A Potential Community Development Plan for the Masonite Site (Part 1)

[“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This could not be more true for what our community is facing. Without a clearly thought-out viable plan that is well along in community acceptance, and documented evidence of funding potential (including property purchase), our community risks losing the battle to save the Masonite site for the future economic health of our community. Ukiah Blog posts regarding a community  plan for the Masonite site will be categorized under “Masonite Transition Park”. What’s your vision? Your own comments and posts are crucial and most welcome. -DS]

From Earl Brown

3/26/09 Ukiah, North California

This post represents a synthesis of viewpoints, conversations and ideas I have had over thirty years of working in Lake and Mendocino Counties regarding self-reliant communities, job creation and healthy ecosystems. Many discussions concerning the environment, living wage jobs, sustainable communities, endangered species protection, watershed management, production agriculture, cottage industry, tourism, and education have contributed, directly, or indirectly, to the ideas contained within this post. Some people who read through this will see their thoughts and ideas reflected here. I appreciate their contributions, although I have not tried to duplicate their ideas in any exact way, but blended them into my visioning. My purpose is to present these ideas in a way that helps the reader to see our potential; to open their imagination and begin to envision their own possibilities for Mendocino County; not just the Masonite property, but for our bio-region and beyond.

We are living during a time of great crisis and great potential. I believe that, even with the corruption and abuse of funds that will undoubtedly come with President Obama’s stimulus package, it still represents an opportunity for us to take a little control of our future. It is an opportunity for us, the grassroots people, to express our creativity, our willingness to cooperate, and our desire to create a sustainable Mendocino County. My concept is based upon an “eco-village” approach where businesses, manufacturing and other village elements work cooperatively and with mutual benefit for themselves and the larger community. As a “living systems” thinker it is natural for me to think in patterns and connections; in complexes of relationships that are always in flux, inter-relating and self-organizing. I see human environments the same way and the eco-village concept attempts to establish relationships between our natural environment, local self reliance, mental and spiritual health, and sustainability (responsibility to future generations).

This post is a boiler-plate and not intended to be a complete or exhaustive list of potentials for the Masonite property. Here, I have identified sixteen aspects of a potential community development that I believe would enhance our self-reliance, help stabilize our economy and build a stronger network of community. The aspects are not listed in any order of importance or priority and have a brief explanation for each. I have also prepared further posts to expand on several of the themes that I have particular interest and experience in. I invite comments, more ideas, expansion of these ideas, questions, discussion, meetings and I want to hear whatever moves you, including honest, meaningful, insightful criticism. This is not about agreement, but about the discussion.

Once again I want to acknowledge all of the people who have contributed to these ideas and claim no ownership of this material. Step one may be allowing that something greater than ourselves is trying to move through us, that it is not about us, specifically, but about our collective potential; this is certainly larger than me.

The sixteen aspects are: (in no order of importance or priority)

Solar farm with solar charging station
The solar farm would consist of an array of panels linked directly to the charging and distribution system. Roof surfaces of many structures can be fitted with solar collectors and be networked into the main system grid to also feed the charging and distribution center. The charging station would be a service center for locals and travelers with hybrid and/or electric vehicles, including electric vehicles used in the village, and supply the power for the village with the excess sold to the grid to help offset other expenses.

Food Processing Facility
This facility is to stimulate a diverse cottage agriculture community by housing the necessary equipment and space necessary to process local fruit and vegetables into value added food items such as jellies, jams, chutneys, sauces, fermented vegetables, soups, juices and more. There would be a crushing capability; hammer mill, stemmer crusher, bladder press; pumps, hoses, filters, heat exchanger, small processing equipment and storage capability. Washers and scrubbers for vegetables will be available for tubers and other tough skinned veggies. Solar fruit dehydrators could be developed at this site or in another location depending upon space, type and size of dehydrator. The building would consist of at lease three separate, rentable, commercial kitchen units, open production space (fillers, bottle-line), cold storage with freezer, warehouse space, shipping and receiving dock, office and public retail space. This facility could be expanded to produce fruit wines, specialty brandies, fruit liqueurs and other specialty products. Local people could use the facility to produce products of their own, or sell fruit to other producers. The facility could be a source of job training, seasonal employment as well as provide some permanent employment for skilled people.

