Monthly Archives: September 2012

Catherine Sutton Has Died

Catherine Sutton, founder of Transition Albany and a beloved member of many communities in the Berkeley/Albany area, died unexpectedly on Monday, December 5. All of us who knew her are in shock and mourning.

Following is a brief description of Catherine’s life. It’s followed by a second post with information about her upcoming funeral and memorial celebration.

Please feel free to use the website contact form to pass along any memories or thoughts–I’ll make sure they get to Catherine’s husband Leonard.

Bob Spies
Transition Albany Webmaster

Catherine Ann Hildegard Sutton was born in Oxford England in 1949 to German refugee Margo Müller and British aeronautical engineer Peter Sutton. Her parents met during WWII, as Peter was sent in to discover the Nazi’s secrets. They say Catherine was born during a thunderstorm.

She is survived by husband Leonard Edmondson, sister Sally Sutton, brother John Sutton, two half-sisters, Peggy Sutton and Annora Sutton, son Robin Breathe, daughter-in-law Alice Breathe, and the joy of her life, granddaughter Hazel Breathe.

Living in England until she was almost 40, Catherine never drove a car there. She lived in some 50 places in her lifetime, and particularly loved living in Wales on some land with a group of 7 or so friends. She came to the United States in 1988.

Catherine was a Russian major at Leeds University. Studying Bulgarian as her second language, she was forever infected with the magic of Bulgarian music and dance when she came upon a wedding while living in Sofia, Bulgaria. (She was cluck-clucked by the old Bulgarian women when she wore her mini skirt on the bus.)

Using her gifts of language and cooking, for livelihood she has cooked, waited table, worked as a janitor, sold knives, written resounding resumes, played in a Balkan band, taught dance and guarded crossings. Her job was always what was right in front of her calling to be done and working for the ideal of right living and social justice. In the early 80’s, her business was called
Sunshine Biscuits. She would bake flapjacks and deliver them to local businesses by bicycle with her son Robin also riding in the trailer, and people called her “Cathy Sunshine”.

Catherine’s first stop in the U.S. was Campbell Hot Springs in Sierraville, California, living with Leonard Orr’s radical rebirthing community. She lived in Reno for a time and then in Penngrove, where Leonard found her. In the late 90’s, they were both involved in a company called Cell Tech which network-marketed super blue-green algae health food, yet another controversial and radical venture. They connected on a sunny Sunday on the green grass at the Cell Tech August Celebration in Klamath Falls, Oregon where she was playing with a baby. She came to live with Leonard in about 2001 and they were married in 2005. He added stability to her life, rooting her in Albany and giving her support, and she flowered in place like nobody’s business. They were continuously setting new records for her longest relationship and longest residence of her life.

She believed fiercely in non-institutional, community-based birth, life, and death. She had her own son Robin at home and would have preferred to die that way. She was stubborn, determined, fiery, and idealistic. She is the founder Transition Albany with its delightfully generic mission, which both spawned and assisted many other local projects. There is a pattern here of living on the edge, sometimes associating with controversial, shady but dynamic characters with idealism and determination to fundamentally change the world for the better.

With fabulous energy, she juggled many balls at once, daily, in a way that few can emulate. Around the bulging micro urban homestead she and Leonard shared, she cared for fruit trees, bees, chickens, worms, compost, and flowers, and did solar cooking, preserving, fermenting, drying, washing, conserving, with water tanks, a grey-water system, whole house water filter, solar water heating, solar electric generator, line drying, and the list goes on.

Leonard says,

I lost my life companion, wilderness backpack travel buddy, and my cryptic crossword co-puzzler. Catherine had an astounding command of language, often teaching me new words. When she built things it was always by the seat of her pants.

She is her mother’s daughter in that she survived and thrived, living by her will and her wits, holding strongly to her principles even when there was nothing else to hold onto. She was a challenging person to love, with the operative principles being continuous forgiveness and renewal. Now I’m working on forgiving her for dying.

Posted in Community Building, Economy, Edible Landscape Project, Energy, Food and Agriculture, Health and Healing, Housing, Local Activities, Resources, Social Justice on December 10, 2016

Questions for Candidates



On October 2nd we invited all the candidates for Albany City Council to our Potluck with a Purpose and asked them to address the questions below. Nick Pilch, Todd Abbott, Peter Maass, Sheri Spellwoman and Ulan McKnight accepted our invitation and you can hear the entire evening’s discussion recorded here. (We apologize that you might have to guess at times who is speaking!)

The TRANSITION MOVEMENT began as a community response to climate change, resource depletion and increasing economic instability. We believe in reducing consumption to levels that create an even playing field worldwide and drastically reduce individual and community-wide carbon footprints. It is said humans have at most two years to turn around our production of greenhouse gases and avoid a vicious cycle of increased global warming.

