Transitioning Under Palm Trees and Joshua Trees

This spring, I had the pleasure of attending two weddings in Los Angeles. In between rehearsal dinners, teary toasts, and bouquet tosses, I scheduled meetings with several Southern California Transition groups (Environmental Change Makers, Transition Culver City, Transition Mar Vista/Venice, Transition Aliso ViejoTransition Laguna Beach, and Transition Joshua Tree). At these meetings, I was specifically looking to learn how the various groups have been building community resilience and to find out how Transition US can be of more support to these groups. The biggest takeaway from these meetings was the tremendous amount of work that these individuals and groups are doing. I returned to Transition US’ Sebastopol office feeling deeply inspired and energized to raise funds and build capacity to help support these groups and other groups across the country.

In addition to the wow factor of seeing first-hand the work being undertaken by Transition groups, some other themes that emerged from these trips included:

1) These groups are networked! Transition groups are magnifying their impact by partnering with numerous other community-based organizations.

2) They’re improving local policy! I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the extent to which several of these groups have influenced local policy, and in some cases have had core members of their group elected to local office.

3) Transition-ers are fun! Okay, so this wasn’t a surprise to me – I’ve met enough Transition folks to know that the people drawn to this movement are not only movers and shakers, but they also know how to have a good time. The Southern California Transition-ers were no exception. Thanks to those of you who took the time to meet with me and hosted me with such warmth and kindness.

Transition US is currently in the process of compiling results from our annual survey, and we’ll be creating a work plan to incorporate the suggested feedback and specific requests for support that were submitted through this survey. We’ll also be figuring out ways to address the suggestions that were offered during my visits with the Los Angeles-area Transition groups. Some of these suggestions include:

1) Have more fundraising resources available for Initiatives, including grant proposal templates and a calendar of potential funding opportunities.

2) Create training video modules so that local initiatives can choose to host their own trainings (in addition to the option of having Transition Trainers lead the trainings). *Note: the Transition Network is putting together an online version of the LAUNCH training, which will be available in October 2013.

3) Improve the TUS website functionality for searching for Transition Initiatives and Muller groups in your area.

4) Funding to support Transition Initiatives’ projects.

Below are highlights from my meetings with the various Transition groups: 

Environmental Changemakers (formerly called Transition Los Angeles)

Joanne Poyourow, one of the founders of Environmental Changemakers (and a blogger for Transition US), and I met in the Community Garden that she designed at Holy Nativity, a church in Los Angeles’ Westchester neighborhood. I learned that this site grows food for a local food bank and is the venue for numerous educational classes. Environmental Changemakers began in 2005 and became a Transition group in 2008, the same year they hosted Southern California’s first Transition Training. This training resulted in the formation of eight local Transition groups, in places like Mar Vista, Culver City, and San Fernando Valley. Today, Environmental Changemakers support Transition activities in Westchester, and also play the role of a “city hub,” sharing information and resources with other Transition groups in the Los Angeles area.

Some examples of the Environmental Changemakers’ activities include:

  • Food gardens: they’ve been very successful in partnering with churches on edible churchyards, using the Holy Nativity site for a community garden (food grown here is delivered to a local food bank, along with weekly gleanings from several local farmers markets) and they’ve given trainings on how to establish these partnerships with churches; they also were part of the creation of the Emerson Avenue school garden that’s really taken off and has become its own entity
  • Education: they’ve offered lots of classes/trainings. Some examples include: organic vegetable gardening; rainwater harvesting; lots of different reskilling
  • Enterprise: they’ve done events on co-ops and other kinds of local enterprise

Transition Culver City

I met with several members of Transition Culver City (TCC) in the backyard of TCC Steering Committee member, Michelle Weiner. As we talked, we were serenaded by Michelle’s clucking chickens, feasted on loquats from her trees, and sampled bread that Michelle was baking for an upcoming timebank event. Culver City is an incorporated city within the city of Los Angeles, and TCC came out of the 2008 Transition Training. One benefit of being a smaller city within the larger metropolis of Los Angeles is that they’ve had more access to their City Council. In fact, one of TCC’s Steering Committee members, Meghan Sahli-Wells, was elected to Culver City’s City Council. TCC has partnered with other local groups to help pass a plastic bag ban and are now working on a community sustainability bill of rights. Transition Culver City works closely with several other groups in the community including Transition Mar Vista/Venice, the Sierra Club, and Roots Simple.

Examples of some of TCC’s projects and activities include:

Educational: the group spent the first couple of years focusing primarily on watershed education (Ballona Creek); now a lot of their focus is on transportation. They also host various skill sharing workshops.

Gardens: they’ve successfully converted several lawns. They have an upcoming event to explore backyard chicken-keeping and beekeeping.

Transportation: they now have a train stop in Culver City and TCC sees a need to educate and coach people to encourage them to use the train. They have strong ties to the Culver City Bike Coalition, and the group organized a Moving Planet Day alternate transportation parade.