Amusement Center (miniature golf – solar go cart track – skate/bmx park)
This would be the entertainment center for the youth of our area and fun center for visitors. There is room for innovation and creativity here and this could be a real fun addition to our area. The golf course could be constructed from locally harvested alternative building materials, be landscaped with native plants, and watered with reclaimed water from the waste treatment system.

Small Diameter Pole Mill
Fire fuels reduction in our forests is an imperative and there are a large number of small diameter trees that could be milled into alternative building materials for post and pole frame construction. Removing the excess small diameter trees in a thin and release venture could help offset the expense of the work and by mulching the slash back into the ecosystem nutrients will be recycled mimicking a natural fire. Measures need to be taken to assure that this does not trigger more clear-cutting of timber, but is a part of a concerted watershed and forest restoration project aimed at retaining the forest health of Mendocino County. (County building codes will need to be changed to accommodate alternative building materials such as these small diameter poles)

Natural Materials Furniture Construction and Fabrication
A furniture construction facility that uses locally grown willow species, alder and other suitable trees to produce quality, durable, furniture. Planting sections of willows and other usable species on the Masonite property would create green and open space while supplying raw material for the furniture construction facility. Wood chips, bark and other organic waste will be used to generate fuel, or be composted to use on the agricultural land.

Fiber Mill
A fiber manufacturing facility would utilize local wool, hemp fiber, bamboo, willow, and fungi to produce a variety of fabrics for local markets and manufacture.

Community Interpretive Watershed and Visitor’s Center
This is a public resource center focused on our region’s watersheds, streams and rivers. The Center would be a library of multimedia resources, including written word, video, DVD, photo documentary, maps, and other information regarding our watersheds and their health. This Center could network with schools, adult education programs, employment development projects, and other community service groups to provide job skills training, work experience, social skills and personal life skills as well as a source for outdoor curriculum for schools. A crew, or crews, could be trained and available for contract work through the center which if operated as a not-for-profit could be used to work on both public and private lands for environmental protection and restoration.

Green Zone (community forest park)
There needs to be a good amount of public open/green space in the development. A small mixed forest could grow into a location for summer fairs, outdoor music, picnic and relaxing space. This green space could also include plantings of various willow varieties for furniture manufacture and other usable woody species as needed.

Agriculture land
Land set aside, beyond green space, for the cultivation of specialty willows for furniture, fiber crops, row crops, flowers, and other crops as identified. Solar green houses, mushroom sheds, solar fruit dehydrators and similar production houses may also be considered. Water for irrigation can come from the reclaimed water from the waste treatment systems, as well as any other no-potable water uses.

Housing for the area would reflect the eco-village approach and be suitable housing for people to live, work and thrive within the village. It is natural for people to live at, or within walking distance, of their work, although modern commuter society has altered this through rapid modes of transportation. In simpler times a person knew and was known by the people in their neighborhood. They knew the land and they knew what else lived there, they were a part of it and interacted with it daily. The eco-village approach encourages people to live and work in the village, to know and support each other and help to collectively keep the security and safety of the village intact.

Bio-fuel generation facility and filling station
This facility would focus on developing local means of power generation. Rendering vegetable oils into bio-diesel, developing a methane extractor for wood and other organic waste, making wood pellets for fireplaces, and potentially extracting combustible oils from forest products, would be included in the design of this element.  A cottage industry could rise by taking small plots of land and growing a bio-fuel crop such as Jerusalem artichokes, corn or other high starch plants for ethanol. Emphasis should be on electric (wind and solar) for most local transportation with bio-fuels augmenting the transition from fossil fuel to sustainable power. Caution needs to be taken so land needed for food production is not lost for bio-fuel crops. Empty, or unused, urban space to small for commercial agriculture could be planted into bio-fuel crops which would give landowners a source of extra income and keep rural agriculture space open for food production.

