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Group seeks to create a sustainability hub

Residents who advocate green business practices want to create a "sustainability support center" where people can learn about environmentally friendly practices and buy locally produced products.

Catie Faryl of Phoenix said the Sustainability Alliance's first choice for a site is the welcome center being built by the Oregon Department of Transportation on Interstate 5.

ODOT hasn't embraced the idea, so other sites are being considered in the area between Ashland and Phoenix, including the old Croman Mill site, the junction of Highway 66 and Dead Indian Memorial Road, and two others in the Phoenix urban core, Faryl said.

Faryl will present the proposal at the monthly Ashland Transition Town meeting at 7 tonight in the Gresham Room of the Ashland Public Library.

The Transition Town movement has attracted support in communities around the world among people who seek to strengthen local economies and reduce their impact on the global environment.

The group wants to develop a 5,000-square-foot enclosed space, and an equal amount of outdoor space, to house marketing programs and classes to encourage and promote organic agriculture, green building, alternative currency, recycling, fiber arts, alternative transportation, science labs for soil and water analysis and other cottage industries, according to Faryl's written proposal.

Faryl, a writer, artist and community organizer who has worked in teaching and real estate sales, said soil, water and energy have passed their peak productivity and "we can't continue to take more resources out of the earth than we put in."

"The well is dry," she said. "The time has come for forward-thinking ideas so we can become the Sustainable Valley, as the Silicon Valley was to computers."

"Green is not going away," added Faryl, who writes a sustainability column for Ashland's Sneak Preview magazine and has a show on KSKQ radio called "Mother Nature Says 'Clean Up Your Room."

"It's the new paradigm that doesn't exploit resources. We have to change our ways or a lot of people are going to suffer. We can't continue in this trajectory," she said.

Faryl plans to circulate petitions at the meeting to ask ODOT to transform the Welcome Center into a Sustainability Center. In an e-mail to supporters, she wrote, "It will be a symbol of change and a paradigm-shifting tool. If these agencies and those who need paid employment in this growing green sector will mutually agree to a vision such as this, it would provide a safety net and staging area for some very worthwhile and planet-saving activities."

In an interview, Faryl said, "A lot of things aren't going to happen unless you ask for them. Who needs a Welcome Center? Everyone has computers and GPS and knows where to go. A Welcome Center is so old school."

Kelley Green of Ashland, a member of the Sustainability Alliance collective and a teacher of textile arts, said she envisions reviving the local wool and sheep industry by processing wool at a mill in Montague, Calif., that has been unused for a century. She would like to teach fabric-making skills to local people instead of using dwindling fossil fuels to transport fabric here.

"It's important we aren't dependent on a big infrastructure to survive," Green said. "We're looking for the money and for the place (for the center) to put the businesses and ourselves in one place."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.