Peak Moment: Economic Localization - A Community Rediscovering Itself

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Transcribed by Brian Magee

Peak Moment : Facilitating Economic Localization in Willits, California

Brian Weller (lead in): This is about rediscovering what it means to live together in right-livelihood; to live together effectively. We're going to draw from the past, we're going to be inspired from the future, we're going to live in the present.

Announcer: This is Peak Moment. We're living at a peak of human innovation, information, wealth, and health. But we're also at a peak of population and consumption, with rising temperatures and declining resources fueled by cheap oil and gas. Peak Moment Television, bringing you examples of positive responses to energy decline and climate change through local community action.

BW: So, Gaviotas in Columbia: large area, very desert, hadn't really flowered for many, many years. And, what was the story there with that?

Janaia Donaldson: The biologists, they came back in and began to find ways to bring water through there?

Jason Bradford:Well, what they did, actually, they imported a pine from the Caribbean. And they started making a pine plantation because they wanted to have an income crop—which would be the resin from the pine, which would go into paints—so they planted this pine plantation.

And the problem they found was that the pines are sensitive to day length for flowering and fruiting [*** 1:32 unclear] for coning. And the problem was that the pine had evolved in the Caribbean where you get a change in day length because it's further from the equator, but they were basically on the equator. And, so, they never got the pines to be fertile or anything like that. So, but anyhow, they planted a bunch of stuff—and the pine forest wasn't going to spread or anything like that—so the pines were basically dead. And this was a big worry: are you going to put a new species here that's going to then invade? But it didn't because of that thing.

So, anyhow, then what happened was the pines created an economic thing for them; they weren't getting [*** 2:07 mumbled, took a guess] the resin out. But as the pine forest grew up it created a micro-climate underneath the pine forest that allowed trees to come in to this area. So, no one's really sure if there were seeds in the soil from any old forest that was there—there are some theories that it may have been more forested historically—or if there's [*** 2:30 can't understand this term] corridors that have some trees around them. And then, just outside of those corridors and right near the rivers it's basically, it's called a white sands savannah. It's essentially a very wet area that has extremely poor, very highly porous soils, and you get this grasslands that tend to burn. It's not just grasslands, it's all kinds of things, like sedges and things, but it looks like grass to people.

But, anyhow, once those pines could handle those conditions, they got established and it created a micro-climate that allowed the trees to persist and the trees started growing up underneath the pines, and they end up over-topping the pines.

JD: Wow.

BW: See, if you think of this from a bio-mimetic, or bio-mimicry, respect—in other words, how we can look at nature and how nature organizes itself; what conditions need to be in place in order for new things to grow, and how to create that new climate, if you will. If you parallel that with how societies grow, communities grow, you think of the consciousness in society. What do we mean by that? Consciousness is really the carrier—it's the field in which our culture, our cultural history, our knowledge, our past experience, all, again, about locality, if you think about all the skills that our forefathers that have brought to a particular area. And these often become dormant and they become dormant very much as communities have become more desert-ified...

JD: And disconnected

BW: ...and disconnected. So, what we've been doing in WELL is really creating, you know, we've been, as Jason's saying, it's almost like we're planting a few trees in order to set up the condition where a lot of this cultural knowledge can begin to re-emerge.

And what is this cultural knowledge? It's the creative intelligence that is in the consciousness of the community. We have here, we have all the skills—whether they're dormant or whether they're expressed—we have the skills to look after each other. We have people, what? We have people that have a passion for health and healing. We have local herbs here. We have people who are passionate about how to create the infrastructure to get our water to ourselves. And we have people passionate about food.

You know, in France they talk about food as medicine. And if you eat right things tend to go right. So, suddenly, when you start to live cooperatively with your natural environment health improves. You need less and less pharmacology, as it is artificial. You have more balance. In the same way you’re starting building healthy relationships. People start to walk more rather than having to drive everywhere.

So, we start to think about how to redesign our communities around these very natural processes. And these are all seeds in the collective consciousness of a community, which when the right conditions are there—and that's what we've been creating in WELL—is the conditions for this revival. .

JD: Interesting. .

BW: And it is a revival, it's a re-invention of what it means to live together. .

JD: Well, to re, again; vive, to live. .

