Friday, December 27, 2013

Surfing into a New Year

"Changing climate and weather patterns will crash through food and energy systems, housing and commerce and social conventions like surf on a sandbar."

We are on an island off Southern Mexico at the moment, preparing our wares for the annual permaculture design course in Belize, and putting in a little beach time. We have a friend who runs the local kitesurf school here and over a Christmas dinner he told us a rather harrowing tale of what had happened to him the night before, on Christmas Eve.

After closing up shop for the day he had grabbed his gear and gone to the Western tip of the island, rigged the kite and stood on the beach for a bit looking up at the sky. It was quite menacing, a strong North wind and dark clouds moving quickly. He had expected there would be other surfers about, and the part of his brain concerned with personal safety told him to not go out alone, but the waves were good and he liked strong winds, so he threw off caution and launched anyway.

He had a good half hour or more in the strong winds and had settled into an area nearly a mile offshore where there is a sandbar with a good surf break. He worked the board on and off the surf line, spinning, leaping, making sharp cuts while controlling his kite. And then it changed.

The wind suddenly shifted direction and the kite fell out of the sky. He sat on his board and tested the air but he could not relaunch because everything was still. There was no wind to carry the kite up. The currents were strong and with the kite extending away from him on the ocean’s surface, he was being swept out to the northwest, in the direction of Cuba, 105 miles away.

He looked around for sharks, whom he knew also favored that sandbar. He could, of course, abandon the expensive kite gear and paddle his surfboard back to shore. Even in the strong current he could make it to the Yucatan coast farther to the North. He was lucky he chose the surfboard that day over the kiteboard, because the surfboard would be much better for such a task.

The rain came, quite strong, and he sat there waiting and drifting, as minutes passed. He still had options. One thing he knew. He could trust nature. It might be unpredictable in its details — the whens and hows — but it was predictable in its patterns — and change was a constant. And he was right, after the rain came more wind, from a new direction. He was able to launch the kite. But he was only up a few seconds when his emergency harness release opened — sitting in the surf for that long must have loosened the clasp — and the kite blew away, dropping him into the water again. Fortunately, he had a thin safety line running from his belt to the kite and was able to recover it again, but now the lines were all snarled, and difficult to untangle in the open ocean and rough seas, and the rain was coming down harder.

The tale ended well or he would not be sitting at Christmas dinner telling us about it. He got the kite untangled, the harness re-attached, was able to relaunch and he surfed all the way home, straight up to the beach in front of his school.

What it left us thinking though, was how much, or how little, trust we can place in nature anymore. In his case, he trusted the familiar pattern of winds and rain. He knew the calm was temporary, despite how long it seemed to take.

In our case, as we leave the comfortable Holocene epoch in which two-leggeds stood upright, learned to speak and write, and sent our kind to the Moon and back, and we step into the unknown Anthropocene, the uncertainty is exponentially greater. Even our most familiar patterns will become unreliable. Changing climate and weather patterns will crash through food and energy systems, housing and commerce and social conventions like surf on a sandbar.

And thus we drift, as Einstein predicted, towards unparalleled catastrophes. Happy New Year!

One last note as 2013 draws to a close. We have launched an Indiegogo campaign to better serve the needs of people wanting to take our sustainability and activism training programs. Its called Youre Inn at The Farm. If you are looking for an excellent tax deductible charity at this time of year, it would really help if you would take this moment to assist ours. Please donate now. Thank you and have a wonderful holiday!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Farm: Where we have come from and our plans for the future

"What is needed is a giant upgrade. We need a visitors’ center that can also serve as an ecohostel. We want to open up The Farm. We are calling our project Youre Inn at The Farm."

As we in the North approach the winter solstice – traditionally a time of slowing down, contemplation, and letting go of the past year — we are filled with gratitude for so much that we have been given, and only barely awakened to the new possibilities these gifts bestow. 

Our small non-profit educational and scientific organization, Global Village is headquartered in an ecovillage in Tennessee, The Farm, and in recent years has kept branch offices in Mexico and Palestine. We have been emergency planetary technicians since 1974, reorganized with tax-exempt status since 1984, and have current active projects on six continents. We have always matched our organizational rhythms to the rhythms of nature. Today we are looking inward, and down to our roots in the ground. Today we are undertaking some long needed repairs.

Our Hippy Heritage

The history of The Farm intentional community has been told in numerous books and films and even appears today in middle school social studies textbooks. We settled in Tennessee in 1971 as an exodus from the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, constructing, with chipped bricks and straightened nails, a utopian experimental village on a worn-out and abandoned tract of south central Tennessee’s rolling hill country.
Wholeo Dome
One of the community buildings in those early pioneer years was our machine shop, where lathes and presses bent windmill blades, fashioned concentrating photovoltaic arrays, and built some of the world’s first solar-powered automobiles. We tinkers called ourselves “Global Village Technology.” From those humble beginnings came what is today Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology.

