Woodstock Maintains The Movement
By Jodi La Marco
The Transition Movement was started in 2006 by permaculturist Rob Hopkins in the English town of Totnes. Stressing the need for self-sufficiency in areas such as food and energy production, the idea soon spread to other English towns and to locales overseas, including our very own Hudson Valley. “The premise of transition towns is to seek ways in which a community can become more resilient. That underlying principle is a part of everything we do,” explained Kirk Ritchy of Woodstock Transition. “The main areas that we have focused on thus far have been energy reduction, renewables, local food, local gardening, and elements of government management.”
The seeds of Woodstock Transition were planted six years ago by an initiating committee formed to educate the community about issues the movement seeks to address. About a year after its inception, the group held its “Great Unleashing,” a public event used to kick-start transition efforts. Roughly 400 people gathered in the center of town, many of whom coalesced into “working groups” with common interests. Since then, Woodstock Transition has spawned about a dozen continuing working groups with a variety of focuses.
WT’s garden-sharing group unites residents who need garden space with those who already possess it. “That group started under the premise that people who had gardens, who were maybe older or had land but weren’t using it, could help others who were younger or who didn’t have land but who wanted to garden. We convened those two groups together and created a network of relationships that enabled people access to gardens or property,” said Ritchy.
As part of its mission to reduce waste, Woodstock Transition also sponsors a Repair Café, an ongoing, quarterly event where broken items are fixed by those with the knowledge to do so, and participants can learn how to repair items themselves. Countless electronics, toys, small appliances, and articles of clothing have been given a second life through these valuable, skill-sharing events.
In addition to its ongoing efforts, Woodstock Transition also engages in short-term projects. “We participated in the Sustainable Hudson Valley program. We did a Solarize program in Woodstock last year, and 39 homes put solar on their roofs as a result. NYSERDA was very excited and Sustainable Hudson Valley was also very pleased with the number of people who came,” said Ritchy.
WT also took part in a NYSERDA-sponsored effort to get homes inspected and retrofitted. “Retrofitting means they put additional insulation around the windows and doors, sealed up the tops of the walls, and did things like that which NYSERDA pays for,” explained Ritchy. “That was launched by WT here in town.”
The group’s influence is even evident outside of WT, particularly in policies being made by the town government. Woodstock Organic Waste (WOW), a working group focused on keeping organic material out of the waste stream, helps participants separate compostable garbage such as food scraps from regular household trash. The group also organizes drop-off events to help deliver organic waste to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency’s composting facility in Kingston. After WOW raised awareness about keeping organic garbage out of landfills, the town of Woodstock agreed to pass a resolution requiring town agencies to compost their organic waste. “They got a resolution passed that said the town would separate their organic waste from their regular waste in their buildings,” said Ritchy. “Woodstock Transition is known in the town government. We’re members of the environmental commission and the comprehensive plan committee, and I was asked to be the chair of the town’s comprehensive plan committee. There’s a lot of engagement at the local government level with WT members and the town government.”
Ritchy himself has no title. In the transition movement, he said, titles are eschewed. “The model of a transition town effort is multiple people, not just one person, leading the way. Leadership isn’t hierarchical. There’s no chairman or executive director. It can be kind of challenging for people because of that, but it does work out for the better,” he said. Supporting this idea is the tradition of dissolving the initiating group that holds each town’s Great Unleashing. “The reason why is because sometimes people who start initiatives have big egos and it becomes their initiative, so disbanding is a built-in way to avoid that. Now you can dissolve and get involved in a working group, but as a leadership group, you are no longer.”
With no titles to establish who’s in charge, conflicts can sometimes arise. To address this problem, a group of psychologists formed the Working Group Support Group. “They were a group that enabled other groups to come to them if there was a conflict so they could seek a resolution. They were helping people with people skills and management skills of others,” Ritchy explained. “That group actually became a very important group, because there were conflicts and misunderstandings along the way, and we were able to move forward and move through.”
Woodstock Transition’s Working Group Support Group and the avoidance of leadership structures speaks to the internal changes that come with trying to change one’s environment. “One thing that’s a part of transition towns is what’s called ‘internal transition,’” Ritchy explained. “You need to be more resilient internally as well as externally to deal with the level of stress that we’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis. There is an inside to this, as well as an outside.”