Small retail
There is room for small retail space such as a deli, restaurant, local products (soaps, herbal essence oils), local crafts (clothes, wood working, and art), wine tasting and other suitable, non-polluting, business. The concept is not to take business, or employees, from existing businesses, but to create new businesses that reflect the nature of our valley and its people; no box stores.

13. Light Manufacture/Business
A recycle-reuse mill that would take what recyclables we can and develop methods of re-manufacturing them into usable products. This would help minimize our waste output to the transfer station, employ a wide range of skilled employees, provide job training opportunities and help raise awareness of needless or careless waste. A solar panel construction business would be a benefit; data storage, alternative building material manufacture and a laboratory for culturing the bacteria and other micro-organisms for waste digestion and soil remediation, are other business possibilities.

This is an eco-tourism business involved in rafting, biking, kayaking, wine/beer tours and other activities for visitors. Two studies, one from the 1960’s and the other in 2008, indicate that with the richness of Mendocino County and the California North Coast tourism is the prime economic resource to be developed. This industry and its economic potential have been completely overlooked by business and civil leaders alike. Eco-tourism has many faces; river rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, camping, sightseeing, rock hounding, bird watching, photography, photo journalism, botany, self-reflection and spiritual experience, to name a few.

Train Depot, or spur to main track
The success of this mixed light industry, agriculture and eco-village is largely dependent upon the re-opening of the rail to Willits. There are efforts within Sonoma County to open and maintain the track to Cloverdale where they have invested in rebuilding their rail station; we should do the same. U.S. Highway 101 connects us, north to south, yet soon, fuel prices and the awareness of the hidden costs of oil (war, oppression, racism) will soon cut into people’s ability and desire to burn fossil fuels for personal pleasure. Affordable mass transit will be a necessity in the future. The existing rail system, to Willits, stands ready to be utilized, with minor investment, for commuter transit, transport of local produce and products south, to bring needed supplies north, and to give tourists, specifically ecologically minded tourists, access to Mendocino County.

Autonomous, Waste Water Treatment System
A stand alone (autonomous) wastewater digestion system will be designed to eliminate liquid waste. Using bacteria, fungi and other naturally occurring micro-organisms (no genetic engineering) to digest the waste material reclaims the water and breaks the waste down into its natural organic compounds. The bacteria blend and the system can be designed to take all of the liquid waste, grey and black water, as well as chemicals, soaps, petroleum hydrocarbons, medicines, hormones, and many harmful bacteria, that may find its way into the waste treatment system. The end result of the digestion process is a clear, nutrient rich, liquid …. water…. that with minimal effort can be brought up to potable standards. This water can be used to irrigate landscaping, agricultural land, stored in wildlife/ornamental ponds, or used in any other way non-potable water can be utilized. In drought conditions, when water is scarce, this system reclaims the usable water and makes it available for uses that would otherwise use potable water that would be better used for human and animal consumption.

These are my sixteen suggestions for potential uses of the Masonite property. It is a small list and needs to be fleshed out, reconsidered, discussed, added to, and made real. Right now these are just words, yet, with some effort, a grassroots development, not too different than the ideas contained within this post and future posts could come into existence. I will add the other posts as they are developed for your reading and comment, if you choose to do so.

A Potential Community Development Plan for the Masonite Site – Part 1
Eco-Train, Rail and Depot – Part 2
Ecologically-Oriented Tourism – Part 3
Rail to Trail – Part 4
Autonomous Waste Water Treatment System – Part 5
Community Interpretive Watershed and Visitor’s Center – Part 6
Food Processing Facility – Part 7

Small Diameter Pole Processing Mill – Part 8
Fiber Processing and Re-Manufacture Mill – Part 9

One Comment

I think for all that is written, it requires a lot of capital before a community can put those ideas into action, how can these be done without such capital? So i guess some of these emphasis should base on the ability of the community.