What if most of the yards in Ashland grew some sort of edible garden?

What if most of the yards in Ashland grew some sort of edible garden? That's one of the goals of Transition Town Ashland, a group that aims to increase local resiliency to deal with the challenges of uncertain economic times: climate change, exponential population growth and peak oil, organizers said.

Their efforts are based on the international transition town movement, which sprouted four years ago from a permaculture class in Ireland.

Ashland's group became an official transition town in January and has since been working to spread awareness of the model and build bridges with other groups working on sustainability issues, said Jim McGinnis, part of the TTA initiating team.

TTA is also working to build bridges with other organizations focused on sustainability issues, as well as other groups, including the faith and business communities, said Lance Bisaccia, another member of the initiating team.

"Some people think this is a hippie movement," McGinnis said. "It's not. It really needs to be mainstream. We're in the ramping-up education period where we're really getting people interested."

TTA holds an introductory meeting at Peace House at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of every month. The third Thursday of the month the group holds a planning meeting at 7 p.m. at the library, with action groups focused on community, food, environment, heart and soul, transportation, and youth and education.

The Aug. 20 meeting will include a discussion of the city's goals and the future of Ashland with Mayor John Stromberg and some of the City Councilors.

For those who want a more in-depth introduction to the concept, Shaktari Belew will hold a "Training 4 Transition" workshop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Jackson Wellsprings.

Belew, a national transition town trainer who helped start the Ashland movement, said the transition model is "an empowering experience as opposed to what we usually get, which is doom and gloom."

The transition model asks people to contribute their skills and voices and is full of questions in search of "the key things that we can do that will significantly increase our chances of survival here," she said.

The workshop costs $250, but participants can contact Belew to set up a work exchange or bring a friend for $50 off both people's registration, she said. To register, contact Belew at 941-8888 or shaktari@ashlandhome.net.

The transition town model includes two milestones: "the great unleashing" and an energy descent plan, Bisaccia said.

The "unleashing" is a celebration designed to bring the community together after enough awareness has been raised about the transition effort, Belew said.

Another milestone of transition involves putting together an energy descent plan to lessen dependence on oil, Bisaccia said.

"What will it look like from how we do stuff now to covering human needs in the future?" he said.

The idea is ultimately about building local resiliency, McGinnis said.

"Unless and until we can straighten out federal policies and procedures, we need to look at our local resources," Bisaccia said.

Producing food locally is an important aspect of that resiliency, McGinnis said, and the TTA food group is working on a challenge to get 30 percent of Ashland yards growing some form of edible garden within five years, with a goal of 85 percent in 10 or 15 years.

Neighborhoods could form cooperatives to sell produce at the growers market and donate a percentage of their crop to the food bank, he added.

"I can imagine neighbors walking down the street and asking, 'Hey, how'd you get that zucchini to grow so big?'" McGinnis said.

The group hopes to launch a pilot program in an Ashland neighborhood next spring, helping people to get their gardens started, he said.

TTA has also been working with Bellview Grange to set up skill-sharing sessions, where people learn useful tasks such as gardening, knot-tying and food preserving, Bisaccia said.

Bisaccia said he's been involved in activism in the past, but TTA has changed his life, and he likes that the transition movement recognizes the difficulty of adjusting to change but also focuses on positivity

"A really strong part of the pleasure of this work is the people that I'm encountering," he said, "the good of working with your community and your neighbors."

For more information, visit www.transitiontownashland.org.

Reach Kira Rubenthaler at 482-3456 ext. 225 or krubenthaler@dailytidings.com.