The Home Grown Institute
sustainable and
Regenerative Skills
I have to be honest. Every time I see the tag line I created for The Home Grown Institute “Evolving Skills for a Sustainable Future.” I think - “no, that isn’t quite right.” The alliteration of the Ss does roll so nicely off the tongue, and it is most definitely about evolving our individual and communal skills... but is sustainability what we really want?
The root of the word sustainability is Latin and the most common  definition is the capacity to maintain, support and endure. None of those words sound like much fun, do they? - especially when you consider the mess we human have made of our food systems and watersheds. Do we really want to maintain or support our limping systems, endure the fast-paced marathon we’ve jumped into?
Our concept of sustainability is too often focused on the experience of humans. Take for example the most widely quoted definition of sustainability from the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations, 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Whose needs are we talking about? Humans’. And with the pace of change, how can we predict what future generations will need? And furthermore, isn’t the focus on human needs with the neglect of the needs of the species beyond us what has gotten us into trouble in the first place?
A few years ago I made the pilgrimage to Growing Power in Milwaukee. There, MacArthur Fellow Will Allen starts the work-centered weekend experience with an explanation of how most of the soil in this country is either full of toxic residues or depleted of nutrients, and that one of the most important fixes we can do for broken food system is to “grow” rich healthy soil. I spent the weekend constructing innovative compost systems, feeding compost-in-process to 5000 lbs of red wiggler worms (livestock), and tossing the worm castings (don’t ask) on all of the green growing food stuff.
I’ve continued to learn about the process of compost and even though I have only a teeny space to grow food, I’ve started learning about other soil enriching practices such as no-till, cover crop, companion planting, integrated pest management integrating livestock in the garden. All these practices have something in common... they actually regenerate the soil - that is, they leave it in better shape than it was before.
There was the AHA! moment. I realized I was not as interested in sustainability - in maintaining, supporting or enduring life as we have come to know it - as I was in regenerativity. Before we talk about sustaining our systems, we need to take it all up a notch so that we can have systems worthy of sustaining. Like using a rudder to make a course adjustment, we need to set our sights on a different point of the horizon. Where sustainable skills support our viability - at times just barely - regenerative skills enhance our vitality.
So, I’ve stopped thinking about The Home Grown Institute as place to learn “sustainable skills.” The Home Grown Institute, in fact, is dedicated to “regenerative” skills - practices that help us regenerate our soil, renew our thinking and rejuvenate our souls.
I haven’t yet asked the graphic designer to change the tag line on the logo or the business card because I still haven’t got it quite right. “Evolving Skills for a Regenerative Future” doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way as Sustainable Skills. Maybe this is better accomplished in community... Send me your ideas for a tag line. The Home Grown Institute has a special gift for you if we use yours.
When "Sustainable" Isn't Good Enough
Tuesday, October 11, 2011