoline-dependent lifestyle.

Those who had seen the film at previous sessions divided into groups studying the elements of a petroleum-free community: food, water, shelter, health and medicine, and alternate energy sources. An additional group struggled to apply an overall "eco-village" concept to the Willits area. The format called for developing research questions, doing the homework, and presenting the results at the next session, at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 16, at the Willits Charter School.

The energy group, which includes two solar equipment installers and a retired engineer/physicist, will study existing alternative energy sources and determine which are possible here. City Councilman Ron Orenstein will look into citywide independent energy systems, similar to the one already established in Sacramento. Also on the list are alternate-fuel transit systems, energy waste and conservation potential, and the offerings of at least two bio-diesel suppliers.

The shelter group is considering such alternate building styles as strawbale walls (not unlike Mexican adobe) and how much of the needed material can be produced locally. Group members want to know how many people will need housing in the future and how to develop new housing without jeopardizing agricultural land. Opportunities for making existing housing more energy efficient and building shared-housing communities are also on the list.

The health and medicine group is looking at incorporating alternative healing systems in the incoming hospital, social service networks, local cultivation of medicinal plants, and legal obstacles to alternative medical approaches. Similar approaches in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in the licensing of midwives to assist with home births and the creation of "birthing rooms" open to family members in many hospitals.

The water group wants to know the amount needed for a family of four and the possibility of salvaging more of the rainy season's abundance.

The food group wants to know how long retail supplies would last if gas-short delivery trucks failed to bring in more, which crops are locally available in each season, which foods grow wild in the area, and the possibilities for community gardens, farms, and composting sites. The feasibility of "community subscription agriculture" units is also on the list. CSAs supply year-round income to local organic farmers in return for guaranteed supplies of fresh, organic, seasonal crops.

The eco-village and farm group is asking whether the Willits area is too large to use the village model. Either way, group members are studying rental or lease of existing rail lines for distribution of goods, collective purchase and management of land parcels, and whether food crops should be produced by and for those within each parcel or distributed to outsiders through donation, sale, or barter.

A final report on the various subjectsand related projects that may be underwaywill be shared with the general community at a symposium, possibly this spring.

The session was facilitated by Dr. Jason Bradford, formerly of UC Davis, with the help of new Willits residents George Cottrell and Jackie Elek, who have been involved in such community-building programs as Habitat for Humanity. Communication beyond the meeting room is being offered through the website of the nonprofit Cloud Forest Institute, One item offers "Sustainable Northern California Links." One of the interactive links is "Willits Economic Globalization."

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