BW: Bank. [***5:40, not sure 'bank' or 'back' or something else.] .

JB: Yeah. I'm starting a farm over at this grammar school and part of the point of it is not just what's going to happen at that school, but it's to demonstrate that, “my gosh, you actually can make a living by growing food for other people?” Which, in our culture now, it seem to be just like, “A nutty perspective—what?! People can actually make a living feeding each other?!” So, that used to be here. .

JD: Partly to intrigue the young people to consider that as a vocation. .

JB: Yeah, or land owners. .

BW: Or land owners, yeah. .

JD: We just had a wonderful collaborative event called Come Home to Eat. It was a celebration of local food and as the kick off to starting a local food coalition that brings together the farmers, the consumers, and what do they need in terms of regulations, because our farmers are not making it because, of course, they are competing with the Wal-Marts. And we learned that. So, we had a wonderful panel; it's a good hour of a panel of a dozen farmers representing different aspects: one CSA, and another that does fruit, and another that does the grower's market vegetables, and so on—grass-fed beef. And we could learn what the challenges are, what the problems are, what works well. .

And one of the sobering things to learn is that in our two high schools in our western part of the county, agriculture and farming are not even on the list of what the vocations counselors talk to kids about, even though a third of the students are involved in 4-H... .

JB: Right. .

BW: And furthermore... .

JD: ...because they can't make a living at it. .

BW: ...not only can they not make a living, but if you think about the quality of the food that our students and our school children eat, which is effecting their learning ability... .

JD: Yes, certainly. .

BW: ...their attention span, their memory, their ability to focus... .

JD: Totally. .

BW: ...and study. So, what we're doing in the school here is we're bringing back the school farm. And it's not just a project to create food, it's a project to educate us on healthy nutrition. .

JD: Sure. .

BW: And so that will be part of the curriculum here, and we're going to spread it from one school to all schools. Now what this means to the imported junk food industry is very significant. As in Britain now there's a big initiative to ban junk food in state schools. And this is one of our goals here in WELL, is to re-create nutrition such that there's less dependency upon highly concentrated sugars and fats and salted foods, which are really the essence of what junk food is, and ban that stuff. But we'll ban that not by pushing it away but by bringing in true nutrition. And, again, we've got to facilitate, we've got to educate, incubate those farms and ideas. And in the same way we've got to be watchful, we've got to make sure that our children are growing healthily. .

JD: Well, you do holistic stuff here. .

BW: This is a whole systems approach. .

JD: Of course, it is; multi-layers here. .

BW: It's holistic, you see. And society, and the way societies got organized, has become so fragmented. And we've got to come back to this idea that the knowledge that we need and the skills that we need in order to be, once again, a healthy, responsible, and safe community are already here. .

JD: What I like about that is your underlying premise—the underlying premise here is: we have what we need. If we do not it will be attracted to us; it will come. But if you come with the assumption of the glass is full, rather than the glass is half empty, that positive approach seems to me be a part of what attracts as well as the holistic vision. It's not just piecemeal. .

JB: Right. Well, to get back to the farmers—the school system, basically, is telling students that you can't make a living as a farmer; we're not even going to tell you that's a option. And what's interesting if you look outside of the large industrial ag system, there are a lot of people making it now as small farmers, but you don't notice them because they don't have marketing campaigns. There are clusters of farms in certain areas that are small family farms and they sometimes come together and will have a marketing campaign where they promote the entire concept of “in this valley we have some great farmers.”

JD: We're beginning to do that in the counties just south of us. In Placer County they have Placer Grown, the organization that's... And I think as we get into local pride and our slow food movement and so on, those are all those things that are going to move in that direction. .

BW: Exactly. .

JB: Right. .

JD: It was just sobering to hear how, from this panel of 12, only one of them could make a living on their farming without an outside job, which tells us how much the forces have been arrayed against them in industrial ag. .

JB: That's very stressful.

JD: And, therefore, how do we as a community take responsibility to make sure our farmers stay afloat...

JB: Support them, yeah.

JD: ...if they're ag lands...

BW: Exactly.

