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June 27, 2024, New Cuyama, California — Local Santa Barbara County nonprofit, Blue Sky Center (Blue Sky), celebrates ten years of working to build resilient, thriving, and inclusive rural economies in the Cuyama Valley.

July 10, 2024, marks Ten Years of Blue Skies Over Cuyama, the community organization’s anniversary as a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Located in the townsite of New Cuyama, in a rural California valley of 1,100 residents in Santa Barbara County’s remote northeastern corner, Blue Sky is dedicated to strengthening this rural community by supporting entrepreneurs and building up regional creative and economic resources.

In honor of the organization’s ten-year anniversary, the Blue Sky team is excited to share some of the organization’s catalyzing achievements. “We do what needs to happen in ways that bring people along, build on what and who is here, and treat any issue at hand as best solved with an interdisciplinary approach. Work here—in all rural communities—is complex; resources are stretched and bent, but not broken,” explains Jack Forinash, Executive Director of Blue Sky Center.

The area’s economic history is complicated and much of it has centered on extracting resources, a trend that Blue Sky Center is actively working to shift. The entire townsite of New Cuyama, including what is now Blue Sky Center, was built by the Richfield Oil Company in 1950. Richfield (later ARCO) exhausted much of the oil from the area and then divested in the 1970s.

In 2012 the Zannon family of the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company made an investment which included land, assets, and equipment for the development of a new not-for-profit organization to support entrepreneurs and build creative and economic resources. The nonprofit became Blue Sky Sustainable Living Center in July of 2014. From 2014 to 2016, Richfield Oil’s 25,000-square-foot former headquarters was reimagined, and in 2016, Blue Sky Center was introduced to Cuyama Valley. During Blue Sky’s early years, their work was focused on determining the greatest needs of the community. The organization researched and collected data through surveying the community and outside stakeholders including elected ocials, and corporate and academic leadership. In 2020, the organization published “The Cuyama Valley Community Action Plan,” a comprehensive report that established both current conditions and reported back “next steps” for furthering economic opportunity, rural resilience, and quality of life for Cuyamans in order to help guide the work of Blue Sky for the years to come.

Since then, Blue Sky has centered its work around supporting working groups that emerged from the listening sessions that contributed to the The Cuyama Valley Community Action Plan, developing unique models of community-led artistic programming and economic development, and strengthening disaster resiliency for the rural community.

Two of the working groups that emerged from The Cuyama Valley Community Action Plan—and have continued to grow and thrive since the report was published—include the Cuyama Valley Food Action Network (CVFAN) and the Townsites Beautification and Wayfinding initiative. The CVFAN emerged after years of building relationships and conducting surveys and informal meetings and gatherings in order to identify what was needed to support the small farmers and ranchers of Cuyama Valley and create a healthy and resilient local food system. As part of the mission of the CVFAN, a sub-working group also emerged—known as Jardines Victoria (Victory Gardens)—as a way to encourage and help educate more local community members to grow their own food. Today there are 45 backyard gardens across the Cuyama Valley as part of the Jardines Victoria program.

The Townsites Beautification and Wayfinding working group also emerged after years of community meetings which centered around determining the best ways to beautify the townsite of New Cuyama in order to increase local pride, draw attention to the townsite to support local businesses, and provide gathering spaces and better wayfinding signage for both locals and travelers. The website and accompanying business resource guide was created in 2020, and in 2022 the working group was able to secure a $1.2 million investment by the state department of transportation (Caltrans) to create a beautiful new entrance to the townsite of New Cuyama. Completed in 2024, the Highway 166 beautification project now boasts 65 dry-native palo verde trees, four new display panels highlighting the history of the valley, two viewscopes to take in the beauty of the valley, and two new wash bridges to mark the entrance to the townsite.

As a way to increase local economic resiliency for the valley, Blue Sky supports local entrepreneurs and businesses through training programs, providing access and assistance to grant opportunities as well as by providing space on the Blue Sky property for local businesses to lease at aordable rates through the organization’s “Made in Cuyama” initiative. Since 2018, entrepreneurial training opportunities have included providing one-on-one technical assistance to local small businesses, as well as hosting an entrepreneurial training series funded by USDA Rural Business Development Grants.

This past year, Blue Sky—in partnership with local nonprofit Quail Springs Permaculture—secured a grant from Uplift Central Coast as part of the California Jobs First initiative. Funded by the grant, the organizations are in the process of hosting community listening sessions and conducting a community-wide survey aimed at developing a resilient economic futures plan for the Cuyama Valley, while also contributing to the state-wide CA Jobs First investment initiative.

Blue Sky prides itself on prioritizing projects and collaborations that celebrate the abundance of Cuyama, which guides much of the arts programming the organization brings to the community. As part of this ongoing programming, the organization has a long-standing partnership with artist Noé Montes, who has had his Cuyama residency work featured in The Bakersfield Museum of Art, the “Cuyama Sun / Cuyama Moon” newspaper published by Blue Sky, and in the California Art Council’s first issue of DREAM Magazine.

