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Unlocking Sonoma’s collective genius

Friday, February 3rd, 2012 | Posted by

Left to Right: Melinda Kelley, Ed Clay, Tim Boeve. Photo: Jeff Kan Lee/Press Democrat

By SUZIE RODRIGUEZ / Sonoma Valley Correspondent

For more than a year, Sonoma Valley residents have gathered on the third Thursday of each month to watch free, thought-provoking films with titles like “Transition to a World Without Oil,” “No Impact Man,” and “The Economics of Happiness.”

These films probably won’t make it onto People Magazine’s hot list, but they’re an important first step for a fledgling organization. They’ve proven so popular with locals that about 100 were turned away from a recent screening of “Home.” Most viewers stick around for a discussion and the occasional potluck supper.

The force behind the films is Transition Sonoma Valley, part of the grass-roots Transition Network movement that began in England in 2005. It now has community-led projects in nearly 1,000 worldwide locations, including Sonoma Valley.

“We’re at the end of the era of cheap oil,” said Ed Clay, one of Transition Sonoma Valley’s first three members. “It’s going to dramatically alter our economy and way of living. We have to act together, as a community, now.”

The Transition movement has a simple goal: to unlock the community’s collective genius, applying it to problem solving. It’s a sort of “trickle-up” theory.

If communities around the world find local fixes to problems brought on by climate change, diminishing cheap energy and economic contraction, the people in those communities become stronger and happier. The benefits then extend upward to the larger society.

Each community decides what problems it wants to tackle.

Ongoing local initiatives around the world include projects in areas of food, transportation, energy, education, housing, waste, the arts, the creation of barter systems and local currencies, and much more.

“Transition Houston (Texas) is very active with Permablitzing,” said Carolyne Stayton, Executive Director of Transition United States. “They have work parties on a Saturday, where people toil together, turning a person’s lawn into a garden to provide food.”

Stayton also cited Pennsylvania’s Transition Pittsburgh, which rents and purchases homes in blighted areas, moves into them, and establishes neighborhood gardens. And in Rhode Island, a Transition group called Revive the Roots, “rented a plot of city-owned land at low cost and gives farming classes. I think everyone in that group is under 20 years old.”

Clay, Melinda Kelley and Tim Boeve remain Sonoma Valley’s guiding force, despite other demanding commitments. Boeve serves as President of the Board of Sonoma Valley Teen Services and is Infineon Raceway’s track minister.

Kelley, a professional photographer, also serves on the City of Sonoma’s Community Services and Environment Commission. Clay is a custom furniture designer whose work has been exhibited in museums.

Boeve points out that local communities have inherent power when they come together at the grass roots level.

“Government agencies by their nature are going to act slowly,” he said, “particularly at higher levels. We need to start engaging in change at the local level.”

Or, to borrow a favorite saying from Transition circles: “If we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late. If we act as individuals, it’ll be too little. But if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.”

Changes in the way we live may make us a happier society, according to Kelley. “Since the end of World War II,” she said, “society has lived with constant development and growth, and that hasn’t brought more happiness.

“A lot of what we talk about and the movies we show are on heavy subjects, but we’re not on a doom-and-gloom mission. Our society has challenges, but it’s an opportunity to reinvent our communities to be healthier and stronger.”

Stayton feels that Transition Sonoma Valley got off to a strong start with its first major event: a “Training for Transition” workshop facilitated by a national organization who taught them how to set up a local Transition Initiative.


“They had two city council members taking the training,” said Stayton, former mayor Ken Brown and then-mayor Laurie Gallian. “That’s exceptional.”

“The training is part of what it takes to become official,” Clay said. “About 40 people came from all over the Bay Area, and 15-20 from Sonoma Valley.”

Attendees went on to start their own transition initiatives, including Transition Berkeley, Transition Albany and others. The organization’s first film night quickly followed in October 2010.

Since then the group has also sponsored numerous speakers, including Richard Heinberg, author of “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality;” Andy Courtier, author of “A Different Kind of Luxury,” about Japan’s back-to-the-land movement; and Dr. Peter Joseph of the Climate Reality Project.

Today the organization has a mailing list of over 500 and a growing, broad-based community awareness (it partners with community groups such as Sonoma Ecology Center, Green Drinks, Cittaslow and the Sonoma Valley High School Earth Club).

With solution-oriented work groups beginning to form on green building standards and other topics, Transition Sonoma Valley appears to have reached a tipping point.

“It takes time to get that energy going and out into the community,” Kelly said. “But it’s happening. A sort of magic occurs when the community unites: people get inspired to do things.

“ Groups of people are coming together, meeting their neighbors. No matter what happens in the future, we’ll be better prepared. We’ll be a stronger community.”


Transition Sonoma Valley is showing the film, The Next Frontier – Engineering the Golden Age of Green on Thursday, February 16, 2012, 7:00 PM,  at the Sonoma Valley Grange. Admission is free.


Writer Spotlight

Dianne Reber Hart is our Sonoma correspondent.

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