  • Which of your past achievements and/or actions would persuade voters that you are committed to a near-future for Albany that uses far fewer non-renewable resources and emits less greenhouse gases?
  • What plans do you have within your four-year term to strengthen and implement Albany’s Climate Action Plan? Which items do you see as most important or pressing?


The TRANSITION movement believes that it is the people who live in a community and experience its challenges firsthand that can have the insight and genius to come up with the most appropriate solutions. In contrast, previous city councils have spent thousands of dollars, when the budget was already tight, on hiring outside consultants.

  • How do you propose to tap into the genius of the community and also incorporate meaningful community input into the more important decisions you have to make on the community’s behalf?


The TRANSITION movement has the goal of creating resilient communities that produce a significant percentage of their essentials (food, energy, healthcare, housing etc.) locally. In addition, it is notable that local retailers/ suppliers return at least 52% of their revenue to the local economy, compared to just 14% for national chain retailers. (See study)

  • What is your position regarding the environmentally superior alternative for the mixed use development at Monroe and San Pablo that includes a smaller, locally owned grocery store, affordable housing for our seniors, and generates 70% less carbon emissions than the one currently proposed by UC?
  • How will you support local business owners?
  • In what ways will you encourage increased local production of essentials (food, energy, healthcare, housing etc.)?



  • How would you balance doing what the majority of the community wants with what you think is the right thing, if the two don’t coincide?
  • In many cities throughout the world, city councils partner with representatives from their Transition initiative. How would you feel about incorporating a Transition town task force to help address the challenges Albany will be facing in the coming years and create a more resilient community?


Posted in Economy, Energy, Food and Agriculture on September 28, 2012

An Edible City

This summer, a group from Transition Albany and Bay Food Shed worked with City Arborist, Tony Wolcott, to bring the Memorial Park High School Garden back to life. They weeded, cleaned up trash, built new raised beds, filled them with soil and planted beans, cooking greens, lettuces, tomatoes, herbs, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries, blackberries, native thimbleberry and ground cherries, then mulched everything. Around the shadier areas they planted native ferns, ginger and beneficial ornamentals that enrich the soil and attract useful insects.

The city provided locally milled cedar planks for the beds, the soil, and the mulch. The gardeners provided labor and plants from our own starts, plants traded and donated, and a few purchases. Three days a week, they take it in turns to water, clean up accumulated trash and weed the intrepid bermuda grass.

So far, produce has gone to the Albany Senior Center and to Bay Food Shed’s Garden to Table initiative in which local restaurants Cafeina, Tay Tah/Bua Luang, and Elevation 66 receive locally grown produce to add to their menu. As the school year gets underway, we anticipate that several teachers and their students will take on significant aspects of garden care, cultivation and harvesting. However, the gardeners stand ready to support them in whatever ways will most ensure their success.

Tony Wolcott is so pleased with the efforts of the group that he offered an additional, sunnier plot in Memorial Park for community cultivation. The small current team is not able to take on this additional plot themselves, but if there were 3 -4 additional volunteers who could participate in an initiatial intensive two or three work sessions, and then participate on a bi-weekly basis for ongoing care, we could turn another corner of Albany into verdant food production.

Another upcoming project will be to work with Tony on behalf of the Parks and Recreation Department to develop the area east of the retrofitted BART tracks on the Ohlone Greenway as an Albany Public Fruit and Nut Orchard and/or gardens.

To join either or both of these projects, contact Alexa Hauser at alexahhh [at]

This is is the way of the future. There is a group of residents in Todmorden, a market town in northern England, that started converting bare land to food production and now has the entire town council on board donating every available spot! The link has a video they made.


On Sunday October 7 at 2 pm, we are showing a feature-length documentary, Edible City, at Albany Library Edith Stone Room, 1247 Marin Avenue. See flyer here.

“Edible City … tells the stories of extraordinary people who are digging their hands into the dirt, working to transform their communities and doing something truly revolutionary: growing local Good Food Systems that are socially just, environmentally sound, and economically resilient.”

The film covers initiatives all over the Bay Area, including the controversial occupation of the Gill Tract on Earth Day 2012, and was directed and produced by locals Andrew Hasse and Carl Grether. We plan to have a speaker to lead discussion afterwards. You can also watch the entire documentary online here.


Finally, check out our neighbor initiative, Self Sustaining Communities, which, under the leadership of Linda Schneider, has established or helped establish at least three small urban farms in Richmond including a farm close to Albany in the Richmond Annex that sports not only chickens, rabbits, beehives, food production and rainwater harvesting, but also recently installed an entire aquaponics setup.


I’d love to see rooftop gardening taking hold, lawn-to garden initiatives, shared gardening… In fact to can register your desire to build a garden even if you don’t have land or offer your underused plot for someone who is willing to grow food on it at (that’s Yards to Gardens).




Posted in Edible Landscape Project, Food and Agriculture on September 8, 2012