Regenerative Design

In the face of climate change and energy challenges, what creative ways are you finding to forge healthy and durable lives and communities? Send submissions — five hundred words or fewer — to Orion, 187 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or via {encode=”” title=”e-mail”}. Submissions become property of Orion.

At LivingFuture, we are conceiving a future where life — in all of its biological and cultural potential — is enhanced and advanced by human action. Our flagship project is Teal Farm where our approach to everything, including producing food, is imbued with regenerative design. Rather than work to limit the negative effects of human action, we are devising systems that mimic, benefit, and take advantage of the ways living systems work. For agriculture this means planting locally adapted varieties that are nutrient dense and take a minimal amount of energy to store; planning for climate change and, consequently, fluctuating water reserves; and cultivating perennials that are long-lived and productive. For instance, we are growing fruit and nut orchards to function like the forested landscapes around them. Berries grow in the understory and scattered legumes fix nitrogen among the cherries and plums in productive guilds. In time, animals will graze between the trees on rich, no-till pasture. We are using windbreaks and contours on the land to create microclimates that extend the growing season and allow us to cultivate plants typical of warmer climates; nut pine shelterbelts protect peaches and pawpaw, and blueberries ripen alongside south-facing boulders. We are raising mushrooms that thrive in the moist, shaded woodlands that abut our fields and are harvesting (and in some places seeding) the forests for ginseng, leeks, and other wild edibles. In essence we are dreaming the details of a year-round cuisine that relies on ingredients we grow and preserve — meals that will be deeply satisfying and wholly beneficial.

In addition, our farm buildings are designed to function like natural systems. For example, because ecosystems use resources at hand and cycle all wastes, building materials are locally sourced and waste is composted or flows into a constructed wetland where native plants take up valuable nutrients. Similarly, because the natural world is fueled by the sun, we’ve designed Teal Farm to run on the sun’s energy. Over the next five years, photovoltaic cells, a wind turbine, water power, solar hot water, and high-efficiency wood furnaces will be installed to provide the farm’s electricity and heat, including the energy for food processing.

Can LivingFuture’s idealism and Teal Farm’s practical execution of it drive our culture toward a future that is plentiful, desirable, and rich with human potential and life’s diversity? That is our hope. Teal Farm represents the opportunity not simply to react but to redefine our presence on Earth. We aim to originate a future in the image of our highest aspirations and our deepest desires. But what it will take is each of us conceiving of our actions as working cohesively toward a new way of being, engaged in the practice and overarching human purpose that this work implies. In this light, we shop at farmers’ markets not only because we love the sweet corn and fresh raspberries, but because there, on the town green, we can be agents of a cultural change that orients toward life.