Gaviotas-World Class Sustainable Village

This article points out the incredible power of human ingenuity.  As I keep taking steps toward sustainable lifestyles, I run into all manner of inner limiting belief systems.  A major one is “Don’t Make Mistakes”. The correct answer is rewarded in school. But check out the learning from Gaviotas. Try stuff, learn from “the mistakes”…. genuis appears through trial and error.  So Go For It!!! There aren’t mistakes, they are the path to amazing.

It became clear to us that most of the successes at Gaviotas were not a result of brilliant planning but of a trial and error process, replete with wrong turns and detours.

Gaviotas showed us that there is not an orchestrated march toward a finished product—there is only the process, the unpredictable evolution of strategies and ideas…

The longest stop on our tour was in the economic heart of Gaviotas, its pine-resin processing and packaging factory, which now generates almost 80 percent of the community’s revenue. Here, cartloads of resin are brought from the forest and distilled for use in making varnish, paints, and adhesives. The entire factory runs on renewable energy. Steam used for processing the resin is created in a boiler fueled by sustainably harvested wood, while the generator and tractors operate on African palm oil or recycled vegetable oil from Bogotá mixed with pine turpentine. Many of the residents’ motorcycles run on a gasoline and pine-turpentine mix.

We kept our eyes open for some lesson we could bring back to New Mexico, a secret to Gaviotas’ success. Our first clue came from an offhand comment we overheard in the factory. Lugari asked a foreman how work was proceeding on a project to use byproducts from the resin processing to pave the muddy roads. The foreman gave an inconclusive report.

“Excellent,” said Lugari. “We’ll proceed A.V.V.”

“A.V.V.?” we asked.

“Allí vamos viendo,” he explained. “We’ll see what happens as we go along.”

The response seemed nonchalant, but it represented an approach that has been fundamental to the village’s longevity. Everywhere we looked, we saw examples of how the Gaviotans had encountered obstacles, gone back to the drawing board, and “surprised” themselves by discovering a way to adapt. The very building in which we stood, for example, had been a solar hot-water panel factory before shifting markets and government policy forced Gaviotans to search for a new product. Gaviotans’ efforts to grow their own food had led them through experiments in hydroponics, use of organic fertilizers, and African goat-herding. The beautiful glass and steel building that was once a fully functioning hospital was converted into a research laboratory and then a water-purification and bottling plant.

It became clear to us that most of the successes at Gaviotas were not a result of brilliant planning but of a trial and error process, replete with wrong turns and detours.

Gaviotas showed us that there is not an orchestrated march toward a finished product—there is only the process, the unpredictable evolution of strategies and ideas.

Zapp said Gaviotas never had a formal plan for disseminating solutions or technology. But ideas flowed in and out of the community through “natural diffusion.” He rattled off a list of appropriate technologies pioneered in Gaviotas and adopted in projects “from Patagonia to Maine.” There was the double-action water pump, a simplified cement and chicken-wire building technique, and pioneering work in low-cost hydroponics. Gaviotan solar water heaters have been installed atop buildings across Colombia. A brick-making press—not invented by Gaviotans but proven viable when they used it to build their factory, hospital, and homes—became a key tool in the reconstruction of cities across Latin America leveled by natural disasters.

But the real lessons of Gaviotas aren’t about technology. “What was spread in large part,” Zapp said, “was that people learned to believe in their own abilities.”

Gaviotas demonstrated to the world how effective it is to involve ordinary people in creating their own technologies and solving their own problems.

Human ingenuity…an amazing resource.  It’s time to tap it and make sustainable real!

 

1 comment to Gaviotas-World Class Sustainable Village

  • I am part of a group of volunteers that is starting a new scheme in our community in Portland. One of the community projects that we are about to start relatates to your blog, and therefor some of the information here is of value for us and I just wanted so say thank you for that.

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