Over the years we can point to many successes and more than a few failures. Our early success in prototyping solar cars — daily driven on parade through the Knoxville Worlds Fair in 1981 — led to a multi-million-dollar retreat for the Solar Car Company of Melbourne, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona and Groton, Connecticut a few years later. Like the Tucker, the Solar Car was too early and too radical for its time and was no match for entrenched market and political forces that quickly arrayed against it. 

The early success of our ideas, such as hybrid electrics that got more than 200 mpg or concentrating solar arrays that negated cloud cover and rain as a factor in solar gain, led to their widespread use today. In the early 1980s, we installed solar-powered cellular telephone service all over the remote regions of Brazil. We trained Brazilians at The Farm in ecovillage design, resulting in a vibrant, government sponsored programs, permaculture training centers and hundreds of emerging ecovillages in that country today. We provided similar programs in post-Apartheid South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Colombia, Argentina, and many other locations.

We like to work in areas with high strategic value, typically places just emerging from long eras of war and oppression and showing the spark of creative energy that often ignites a new era of opportunity for a large population.

What is Appropriate?

When we speak of “appropriate” we mean to suggest both an ethical dimension (all technology is not morally neutral) and also what technology is appropriate for the time and place where it is being deployed. We are entering the Age of Limits, and we, as a species, carry an enormous legacy of overdue bills to our biosphere that can only be repaid by devoting time and wealth to ecological and biodiversity restoration, carbon sequestration, and repaying cultural climate debt.
Our Bookstore
Fritz Schumacher spoke of “appropriate technology” being a “middle way,” as in Buddhism, a path of moderation between the very small scale (the home and garden) and the very large scale (industrial cultures). We can also express this as “village scale,” which implies not merely the development of material well-being, but also the invisible architecture of community — holistic wellness.

Global Village works in five specific areas. These are our designated zones of influence.

  1. Scale: the great shift to relocalization through voluntary simplicity and reskilling.
  2. Exchange: the new economics of local currencies, carbon accounting, and wealth revaluation.
  3. Solar Budget: meeting the hierarchy of human needs entirely from our daily income from our sun.
  4. Ecological Restoration: repairing and regenerating resilient natural systems and cycles.
  5. Climate: mitigation and adaptation.
Our strategy, being small but blessed with unusually good insight, is to join with others on parallel paths to magnify our collective efforts. We attend conferences and meetings, contribute to newsletters and journals, and find company among the many who recognize these global needs and are doing something creative and effective to address them. Among our common allies are bioregionalists, intentional communitarians, utopian scholars and ecovillagers, the permaculturists, ecological restorationists, and those NGOs in the United Nations community who focus on climate change and achieving sustainable development within limited means. Small as we are, we could easily spend US$20 million per year per initiative. We would love a 10-year, $100 million commitment up front. But we are realistic. Our track record and our knowledge and insights are not enough. There is a certain amount of luck and good fortune involved in finding like-minded benefactors and volunteers. Our fallback position has always been to keep doing what we do, as effectively as we can, with whatever limited resources we have. Quitting is not in our lexicon.

The Four Strategies

We have found over the past forty years that what works best to accomplish the most tends to fall into four distinct strategies:

Training. Applying our unique whole-systems immersion pedagogy, we seek out emerging young leaders and provide them with serious future-forging skills. We are not the Kennedy School at Harvard, training a future generation of world leaders, although we would if we could. We are rather a sponsor of and inspiration for distributed living and learning centers; co-creating a new curriculum and pedagogy for the coming stages of social evolution. Directly modeled on our Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm (1994) there are today scores of similar training centers in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, Senegal, and many other places. We are awarding B.A. and M.S. degrees through our Gaia University distance learning program. We have an international training cadre, Gaia Education Associates, conducting regular ecovillage design certification programs under the auspices of the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). We have partnerships or associations with David Orr’s community programs at Oberlyn, Wes Jackson’s Land Institute, Amory Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute, Gunter Pauli’s ZERI, the Sarvodaya Shramadana in Sri Lanka, and many Permaculture Institutes and EcoCentros around the world. 

Unity Center
. We have at various times played host to conferences of the North American Bioregional Congress, the National Conference of Alternative Community Schools, the Fellowship for Intentional Community, and many more. We founded the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and were the secretariat office for the Americas of the Global Ecovillage Network for its first 10 years. We serve today as UN liaison office of the Global Ecovillage Network and have consultative status at the UN headquarters in New York as well as regional UN offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Bangkok and elsewhere. Most recently we have become part of the Transition Towns movement and the Regrarians, serving in a leadership role. Our offices in Palestine and Mexico provide outreach along similar lines to the peace and permaculture movements in the Middle East and to climate change, transition and bioregional movements in the Caribbean Basin.