Through the organization’s arts programming, Blue Sky has consistently supported arts education by placing visiting artists in Cuyama public schools. The organization has developed multiple artist residencies, supported with funds from the California Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts. In 2022 Blue Sky produced a community-wide play about Cuyama by Cuyamans. The community performance “Superbloom: A Story from a Time Without Flowers,” explored the connection to neighbors in divisive times and finding hope in times of tension, in response to COVID-19.

In the 2023-2024 season, “Cuyama Song Camp” provided after-school song instruction and outdoor play in the form of the traditional Chumash game of shinny and a performance with original music. “Cuyama Drama Club” provided ten sessions of after-school drama instruction, with a hands-on set-build day. The “Potluck and a Play” about Cuyama was performed outdoors at the high school.

Recently, Cuyama Action Fellow Nhatt Nichols worked with the high school students on challenges in local food systems, and artist Renée Reizman is discussing the lack of broadband Internet access with students and residents. Blue Sky Center’s largest artist grant to date from Central Coast Creative Corps has supported a full-time position to open an art-driven, community-created, pop-up space in New Cuyama called “Paso a Paso” (“step by step”) for local co-creators to host events of skill-sharing, classes, and community gatherings.

As part of Blue Sky’s mission to strengthen the rural community, the organization puts a major emphasis on disaster resiliency initiatives. During COVID-19 the organization, in partnership with the Cuyama Buckhorn resort, launched the Cuyama Valley COVID-19 Relief Fund, to supplement, support, and expand the Cuyama Joint Unified School District’s school lunch program during the pandemic to ensure meals for the youth of the Valley. The Relief Fund ended up raising $20,595 from donors beyond Cuyama, which provided breakfasts and additional lunches through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. There were also leftover funds from the initiative which provided breakfasts and lunches for children and young adults throughout the summer months and helped fund resources for safe and eective at-home learning during the pandemic. The organization also led the coordination of meetings with other local and regional organizations to provide up-to-date information and resources to the community throughout the shutdown and beyond through printed and online newsletters that Blue Sky dispersed throughout the townsites on a bi-weekly basis.

Currently the organization is working with the Santa Barbara County Sustainability Division to provide research regarding local Cuyama homeowners to identify energy efficiency opportunities for the area. Blue Sky has also partnered with GRID Alternatives, as well as with SOURCE to install solar panels and hydropanels at local Cuyama homes and ranches. The organization is continuously working to seek out these opportunities, get in contact with the organizations and stakeholders involved, educate the community about the opportunities, and help community members and local businesses apply to receive the benefits.

Blue Sky also has several enterprise development projects that directly support the nonprofit. The 267-acre property hosts tourists and visitors through the “Explore Cuyama” initiative—aimed at supporting tourism to the area—with an annual average of 660 overnight campers staying in one of five Shelton Huts, or by bringing their own tent or recreational vehicle. Through the organization’s “Made in Cuyama” initiative that supports local entrepreneurs, some of the property’s buildings function as workshops for local artisans and creative businesses, including a screenprinting shop High Desert Print Co., a woodie restoration shop by the name of Warrior Wagons, a welding and car repair shop, as well as other local businesses that rent space and build wealth for themselves. Additionally, the organization launched the Cuyama Beverage Company in 2021 as a pilot project to exhibit the abundance of the Cuyama Valley using local honey and jujubes cultivated with sustainable farming practices to create a light, effervescent mead (honey wine). Two flavors are currently available at Cuyama Buckhorn, as well as at various Central Coast beverage retailers. All proceeds from mead sales directly support local Cuyama farmers and Blue Sky’s operations.

As a remnant of the ARCO era, Blue Sky also owns and operates the Cuyama Valley’s last remaining public-use airstrip, call sign L88. In 2022 through the generosity of many private donors, this remote airstrip was completely resurfaced and reopened. An average of 15 small planes per week now utilize the airstrip for recreational trips as well as it being a critical resource for emergency services for wildfire response, law enforcement, and medivac—taking just 17 minutes to get to a hospital by helicopter, whereas otherwise an ambulance to the nearest hospital can be over an hour.

In honor of the organization’s anniversary, Blue Sky Center has launched a fundraising campaign to raise much-needed funds for operational costs not covered by grants so the organization can continue this important rural community work into the future, with a goal of raising $46,000 this summer.

Learn more about Blue Sky Center at and the 10-year anniversary fundraiser at

About Blue Sky Center

Blue Sky Center is a Santa Barbara County 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the rural communities of Cuyama Valley by supporting entrepreneurs and building regional creative and economic resources. The organization is focused on building models for resilient, thriving, and inclusive rural economies in the Cuyama Valley. As a place-based organization, its team prioritizes projects and collaborations that celebrate the abundance of Cuyama.

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