JD: ...our conservation easements that we're doing or, other ways—the zoning, which is hard uphill battle at this point with the current supervisors that we have because it's so much more lucrative for a farmer... because most of them the average age is 59, and the young ones aren't showing up because they don't have the money to buy this expensive land which is more lucrative for the farmer to sell off to be sub-divided, and take more miles to feed us. It's like that viscous cycle.

BW: Exactly so. This is what people often refer to as the current paradigm, which is a globalized system with centralized control. It's command and control. This is how corporations tend to work. They're empire builders. And like all empires they feed and suck from...

JD: ...from the periphery, right? [*** 11:36 unclear phrase] the empire.

BW: And is this exactly how cancers grow in a body. Although there are cancer cells present in everyone, they only get activated when the coherence of the organism is gone. And what we mean by coherence is thinking in a holistic, coherent way. And, see, we've lost that.

But what's sweet about this whole initiative with Willits Economic Localization and the many, many communities now that are doing this, as well... We've just had a conference here is Willits called the Regional Localization Networking Conference. We had over 30 communities here for an entire weekend sharing all their ideas, their best practice, their dreams and hopes and aspirations. And we started to educate each other about how to create a corridor along this northwest part of California to really start to work together. And this is when it gets really exciting because when communities start to cooperate together we once again invent the idea of trading partners.

JD: We really didn't get to far into that in the conference yet, but you sowed the seeds. Gary Snyder, the poet that lives across the ridge from us....

JB: Oh, really?

JD: Yes.

BW: Wonderful man. [***12:54 unclear sentence]

JD: For the raven it's a mile. For the rest of us it's about 10 miles, around through the river canyon. Gary's vision when talking about life after oil—we had a recent article in the Sierra Citizenabout that—his view is that we don't have really good soils in our mountainous part of our land. Some of the valley sections of our county are good ag land, but in the mountains where we are, we're better for fuel, for timber.

So, he said, “I don't think our really small local region can really truly be self-sustaining, self-sufficient in everything.” He said we're going to need some trading partners. And when we had our Eat Local experiment last summer—we had one week a number of us just ate local—and I defined it in peak oil terms: within bicycling, walking, kind of distance. And, of course, the first thing, we had plenty of eggs; we have chickens in our... but what I first missed was salt. And I knew immediately why people traded. And so I know we will need the trading partners because you have wood in your area but there are other things that you are missing.

JB: Yeah, salt, yeah.

JD: Coffee, what all of us...

JB: Citrus.

JD: Citrus, right.

BW: You see, this is the thing about the power of re-discovering the true trading partners is that you create this interdependency and that means there's mutual respect. And, so, when we talk about communities becoming economically localized they cannot, ultimately, do it on their own. They are doing it in collaboration with...

JD: That's an important part of the notion.

BW: ...and this is how we build up security by linking with each other and having these right-living relationships.

JB: The thing is that a lot of what's driven globalization was also the idea of interdependency. And it was sort of “peace through prosperity,” “peace through trade” and the problem was that the scale on which it occurred was so unsustainable [*** 14:57 talked over, unclear] disruption.

JD: And it was also totally, totally dependent on cheap fuel; cheap oil allowed us to do that.

JB: Exactly. So we're trying to figure out what's the appropriate scale of having these regional interdependencies and not let it get out of hand.

BW: It is about scale. That's, I would say, one of the keystones of this whole process. Because locality, when you define locality, what you are really looking at is scale. And what we refer to as “ecological footprint” is the human community's impact on the locality such that the human economy fits within the natural ecology. And those are relational and scalable issues.

JB: Yeah. People that talk about sustainable development often say, “There's got to be a balance between the environment and the human economy.” And, well, they'll often put them almost as equal partners, when actually it's not true.

JD: We're inside it,...

JB: We're inside of it.

JD: ...that ecology, because we're utterly dependent on it. I get the image that I have is that you've gone to the edge of the ocean and you stand there in the sand and a wave comes in and you sink down. It's like I feel like that's what we're doing on the planet. We are pulling out more resources than it can re-establish for us. We're losing our ground.

BW: It's true, you see, and this has come as a result of a world view—a deeply held belief—that man is separate from his environment. And this has been for thousands of years—certainly in Judeo-Christian traditions—that man is separate from; and, you see, therefore, he can have dominion over. And this has created a sort of robber baron relationship with nature.

JD: Robber baron, I like that.

