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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reflections on Fairfield -

We spent an amazing weekend with Stuart and his family in the fascinating town of Fairfield.  My head is still spinning with all of the conversations we had, the people we met and the places we visited.  Rather than go through and sequentially describe the weekend, I will instead try to synthesize what we learned into wise and witty comments.

First off, Stuart is an amazing communicator.  He talks a lot and manages to make conversations both interesting and challenging.  His explanations of everything from the community in Fairfield, to the stock market to the renewable energy technologies we discussed were factual, reasonable and intriguing.  Stuart has recently started teaching at the Maharashi University and I envy his students!

(An interesting aside.  The Maharashi  University of Management is not about training managers.  The management referred to is self-management.  The practice of increasing self awareness and managing ones self in relation to personal/spiritual behavior and engagement in community.)

Speaking of  community, there is a huge amount of emphasis on creating both  physical and emotional venues where people feel they belong.  In the town of Fairfield, there are a lot of people who seem to know each other very well.  There are a number of very active coffee shops and cafe's where people gather just to be out with whoever happens to show up.  We went out a couple of times and it was thoroughly delightful to engage with lots of curious people and to watch people really enjoying each other in a very relaxed and open way.  The social scene seems like a wonderful blend of small town relaxed charm combined with a sophisticated urban aura.  Needless to say, we were all intrigued and delighted with our experiences.

On Sunday afternoon, we went out to the Sustainable Living Coalition where a group of students were taking the Coalition's course.  The students live on site, off the grid, eat local foods and learn about many of the aspects of sustainable living.  We participated in a bicycle conversion project that involved putting an electric hub motor on Fairfield's Sustainability Coordinator's bicycle.  Scott Timm lives on the opposite side of town from where he works and often has to go to meetings that involve short trips that can get real sweaty in this humid climate.  Scott also has a knee injury that he is recovering from and doesn't want to stress his knee with too much exercise.  He is the perfect candidate for an electric bicycle and he was just thrilled with the results.  We used a low cost conversion kit that runs under $500.00 including the lead acid battery. Mark Stimson is one of the local experts on electrics and also a lot of fun to hang out with. 
 For a small town like Fairfield the kit is perfect.  Short trips and no big hills.

The students who participated in the conversion workshop also rode our bikes around and we saw lots of the 'electric bicycle grin' happening.  And again, the list of uses for adding electrics to bicycle was lengthened by the ideas that the students had for how they could incorporate an electric bicycle into their lives.  Since they are already focused on sustainability, it was great fun to see how quickly they understood the benefits of electric bicycles compared to cars for the short trips that so many people take every day.  

There was one woman who rides and electric bike and she described how she had become a prisoner to her life by limiting her willingness to go out on her regular bike (She has no car).  Since getting her electric bike, she never hesitates to go out since she knows that getting there and back will be relatively easy.  A true convert!

I am still trying to identify and describe the Fairfield experience in a way that is easy to communicate.   Part of the attraction is the sense of community that is very pervasive as well as the many intriguing people that we met.  Also, the access to high quality, locally grown food and the awareness in the town about the need for increasing sustainable solutions is very attractive. Much of our experience was due to Stuart's long standing relationships in the community and his talent for attracting interesting people.  He reminded both Catherine and I of some of the favorite people in our lives.

Another example of a sustainable idea, that is largely driven by Stuart, is a rather complex and elegant scheme that increases volunteerism and keeps money in the community.  Stuart is working on setting up a program where volunteers will get credit applied to their credit cards from their local bank.  The credits will not be cash but will be an alternative currency that will be honored by local businesses who will take the credits by offering discounts on products and services with the full retail value being paid by volunteer hour credits. So, for instance, a pizza might cost %70 of its retail price with the 30% remainder being paid by the credits the customer earned by working as a volunteer for Hospice. (Stuart explained that there is already a software program "Bling" that can handle the transaction I just described by simply having a bar code type sticker on the customer's cellphone!)
In addition, only local banks will offer the service so eventually, the use of Visa and the like will be reduced.  This will add to the creation of sustainable communities by keeping the cash in town.  Very clever idea and very much the way Stuart's brain works.

On Sunday night, when we got back from our conversion event at the Sustainable Living Coalition, here was a Welcome Party next door for new students at the Maharishi University.  We went over to check it out and got to enjoy a group of young students taking turns performing music.  It was great fun and reminded both Catherine and I of the type of activity common at Camp Unalayee gatherings that have enhanced the value of building community in our lives.  
Very good stuff, this weekend.  Rates right up there with our time on the Navajo Nation with Derrick Terry and the folks from The Grand Canyon Trust.  

Wind powered Greenhouse blown out by a recent storm
Part of the greenhouse producing all organic produce
The master organic farmer
Catherine and Stuart's wife Elin
Stuart and Elin's daughter Amanda with a crawdad
Sun setting over the Sustainable Living Coalition
Stuart saying goodbye after escorting us out of town

Getting ready to cross the muddy Mississippi
Amish Farmers at the Farmer's Market
One of Fairfield's cafe's
Riding on Fairfield's 17 mile trail
Scott Timm's bike ready for the conversion
Mark Stimpson ready for conversion action
Oliver salvaging the front tire for use on the motorized front wheel

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