This is a guest blog post from Russell Evans of Transition Lab, based in Montrose, Colorado, USA. They are doing a wonderful experiment with young people that incorporates the gift economy, enterprise and resilience building as he explains below…
Most of us would love to experiment with, develop, and launch new businesses that will transition our economy. But without the extra time, resources, and training necessary, it is hard to make such a radical leap. In a way, it is so easy to get stuck working in the traditional economy just to make ends meet. If ordinary people are going to break this cycle, we will need living laboratories where passionate individuals can come together to both train in skills of resilience and to develop business models that will be self-sustaining. These places will have to be affordable, integrated into the community, and offer the resources necessary for students to experiment, model, and replicate new ideas.
We created Transition Lab to be this place. And, like most good things, the idea for Transition Lab came from working in the garden.I had been learning how to grow my own food when I read a story about Kipp Nash. Nash had wanted to become a farmer but land was prohibitively expensive. So instead of buying his own farm, he went to a bunch of neighbors up and down the street in Boulder, Colorado, and convinced them to let him cultivate their yards and buy into his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) endeavor.
The homeowners didn’t have to worry about lawn maintenance any longer, their water bills would be the same, they got fresh organic veggies, and Nash got his farm – on 13 different plots of land that first year.I envision that the future of our economy will look a lot like this: There will always be a group of people who work traditional jobs with steady incomes, like the residents who owned the land where Nash farmed. They will use dollars to pay for health insurance, iPods, and the mortgage. But a second group of folks, like Nash, will find creative ways to use existing resources more elegantly while meeting needs that our current economy cannot.
This kind of exchange happens in a collaborative economy rather than the traditional one. In Nash’s case, he used an existing resource to make money while benefitting the homeowners, too. In the process, he also did something else: His business “transitioned” the yards of people who wanted a more sustainable lifestyle, but did not have the time or resources to create it themselves. The best Reconomy Businesses will do exactly this. They will generate wealth for the business owner, while providing truly sustainable products and services to the surrounding community.
My wife and I decided to take Nash’s model a step further. By exchanging rent in our guest bedroom for labor in our garden, we could take money out of the picture altogether while providing affordable housing and employment to a young farmer. Through our local CSA, we had become friends with an intern named Evan Lavin. Once the growing season ended, he was looking for something to do. We proposed that he put 15 hours of labor a week into our garden in exchange for rent.
That autumn, Evan moved in, and over the next seven months we converted 3,000 square feet of lawn into a forest garden and five low-tunnel greenhouses for just $500. Evan saved $4000 on rent, and we got free produce throughout the winter and spring.
The experiment proved that we could build resilience affordably and efficiently by simply re-imagining our relationships with one another and our resources. As Evan pointed out, “The gardens are not a magic wand, but they have gotten the household further away from dependency on others and created a more self-sustaining lifestyle.”
When friends started asking us if we could find skilled residents to help them with their own creative projects, we realized that this approach could be a game changer for the Transition movement. I want you to imagine what this means: If everybody who has a guest bedroom, and who wants to see more energy put into transition initiatives, started exchanging rent for dedicated labor towards specific Transition projects, then we could use what we already have to address all kinds of challenges.
These “Skilled Residents” would have their basic needs met by gardening, running an environmental campaign, or organizing social events for the community. Our movement would gain a dedicated and sustainable workforce, and the residents could spend the rest of their time pursuing their own passions- whether that means getting a traditional job to pay off debt or starting their own Reconomy business.
In 2012 we founded Transition Lab to train ordinary students ages 18-26 to become these “Skilled Residents.” Our curriculum covers classes like Organic Food Production, FirstAid/CPR, Conflict Mediation, Advanced Democratic Citizenship, and Low-Cost Local Infrastructure to provide young people with a diverse skillset for self-reliance once they graduate. Transition Lab also serves as a network hub for our graduates and homeowners to partner together and take on specific projects.
Not only do we have more homeowners in the community than students who want to exchange rent for skilled labor, many of these homeowners are willing to PAY individuals to help out with extra duties like cooking and eldercare. With the combination of the skills we are teaching, the relationships we are developing, and a dedicated work ethic, our graduates will be positioned to create the economy of the future.
Beginning this spring, we are bringing together students, teachers, and community homeowners to begin transforming our world one project at a time. To be frank, we have only proven our models viable on a small scale and working to reproduce them on the scale of community will be a grand experiment. But as the traditional economy continues to destabilize every part of our world, spending our time and energy figuring out how to build resilience is the only sane thing to do.
Russell Evans (left) began teaching as Program Coordinator at Intercambio in Boulder, CO. He later taught high school Spanish for 6 years and earned a Master’s Degree from Naropa University in Contemplative Education.
He wrote his masters thesis on Loving Kindness Meditation and how it could help relieve trauma in high-school students.
This work was subsequently published in Shambhala Sun Space. He has also been recognized by various organizations including 350.org and The Huffington Post for his ideas and activism. He is the director of Transition Lab — and when he is not teaching, gardening, or making ice cream, he spends time with his wife Heather, and their daughter Genevieve.
Image credits: Russell Evans, Evan Lavin and Ari Lightsey respectively.