August 10, 2015


What is a sustainable system? Before coming to Windward, the ideas brought to my mind by that phrase were of various kinds of mechanical structures - Solar panels, wind turbines, aquaponics, and biogas reactors, to name a few.

To my surprise, upon arriving at Windward I didn't see many sustainable systems. The key phrase there is "I didn't see". Not "there weren't", but "I didn't see". My limited understanding of what could constitute a sustainable system prevented me from recognizing much of what was there.

In one example, I saw a hill covered in vegetation. I failed to recognize a carefully constructed system of gardens and Hugelkultur beds designed and built to create perennial crops of food and fodder with minimal fertilization.

These systems are turning a hillside of dirt into productive soil whose fertility continues to increase every year.

A look at Windward's central hillside with contour hugelkultur beds. Read more about it here.

In addition to those systems that are invisible because I don't recognize the physical things I see, there are also the social systems that have sustained Windward longer than most intentional communities have survived, as well as systems that are invisible due to being entirely out of sight.

The tri-weekly morning walks and group nights are also a kind of sustainable system, even though they are not built out of machines or plants or land, but out of activities and relationships of human beings.

Pictures from the same spot of Windward folks on the morning walk both in the summer and winter of 2011. This is a 4 season walk!

An instance of an out of sight system is a septic system designed to have a minimal negative impacts on the local ecosystem (and even some beneficial impacts) that is located entirely underground.

A view of the communities main dinning hall before and after the installation of the roof-rainwater fed wicking garden beds in 2014. The infrastructure that enables this system to passively vegetate this once barren hillside with productive plants is hidden from view.

We don't simply see things as they are. The sights that come into our eyes are filtered through preconceptions and familiar categories; the ways in which we have learned to see the world to some extent determine what we see.

When encountering something new, ignorance or even false understanding is inevitable. In my case, I learned that there is more to sustainable systems than buildings and machines.

It wasn't until my flawed understanding of sustainable systems was overcome that I was able to begin the process of recognizing many of the systems here for what they are.