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North Fork solar fair draws a record crowd

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Since soon after the earliest settlers moved into Colorado's North Fork Valley, it has relied on two major forces to drive its economy -- energy and agriculture. This year the North Fork Solar Fair & Permaculture Expo built on that proud heritage with a fun, dynamic and hugely popular event. Nearly 300 people participated, a threefold increase from its 2015 debut. The record crowd turned out to learn about and participate in this year's theme: Cultivate Community & Homegrown Energy.

The North Fork is home to Solar Energy International (SEI), which hosted the event at its Paonia headquarters and campus, and was one of three sponsoring organizations. SEI is the world's leading training institute for solar energy and alternative power systems -- and is currently leading a collaborative local project to "Solarize Delta County."

"Solar Energy International is honored to host this annual fair and expo," said Gerald Espinosa, event organizer and coordinator for Solarize Delta County. "We are bringing solar energy not only to communities around the world, but generating more of it right here in Delta County and the Western Slope. The Solar Fair is a chance to highlight and build from that work."

Colorado's North Fork Valley is an area in transition still firmly rooted in its small-town, rural past. Home to orchards since the first white residents in the 1880s and a coal-mining community since soon thereafter, change has often come slowly to the area. Or all at once as commodity markets stumble. The most recent downturn has idled local mines, and spurred discussion about ways to have a robust economy, engage the future, honor the area's roots, and protect the character of a cherished place.

Expanded significantly from last year, the event this year highlighted the great work being done regionally to transition toward cleaner power supplies and also featured workshops and exhibits on perma-culture and biodynamics. These were facilitated by The Learning Council, the second sponsoring partner -- and included offerings for kids and adults.

"We greatly enjoyed bringing new learning opportunities to this year's Solar Fair," said Alicia Michelsen of The Learning Council. "A strong community can weather change just fine, and coming together to share skills and celebrate each other is how we build strength."

The 2016 Solar Fair & Permaculture Expo included food vendors, local drink and over 15 exhibitors, including solar companies, the area's electric cooperative, nonprofit organizations and several local businesses.

Vendors, partners and exhibitors donated over two dozen prizes that were given away during the event. Musical acts included the Blue Sage Exploratory Chorus and the Solar Brothers. URSA! URSA!, a collaboration comprised of musicians from the bands Grizzly Pears and Free the Honey closed the evening. All agreed after the success of this year's event: The Solar Fair in 2017 will be even better!

"This year we all experienced the homegrown energy we can cultivate through community coming together," said Pete Kolbenschlag, a lead organizer of the event and board member of the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance, the third sponsoring partner. "Big B's Juices and Ciders and Revolution Brewing, along with the door prize donors, workshop leaders, exhibitors, and our great musicians all deserve a special measure of gratitude."

The 2016 Solar Fair was sponsored in partnership by three area nonprofit organizations. The sponsoring partners each brought a unique mission to their role in the event, showing that shared effort can come together in a way that can find opportunity in even the toughest challenges such as those facing the North Fork as this once coal-dependent community revisions its future. Global and national efforts to address climate change and reduce carbon pollution, such as the Paris Accords and the federal Clean Power Plan, provide further policy incentive to move toward cleaner energy sources.

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North Fork
Paonia, Solar Fair
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