Inspirational News ArticlesExcerpts of Key Inspirational News Articles in Media
In an almond orchard outside Turlock in the Central Valley, two large tanks hold water, minerals - and more importantly, energy. The tanks ... are part of a "flow battery" that stores energy from nearby solar panels. It's the largest battery of its kind in the world. And it could play a role in California's push to develop bigger and better ways to store large quantities of energy. This particular flow battery ... was built by EnerVault of Sunnyvale, part of the Bay Area's fast growing energy-storage industry. Like most of its competitors, EnerVault is young, founded in 2008, with about $30 million in venture funding to date. Some companies try to perfect the lithium-ion batteries found in laptops and electric cars. Others, including EnerVault and Primus Power of Hayward, specialize in flow batteries, which store energy in tanks of electrolytes. The fluid is then pumped through the battery's cells when power is needed. In contrast, the batteries found at a grocery store contain the electrolyte, cathode and anode all in one package. "Flow batteries are batteries turned inside out," said Jim Pape, EnerVault's chief executive officer. His company's flow batteries use iron and chromium, blended into the water inside its tanks. Both materials are safe to handle. Iron and chromium also have the benefit of being cheap. "That's our special sauce," Pape said. "Iron and chromium are very, very abundant, and abundance equals low cost."
While the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that installing solar panels on every home in America would produce 3.75 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, ... photovoltaics still account for no more than 1.13 percent of America’s power production. [What] can municipalities do? It’s not like they can pave the streets with solar panels. That’s where the husband and wife team of Scott and Julie Brusaw would beg to differ. Since the mid-2000's, Scott, an electrical engineer, and Julie, a psychotherapist, have been developing special solar cells encased in rugged, hexagonal-shaped glass. Lay enough of these mechanical cobblestones together and you’ve built yourself a kind of hybrid driveway/solar array. For the Brusaws, the prototype, while impressive, makes up but a tiny chunk of a much more ambitious vision. According to their calculations, covering the nation’s nearly 28,000 square miles worth of roads, highways and parking spaces with these special panels would produce three times the nation’s total energy consumption. [In their vision], the panels would serve as the foundation for a do-it-all “smart” roadway system that’s capable of not only harvesting energy, but also making roads safer by using heat to remove surface ice and lighting up dark pathways with embedded LEDs. The “Solar Roadway” project, which the Brusaws proposed, was promising enough that, in 2009, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration awarded them a series of contracts to further their concept.
She wasn’t necessarily popping champagne Thursday, but conservationist Jennifer Pitt was certainly celebrating the arrival of water from the Colorado River into the Sea of Cortez. It was a monumental moment for conservationists, who said that water hasn’t flowed regularly from the Colorado River to the sea in more than 50 years. It temporarily reached the sea twice in the 1980s and last in 1993. “The pulse flow meeting the sea marks completion of a journey that the Colorado River has not made in a long time, and I take it as a sign of hope not only for our efforts to restore the Colorado River Delta, but also rivers and watersheds everywhere in the world where climate change promises an uncertain future,” said Pitt, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River Project. The water ... traveled nearly 100 miles from a previously barren delta at the Morelos Dam just south of where California, Arizona and Mexico meet. It was a result of a bi-national agreement that came together after years of negotiations. Enough water to supply over 200,000 homes for a year was released on March 23 in an effort to revive trees, wildlife and aquatic life that have perished since the delta dried up decades ago. Conservationists say it will be years before they see the environmental effects of the water streaming through, but residents in the town of San Luis Rio Colorado in the Mexican state of Sonora have been frolicking in the water and gathering at the river ever since the flow started.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law [on May 13] promising free community college tuition to every high school graduate in the state. "Most of our students live below the poverty line," he says. "Many of them don't have parents directly involved in their lives, many of them live with guardians, many of them live in state foster homes and some are homeless." The Tennessee Promise would use $34 million a year from lottery funds to cover tuition for a two-year degree at a community college. Nazje Mansfield ... plans to enroll and become a teacher. Her mother works the night shift at Walmart. "I thought I was just going to have to take out a million loans and be paying them till I'm dead," Nazje says. Thirty cities have similar programs, but Tennessee is unique because its offer has fewer restrictions. A third of Tennesseans have a college degree, and Gov. Haslam wants to raise that to 55 percent. Asked whether he thinks some may call the initiative an entitlement program, Haslam says, "We have a lot of entitlement programs in this country, and we've seen how much they cost us on the back end when people don't have the education they need. I say let's make this investment on the front end. I think it'll be better for the individual and better for our state in the long term." Workers with a two-year degree earn about $57,000, while those with only a high school diploma make $35,000. The Tennessee Promise goes into effect next year.
