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Reflecting on 20 Years of Solar Living at the SLC

06/29/2016 17:32

Reflecting on 20 Years of Solar Living at the SLC

Welcome to the new Real Goods blog! It just so happens that launching this exciting new information source for off-grid enthusiasts coincides with the 38th anniversary of the first Real Goods store opening, and the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Solar Living Center (SLC) up in Hopland, CA along historic California Highway 101. We had a big anniversary celebration at the SLC June 11-12 with food, friends, speakers, music, dancing, stories, and camping. I was touched at the huge turnout and the amount of love and respect in the air for everything we've done. I gave a speech at the event, and thought I would share it here for those who couldn't be at this one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime celebration of Real Goods, our mission, and the people who make it possible...

Solar Living Center 20th Anniversary Speech


What an amazing 20 years this has been since our grand opening of the Solar Living Center on the Solstice, June 21, 1996. And it's also our 38th anniversary of the day we opened that first Real Goods store in Willits, California.

The site we're standing on today has an interesting past. Where we sit, in Hopland, is called the Sanel Valley, which means "gathering place." Before the white man came here, this very area was a Summer gathering place for many bands of Pomo Indian tribes in the local bio-region. The Kashai from the coast and the inland Pomo and many others would gather here for celebrations and children's education. They would arrange a form of "internship" where the teenagers from the inland valleys like Covelo would spend time on the Coast to learn how to fish and the Coastal Pomo teenagers would arrange to go inland to learn hunting and acorn gathering and processing.

After the Indian genocides in the late 19th century, this site lay pretty much fallow for 100 years until we came along in 1992 and bought the property, which at the time was an abandoned CalTrans dumping ground for highway rubble. One of our early share owners, Rivers Brown, called it a site with a face "only a mother could love." What started out as a very ambitious and seemingly unrealizable dream has been brought to reality by the support of our customers and the incredible hard work of our determined staff over the past two decades. To me, it all made sense and came to life a couple of weeks ago. The elusive dream we'd been striving for over the years came to life in a flash of a hot Spring afternoon. This was my realized vision of an inspirational village that challenged all the dominant paradigms; that brought smiles to the faces of our visitors, and laughter to the hearts of the children on site. It was 90°F outside, the grounds were full of people, there were dozens of school children on field trips running and laughing and splashing water, Alex Aragon was playing guitar outside the store, people were swinging on hammock chairs, kids were playing in the playground and admiring the pollinator garden, three people were walking the lavender labyrinth, and the store was full of people learning about all forms of off-grid and sustainable living.

Solar Living Center fountain panorama

I'm asked frequently what our strategy has been over the years and the answer has always been the same: we are pioneers seeking to wake up the world to another way of living. We find causes that are just emerging and not yet known, we promote them like crazy, we demonstrate them, we get people inspired about them, and then when they become mainstream we move on to the next new thing that hasn't been discovered. Over the past 38 years we've pioneered solar - selling the first PV panel in the U.S. - we've pioneered compact fluorescent light bulbs before anyone knew what they were, premiered industrial hemp and hemp clothing and now Hempcrete, promoted permaculture and biodynamics, promoted aquaculture, strawbale and many other natural building techniques. Our latest cause to promote is that of medical cannabis and CBDs as a healthy treatment for many of our ailments. The list goes on.

We have been fortunate to have an amazing design team who created the blank slate for our sustainable development over the years. They are all gathered here tonight on a panel, together again for the first time since 1996. Since Nantzy and I bought the site back from RGS Energy in December 2014, we've been moving quickly to further realize our vision and to create inspiration to our 150,000 annual visitors.

The SLC design team speaking on a panel at the 20th anniversary event

Above: The original SLC design team together again for the first time in 20 years discussing the process of designing and building the Solar Living Center. Left to right: Bruce King, structural engineer; Jeff Oldham, project manager; David Arkin, site architect; John Schaeffer, owner; Sim Van der Ryn, general architect.

It's always interesting to look at the past, but it's more important to focus on the future. We've come a long way, but we have so much further to go to realize Real Goods' and the Solar Living Institute's potentials. There is so much to work on, and we need your ideas. Do we work on solarizing more of the planet? On promoting electric vehicles? On protecting the bees? On preserving our redwood and oak forests? On growing more cruelty-free and sustainable food? On providing an art oasis for the public with more sculptures and artwork? On aquaculture? Permaculture? Biodynamics? On health improvements through medical cannabis? On lowering our collective carbon footprint? On protecting our Northern California riparian habitats, watersheds and Monarch butterflies? We're very excited about what we've created here and we want to share it with the world. We have set the stage for people to come and share knowledge.

We'd love to have the bandwidth to do all of it but we know we can't with our limited resources and time. So we seek your ideas for what the next 20 years of our mission will look like.

Thank you all for coming to our Solar Living Center 20th anniversary and Real Goods's 38th anniversary. It's been a wild ride and I look forward to seeing you all in 2035 when we open up our new time capsule and celebrate 57 years of Real Goods!


So, what causes do you want to see Real Goods to focus on for the next 20 years and beyond to help preserve and improve the health of the planet and the comfort of us, its stewards? Let us know in the comments below! And thank you, sincerely, for your interest in our mission these last 38 years.

For the Earth,

John Schaeffer,

Real Goods Founder and former President

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