It has been a heck of a week up here in Paradise. For my usual August respite, Barack, Michelle, the kids and me all vacationed together on Martha’s Vineyard. Okay not exactly together, but only a few miles away on this small beautiful island, their hearts beat with mine. It was a sublime dream of unity.
I did see the camera crews at Sweet E’s Cupcake Shop waiting breathlessly for a glimpse of the Big O. But it was not to be, the First Fam was ordering gulf shrimp one town away. Still this week it was comforting to know that half the secret service, some of the nation’s best military and the Prez himself were battling it out with locals through the three day Nor’easter.
Speaking of unity, Krishna Das dazzled audiences at Union Chapel the other night with spiritual songs and chants in Sanskrit and English. It was a divine experience for everyone present. After two hours of musical love, I floated away with his new CD, “Heart as Wide Open as the World.”
Ahh, if only the world could be as wide open, loving and blissful as Martha’s Vineyard in August…
But truthfully, even Martha’s Vineyard is not as blissful as itself when the season ends. Work is harder to come by than ever since the financial crisis. The local housing market is a shadow of its former self. Foreclosures still pop up all over the island. Property values have diminished 30-50%. A talk with local realtor Roy Cutrer of Martha’s Vineyard Premier Properties reveals there are good deals to be had and local banks to finance them, but sellers and buyers continue to be hesitant. Who knows what is coming down the pike for the economy? (Read Saniel Bonder’s take on the rocky “recovery.”)
Yet remarkably, some good news is on the horizon. I am happy to report that democracy is alive and well on Martha’s Vineyard despite the current economic challenges. The community has united to form Vineyard Power, an island-wide collective initiative, to provide real solutions for renewable energy. Two passionate VP supporters are local celebs, John Abrams of South Mountain Company and Steve Bernier of Cronig’s Markets. Both of these folks are living breathing examples in their highly successful enterprises of socially and environmentally responsible businesses. (Full disclosure: SB is a friend.)
South Mountain has been a pioneer in the sustainable building industry long before it was fashionable. The “employee-owned company offering integrated development, architecture, building, interiors, and renewable energy services” has been around since 1975. Abrams and crew are devoted to the local community and continually innovating solutions for affordable and sustainable island housing.
Cronig’s Market is simply my favorite grocery store anywhere. Coming from a gal who shops in New York City, land of Fairway, Zabar’s, Grace’s, Garden of Eden and the usual staples Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, that is a big statement. What do I love about Cronig’s? Well, everything really – from the sleek and elegant way it looks to its wide selection of organic and local food to its sustainable product annex, Healthy Additions and eco-friendly philosophy. The supershop even has an extensive gluten-free section for otherwise breadless folks like me. Cronig’s was one of the first major markets to eliminate plastic bags and offer reusable cloth satchels. The store is on the cutting-edge of the shop local movement and is an active member of the Island Grown Initiative, “a non-profit grassroots organization working to support local food and farming on Martha’s Vineyard.”
But back to Vineyard Power… Unfortunately, I had to miss VP’s community meeting this week in favor of the once-a-year musical event with KD. (Sorry Vineyard Power, but you can’t sing.) Yet that is not to discount how thrilled I am to be a part of such an amazing display of not only democracy in action, but of a highly developed community spirit. Sitting in a July meeting at the Katherine Cornell Theater, it felt like a throwback to early American days – those years when common folk really controlled their own destiny and fulfilled the promise of self-government. Discussion revolved around a shared conversation of how to join the island community together to create renewable energy.
The goal of Vineyard Power is to develop a totally sustainable island within the next few years. Ultimately, wind power will be offered to islanders at “cost” rather than profit and will be a 100% community owned initiative. Membership is refreshingly inclusive, rather than exclusive. Every resident, seasonal and year-round homeowner or tenant is eligible to join the effort. The strength of its results will be in the numbers. After all, they are taking on strong forces of opposition—mainly the big energy companies with a vested interest to stop them and not least of all, residents who prefer to save their water views than save the planet.
And really that view thing – if you ever had a great water view you know— is a big issue. Sometimes the reason you buy a particular house is because of the view. Obstructing the horizon can diminish property values substantially. As a former waterfront home owner myself, I am sympathetic to opponents. A beloved islander Walter Cronkite was a staunch foe of the wind power movement. An avid sailor and long-term resident he did not want wind turbines blocking his view of Nantucket Sound. Yet dear Walter is gone now and so is the choice about whether to wind power or not.
Renewable energy is no longer an elective. Those days are long past. Nowadays, there is no confusion—the survival of our planet is at stake. We are all called to make some sacrifices to that end.
Vineyard Power believes that sustainable wind power is inevitable, especially on the island where the wind resources are enormous. In the true American spirit, VP’s collective action is an effort to control the island’s own energy destiny. The belief is that something so essential to daily life should be directed by locals rather than an unknown corporate entity with little concern for people and planet.
The “community-owned energy cooperative” Vineyard Power hopes to generate its own renewable energy, minimize electrical costs and reduce the island carbon footprint. The business and community leaders behind this project are those that understand that people always come before profits.
That really is a sublime dream of unity – to continue in our 21st century evolution to open our hearts as wide as this wonderful world with all its infinite possibilities.
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Monika Mitchell - Executive Director