Note: Many European countries and Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey all offer free higher education. We spend trillions on defense. What would happen if we made higher education free everywhere? Explore a treasure trove of concise summaries of incredibly inspiring news articles which will inspire you to make a difference.
If you could see the world through my eyes, you would know how perfect it is, how much order runs through it, and how much structure is hidden in its tiniest parts. The universe itself and everything we can touch and all that we are is made of the most beautiful geometric patterns imaginable. I know because they’re right in front of me. Because of a traumatic brain injury, the result of a brutal physical attack, I’ve been able to see these patterns for over a decade. This change in my perception was really a change in my brain function, the result of the injury and the extraordinary and mostly positive way my brain healed. All of a sudden, the patterns were just . . . there, and I realize now that my injury was a rare gift. I’m lucky to have survived, but for me, the real miracle—what really saved me—was being introduced to and almost overwhelmed by the mathematical grace of the universe. Doctors tell me that nothing in my brain was newly created or added when I was injured. Rather, innate but dormant skills were released. This theory comes from psychiatrist Darold Treffert, who is considered the world’s leading authority on savants and acquired savants. He ... suggested that all of us have extraordinary skills just beneath the surface, much as birds innately know how to fly in a V-formation and fish know how to swim in a school. Why the brain suppresses these remarkable abilities is still a mystery, but sometimes, when the brain is diseased or damaged, it relents and unleashes the inner genius. This isn’t just my story. It’s the story of the potential secreted away in all of us.
Note: Excerpted from Struck By Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel by Jason Padgett and Maureen Seaberg. For a treasure trove of great news articles which will inspire you to make a difference, click here.
The Dutch government is facing an unusual crisis: Prison undercrowding. There are now more guards and other prison staff than there are prisoners in the Netherlands for the first time, according to data released by the Justice Ministry. In 2008, there were around 15,000 inmates, in a country of 17 million. As of March of this year, there were just 9,710 inmates remaining, compared with 9,914 guards. And the number of inmates included 650 Belgian criminals the Netherlands is housing as part of a temporary deal. In the U.S., the figure is more like one guard or staff member per five prisoners. The overall U.S. incarceration rate is more than 10 times higher. Justice Ministry spokesman Jochgem van Opstal said "we're studying what the reason for the decline is." The ministry is already in the process of closing prisons and cutting 3,500 staff. Last week, labor union Abvakabo FNV slammed the cuts, saying they were leading to "staffing shortages." "At this moment you can't say there is any safety in Dutch prisons," union leader Corrie van Brenk said in an interview with Dutch broadcaster NOS. "It's an explosive situation." The government has rejected the criticism, saying violent incidents at prisons have been declining. One change politicians are considering is ending a practice of granting probation to criminals once they have served two-thirds of their sentences.
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Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods and founding executive director of The Institute for Responsible Technology, a leading source of GMO-health-risk information, says several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. In fact, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has asked physicians to advise all patients to avoid genetically modified foods altogether. Ready to go GMO free? Here are 10 ways to shop smarter: 1. Go organic. The USDA National Organic Standards prohibit GMOs, so shopping organic is a great way to avoid them. 2. Load up on fruits and veggies. Most fresh produce is non-GMO, says Smith, but zucchini, yellow summer squash, edamame, sweet corn and papaya from Hawaii or China are considered high risk and are best avoided. Only buy those high-risk fruits and vegetables if they are labeled "organic" or "non-GMO," he advises. 3. Look for the non-GMO-verified seal. Since GMOs require no labeling, this seal is one of the best ways to tell when foods are free of genetic modification. 4. Join the Tipping Point Campaign. This network of local activists is working to educate communities on the dangers of GMOs. 5. Beware of additives. The five most common GMOs -- corn, canola, soy, cotton and sugar beets -- often end up as additives (in the form of corn syrup, oil, sugar, flavoring agents or thickeners) in packaged foods.
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Quietly whirring away in a dusty field in the Central Valley is a shiny solar energy machine that may someday solve many of California's water problems. It's called the WaterFX solar thermal desalination plant, and it has been turning salty, contaminated irrigation runoff into ultra-pure liquid for nearly a year for the Panoche Water and Drainage District. It's the only solar-driven desalination plant of its kind in the country. Right now its efforts produce just 14,000 gallons a day. But within a year, WaterFX intends to begin expanding that one small startup plant into a sprawling collection of 36 machines that together can pump out 2 million gallons of purified water daily. Within about five years, WaterFX company co-founder Aaron Mandell hopes to be processing 10 times that amount throughout the San Joaquin Valley. And here's the part that gets the farmers who buy his water most excited: His solar desalination plant produces water that costs about a quarter of what more conventionally desalinated water costs: $450 an acre-foot versus $2,000 an acre-foot. That brings Mandell's water cost close to what farmers are paying, in wet years, for water from the Panoche and other valley districts - about $300 an acre-foot. And that makes it a more economically attractive option than any of the 17 conventional desalination plants planned throughout California. If Mandell can pull it off, the tiny farming town where he is starting his enterprise could be known as ground zero for one of the most revolutionary water innovations in the state's history.
