Non-profit Symbiosis and the Necessity of the Permaculture Paradigm

Wow! It has been quite a while since my last post, but this, I’m more than happy to say, is because of the great amount I’ve been able to accomplish and learn in that time span. While I could go on for blog post after blog post about all the environmental initiatives taking place in this Colorado valley along with everything I accomplished over the course of the internship, I unfortunately must limit this adventure to a mere summary. Boy, am I excited to finish the report though!

As I stated in my initial research aims, I was ultimately trying to develop a framework for how to get individuals to see the need to be environmentally conscious, at the pragmatic end of the spectrum, and to develop an ecological orientation, at the ideal end of the spectrum. As I saw it initially, this framework could be broken down into three distinct categories, each with a different emphasis: establishing an ecological orientation in a community, how to give the education of young children an ecological edge that could develop that orientation, and how to develop this at an individual level, with myself as the test subject.

For this, I chose Aspen T.R.E.E, a relatively young environmental non-profit right outside of Aspen, to be where I could observe and begin to understand what this type of endeavor truly entails. But it turned out that the entire valley was fertile in similar but distinct non-profits, many of which I had the opportunity to visit, and some I even was able to speak to the owners. It was this realization that made me ask the new question: what has made, and continues to make, this valley so ecologically conscious if not ecologically oriented?

From my observations, it seemed like a big part of the reason for this was how salient the issue was. For one thing, living in the mountains and being able to experience nature first-hand gives people a deeper appreciation for those issues — most people moved to and continue to live in this valley for the beauty of nature, so it would make little sense if they were indifferent. It was not only common to find articles with an environmental focus (i.e. community gardens, environmental concerns) in newspapers such as the Aspen Times and Glenwood Spring’s Post Independent but it wasn’t rare for these be on the front page. Aspen T.R.E.E. itself made headline news in the span of time I was there for a peace pole ceremony that took place on site, and continued to establish a presence and build roots in the valley, and the Aspen community especially.

And this is why I think many of these organizations are having success and, consequently, beginning to turn the community into an ecologically oriented one. The key is that they are establishing themselves as a friendly face in the community, reaching out to both individuals and organizations both closely related to their goals and some ostensibly not.  The amount of cooperation between environmental non-profits and organizations in the valley is incredible. Many times the Aspen T.R.E.E. interns were loaned out to other organizations to provide extra help and more than one occasion I witnessed two organizations barter for things each one needed that the other had. The distinguishing characteristics of each of these environmentally-based organizations means a healthy competition of ideas on how to effectively run a greenhouse that 1) creates different styles and niches so that they reach a wider audience and a more diverse group of people, and 2) is the permaculture principle of “use and value diversity” as bright as day. It is this circus of environmental groups, not necessarily focused on the environmental issues but certainly focused on getting people to adopt a sustainable life style, which makes the community so rich. However, it is important to note these community interactions aren’t always positive or effective— in talking with the executive director of Aspen T.R.E.E. I learned how unhealthy competition breaks out between groups and that there are still groups in the community who still need to be reached out to. But he also noted that it seems to him that more success could be had by all these organizations if they worked symbiotically rather than in a detrimentally competitive atmosphere.

In my report I will go into all of the different organizations and people I got the chance to talk to and their stories and unique advice on getting a community to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, but the diversity of stories, while each being a potentially useful model to replicate, mostly go to justify the above point.

In terms of the education aspect, I had a great opportunity to learn through observation and active participation the useful technique and difficulties found in trying to plant the seeds of an ecological orientation in these children. As I wrote in a previous blog post, I found that stories and appealing to a young child’s sense of magic and wonder was very effective in drawing their attention to something you wanted them to focus more on. I also encountered the many difficulties Aspen T.R.E.E. faces when it comes to their kid’s camp, many of which are derived from the structure of the three-day a-week camp and its customer base, which has inconsistent attendance from its participants who are often people visiting Aspen for a short period of time. After getting the opportunity to work with different age groups, I also realized the necessity of separating the issue of developing an ecological orientation in young children based on age groups, as ‘young children’ is, by far, too broad of a category.

I could go on further into everything I learned about the kid’s camp and what was effective in promoting an ecological orientation, but I will summarize it in the report. However I should note that I developed a lesson plan for a potential camp devoted to developing an ecological orientation in middle school children through a focus on permaculture principles that have been made accessible to children. This lesson plan was my design project to fulfill the terms of the internship and in order to obtain my Permaculture Design Certificate and was also a culmination of everything I learned from the kid’s camp. The feedback I received on the plan from those in charge of the course helped improve it further and give me a deeper understanding of what takes to reach kids without an environmental paradigm.

As for my experience in further developing an ecological orientation and constructing a framework to follow to achieve that, I learned one extremely important thing: that framework already exists and it is permaculture. There is a reason I wanted the aforementioned lesson plan to make the principles of permaculture principles accessible to middle school children. From all the time in class I spent over the course of the internship, I learned that ideals and practices of permaculture really were a great jumping board into a deeper consciousness of the environment. Permaculture may not be the moral paradigm an ecological orientation requires but I realize now that its pragmatic approach is a crucial stepping stone in learning to live an ecological life, especially for most of the human being unused to considering the environment.

It was difficult not jumping into the details of the research in this blog but I can’t wait to share it in the final report along with all my experiences. I hope I have, and continue to provide, some useful information in this field and I can’t wait to see how I can apply it to the College community.


  1. melissahey says:

    First of all I want to say that I think this project sounds so incredible! One of the most important things we can do to protect our environment is to teach younger generations to care and how to be a greener global citizen. While the work you did this summer is both rewarding and encouraging, it is great that you want to try to apply it to the College community. A project such as this will probably be received differently based on your location and the types of people you are working with. How might you expect to see changes in your suggestions based on the location of where you try to initiate a repetition of this project? For example, let’s say you tried to do this in a city such as Baltimore or Philadelphia where the students have grown up without those strong ties or exposure to nature.