BW: So, part of economic localization, or re-localization, is about is re-discovering our place in the natural world—as a part of it, not apart from it, okay.

And, so, all the work we're doing here in WELL is really looking at the models. So we have some courseware; we teach seminars on ecological economics. We also run sessions on values and how those values need to be rooted in place, that respectful of and partnering with the natural ecology.

So all of these, sort of, components are really part of the educational outreach, if you will, that we're doing with each other.

And we're learning this stuff as we do it. Each of us have brought different sort of skill sets, and experience, and knowledge. But we're creating this. It's like we're creating this amazing buffet of ideas and approaches to things, and we're discovering this together and that's what's exciting. See, there's no one running this, there's no one leading this. This is the community rediscovering itself from its own history, its own knowledge, rooted in its locality, and that's exciting.

JB: Yeah. I'm really interested in sorting out issues related to urban versus rural relationships because one of the big problems we have right now is the different financial powers between urban versus rural areas. And, essentially, you know, it's very disruptive for our ability to localize an agriculture system when land values are dictated by the pressures of the housing markets, from the urban areas.

JD: From the urban. Right, right.

JB: And this is a huge issue. So, there are some people in urban areas that have been the best supporters, actually, of community supported agriculture.

JD: That's right.

JB: And this is a big irony.

JD: That's right. Yeah, it is an irony because the food grown here, or in a rural area... In fact, that's what's true with our fruit farmer. His best market is back in the Bay Area.

JB: Yes, not in his local county.

JD: Well, he can't get the price from his local county.

BW: In Willits, where we're sitting now, Willits was actually one of the contributors to the Bay Area for, I think it was wheat, wasn't it?

JB: It was potatoes, was the big one. After the earthquake they helped—wood, you know, lumber products and some staples.

JD: Right, to rebuild San Francisco after the '06 earthquake.

BW: So, we're looking for some payback here. I mean, our light rail has become decimated; we still have tracks here. And one of the things we want to promote as we look to this, as Jason talked about this urban-rural relationship, which has become so disconnected through global [*** 19:30 talked over]

JD: Or imbalance, because it's like we're part of the extraction coming from the rural is being extracted for the cities but they have all the financial resources.

JB: Right. So, then they undermine their own areas that they're extracting from.

BW: And what they're mainly extracting from right now is people. So, one of the things we want to promote is re-inventing our mass public transport and getting light rail. Light rail: much more efficient than having tens of thousands of cars per hour piling down—using all of our fossil fuels—and back. There are people commuting, you know, hour, two hours. We have people in Willits commuting an hour, two hours, a day.

JD: We're in the same situation. Nevada County, the rail—this is gold country—the rail existed all the way straight to Nevada City. That's now abandoned. I mean, there's still the track. They don't have a place yet that we could re-establish those tracks. We're a bedroom community for workers going down to Sacramento, and so the long lines of cars, you know, one person per car kind of thing...

BW: It's nonsense.

JD: ...going down an hour and a half, two hours, to Sacramento. It's crazy. It's a waste.

BW: It's not only nonsense, people don't enjoy it...

JD: No. That's true.

BW: ...it's unhealthy, it's not sustainable.

JB: It destroys our downtown because we get all this car and truck traffic. The port of Oakland is at full capacity and so what they are doing is they are using the port up in Eureka and unloading onto semi-trucks and driving through our town...

JD: Through your town to go back to the city.

JB: Yes, then the drive back up empty.

BW: Back up empty.

JD: Oh, my god.

JB: And we have a railroad system here that used...

JD: That would be doing all of that just fine.

JB: That could be doing all of that, and used to.

BW: I originally came from, before I moved to Willits, I came from England. And we still have a pretty effective rail network,...

JD: You do.

BW: ...as a lot of Europe does.

JD: Right.

BW: And it's wonderful. You get on the train, you know. You take a breath. There's lovely cooked food. There are people to sit next to.

JD: When I visited your trains in England it was so lovely, and you'd watch the countryside and you had considerate people...

BW: You watch the countryside, you relax, you get off at the other end, you haven't got to think about driving the thing because there is usually a driver up front, you hope. And you're whizzing along at an extraordinary speed and going through... and so, once again, you begin to appreciate everywhere you go through. People in cars don't appreciate where they go through, they've go to pay attention to where they're going. So, there are so many benefits.

