The Sustainability of Self

What defines true sustainability? How can we begin to create sustainability in a world that has such vastly differing views on the subject? If we perceive our external world as “unsustainable” what does this suggest about our own internal landscape? The Sustainability of Self is a documentary that follows two travelers for two years across the world to Ethiopia, and back, seeking insight into a world on the verge of transformation.

The mindset of sustainability – an emerging education for the collective

My outlook will be different now, there’s no turning back.

I’ve been doing work trade on a permaculture farm for almost a week … and I’m hooked. Perhaps it’s the delicious food I pull right out of the earth, or the abundance of wildlife outside my doorstep, or the fact that the matrix is currently nowhere near my reality. Where I’m at, has something very important to teach me.

Aprovecho, a sustainable learning center, sits on a modest 40 acres in the hills of west central Oregon, outside Cottage Grove. Here, people from all backgrounds come to learn a variety of sustainable practices such as aquaculture, proper water harvesting, practical building design, and even pedal powered technology – ever grind your own wheat with a bicycle?

Before I came, I had only once before experienced permaculture while traveling in Ethiopia. I was staying at a small hostel which had transformed dead earth into a thriving oasis by mimicking nature through sustainable land use design. I watched as the owners took awe-struck villagers through the property, showing them innovative yet simple practices that obviously worked.  It was an incredible experience to witness the children process this new information like thirsty sponges. The term sustainable education sprang to mind.

On the other side of the planet, outside Cottage Grove, OR, Aprovecho has been working as a permaculture education center for over ten years. Ironically, many people who read this article have probably never even heard of permaculture before. But soon, they will. The concept and philosophies of permaculture are catching on fast, and the movement, is becoming a revolution.

The foundation of permaculture relies on the observation of patterns and systems and an understanding that nothing is independent.


This is useful wisdom for an expanding planet. More and more people are beginning to understand that their everyday actions are having great impact on other people halfway across the planet. For those seeking true sustainability, daily micro-management becomes essential. The processes that make up our day must be done consciously if we are to create a healthy future for the individual and the collective, which these days are one and the same.

Sustainable is a tricky word to define, especially in today’s green-market driven economy. Linguistically appealing terms such as all natural or self-sufficient have all but stigmatized historically traditional methods of conservation and practical science. The push for low-impact practices like car-pooling and water conservation have been obvious for years, but today have become synonymous with emotionally charged advertisements for hybrid cars and the monopolization of utility companies. A new earth conscious mind-set from society has been needed for decades, but only recently has our government seen the economic opportunity  to implement/sell these eco-friendly technologies to the public.

Hippies on the other hand have been screaming sustainable practices and “community mentality” since the 1960’s yet have been demonized as out-of-touch, impractical, and idealistic misfits in a consumer driven society. This same consumer driven society has brought us to where we are today, completely out of touch with our natural environment. The majority of us no longer grown our own food or even understand how it gets to our dinner table. The complexity of natural systems and cycles evades the general public. This results in a poor understanding of the earth we were once a part of.

In Oregon, over 90% of old growth forest has been clear cut. This has resulted in a huge explosion of blackberry bushes which grow best in areas with disturbed soil – another reason they are seen so frequently in ditches and vacant lots in towns and cities in the Pacific Northwest. One of my main duties as a work trader at Aprovecho is blackberry maintenance. Long tedious days of clipping, pruning, and de-rooting yield piles upon piles of blackberry vines.

Today, blackberries are considered an invasive species, much like scotch broom, a large yellow-flowered bush that grows throughout the country next to roads and highways. Both plants are soil rejuvenators, providing much needed nitrogen into the damaged soil for re-growth. Yet because of their invasive nature, toxic chemicals are being used to eradicate them, furthering damage to the soil.

Blackberries are but one example of the many problems we face and the impractical solutions we have created for solving them.

Sustainability is a mind-set, an evolving practice that encompasses all aspects of one’s lifestyle. External observation is paramount to understanding what actions we must take and why we must take them.  It’s not simply buying locally, it’s understanding a neighbor’s needs and lending support when possible. Going green isn’t just recycling, it’s rethinking.

Solutions are rarely arrived at before the problem becomes too big. Suddenly, the problem is much too big.

A ballooning global population is no longer upon us, it is us. We now find ourselves looking squarely in the face of some pretty disturbing realities: diminishing food chains, the end of oil as we know it, global drought, and an ever-broadening of the social classes.  As  time and globalization march ever forward, no longer  can we elude responsibility. There are no islands to escape to, save mars.

Aprovecho is the first stop of many. For the next 6 months, my partner and I will be visiting multiple alternative education centers and sustainability  programs in the United States – the end product, a documentary about sustainable education.

As a former educator, I believe that holistic education, above all else, is the foundation for a sustainable society and planet. As we collectively move into a new understanding of humanity’s role on Gaia, we must be certain that our youth are not only understanding this change, but are also spearheading it. New insights in education are being made every day. Teachers are coming forward with innovative new ideas and for a healthy planet to grow, these ideas must be shared. Students must be encouraged to think outside the conventional, because our future will be anything but.