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Midland School to Present Workshop at Central Coast Bioneers Conference

Each year during 'experiential week,' students and faculty build a small wind turbine and install a solar array

Midland School, founded in 1932, is an independent college preparatory school in Los Olivos. It has always embraced a mission of self-reliance and working as a community to meet basic needs. By remaining true to the school’s core, Midland has evolved a meaningful ethic in the 21st century — distinguishing needs from wants and balancing consumption with production.

Midland’s solar program began with a pilot project in 2003. Every year since, its 10th-grade chemistry students have worked alongside a solar electrician to install a 3-kW PV system that meets another 3 percent of the campus’ electricity use. The students write technical reports and become community teachers at the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival.

This year they will also be presenting at the annual Central Coast Bioneers Conference in San Luis Obispo.

The Midland Model — 3 percent per year — demonstrates the viability of taking cumulatively consequential steps toward grid neutrality over a generation. As of 2011, 20 percent of the campus’ electricity needs have been met with grid-tied, student-installed arrays.

In 2011, Midland also incorporated a wind workshop led by Midland alumnus Mathias Craig, founder of blueEnergy, an installer of community-supported wind turbines and water filtration systems in Nicaragua. Students learned how to build a small-scale wind generator from raw materials — hand-carved blades, rotors, powerful magnets and copper coils.

Every spring over the course of five days during “experiential week,” the 10th-graders and faculty build a small demo wind turbine, then break ground and install a grid-tied PV array. Putting theory to practice shows students that this work is something they can do, rather than simply watching professionals do it. More important, this proactive project offers an antidote to being paralyzed by the scale of global climate destabilization.

Midland already possessed two key components for growing a renewable energy program — conservation as a habit of mind and community involvement to meet basic needs. Midland entered the competition of recent years to shave excess energy use as a 90-pound lightweight who had been on an energy diet since long before it was labeled as green. In Midland’s early years, and still today, students heat their cabins and their shower water with wood fires. Turning off the lights when no one is in the room is a stated expectation.

The school teaches that use of power is intentional. But Midland does much more than conserve. Much of its produce is grown on the school’s large organic garden, tended by faculty and students. And much of its grass-fed beef comes from school pastures.

In 2009, Midland School received a 2009 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, and was the only school among 15 organizations honored at the Governor’s Global Climate Summit 2 in Los Angeles. Midland’s work was featured in the spring 2012 issue of the National Association of Independent Schools’ Independent School Magazine.

“Midland is what founder Paul Squibb called ‘a simple life school, where one learns to get on without,’” Head of School Will Graham said. “The school raises and educates strong and independent people who are not afraid to find a path, solve a problem, have an idea and create their life stories.”

The Midland School workshop, presented by the students and instructor Lise Goddard, will be one of 15 workshops, 13 plenaries, five field trips, a seed exchange, a Food & Farming Celebration, a Green Chef cook-off, dance and yoga sessions, and music at the Central Coast Bioneers Conference for Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The event is an annual three-day solutions-focused gathering that brings together a diverse audience to create deep and positive change in their communities. The conference summons environmental, industry and social justice innovators to focus food resiliency, health and healing, green business, indigenous knowledge, environmental and social justice, women and youth empowerment, spirituality and sustainability, all working to catalyze a movement to heal our world.

This year’s conference will run Oc. 19-21 at the Monday Club in San Luis Obispo. Registration and more information about the Central Coast Bioneers Conference, speakers and program can be found by clicking here or calling 805.548.0597.

This story includes excerpts from the article “Changing the Story” by Lise Goddard.

— Stacey Hunt represents Central Coast Bioneers.

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