And, you see, some people, if I may say, some people look to—some critics of economic localization—look to it as we have to return to the past, we have to return the old ways. That's not what this is really about. This is about rediscovering what it means to live together in right-livelihood; to live together effectively. We're going to draw from the past, we're going to be inspired from the future, we're going to live in the present.

JD: It's going to be something quite different than...

JB: Yeah.

JD: It's not going to be the past.

BW: It's going to be unique.

JD: The Internet alone is going to... which does not take a great deal of energy, and provides us a connectivity we've not had before. Unfortunately, we tend only to visualize the future based on the experience of the past. And there's going to be a lot of discontinuities in both directions—both negative, seeming to us; some positive, seeming to us—to bring together a future we can't imagine, and probably more quickly than we expect.

BW: That's what makes it exciting. I mean, one of the strategies and models we use in WELL is understanding the difference between reacting to present conditions based on past. If you think about what a lot of governments do and corporations do, they spent the majority of their time and energy trying to solve problems which are caused by past action. And, you see, that doesn't leave much room to create the future from.

JD: That's right. It's just reacting to what we've been doing.

BW: What we call problem solving is taking an action and having something go away: the problem.

JB: Rather than creating something that doesn't lead to that problem in the first place.

JD: That moves you in that direction, yeah, a future direction.

BW: Exactly. And this is what vision is about. You see, the visionaries in our culture—the artists, the inventors, the musicians, these amazing people...

JB: Architects.

BW: ...architects, engineers, the real visionaries—what they have, they have this extraordinary ability, in a sense, to step into the future and look back to where they are and say, “Hey, there's new possibility here,” you see, and, in a sense, we need our visionaries now.

JD: We do.

BW: Unfortunately, most governmental structures are driven by people who are reactionary. They are driven by people trying to maintain the status quo, business as usual, lifestyle as usual. We know now that is unsustainable. And whether we consciously decide to re-invent ourselves in the light of a true vision for community, if we don't do that, nature, as it's demonstrating right now, will force us to do it. And if you look at the fallout from Katrina, look at the fallout from the big tsunami in the Far East, look at what's going on with climate change with the glaciers melting and what that's going to do low lands. Something like 80% of all the major cities of the world,...

JD: Are in low land of the coasts, yes. .

BW: ... they are low lands because they were ports, okay. .

JD: That's right. .

BW: So, the insurance industry now, and the re-insurers, the insurers that insure the insurance industry, are now realizing that the current way that lifestyles have evolved in culture are unsustainable. That's why economic localization is the future, and it's the future that everyone is waiting for and that's what we're creating here in Willits, along with all these other communities of the northwest coast of California.

JD: It's coming from the grassroots up because that's where innovators are going to have more fertile ground. It's not going to get institutionalized until all these thousands of experiments—isn't that right?

BW: Correct.

JD: I mean, we're just little seed-bed experiments in different communities with different flavors with different fronts.

BW: This whole thing is an experiment.

JB: We have to look constantly and appreciate, even though we may get incredibly frustrated at the system for not listening to this, but they're starting to realize that these problems are serious and we have to appreciate the fact that once they get it they will re-institutionalize it.

JD: That's right. And we're going to count on them to do that and broaden it.

JB: Exactly, and, so, try to love them as we are still mad at them.

JD: [*** 26:20 muffled, and talked over first part of this thought] ..a good reminder, like we're trying to budge them

JB: I'll get mad, and I'll say, “I'm sorry, I like you; you're a nice person even though you're resisting this.”

BW: But that's okay. Because, again, we're all part of the team. You know, we're so thrilled you've come to talk with us, Janaia…

JD: Thank you.

BW: ...and every success.

JD: Well, and to you, as well. Thank you, Jason, Brian, and the whole WELL team. It's been amazing to talk to all of you and catch the visions and sparks and so on. You know, folks, it's just not going to be the same future we thought it was going to be. Welcome to Peak Moment. Enjoy our next episode. Thanks for watching.

Announcer: Peak Moment Television. Presented by Yuba Gals Independent Media. Produced by Janaia Donaldson. Directed by Robyn Mallgren.

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