Publications and Web Resources. Our open technology internet library now includes more than 10000 pages and receives millions of views per month. We have authored a number of books and have written for sustainability trade publications, including Worldwatch State of the World, The Permaculture Activist, INFORSE, Communities, and many more. Our goal is to make the meme of green living sticky: to give it appeal and allure. We want sustainability to enchant.

Insulating the Octagon
Research and Development.
We continue to ply our early machine shop training and skills to the challenges that lie ahead. We are actively pursuing small scale microalgae for biofuels, solid state solar energy amplifiers, electricity-producing carbon-negative home heaters and air-conditioners, passive cooling home and business designs, organic no-till carbon farming and gardening, step-harvest re-agroforestation, and new methods of holistic net sequestration we are calling “cool village” technologies. We have research fellowships, internship programs, apprenticeships, and web-based placement networks amongst eCOOLvillages. Beyond the material sciences, we are also pioneers in, and now instructors of, non-violent communication and social change, consensus and conflict transformation, rebirthing and reconnecting with the fundamental forces that shape our culture and daily lives.

We are not doing this work in fits and starts, although it may seem like that as our budget swells and recedes with the winds of fate. We know what works, what doesn’t, and we are prepared to ride out good times and bad. We are in this for the long haul, and our dedicated personnel now span three generations and many, very different cultures.
Specific Institute programs have specific objectives, budgets and deliverables. Typical was a modular training institute proposal that was solicited by Geoff Lawton from us in 2010. At that time Geoff was forming a global support network for permaculture efforts, based in Australia, had some large donors lined up. He asked us to blue sky a $1 million grant. In seven pages, we laid out a 3-year, $1 million budget for the Ecovillage Training Center. We didn’t receive any funding, but that proposal still holds up pretty well as an illustration of what we really should be doing.

2009 Sketch of additions
Twenty years ago we broke ground on our “living and learning” facility at The Farm. With a mere shoestring of funding, mostly small donations and volunteer work, we scratched out the core elements for a useful visitor experience: a rustic dormitory; wooded campsites; examples of strawbale, cob, earthships and geodesic domes; solar showers and organic gardens. That served its purpose, and since the mid-1990s hundreds of students have received permaculture design certificates and learned many other skills with which to construct ecovillages of their own. But under the surface, there are problems. There are too few bathrooms and showers, a weak internet connection, building shambles that date from the early 1970s and are falling apart, and far many more people who want to come and visit than can be housed and fed.

Original building torn down, nail by nail, board by board
What is needed is a giant upgrade. We need a visitors’ center that can also serve as an ecohostel. We want to open up The Farm. We are calling our project Youre Inn at The Farm.

Tennessee’s most famous contemporary eco-architect, Howard Switzer, has designed a new building with dormitories, dining area, carbon-sequestering auditorium and industrial kitchen. With classrooms and workshops built below grade to eliminate the need for air conditioning, this 18000 sq-ft building will be solar powered, straw-, clay-, and biochar-walled, with roundpole post and beam framing, a living roof, bamboo floors, and carbon-minus winter heating.
Constructed wetlands reclaim all liquid wastes, while composting systems and cradle-to-cradle recycling recover all solid wastes. A second, smaller facility will house our biofuel and energy production laboratory. Visitors can relax in the comfort of our Prancing Poet dining hall, share home brews with friends in the Green Dragon Tavern, stroll the grounds of The Farm and explore the trails of our nature preserve.

Plastering the Dragon
We know from personal experience that a project of this scale can be done. We didn’t have any grants or loans and we could not get any mortgages when we started The Farm, but we are still here, hundreds of us hippies, with our own schools, businesses, roads, water systems, and farmland. We still can’t get mortgages or bank loans because The Farm is a conservation land trust, and none of its land holdings could ever be foreclosed, or pledged as collateral. And yet, we started the
Building the below-grade classrooms
Ecovillage Training Center 20 years ago and it has been running programs ever since. We began the Global Ecovillage Network with just 12 communities and now there are more than 20,000 ecovillages worldwide.

All we need are more crazy visionaries like us; people who share a dream of a better world. It is not a world based on avarice and war, but on love and understanding. Ours is a vision of peace with nature, of becoming partners with butterflies, birds, and those with roots in the ground; of living in harmony with all our relations.

What We Need & What You Get

Joining the roof of old building to the new
This campaign is just the first small step in our BIG IDEA. We are asking for $40000 this winter, but we could easily use ten times or a hundred times that, and the project would only become ever better. So this is an open request, and the beginning of a longer conversation. We want your participation, and we invite you to visit and stay a while, but what we really want is to have a larger effect on the world.

We welcome your help, in whatever form that may take.

Please visit our Indiegogo site, like our Facebook cause, follow us on Twitter and share this with as many of your friends as you can. In this holiday season, a place like The Farm would be a great gift to give your grandchildren.

State of construction December 2013

Prancing Poet Auditorium

Prancing Poet Auditorium




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