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Christians and Muslims have joined to try to help free millions of men, women and children held in modern-day slavery, forced to work as maids, prostitutes, child soldiers and manual laborers. The Global Freedom Network, launched [on March 17] at the Vatican, aims to eradicate slavery by encouraging governments, businesses, educational and faith institutions to rid their supply chains of slave labor. The initiative is the brainchild of billionaire Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest, who founded the Walk Free Foundation in 2012 to mobilize a grass-roots movement to end slavery. Forrest, ranked 270th on Forbes' list of the world's richest people, used personal contacts to bring the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church, 85-million strong Anglican Communion, and al-Azhar university in Cairo, the world's foremost seat of Sunni learning, on board with the initiative. Representatives from all three gathered ... at the Vatican to sign an agreement to launch the project, which will be based at the Vatican and have a chief executive responsible for implementing a five-year business plan. Objectives include getting the G20 to condemn modern-day slavery, persuading 50 major corporations to commit to slavery-proofing their supply chains, and convincing 160 governments to endorse a seven-year, $100 million fundraising effort to implement anti-slavery programs globally.
In ... this bedroom community outside Phoenix, amid precision-cut lawns and Craftsman-style homes, lambs caper in common green areas, chickens scratch in a citrus grove and residents roam rows of heirloom vegetables to see what might be good for dinner. The neighborhood is called Agritopia, and it’s one of a growing number of so-called agrihoods, residential developments where a working farm is the central feature, in the same way that other communities may cluster around a golf course, pool or fitness center. The real estate bust in 2008 halted new construction, but with the recovery, developers are again breaking ground on farm-focused tracts. At least a dozen projects across the country are thriving, enlisting thousands of home buyers who crave access to open space, verdant fields and fresh food. “I hear from developers all the time about this,” said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow for sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute. Sixteen of Agritopia’s 160 acres are certified organic farmland, with row crops (artichokes to zucchini), fruit trees (citrus, nectarine, peach, apple, olive and date) and livestock (chickens and sheep). Fences gripped by grapevines and blackberry bushes separate the farm from the community’s 452 single-family homes, each with a wide front porch and sidewalks close enough to encourage conversation. The hub of neighborhood life is a small square overlooking the farm, with a coffeehouse, farm-to-table restaurant and honor-system farm stand. The square is also where residents line up on Wednesday evenings to claim their bulging boxes of just-harvested produce, eggs and honey.
There are many ways to measure 30 years, but for Glenn Ford, the yardstick is simple. "My sons -- when I left -- was babies. Now they grown men with babies," he said, speaking as a free man for the first time in nearly three decades. Ford, Louisiana's longest-serving death row prisoner, walked free [on March 11] after spending nearly 30 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. According to the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana, a judge ordered that Ford be freed ... after prosecutors petitioned the court to release him. New information corroborated what Ford had said all along: that he was not present at nor involved in the November 5, 1983, slaying of Isadore Rozeman, the project said. "We are very pleased to see Glenn Ford finally exonerated, and we are particularly grateful that the prosecution and the court moved ahead so decisively to set Mr. Ford free," said Gary Clements and Aaron Novod, Ford's attorneys. They have argued his trial was compromised by the unconstitutional suppression of evidence and by inexperienced counsel. Ford had been on death row since 1984, making him one of the longest-serving death row prisoners in the United States. "After 30 years, Louisiana's longest-serving death row prisoner will get his freedom soon," Amnesty International USA senior campaigner Thenjiwe Tameika McHarris said in a statement shortly before his release. "Glenn Ford is living proof of just how flawed our justice system truly is. We are moved that Mr. Ford, an African-American man convicted by an all-white jury, will be able to leave death row a survivor."