Transition Mara Vista/Venice

I had the chance to meet members of this Transition Mulling group at the Mar Vista Farmer’s Market. This group has partnerships with several like-minded groups including the Seed Library of Los Angeles and Good Karma Gardens. They’ve also supported local green business owners, including Jenn Wedlake, co-founder of the home- and body-care company Refyll. I stopped by Refyll’s table at the farmer’s market and learned about the workshop Jenn co-hosted with Transition Mar Vista/Venice. One of Transition Mar Vista/Venice’s main projects has been to help individuals create free libraries for their yard, to become the catalyst for a free neighborhood book exchange. The group also has monthly potlucks and monthly eco-movie nights to raise awareness and give people an opportunity to connect with their neighbors.

Transition Aliso Viejo

Transition Aliso Viejo’s organizer, Kimberly Leeds, hosted me in her backyard, which was an example of a lawn conversion, featuring permaculture design and edibles. This mulling group hasn’t been around very long, but they’ve already accomplished a great deal, including potlucks, lawn conversions, reskilling, nature connection activities, sewing circles, and book clubs. They work closely with other environmental groups including Transition Laguna Beach, SOKA University, Transition Irvine, and the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. Aliso Viejo is a relatively new city within Orange County, becoming it’s own city in 2001. The Transition group has been active in participating in City Council meetings, including conversations around the city’s proposed Green Initiative, a voluntary project aimed at promoting water and energy conservation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since my visit with Transition Aliso Viejo, I’ve been enjoying their herbal healing salve, made with herbs, oils, and beeswax.

Transition Laguna Beach

In my visit with Chris Prelitz, I learned about some of the unique characteristics of Laguna Beach, including its roots as an artist community and the fact that 100% of the city’s water is imported. Chris Prelitz is a founding member and current member of Transition Laguna Beach’s (TLB) Board of Directors. Chris gave me a tour of his net-zero solar powered home and permaculture garden, and then shared stories about TLB over a cup of exceptionally strong coffee. TLB became an official initiative in 2008 and has had many successes, including an amazing Unleashing event with over 600 attendees. The group has had some notable success reaching across political lines, which has been important given the political demographics of Laguna Beach. For example, in the past they had a screening of An Inconvenient Truth, which was co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats. An issue that they’ve found has been good for bi-partisan support has been emergency preparedness (earthquakes). Solar energy is also a popular issue as is their lawn conversion project (you can see Transition Laguna Beach’s signs in front of houses all over town).

Examples of some of TLB’s activities include:

  • Monthly potluck/speaker series: Each year they choose a theme for this free series, which occurs on the 2nd Tuesday of each month. This year the theme is permaculture.
  • Monthly action day: On the 3rd Saturday of each month, they have a hands-on project, which has included garden installations (mostly homeowner, but they’ve done a couple commercial installations including a recent one at Whole Foods), DIY workshops, educational tours, etc.
  • Special events: They host or participate in the following annual events: Patriots Day Parade, Earth Hour, Earth Day Celebration, PARK(ing) Day, Harvest Celebration
  • Seedling sales: they do this once a month at the farmer’s market, raising about $200 each time

Transition Joshua Tree

I had lunch with the ladies of Transition Joshua Tree and then joined them for tea at the home of two of their Initiating Group members. This home had a fantastic garden, where I learned about some solutions to the challenges of growing food in the desert (rain water catchment, pollinating by hand & multiple growing seasons, wire enclosures to deter desert critters, etc.). Transition Joshua Tree (TJT) became an official Initiative in 2011. They are in the process of transitioning from an Initiating Group governance structure to a Working Group structure.

The group has hosted highly attended permaculture trainings and events, thanks in large part to the group’s initiator, Jill Giegerich, who’s also a certified permaculture design consultant. TJT has a very active Heart and Soul working group, whose members are a resource in facilitation and mediation for TJT’s other existing and forming working groups. Some examples of TJT’s activities include skills workshops, garden installations, and community seed swaps. Transition Joshua Tree sees the opportunity for their desert city to be a demonstration community that inspires and influences a large number of individuals – even though their city’s population is small (~7,500), thousands of visitors come through their city each year to visit Joshua Tree National Park.

The meetings with these different groups, along with my meetings and interactions with other Transition groups across the country, highlight a strength of the Transition movement – the adaptability of the Transition model to meet the needs of the community it takes root in. The landscape and location of the groups, whether in the middle of urban Los Angeles, the beachside resort town of Laguna Beach, or a small community in the Mohave Desert, contributed to the unique flavor of the group as well as influenced the types of issues and projects the groups are undertaking. Beneath these differences, a common thread that runs through all of these groups is a deep commitment to improving their communities and a creative approach to tackling challenges.

A big thank you to the following individuals for sharing your stories and welcoming me in your community: Joanna Poyourow, Michelle Weiner, Ginny LeRossignol Blades, Carolyn Gray Anderson, Jenn Wedlake, Agnes Anderson, Kimberly Leeds, Jennifer Halverson, Renata Schrockova, Chris Prelitz, Jill Giegerich, Karen Tracy, Janet Tucker, Eva Montville, and Kathy Jennings.

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