RS17: Celebrating Rural Abundance & Community at Blue Sky Center

Hipcamp has no shortage of hosts who have passion projects and meaningful intentions for their land. A common theme among many hosts is the wish to share their land and work with others. Even more so, to build a community of people who will appreciate and embrace their goals in the same way. In many ways, Hipcamp and hosts share numerous values. Inclusivity, learning from each other, and building community between urbanites and rural dwellers. Recently, a few of us at Hipcamp were able to support and learn from Hipcamp hosts Philip Jankoski and Emily Johnson of Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, California at their first-ever Rural Summit—a gathering to celebrate rural abundance and community.

The town of New Cuyama was established in 1950 after oil was found in the area. Not long after, the town quickly sprouted up thanks to the local oil boom attracting Atlantic Richfield Oil Company (ARCO). Schools, churches, and recreation areas were built as residents enjoyed high-paying jobs within the new oil industry. By 1978, the oil had dwindled away and ARCO left the town to search for oil elsewhere.

Today, this high-desert town that’s nestled behind the Sierra Madre Mountains only has 1,100 residents, who mainly come from agricultural backgrounds. Throughout the past two decades, several entrepreneurs have tried their hand at regenerating Cuyama Valley. The most recent investment in the area happened in 2012 when the Zannon Family Foundation bought the Blue Sky property. The idea was for Blue Sky Center to be a non-profit that acts as a resource for sustainable practices and programs for the rural community. In 2015, Philip became the executive director of Blue Sky Center.

Blue Sky Center is working to cultivate an inclusive and collaborative relationship with New Cuyama’s residents in an effort to reinvigorate the area’s economy, land, and community. They took this vision a step further with their Rural Summit. Community members, entrepreneurs, educators, artists, farmers, and policy-makers gathered together for two days of learning and sharing knowledge with each other.

Panel discussions focused on creative placemaking in rural communities, rural economic revitalization through tourism, food systems and agriculture, and climate issues in Cuyama Valley. Three groups of professionals from each background took turns discussing what they’ve learned and how it might be of use for the local community. Hipcamp founder and CEO, Alyssa Ravasio, was on the tourism panel to discuss Hipcamp’s impact in rural areas.

Action sessions, led by enso, had attendees split up into three groups, based on their background of expertise. Groups collaborated on ideas to address the three key panel topics (placemaking, tourism, and food systems). Each group answered questions like, “What is the main problem in this rural community? What would success look like?” (a fun activity of writing news headlines that would exemplify the success of the area), and “What might be some values to help move the community forward in its goals?”

Blue Sky Center works to support New Cuyama residents to become leaders in their own quest for revitalization. Rural Summit emphasized that they can use urban communities as partners and as a resource. Members of each group quickly recognized they didn’t have a single, perfect answer for New Cuyama. Instead, they focused on sharing their ideas and experiences as examples local residents might learn from and tweak for their own needs.

At the end of action each session, the top ideas from each group were written down. The ideas generated from the sessions will be shared later with New Cuyama residents through Blue Sky Center. Then, residents can then build upon the ideas or use them to spark new conversations.

The Rural Summit weekend experience was wrapped up with a farm-to-table dinner by Clark Staub from Full of Life Foods, which wouldn’t have been complete without ingredients grown in Cuyama Valley. The tables were lined with large, family-style plates topped with colorful and tasty foods while live music filled the air. As the sun was slowly setting in the background, it was hard not to feel hopeful for the future of this beautiful and overlooked area.

By camping at Blue Sky Center through Hipcamp, you are supporting Blue Sky’s mission to regenerate the economy, land and community of New Cuyama. Find New Cuyama’s available camps at the bottom of this post, and find out more about their non-profit work on their website.


Lisse Lundin is a photographer based in San Francisco. You can follow along with her adventures via Instagram.

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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