Global problem, local action
When faced with a tough problem, some folks worry about it, some folks complain about it, some folks deny it, and then there are some folks who take action. In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, far from major metropolitan areas, Erik and Lindsay Curren are taking action at a local level to tackle the global challenge of a future impacted by Peak Oil and climate change.
Erik Curren first experienced the small town community life style as a college student. Erik grew up in Chicago, attended college in Lexington, Virginia in the late 80′s, earning a B.A. in English from Washington and Lee University, and and fell in love with the Shenandoah Valley.
He always told himself that he would try to come back someday. His educational and career path took him across the country to California, a stint teaching overseas and then back to Washington DC, and finally to Staunton. He has worked in marketing, communications and public relations for numerous major corporations, and non-profit organizations.
For over twenty-five years Lindsay Curren has worked in communications, writing and editing for Virginia papers and magazines, with three years on the arts staff at The C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville. From 2000-2006 Lindsay worked as an online discussion moderator and producer with washingtonpost.com, specializing in interactive conversations on politics, policy, and business.
Now Erik, Lindsay, and their two daughters are happily living and working in a town of 22,000. They both enjoy the emerging arts and culture of Staunton. In particular they like the “sense of community, of neighborliness that you don’t find in a big city.”
Erik and Lindsay operate The Curren Group, a communications and marketing agency from their restored Victorian-era home, in the Newtown area of Staunton.
In 2009, Erik ran as the Democratic candidate for delegate from the 20th House District of Virginia. Although he did not win, the knowledge gained by laying out a political platform based on a green economy, and the practical lessons learned in community organizing, energized the Currens to move on to a more crucial challenge. They wanted to help Staunton and the surrounding Augusta County to build a robust local economy, which will provide good jobs and prepare for a lower energy consumption future. They are testing out their ideas for building a more sustainable community, right where they live and work.
They founded Transition Staunton Augusta in December 2009. And they also helped kick-off Staunton Green 20/20. Transition Staunton Augusta is a group of local citizens who have united to make a difference in their community. They focus on developing the capability, capacity and character of the community; to use energy more efficiently, develop and increase use of products made right here in Virginia, and develop local energy generation alternatives.
Transition Staunton Augusta is the 61st Transition Group in the U.S. and an official affiliate of Transition United States. Reaching well beyond Augusta County and Virginia, Erik is also the publisher of Transition Voice, and Lindsay is the editor. Transition Voice, an online magazine with international reach; covers peak oil, climate change and economic crisis along with the global Transition movement.
Transition Staunton Augusta’s long-term goals are to build community resilience by re-localizing economic activities, to ramp up local food, services, and manufacturing, and to expand passenger rail service and other forms of efficient transportation, and improve local infrastructure for a lower energy consumption economy.
Their four main ways to move the community forward are to educate citizens, promote local businesses, advocate for policy changes, and help build community infrastructure.
To educate the public on the key issues of energy, local food and environmental issues they have established, along with the Staunton Green 20/20 organization, a monthly film series at the popular farm-to-table Mockingbird Restaurant and Music Hall. Recent films shown include: Coal Country, Save Our Land - Save Our Towns , Fresh, Gasland, Tapped, and How To Boil A Frog.
To promote a focus on local food production, for a “Locavore Fest” event, they sponsored internationally-recognized author Joel Salatin of Augusta County’s Polyface Farms, to speak about “taking back our food”. Salatin has appeared in the movies Food, Inc. and Fresh: The Movie, is featured in the book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by New York Times food critic Michael Pollan, and in Smithsonian, National Geographic, Gourmet, and other national magazines. Considerable progress has been made at local restaurants in using local producers.
They have made a special emphasis in their communications programs, to focus on the return to home gardening and supporting the Staunton-Augusta Farmer’s Market. The Staunton/Augusta Farmers’ Market is a “producer-only” market, any item sold at the market must have been produced by the seller within a 50-mile radius of the market. The success of the Staunton/Augusta Farmers’ Market has been a direct influence on the development of new public farmers’ markets in Williamsburg, VA, Lexington, VA, Broadway, VA, Monterey, VA and Birmingham, Alabama.
They have been advocating, for the re-building of railroad infrastructure. This is particularly meaningful, since Staunton was once a bustling hub connection point between east-west and north-south railways, up until the 1970′s when interstate highway travel reduce passenger and freight rail travel. The I81 Rail Solution, a new north-south rail corridor, is fairly well supported in the area.
The Currens know there is no guarantee of success. The only sure way to failure is not trying at all. As they have stated, “If it appears that we think the Transition process is defined by people who have all the answers, please understand that none of us involved knows for sure if this will work.” They explained further: “Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale. What we are convinced of is this: If we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late. If we act as individuals, it’ll be too little. But if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.”