We can often discover the most about a place’s spirit by looking to its people: those who make up its communities, businesses, and initiatives, and the symbiotic relationships that are created between them as a result. We can also learn a tremendous amount about a place by observing the way its people react to adversity and rebuild after hardship.
Though there are several places across the globe that are known for their commitment to community, growth, and paving a sustainable path for future generations, we’re highlighting the inspirational strides that three particular locations have taken to uplift and redefine their spirit.
Next stops: Sonoma, New Orleans, and Upstate New York.
Sonoma and Napa Valley
The Sonoma and Napa Valley region is synonymous with wine country. Situated in California’s northern wine-making region, the Sonoma/Napa Valley is one of the Golden State’s most iconic enclaves. Though it’s best-known for its vineyards, upscale resorts, and extraordinary food scene, the region has upped its ante in sustainable living in recent years and is leaning into the strength of its natural resources. Located just 45 miles from urban San Francisco, this agricultural paradise offers travelers an opportunity to support full-circle farming, preservation and education initiatives surrounding local rivers, and art-based community projects dedicated to supporting those affected by the recent Northern California wildfires.
Long Meadow Ranch is one such business that is highlighting the sustainable mindset of Sonoma and bringing its community together the way it knows how — around the table. This family-owned agricultural operation was founded in 1989 and is comprised of a winery, a restaurant, and a fully operational farm. What makes Long Meadow Ranch special is its farm-to-table ethos, which enables visitors to eat next to where their food is grown and better understand the importance of supporting local agriculture.
Napa Valley Paddle is another Sonoma-based initiative promoting sustainability training education. Over the past ten years, the Napa River has been restored from a derelict mudflat to a rich ecosystem filled with diverse wildlife, thanks to a $400 million “living river” restoration project that reconnected the river to its natural contours. The project was spearheaded by a member of the community who sought to foster a greater bond between the region and its natural resources. That preservationist’s son has continued this work through Napa Valley Paddle, a program connecting visitors to the river and educating them on how to help preserve their waters and surrounding lands.
Similarly, there are several projects in Sonoma and Napa that are working to rebuild a sense of hope in the aftermath of the 2017 Northern California wildfires. As both the terrain and the community regenerate, local initiatives are using art to heal wounds. One such example is the Sonoma Ash Project, which uses the ash from local residents’ homes in the creation of new ceramic works and then gifts those pieces back to the individuals who were affected by the fires. This exchange not only honors the grieving process but it encourages a spirit of renewal — an underlying theme found within all of Sonoma’s sustainable practices — which is helping the region embark on a path of growth rather than atrophy.
Regardless of where you venture in Sonoma, you’re bound to witness the community’s connection to the land, its hopeful outlook, and its determination to grow (and rebuild) sustainably.
In New Orleans, music and food are the stuff of legend, but it’s also a place where community is alive and thriving. Known for its distinct architecture; picturesque environs, such as the French Quarter, the Garden District, and the Bywater; and mouthwatering local specialties like jambalaya, gumbo, po’boys, and beignets, NOLA is infused with a vibrant, artistic undertone. But since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the area has been called to reforge its identity, and the community is doing so by honoring the city’s rich cultural heritage and breathing purpose into its everyday operations.
An example of this can be found at an organization called Music Box Village, which houses art installations that create a sort of musician’s playground. Founded in the wake of Katrina, the project was incepted as a collaborative space where artists from New Orleans and beyond could work (and play) in tandem as a means to uplift the community’s spirits and provide a message of hope. Today, Music Box Village is a gathering space for creatives of all sorts as well as a hub of musical activity.
Further examples of this infusion of purpose and community can be found within the city’s culinary scene. At Café Reconcile, opportunity youth are given mentorship in a supportive environment, as a way to grow both professionally and personally. The institution provides each fellow with hospitality training and job placements so as to help them see their true potential, thus increasing their impact and creating a ripple effect in local neighborhoods.
Local environmental efforts are also encouraging a stronger connection between NOLA’s community and its ecosystem. With direct access to the Mississippi River, one of the largest and most fertile fish grounds in the world, the state of Louisiana has rolled out a unique Catch and Cook program that allows residents and tourists to catch their own fish, bring them to a local restaurant, and have a chef cook it with their own unique twist. Not only is this initiative encouraging farm-to-table practices; it’s helping preserve the area’s waterways, supporting various recycling programs, and protecting miles and miles of coastline.
So the next time you’re in New Orleans, be sure to look around — the city is only continuing to evolve and find creative solutions for a brighter, more sustainable future.
Upstate New York
With verdant mountains, pristine creeks and lakes, and ample ground for farming, Upstate New York is a locale known for an abundance of year-round outdoor activities. The local economy thrives on visitors from New York City and around the world and is a go-to destination during summer, autumn, winter, and spring, as the area is ideal for hiking, landscape photography, and skiing. But the truth is, Upstate New York hasn’t always been such a charming destination. The area actually fell into disrepair during the economic downturn of the 1980s and 90s, and while other parts of the U.S. recovered more quickly, the upstate economy had significant difficulties getting back on its feet.
The area’s revival was due in part to an investment in infrastructure and the economy, as well as through community-driven projects and ideation initiatives. One such program that has gained significant acclaim is Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit organization just north of New York City that inspires farmers, chefs, and eaters to bring about more sustainable and nourishing food systems. Since 2004, the food and agriculture center has been utilizing its 80-acre farm campus to educate their local community about food and farming, thus helping visitors understand how to make healthier life choices for themselves and the planet.
Farther upstate, Fishkill Farms is another great example of how the area is supporting local residents through sustainability. This 270-acre apple orchard and vegetable farm houses community-supported agriculture programs that help those within the area subscribe to local and seasonal produce, encouraging food consumption that supports nature and providing family-friendly outdoor fun for the local community. Fishkill Farms pledges to improve its growing methods each season and to support its community as much as the soil supports the crops, a mindset that can be seen and felt throughout the region.
If your travels take you Upstate New York — which we suggest — remember to appreciate the ways that its landscape supports its people. It’s pretty spectacular.
From the outside, Sonoma, New Orleans, and Upstate New York appear vastly different, but they’re more similar than you would think. Each locale has faced its own set of challenges, banded together with its community, and embraced a spirit of renewal. We could all benefit from taking some of this wisdom home with us.
We’d love to hear how traveling to locations such as these have shaped your life — share your stories with us using #MeaningfulMoments.
As Capital One Purpose Project partners, we are excited to be a part of the conversation to showcase how people are rethinking the power of travel. Find more tips on how to travel with purpose on the Capital One Purpose Project Hub, in collaboration with The Points Guy.