Enormous global challenges — including climate change, the energy crisis, and now economic meltdown — demand that we look beyond short-term fixes to long-term viability. We must be aware of how current practices will affect future generations, how local economies relate to global stability, and how individual decisions affect whole communities. Taking a comprehensive, holistic approach to community planning is essential.

The importance of creating sustainable communities is the highly pertinent theme of a “Fall Harvest Picnic” sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Action Network, or SB CAN, and the Santa Barbara Council on Research and Education, or SB CORE. Keynote speaker James C. Murphy will explain why sustainability today is no longer merely an option, but an obligation. Murphy is a highly regarded expert who has worked globally on the front-end of this evolving field, most recently with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the world’s leading think tank for international affairs, where he was responsible for a new initiative in climate change and energy security.

“Sustainability is a journey rather than a final destination,” Murphy explains. “We know that the paradigm that emerged from the Industrial Revolution is no longer tenable; but the shape of the new paradigm hasn’t yet entirely formed. Rather than speak, though, of ‘sustainability,’ I propose we think in terms of ‘thrive-ability,’ not just focusing on scarcity of resources, but on the creation of abundance.”

The picnic will be held high on a hillside overlooking the magnificent Gaviota coast Sunday. We will be celebrating the bounty of the fall harvest and honoring “H.O.T. Heroes” — individuals and organizations making significant contributions to creating sustainable communities through their efforts in the areas of Housing, Open space and Transportation.

Mickey Flacks will be honored for her longtime advocacy of affordable and workforce housing. Her vast accumulation of knowledge on housing issues makes her a force to be reckoned with as she champions those struggling to find affordable housing in one the most expensive housing markets in the nation.

As a member of the Santa Barbara Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners and Santa Barbara County’s Affordable Housing Task Force, Flacks has helped to create much-needed housing for moderate- to low-income families across the county. More recently, Flacks helped to create Santa Barbara for All, or SB4ALL, where she serves as co-chairwoman. This coalition of engaged citizens seeks to create a thriving community that balances protection of the environment, economic wel-being and social equity. Central to that is finding practical solutions to housing Santa Barbara’s diverse workforce.

During Flacks’ long career as a community activist, she has served on the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, Environmental Defense Center and Citizens Planning Association, among others. Her heartfelt service to the community in the cause of peace and social justice has served all of us well.

Marc Chytilo is being honored for his hard-fought advocacy for sustainable transportation. As a public interest environmental attorney for more than 20 years, Chytilo has represented numerous community groups and individuals in a wide range of environmental issues, often pro bono.

In 2002 he represented COAST in a pro bono lawsuit that resulted in the funding and establishment of the then-new intercommunity public transit service in northern Santa Barbara County, Breeze Bus, which serves Lompoc,  Santa Maria and Vandenberg Air Force Base. His work also led to the development of the van pool service offering safe, reliable and affordable transportation to Santa Maria Valley farmworkers. That settlement also resulted in the funding and completion of a North County Transit Plan, which set a blueprint for North County transit system upgrades. Additional advocacy has resulted in the approval of a centralized transit center in both Lompoc and Santa Maria.

Chytilo provided pro bono services to the Coalition for a Fair Measure D, advocating for public transportation, bike and pedestrian facilities in efforts to reauthorize Measure D, the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation, which is now up for renewal Nov. 4 as Measure A. It’s clear that Chytilo’s work has transformed transportation in Santa Barbara County in ways that will benefit all of us for generations.

The Environmental Defense Center and the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau will also be honored as co-founders of the Santa Barbara County Ag Futures Alliance, or AFA,  where members of the agricultural, environmental and social justice communities will be working together to find common ground in promoting the long-term viability of local agriculture.

Spearheading this alliance has been no mean feat in a county where the environmental and agricultural communities are often poles apart on issues, and mistrust and harsh words are not uncommon. Reaching out across that contentious divide was a personal and professional risk for leaders of both organizations, but well worth taking. After a dozen meetings building trust, respect and understanding, alliance members have agreed on two important projects: ag land preservation and farmworker housing.

Santa Barbara’s AFA is one of several coalitions throughout California that raise awareness about of the importance of local agriculture in creating sustainable communities and maintaining a healthy planet. This importance is highlighted by the Roots of Change Fund, which supports this work: “How food is grown, processed, distributed, sold and eaten affects the very fabric of the state. It effects our open spaces, the development of our cities, our health, our children’s health, the economy, the health of our landscapes, biodiversity, the climate, air, water and soil. In short — our connection with, and care for, the natural world.”

Please join us in the celebration of the fall harvest and honoring our H.O.T. Heroes. This is a family event. Participants will enjoy an old-fashioned hayride through an olive grove to the picnic site high on a hill overlooking the coast, where a team of culinary wizards will have prepared a smorgasbord of harvest delights made with fresh local produce from Santa Barbara County farms. For reservations, contact Olivia Uribe at olivia@sbcan.org or call 805.879.1768.

Deborah Brasket is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). She can be reached at 805.722.5094 or at deborah@sbcan.org. This commentary originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.