Transition Town Missoula officially dropped the question mark from its name last Friday—nearly one year to the day since the group's first introductory meeting at the University Congregational Church. In other words, the mulling over whether Missoula should join a global movement toward more resilient and self-sustaining communities is over. Now comes the doing.
"We knew that we'd be approved because Missoula is even already a Transition Town," says Transition Town Missoula coordinator Claudia Brown. "All the layers of environmental nonprofits and groups that are working to strengthen the local food system here—there's already a lot of interest in Missoula."
According to Brown, roughly 50 people gathered in the UCC Nov. 23 to welcome Transition Town Missoula to a network of more than 1,000 Transition initiatives across the globe. The movement started in late 2006, when Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande co-founded the original Transition Town in Totnes, England. Their goal of building a sustainable community to combat the impacts of peak oil and climate change quickly went viral, eventually taking root in towns on six continents; besides Missoula, some of the latest official Transition U.S. initiates include Two Peaks, Colo., Bedford, Mass., and Milwaukee, Wis.
"The real overarching theme is that we're working on this transition from a fairly unstable and unsustainable way of doing things towards something that is more stable, resilient, sustainable, regenerative," says Transition Town Missoula spokesman Justin McCoy. "As we move in that direction, we have such a long way to go. We plant the seeds and see how they sprout."
Erasing the question mark in Missoula is less a first step than an acknowledgment of the challenges ahead. One of those challenges is time, and with so many nonprofits already working to solve their own pieces of the sustainability puzzle, McCoy says lots of Transition-minded folks in town are already busy. Transition Town Missoula hopes to take some of the networking pressure off those very nonprofits that give Missoula such Transition promise.
"This is really, as far as I know, one of the few organizations that's looking at the whole puzzle and saying, 'Okay, how do we come together as a community and start to really weave these connections to bring it all together?'" McCoy says.
McCoy's own involvement with Transition Town Missoula came about by happy coincidence. In early 2011, while traveling in Europe, McCoy attended a Transition training conference in the U.K. He mostly learned the basics—the problems of peak oil, the stresses of economic crisis, how to make such discussions accessible to a broader audience. A few months later he met the core group of "mullers" exploring Missoula's Transition potential during a permaculture conference in Spokane. And in true Transition fashion, they built a connection.
"He's just a Transition soul," Brown says of McCoy, who works as an independent consultant for sustainable building and living initiatives nationwide. "He lives it completely."
Transition Town Missoula's following has steadily grown over the last year. The group has pulled in students from the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Montana, as well as professors and members of existing nonprofits. Transition members launched a film series in October 2011, met with Mayor John Engen last April and continue to host regular reading groups. McCoy noted representatives from nearly 10 local groups at Friday's potluck, including Garden City Harvest, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, the Green Business Council and the UM FLAT.
The official designation as a Transition Initiative doesn't change much. Transition Town Missoula isn't even sure it will seek nonprofit status. But as more Transition Towns form in Montana, Brown says Missoula will become a "Transition Hub," hosting meetings with nearby groups to develop Transition goals at a state and regional level. One of those goals will be establishing "energy descent plans," or concepts on decreasing the energy footprint of individual towns. Brown adds that she's heard of unofficial Transition initiatives taking shape in Helena, Bozeman and Billings.
Missoula's recognition is also an indicator of more potlucks to come. In fact, McCoy's pet project within the Transition sphere is to organize the world's largest community potluck right here in Missoula. The existing record isn't all that bigCasper, Wyo. reset it last February when community members collectively brought 863 dishes to a church fundraiser. McCoy believes Missoula could "blast that record out of the water."
"Once you've done something like that, if you could already plan the world's largest potluck, then if you ever had some sort of emergency situation where you'd need all these people to get together, you'd already know how to do it," McCoy says. "It's building resilience, and it's having fun at the same time."
McCoy is quick to pose the logical follow-up question—hypothetically, of course.
"How is a potluck going to take the whole world from a destructive, consumptive culture to a productive, sustainable culture?" McCoy asks. "We have to start somewhere ... The way to start is to build connections."