Monday, August 20, 2007

Solfest - celebrating sustainable living in NorCal

The small village of Hopland, California stradles the Redwood Highway, about a 2-hour drive north of San Francisco. The presence of the redwoods is just starting to come on when you reach Hopland, but you approach the town with vinyards, not trees, blanketing much of the open space. The road takes a long gentle curve to the right and then you see the huge photovoltaic array directed at the southern sky. They call the array Solar 2000, and it sells power (160,000 kWh annually) into the grid to provide income for Solar Living Institute (SLI), the non-profit organization that runs the Solar Living Center, whose 12-acre facility beyond the solar panels was marked by an interesting variety of trees.

Last Saturday I was there at Solfest, "the Greenest Show on Earth," an annual cross-gathering of tribes representing appropriate technology, craftmaking, homesteading and music. This was Solfest #12, but it was my first. I've been to Solar Living Center and the store that was the seed for it all - Real Goods - on many occasions over the 24 years I've lived in California.

In many respects, Solfest is both an exhibition and party thrown by the rural residents of Mendocino County. I've got strong, working hippie roots from 12 years living on the Farm and I know there are now three generations of hippie culture thriving in the forests of northern California. Around a few small towns like Ukiah, Eureka and Fort Bragg, the settlements in this region are far flung, with a strong sense of local organization combined with homesteader-like independence and self reliance. Solar energy, composting, home gardens, building with natural materials and biofuel are not just curious experiments to these people; they are all survival technologies for the living in the boondocks.

Though Solfest may not be familiar to many outside of California (an informal raising-of-hands poll done by the founder, John Shaeffer, in his welcome speech indicated very few attendees from outside of Northern Cal.) the festival probably represents the most powerful representation of how high tech is being adapted for sustainable living. Solfest is also a great example of how adopting sustainable living practices can be celebrated rather than regarded as a desperation obligation in the face of looming catastrophe. And in that respect, it reminded me of the upside of moving in the sustainable direction.

Climate Frog is about getting out of the pot before the water gets too hot, but it's also about the joy of getting out of that confinding pot.

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