BY QUINISHA JACKSON-WRIGHT | FEBRUARY 21, 2019
Founded in 2014 with support from the Zannon Foundation, Blue Sky Center envisions a world with financial, social, and environmental equity. This vision begins with New Cuyama, where the organization is developing its relationship and outreach to local residents and addressing significant issue areas to promote a culture of self-sustainability.
Along with two full-time and four part-time staff members, Blue Sky Center enlists the services of a group of AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers In Service to America) to support organizational capacity. These individuals from diverse backgrounds dedicate one year of full-time service with the organization and contribute to programs that empower communities in overcoming poverty. VISTA Food Action Coordinator Cecilia Guevara explained more of what Blue Sky Center seeks to accomplish in New Cuyama.
“It’s important for people to be self-sufficient and not have to rely solely on bigger agricultural [sources],” she said. “If they have business ideas, we have spaces for them.”
Supplying spaces for small businesses will be achieved with the support of funds granted to Blue Sky Center from a USDA Rural Business Development grant. The organization is currently reviewing applications from local business owners for this effort.
“The goal is to give everyone an equal opportunity,” Guevara said. “We want to provide education on available resources, and create personal relationships with members of the community.”
Guevara’s role focuses on community outreach and finding ways to build residents’ knowledge on available nutrition programs. She and her colleagues at Blue Sky Center conducted surveys to determine focus areas within New Cuyama. Upon reviewing feedback, the organization found that nearly 70% of residents purchased less than ¼ of their food in town. Furthermore, another 34% rely on distributions from the local Food Bank for 50% or more of their food.
Blue Sky Center has implemented several innovative nutritional and culinary initiatives to meet local food needs. Grant funding was used to establish the Cuyama Kitchen, a mobile commercial kitchen facility operated during community events, including its recent Dia de Los Muertos Community Celebration. There are also goals to collaborate with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and the Cuyama Valley Joint Unified School District on effective food action plans.
Beyond growing access to more food sources, Blue Sky Center has contributed to making the area an attractive place for tourists, hosting private events and renting out uniquely designed huts to campers through Airbnb. Guevara stated that this method of building tourism also increases traffic for local businesses, which carries out the vision of strengthening the economy in New Cuyama.
“It helps a lot of businesses,” she said. “Places like the [local antique shop] Junk Jar get more visitors, and there’s now a guide of local places to eat. There are places to go hiking. [All of these] help people become familiar with the area.”
Blue Sky Center seeks to offer services that benefit all residents of New Cuyama. When asked about upcoming projects for 2019, Guevara mentioned there will be continued efforts to create educational and nutritional programming for the community, including elementary and high school students.
“It’s good for people to be involved in the growth of this community,” she said. “We want to change the idea of civic engagement. Especially in a rural area, the residents aren’t used to [an organization] providing different resources, but we really want to shift that mindset.”