This year, [Vermonters for a New Economy] urged citizens to petition to place the public-banking question on the agendas of town meetings across the state—distributing information outlining a proposal to turn the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) into a state bank. Last week, at least twenty Vermont town meetings took up the issue and voted “yes.” In many cases, the votes were overwhelming. Vermont is not the only state where public banking proposals are in play. But the town meeting endorsements are likely to provide a boost for a legislative proposal to provide the VEDA with the powers of a bank. The bill would create a “10 Percent for Vermont” program that would “deposit 10 percent of Vermont’s unrestricted revenues in the VEDA bank and allow VEDA to leverage this money, in the same way that private banks do now, to fund…unfunded capital needs.” The legislation would also develop programs, often in conjunction with community banks, “to create loans which would help create economic opportunities for Vermonters.” Among the most outspoken advocates for the public-banking initiative is Vermont State Senator Anthony Pollina, a veteran Vermont Progressive Party activist and former gubernatorial candidate, who argues that it “doesn’t make any sense for us to be sending Vermont’s hard-earned tax dollars to some bank on Wall Street which couldn’t care less about Vermont or Vermonters when we could keep that money here in the state of Vermont where we would have control over it and therefore more of it would be invested here in the state.”
How much food could be rescued if college dining halls saved their leftovers? Turns out more than 200,000 pounds in three years – according to the Food Recovery Network, which has mobilized college students across the nation to feed hungry people in the most commonsense way possible. At the University of Maryland’s 251 North dining hall, ... the dining hall staff began placing stainless-steel trays filled with unused food on an island countertop near the end of a spacious industrial kitchen. One by one, steaming trays were stacked on top of the other as several college students snapped on latex gloves and discussed their game plan. Their objective was simple, really: to intercept the food before it’s thrown away and deliver it to hungry people in need. The ever-expanding Food Recovery Network ... was founded on Maryland’s campus in September 2011 by Ben Simon, the nonprofit’s executive director. Food is thrown out at 75 percent of college campuses across the United States. That’s roughly 22 million meals per year, trashed. Overall, Americans waste 36 million tons of food annually. But since the founding of the Food Recovery Network at the University of Maryland ... in January 2012, the organization has expanded to 49 campuses nationwide.
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Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school. Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don't cause bedlam, the principal says. The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing. Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment. "We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over." Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said. "When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult's perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don't." Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, with the aim of encouraging active play. However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time. When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results. Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol. "The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It's during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school."
Many California and Bay Area [solar] companies are in a period of explosive growth. Companies such as SolarCity, Sungevity, SunPower and Sunrun are installing panels at a heady pace, and adding jobs along the way. Their expansion has been fueled by ... a worldwide plunge in the price of solar cells. Companies that design and install solar systems for homes, businesses or utilities have seen their sales rise. "They're not just survivors - they're strong survivors," said Lyndon Rive, chief executive officer of SolarCity in San Mateo. "And it's not just us. It's the industry. ... The notion that it's a failure is so outrageous." The number of solar installations - both large and small-scale - is booming. In 2013, the United States added enough new photovoltaic panels to generate a maximum of 4.2 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the output of four nuclear reactors. Over the past five years, the number of residential installations has grown at an average annual rate of 70 percent, according to the NPD Solarbuzz market information firm. "The demand today is coming from the fact that someone can put solar on their house and save money," said Paul Nahi, CEO of Enphase Energy, a Petaluma company that makes microinverters for solar arrays. "It is true that they may also be saving the planet. But that's not their main consideration." The drop in prices isn't their only reason for growth. Companies including SolarCity, SunEdison and Sunrun began offering solar leases or power purchase agreements to homeowners and businesses. Rather than buy the panels, customers could just buy the energy. That financial innovation revolutionized the industry.
The number of law-enforcement officers killed by firearms in 2013 fell to levels not seen since the 19th century, according to a [new] report. The annual report from the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund also found that deaths in the line of duty generally fell by 8 percent and were the fewest since 1959. According to the report, 111 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officers were killed in the line of duty nationwide this past year, compared to 121 in 2012. Forty-six officers were killed in traffic related accidents, and 33 were killed by firearms. The number of firearms deaths fell 33 percent in 2013 and was the lowest since 1887. The report credits an increased culture of safety among law-enforcement agencies, including increased use of bulletproof vests, that followed a spike in law-enforcement deaths in 2011. Since 2011, officer fatalities across all categories have decreased by 34 percent, and firearms deaths have dropped by 54 percent. Fourteen officers died from heart attacks that occurred while performing their duties.
Note: Violent crime rates have dropped dramatically in the last 20 years, which is one of the least reported good news stories. For more on this, click here. For a treasure trove of great news articles which will inspire you to make a difference, click here.
