Solar Living Institute closing its doors

Sep 14, 2020

September 14, 2020 — The Solar Living Institute is closing its doors as a result of the economic fallout from the pandemic, which is on track to claim 200,000 American lives by the end of the week.

SLI is the ecology-centric educational non-profit which, until the pandemic made physical locations a moot point, offered classes on the 12-acre Solar Living Center campus in Hopland. In April of 2019, founder John Schaeffer announced that he was selling the center to Flow Kana, the cannabis distribution company with the hub in Redwood Valley. But the non-profit remained, along with the Solar Living store and Emerald Pharms, the on-site dispensary. Last week, Schaeffer announced that the non-profit was dissolving, though he’s proud of its accomplishments and hopes the organization’s assets will continue to improve the future. 

In March, the Solar Living store had to shut down, because it was considered non-essential. Between that and not being able to conduct classes on sustainable living and renewable agriculture, Schaeffer said, “It became very difficult to continue going forward without the store and without the classes. So we came to the difficult conclusion that we had to close the store and close the Institute.”

Under California law, when a non-profit organization dissolves, it has to donate 100 percent of its assets to non-profits with a similar mission. Shaeffer said about $65,000 worth of merchandise and “a significant amount of cash” will be divided up between two non-profits that are focused on educating young people.

Nancy McGivney, a board member at Hearthstone Village, spoke about the small private Haitian girls’ orphanage that her organization has been working with for about ten years, or about half the time the orphanage has been in existence. Hearthstone originally focused on the girls’ health and health education. She made the case for the similarity between Hearthstone’s educational mission and that of SLI. As the girls grew up, she explained, they had more advanced educational needs. Schaeffer and his wife were among the first educational sponsors who signed up to help in that endeavor. “And it’s been exciting because just last week, we had two kids accepted to university there...and we’re beating the odds, because only 10 percent of Haitians graduate from high school.” Over the years, Hearthstone has also been encouraging the use of solar power at the orphanage, because electricity is so sporadic in the country. “Actually, some of the inventory we’ve gotten through this liquidation process, we’ve been able to send, and we just shipped them off yesterday,” she said on Wednesday.

 McGivney added that she is hoping for “a glorious yard sale” with some of the rest of the merchandise, when it’s safe to hold fundraisers again.

Laurel Near is a co-founder of SPACE, the School of Performing Arts and Cultural Education, the other beneficiary of the Solar Living Institute’s assets. She reflected that organizations have lost a lot more than the ability to put on the kinds of events that used to be a huge part of the community’s social life.

Prior to the pandemic, she said, “we had over 400 kids ready to burst onto the stage...all of a sudden, that came to a screeching halt, and we realized that it was going to be really tough,” with the loss of tuition, underwriting for performances that wouldn’t happen, and grants based on the 400 kids. Some classes moved outside, so teachers and students could stay safe from the pandemic, but then the smoke settled into the valley. “So we’re working it out,” she concluded. “But the donation and the assets from Solar Living Institute really helped us have the spirit to continue going.”

Near added that SPACE has always included environmental education in its curriculum , and shared memories of taking students floating across the pond at the Hopland campus. And everyone had anecdotes about people from as far away as Oklahoma and Ireland coming to SolFest and making lifelong connections. But some of the lessons have been grim, as Schaeffer pointed out.

In the past few weeks, he’s been going through memorabilia in his barn, including old catalogues from 40 years ago. He was proud of reaching the goal to prevent a billion pounds of Co2 from getting into the atmosphere, but one editorial from 1992 was especially prescient. “If we don’t address this global warming problem by the time the year 2020 rolls around — and I actually mentioned 2020 — we’re gonna have fires burning across the Western United States every summer, we’re gonna have hurricanes and tornadoes like we’ve never seen, the Arctic ice shelf is gonna be melting, and the Gulf Stream ocean currents are gonna slow down and it’s gonna be cold all up in northern Europe. And every one of those has come to pass, unfortunately, except for the Gulf Stream hasn’t yet stopped. But it’s interesting how in the early days, everyone could see what was happening, and we took 25 years and we did nothing. And here we are, all of us looking out at the apocalyptic sky where it’s dark at 2:00 in the afternoon, and wondering, where the hell did we go wrong? Let’s do something. Let’s fix it.”