Zizi Vlaun believes Earth Day is every day. (Scott Vlaun)

Zizi Vlaun was born in Toronto in 1967 just before her family immigrated to the U.S. As co-founder, with Scott Vlaun, Seal Rossignol, and Shawn Kane, of the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy (CEBE), her primary goal is to raise awareness about climate change. She lives in Otisfield with her 12-year-old son, Jasper.

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My parents were born in Germany, but they met in Montreal, where my father was a student at McGill and my mother was an R.N. She’d studied nursing in London. That’s where she moved with her English mother soon after the Bliztkrieg of Hamburg in 1943.

My mother’s father was from Tunisia. He was the minister of culture there until the Nazis recruited him to teach languages to Nazi officials at Hamburg University – they had big hopes for world domination. My father’s father was the minister of propaganda in Hannover for the Nazis. As a result, my father has spent much of his life giving lectures to help people understand how easy it is to get swept up into dangerous group-think.

My earliest memories are of living in Marietta, Ohio, a beautiful little college town. I was the fourth of five children. I was quiet and observant. I stayed out of the fray. I didn’t love school, but in high school I perked up when we had electives like philosophy and psychology.

In fact, when I got to the University of Cincinnati, I chose those sorts of courses, which fed my approach to graphic design. I love design. Design affects the way people take in information and respond to their environment.

My mother was a strong figure in my life. She was a community activist, mostly about the school system, but she was very religious, and anything involving ethics was important to her. She was not shy about marching into the mayor’s office, or even the governor’s.

She was pretty hip to health, even back in the ’70s, and made us her version of Tiger’s Milk that I had to choke down every day. She always shopped at natural food stores. Because of that, whenever I’ve moved to a new town, one of the first things I’ve looked for is the health food store. The familiar smell helps me feel at home.

After college, I was hired as a graphic designer by Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico. I needed a Q Clearance so I could talk to the physicists about their work, which fascinated me. I did some huge exhibits for trade shows, like the history of super­computing that stretched from Oppenheimer to the ’90s. I worked there from 1991 to 1997, so we were at the forefront of website design. My introduction to environmental issues began there, through learning about the pros and cons of nuclear energy.

In 1997, I met Scott when I started working for Seeds of Change (SOC), an organic seed company in Santa Fe. I created one of their first websites. At SOC I learned about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as well as issues surrounding pesticides, insecticides, and pollen drift. I remember sitting around a conference table at SOC and understanding for the first time how much Monsanto was playing with fire, and how important seeds and genetic diversity are.

Scott and I moved to Otisfield in 1999 from NYC and started working more intensely for SOC. We became their marketing team, designing, photographing, and writing their catalogues, seed packs, website, and advertising. We made everything as beautiful, educational, and compelling as possible to inspire people to garden. Those years opened the door to our interest in much that we do at CEBE.

Though we were working full-time for SOC until 2012, we took on local jobs, including the Oxford Hills Magazine, which opened us to the local community and its needs. This is where our thinking about CEBE began – around the kitchen table with friends. We came up with a business plan and a mission statement – a structure of sorts.

We didn’t act on it until 2013. When Jasper was born, ecology became even more important to us. We wanted to leave him a better world than the one he was born into. But the thing that finally set us into action was the rumor of a casino being built in Oxford. If you’re going to grow an economy, you want to base it on good growth, not on predatory or extractive growth.

Our primary question at CEBE was how do we build a healthy economy that’s ecologically sound? How do we use our resources to create a community and a life that makes sense? We’re lucky to live in an area with loads of great resources. We have a lot of skill here. There are tons of people who have the ingenuity to design and build anything. Moreover, we have natural resources: wood, water, and the capacity to grow food. There’s a lot we can create here instead of having it all shipped in.

We looked at how to get other community members on board – which is key. We looked at producing our food and energy locally, at solar farms, for instance. We looked at shelter – how to build inspiring living spaces from local resources. We looked at transportation – how we can get from A to Z without fossil fuels?

Though we have a long way to go, we have already accomplished a lot. We’ve installed solar powered electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in Norway and South Paris, as well as 15 other locations around the area, reducing “range-anxiety” for EV drivers.

We offer the annual EV Expo at OHCHS, and a community bicycle share. Edible Main Street planter boxes demonstrate how easy it is to grow food. The Foothills Food Festival celebrates food and our local food system.

But we’re just getting started – we’re on the cusp of pushing ourselves into a more resilient place as a community, and we’re doing it with our local resources.

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