New center opens to teach sustainable living practices
on May 6, 2011
What used to be a simple dirt lot in a residential neighborhood at San Pablo Avenue and 65th Street will soon be a haven for residents who share a common interest in sustainability and preserving the environment. From classes about urban gardening and herbal salve making to monthly crafts nights, the PLACE for Sustainable Living will provide Oakland residents with resources and knowledge on how to live a greener lifestyle.
Inside the main center, which looks like a house from the outside, is a barrage of recycled items, crafts supplies and gardening equipment. There’s a single open room with a kitchen in the corner and two sofas in the adjacent corner. Sharing the lot with the house are trailers, strategically parked against the chain-link fence surrounding the property and leaving just enough room for a large garden area. The trailers serve as offices and working space for the hundreds of volunteers who will keep the learning center afloat.
“It’s a hub of activity and also a meeting ground where all these different players can come together and work together in this movement,” said Lauren Minis, who focuses on marketing and public relations for the PLACE and organizing the workshops.
On Saturday, the PLACE will have a grand opening at which people can get a peek at the classes and workshops that will be offered throughout the month—a list that is still growing and will adjust to the needs of the community, Minis said. The PLACE will also be renamed after the results of a community-wide naming contest are announced.
The workshops will cover a range of topics including cooking, medicinal herb gardening, habitat gardening, and DIY classes. Because the PLACE volunteers want to make the classes accessible to everyone, the cost will be based on a sliding scale and nobody will be turned away for a lack of funds. For those who want to help with the expansion of the PLACE, gift certificates are being sold as a part of the center’s community supported education program—people can purchase classes ahead of time so that the learning center can use that money now to expand its programming.
This “rootsy kind of sustainability” structure is grounded in the idea that sustainability can be an optimal common cause for neighbors and organizations, said Nik Bertulis, a local permaculturalist and teacher. Bertulis said his gardening classes will focus on the concept of using the “garden as a learning garden” where people can practice and new gardening skills and learn about planting for native wildlife as well as growing vegetables and fruit.
Bertulis also has an idea for a medicinal herb garden that would produce an “earth pharmacy.” He said a many human ailments can be cured with things that are organically and locally-grown.
Volunteers with the PLACE are also encouraging urban residents to grow their food because of the health benefits from organic foods, because it’s cheaper than what can be found in most supermarkets, and because it’s a constant source of food. “If you have a garden full of food, you don’t just have a 72-hour food supply, you have potentially months of food supply,” said Jonathan Youtt, the co-founder of the PLACE.
Aside from regular workshops, there will also be special monthly events. Minis said the second Friday of the month will be dedicated to fundraising events that will “build the momentum and support around our efforts.” On the second Saturday of each month, the PLACE will host a “Barnyard Bazaar”—local eco-artisans and craftspeople will showcase their creations, much like a daytime Art Murmur event, Minis said.
To encourage community partnerships, Youtt said there will be “Green Corps” events where people will volunteer at locations to help make them more eco-friendly. For example, he said, the group might set up a greywater system—where water is recycled at on-site—at a senior citizens’ home.
The idea for the PLACE originated with the Sustainable Living Roadshow—a traveling troupe of educators from Oakland who roam the country and set up interactive showcases on environmentally-friendly practices. Youtt said the idea of starting a permanent center in Oakland was six months in the making, and he credits the roadshow for being the catalyst.
“You have to show people how it’s done, and it has to be fun,” Youtt said. “If it’s not fun and engaging, people are not going to stay interested—that’s just the reality.” This is the reason, he said, why the center’s classes are going to be hands-on and give people the opportunity to learn by doing.
Emma Hutchens, the volunteer coordinator for the roadshow, said the PLACE is the first stationary project they’ve had, which will allow for more access to materials and resource as well as a consistent following. “We’re a great basic beginning conversation starter,” Hutchens said, “in that people can go back home and start thinking ‘This is what it might look like, these are some options, and how do I put that into action?’”
The PLACE will provide much of what the roadshow did, except the stationary aspect will allow for a much a deeper look at how people can change their lifestyles to incorporate not only environmentally-friendly practices but wallet-friendly ones as well. Youtt said growing your own food is not only an organic alternative to buying it from a store, but a cheaper one as well. The same goes for exchanging car rides for bike rides—there’s no need to worry about mechanical repairs, gas or emitting carbon dioxide into the air, he said.
“Anything’s possible as to what we can offer,” said Minis. “Everything is based around—in today’s times—what are the skills that you can use that will be most helpful to the community.”
To vote for one of the top five names, visit the PLACE’s website. The launch event is on Saturday, May 7, at 1121 64th Street in Oakland from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Donations from $5 to $20 are welcome, but nobody will be turned away.
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