Sustainable Ashland meets Sustainable Scotland

"Welcome to Scotland, the best small country in the world," the large blue and white sign over the exit ramp from the plane proclaims the proud history of this windy northern nation. After stops in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York, I have arrived in Glasgow. I still have three buses and a taxi between me and my destination — the Findhorn Community, located on the Moray Firth in northeastern Scotland.

Findhorn is one of dozens of intentional communities dedicated to sustainable living that dot the European map. After undergoing the month-long intensive ecovillage training course here, I will spend the next three months visiting some of those communities. I intend to find out what they are doing to be sustainable, how they are doing it and what aspects can be expanded to a larger segment of the population. In weekly articles here, you can join me on this journey. I hope I can provide information that will help you work toward a better, more sustainable world.

Evening is just beginning to fall as I step out of the taxi cab, and northern Scotland greets me with a vivid orange and purple sunset. Birds swoop through the moist, cool air and a gentle wind blows in from the sea. I can barely see the glow from the village of Findhorn, the small fishing town that sits just up the road. Both the village and the community are located on a wide spit of windy dunes that forges its way into the North Sea, forming a small bay.

It was on this site 47 years ago that Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy MacLean planted the seeds of a garden that would grow into one of the foremost ecovillages on the planet. When they arrived here, however, it had nothing of the green arbors, trees and flower gardens that now give the community the feeling of stepping into another world. At that time it was a flat, windswept trailer park, where even the coarse grass struggled to push itself from the barren sand. The trio brought with them a mix of extraordinary abilities and a faith that, if they lived by spiritual principles, their needs would be met.

They started a modest garden in the barren soil and, according to them, worked with what they called "nature spirits," who guided them in caring for the land. The resulting abundance of vegetables, including the legendary 40-pound cabbages, made them famous. Like-minded people and spiritual seekers of all types were drawn here from every corner of the globe, and over time built a thriving community. In keeping with its tradition of working with nature, Findhorn became a center of sustainable principles. Today it has the lowest recorded carbon footprint of any community in the industrialized world. Among the methods it uses are four industrial wind turbines, local food production and currency, and many types of ecological housing.

Spirituality is still seen as the glue that holds the community together. This forms part of the holistic ecovillage model on which Findhorn and many other such communities are based. They believe that, in order to be truly sustainable, a human society must pay attention to four areas: economy, ecology, society and worldview. Findhorn depends on the continued presence of spirituality to shape the worldview of its residents toward seeing humans as merely a part of the natural ecosystem and not its rulers.

Findhorn still hosts an unending stream of guests, and the participants in the ecovillage training come from 14 countries, including Latvia, Ukraine, France, Germany, Brazil and Myanmar. We spent our first week learning principles and tools of community building and addressing conflict, and in the process formed these diverse perspectives into a tightly knit group.

Over the next three weeks we will be in class six days a week starting at 9 a.m. and finishing at 9:30 p.m. In the second week, entitled "Fare Share," we will deal with economics and food production. The third week is called "Earth Care," which will focus on environmental restoration. And during the final week we will undertake group sustainable design projects, incorporating all of these aspects. In subsequent articles I will elaborate on key aspects of what I am learning.

When the training is over, we will all carry the knowledge gained here back to our homes to fulfill our unique dreams. Some hope to build ecovillages in their own communities, some to help design for others. Each of us in our own way is confronting the environmental crisis. The instructors emphasize that it's up to us. Ecovillages are just the pioneers of this movement, "experiments," as one called them. It's up to each of us to make the real difference in our own communities. We are the ones we've been waiting for.

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