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Things don’t move too fast in rural communities like New Cuyama, and they especially slow down when the midday sun bears down and the heat hits the high 90s. That is, except for Louie, the pit bull/black lab mix who bounded after a small lizard darting for the safety of the nearest desert shrub on the Blue Sky Center’s land.

Blue Sky’s Development Director Emily Johnson was walking across the nonprofit’s property at a slow but deliberate pace, explaining all the different things that happen there while Louie ambled along. The “high desert” climate in northeast Santa Barbara County’s Cuyama Valley is part of the draw for the tourism aspect of the nonprofit’s mission to empower the valley’s communities, she explained while approaching a row of canvas-roofed huts.

The Blue Sky Center rents the custom-crafted huts out on travel booking websites like Airbnb or Hipcamp for those who want to enjoy the seclusion and natural beauty in New Cuyama, Johnson explained.

“I think that’s really the lifestyle that we’re trying to project here is that desert lifestyle, so we have these unique huts that really have the frontier ethos,” she said. “We have campers that come from all over the world, it’s actually surprising sometimes. We have people from Japan and Australia to Sweden and Germany.”

But Blue Sky is about much more than attracting tourism dollars to the isolated valley. The nonprofit’s mission is to “regenerate the land, economy, and communities within the Cuyama Valley,” which, Johnson said, takes a multi-tiered approach that engages the community, its businesses, other nonprofits, and representatives directly.

The nonprofit took a big step toward its goal in May of this year, when it held what was called the Rural Summit, which brought outside experts and collaborators to speak and engage directly with Cuyama’s business and agricultural leaders, educators and students, artists, other Santa Barbara County nonprofits and foundations, and representatives including State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Das Williams.

There were panel discussions, demonstrations, shared meals, and discussions over the campfire, all aimed at addressing the question: How can the Cuyama Valley’s economy and community empower itself and thrive?

Read the full story in the Santa Maria Sun.

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