Monday, March 16, 2009

Aprovecho Research Center

Ecovillages come in all shapes and sizes, there are over 100 (advertising) ecovillages in the US alone. While definitions try hard to stick to these places, they are generally small (on the 10-100 scale) collections of people who decided to live in a sustainable way outside mainstream society. They often have an educational component and generate income through cottage industries or art sales.

On the whole, I'm not particularly supportive of the ecovillage movement. I feel like it drains unsustainable societies of precisely the type of people that would be incredibly valuable in reducing the footprint of our mainstream society. Not all ecovillages are the same though, the Aprovecho Research Center, located in the Aprovecho ecovillage south of Eugene, Oregon focuses outside their own community. Unlike most ecovillages, Aprovecho's outreach effort does not end at school tours and internships; their very founding was based on improving society in the poorest parts of the world.

Thirty years ago, the founders of Aprovecho decided that to help impoverished people of the third world, they would have to live like them. They found a recently logged section of land south of Eugene, Oregon and attempted to live off of the land in the same way that much of the third world does. Their aim was to improve some of the most critical functions in developing nations, heating and cooking.Their solution was to develop highly efficient and accessible stoves. A website contains publications that detail everything from stove construction to environmental impact. The "Rocket Stove" developed at Aprovecho is used around the world and is capable of cooking surprisingly much with amazingly little. Even those less concerned with deforestation credit rocket-type stoves with greatly improving indoor air quality in homes that utilize them.

Aprovecho itself is an amazing place, a mix of permaculture gardening, sustainably managed forest and a large plot of forest that is being returned to its natural state. My visit also provided some instruction on the logging in the country. Logging is still prevalent in Oregon, though the downturn is certainly slowing the industry. The damage that logging causes to ecosystems should not be understated. The logged properties around Aprovecho bear no semblance to the nearly restored forest area. Sustainable logging is done on tree-farms; mono-cultures that in no way resemble a true forest.

It is critical that future building become more permanent and move away from wood as a primary source. The work being done by Calcera to create a carbon-storing cement seems like the most promising alternative at this point. The issue of recyclability however, remains an obstacle.

As for Aprovecho, it will remain a small community with a reach far beyond its borders.

1 comment:

  1. Thnaks for such a nice post about our community. It means alot to us.

    All the best, Abel