Teenage alcohol and tobacco use is at a historic low, according to a recent survey by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The study, which surveyed teenagers from 1975 to 2012, revealed that young people are drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes less frequently than previous generations. The survey also showed that teens are less likely to experiment with unpredictable synthetic drugs ... but use cannabis more frequently. In the past year, high school students who reported smoking cigarettes in the previous 30 days declined from 10.6 percent to 9.6 percent — a statistically significant reduction. Teenage smoking peaked between 1996-1997 and the numbers have been steadily declining since, according to the survey. The use of synthetic marijuana (known as K-2 or Spice) and "bath salts" also sharply decreased among teens in the past year. Marijuana use, however, has been on the rise in recent years. The percentage of eighth grade students who have used marijuana in the previous 12 months rose from 11.4 to 12.7 and 10th grade students saw an increase from 28 to 29.8 percent. The survey seems to suggest that the increase is driven by students' perceived lack of risk in using marijuana. Most other individual illicit drugs did not see significant change. Alcohol use also saw a dramatic decline, particularly among younger teens. Alcohol use and binge drinking among the grades surveyed is at the lowest it has been since the 1990s.
Alan Turing, a British code-breaker during World War II who was later subjected to chemical castration for homosexual activity, has received a royal pardon nearly 60 years after he committed suicide. Turing was best known for developing the Bombe, a code-breaking machine that deciphered messages encoded by German machines. His work is considered by many to have saved thousands of lives and helped change the course of the war. "Dr. Turing deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science," British Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said. "A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man." Turing's castration in 1952 -- after he was convicted of homosexual activity, which was illegal at the time -- is "a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed," Grayling said. Two years after the castration, which Turing chose to avoid a custodial sentence, he ended his life at the age of 41 by eating an apple laced with cyanide. Supporters have long campaigned for Turing to receive greater recognition for his work and official acknowledgment that his punishment was wrong. An online petition in 2009 that drew tens of thousands of signatures succeeded in getting an apology from then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown for Turing's treatment by the justice system in the 1950s. Brown described the Turing sentence as "appalling." The German messages that Turing cracked at the British government's code-breaking headquarters in Bletchley Park provided the Allies with crucial information. Turing was considered a mathematical genius.
Take another look at that food label. An ingredient or two may have vanished. As Americans pay closer attention to what they eat, food and beverage companies are learning that unfamiliar ingredients can invite criticism from online petitions and bloggers. The risk of damaging publicity has proven serious enough that some manufacturers have reformulated top-selling products to remove mysterious, unpronounceable components that could draw suspicion. Earlier this year, for example, PepsiCo Inc. said it would stop using brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade and find a another way to evenly distribute color in the sports drink. Last year, Starbucks said it would stop using a red dye made of crushed bugs based on comments it received “through a variety of means,” including an online petition, and switch to a tomato-based extract. Kraft Foods plans to replace artificial dyes with colors derived from natural spices in select varieties of its macaroni and cheese, a nod to the feedback it’s hearing from parents. Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst who covers the packaged food and beverage industry, says the changes reflect a shift from “democratization to activism” by consumers. “It used to be that people would just decide not to buy the product. Now they’re actually agitating for change,” Dibadj said. “There’s a bullhorn — which is the Internet — so you can get a lot of people involved very quickly.” In the past, a customer complaint about an ingredient may have been addressed with a boilerplate letter from corporate headquarters. But now people can go online to share their concerns with thousands of like-minded individuals.
Jay Shafer sweats the small stuff. Hopping into a waist-high metal bathtub smaller than a shower stall, Shafer swung a faucet over his head to demonstrate how one bathes in the combination tub/shower/sink. Gesturing at the composting toilet a foot away, he added: "This bathroom is the part of this house I'm proudest of. It was inspired by the Japanese model of being very compact and very efficient. The whole room is 11 square feet, smaller than a standard closet." Thinking small, targeting simplicity and paying meticulous attention to detail exemplify Shafer's craft: designing tiny houses. The Sonoma County resident is considered a father of the tiny house movement, a burgeoning trend to live more efficiently in less space. "Jay articulated and popularized a philosophy of live small, live debt free, and have more time and freedom to pursue your life's passions," said Ryan Mitchell, editor of TheTinyLife.com, a website dedicated to living in small-scale structures. "He backed it up with some really attractive designs." From a 119-square-foot house in Graton, Shafer, 49, writes books about small dwellings; whips up blueprints for Craftsman-style houses ranging from 98 to 288 square feet; plans weekend workshops for DIYers; and sketches out his latest brainstorm: an entire village with dozens of tiny dwellings, each less than 400 square feet, plus a larger common house and other shared amenities, to be erected in Sonoma County. In fact, the county is a hotbed of the small-house movement, with an annual exhibit at the Sonoma County Fair, several small-house companies and at least 100 tiny dwellings.
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