Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

How One Small Florida Town Changed How Americans Live


Visitors learning about Seaside on a walking tour.  Photo by Dawn C. Whitty

Built from scratch in the 1980s, the town of Seaside sparked a revolution in how we think about communities. Featuring walkable streets, plentiful gathering spots and handsome traditional architecture, this cozy beach town proves we can build new places with the appealing amenities we love about classic neighborhoods.

Communities coast-to-coast have been influenced by Seaside’s breakthroughs. Urban design experts recently compiled a lengthy list of innovations which were invented, reclaimed or made popular Seaside.  They had come to town to celebrate the 2019 winners of the Seaside Prize for notable accomplishment in urban planning, sponsored by the Seaside Institute.

7 Bright Ideas for Communities that Seaside Popularized

1. Walkable Streets. This is a pedestrian paradise where folks on foot are not hassled by cars because of traffic calming improvements and shared-space streets. 

2. Mixed-Use Development. A common-sense approach to town planning,  which understands that homes, shops, workplaces and recreational opportunities near one another creates a neighborly place. 

3. New Urbanism. An architectural movement that emphasizes streetlife, local businesses and public gathering spots as the key to successful communities.   

4. Traditional Neighborhood Design. The revival of beloved architectural elements that sadly fell out of fashion after World War II.

5. Affordable Housing. Economical places to live can be provided small houses, apartments tucked above shops, and backyard Granny Flats 

6. Natural Landscaping. Lawns with native species that require less water and no chemicals. (Also known as xeriscapes). 

7. A Town, Not a Development. The real estate world was rocked Robert Davis, developer of Seaside, created a beachfront community where all residents can access the beach, not just condos on the water.  

Birth of an Historic Beach Town

Seaside’s innovative qualities were inspired by classic old towns that Davis and architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk visited on a road trip throughout the South in a red convertible.  

Seaside’s Central Square echoes Savannah, Ruskin Place resembles New Orleans’s French Quarter and many houses are reminiscent of those in Charleston, South Carolina explains Derrick W. Smith, a winner of this year’s Seaside Prize who worked on the development in the beginning. 

Through the years Seaside’s influence has widened thanks to extensive media coverage, including Time magazine hailing it as an “astounding design achievement.” 

Many Americans were introduced to Seaside in the 1998 movie The Truman Show, where actor Jim Carrey plays a young man who leads an ideal life in an ideal place without knowing everything he does is being filmed for a reality TV show.  Now the beachfront community is better known for its sustainable design and charming livability. 

Jay Walljasperauthor of The Great Neighborhood Book — writes and speaks about widely about creating a greener world. He is also an urban writer-in-residence at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. Connect with Jay at and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Movie Review of The Biggest Little Farm

When a good friend told me The Biggest Little Farm was right up my alley, I knew I had to see this movie. This documentary about one couple's dream to leave the big city and buy a farm is compelling on many levels. This is a love story about two people that rescue a dog named Todd. There is also a storyline on how traditional farming works when given a chance, and there's a storyline on toughing it out when things go wrong.


Molly (a personal chef and food blogger) and John (a cameraman) leave the city with their dog and through creative financing, buy a 200+-acre farm 40 miles outside of Los Angeles. With the help of Alan York, a soil, plant, and biodynamic consultant, John and Molly start a long rehabilitation of an avocado and lemon farm that was practically dead. They blow through the first year's budget in just six months laying out the design, putting in infrastructure, planning types of crops, and animals for the farm.

Starting out during one of the worst droughts the area had ever experienced seemed hopeless, yet it was under these conditions that success would mean even more. To rebuild a farm that looked almost desert-like and turn it into a healthy, productive farm seemed impossible to most. The soil was so dried out and compacted; a shovel couldn't penetrate the surface. By introducing bio-organisms, animals, water saving contours, and cover crops, they rebuilt the soil to a state that would support dozens of types of plants.


While monoculture farms dotted the surrounding area, Apricot Lane Farm was willing to show that a biodynamic, traditional farming approach could work better. They succeeded without using chemicals against insects and guns against coyotes-except once. When the soil was healthy enough to sustain the more than 70 varieties of stone fruit, and a vegetable garden, the plan slowly became a reality.

The movie takes viewers through the camera's lens during seven years of trial, effort, blood, sweat, and tears. Coyotes kill dozens of chickens just as the farm starts getting a foothold in local markets with the best chicken eggs most customers have ever had.

Starlings descend in biblical-sized flocks and decimate the gorgeous juicy stone fruit just before they are ripe for the market. Gophers kill many of their fruit trees from eating the roots below ground, causing costly damage to the orchards. Snails attack the trees nearly coating the trunks in a moving mass of destruction.

Throughout this onslaught of nature, John and Molly try and find a natural balance that Alan told them is achievable. With each passing year the farm faces new challenges that threaten to sink the business unless solutions can be found. Each year they find a cure for one problem and another problem crops up. As if insects, coyotes, and starlings aren't harmful enough, the camera lens captures what it's like to ride out a typical Southern California wind storm.

Watch how 18 inches of much-needed rain carries off neighboring farms topsoil. But Apricot Lane Farms keep their precious topsoil due to the cover crops and thoughtful landscape contours Alan York instigated. Two years into the project, Alan succumbs to cancer, leaving John and Molly to figure things out on their own. This untimely death makes the little farm's success unlikely without their mentor.

With the help of interns, farm staff, Great Pyrenees guard dogs, and lessons learned, John and Molly turn the worn-out farm into a case study of how to rehabilitate over-worked land. They end up with a veritable Garden of Eden against all the odds and deliver a message of hope for the planet in this stunning documentary.


While I would have liked to see a bit more coverage showing customers buying Apricot Lane Farm's produce, that might have been boring to other viewers. Am I the only one that wonders who buys all this biodynamic/organic produce? Probably not.

For movie fans of all genres, this documentary is a beautifully filmed, smartly told story of the love for our planet, its creatures, and each other. I believe just about any movie fan would love this film. The story will have you wanting to clap at the end, then go out and support your local small farmer. You might even get the urge to buy a farm and repeat John and Molly's success? Our planet needs more farms like Apricot Lane Farm. I hope the movie starts a revolution in farming, leading to thousands of similar farms like John and Molly's.

Photos courtesy of Neon.

Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska Magazine, Fish Alaska Magazine, Metropolis Japan Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, North West Travel and Life Magazine, and Mother Earth News. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, MD area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites, MotherEarthNews.comAdventuresstraveler.comand several others. Kurt is a regular contributor to writing about Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan, and the Mid-Atlantic area.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Sleepwalking into Certain Catastrophe, or Awakening via Agroecology

Agroecology is an intelligent response. Image courtesy of Pixabay 

In early July, just as the United Nations (UN) was releasing stun-level, scientific reports about climate changes, food disruptions, and accelerated extinctions, meteorologists reported that the preceding month, June 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. They also reported that for the first time ever in recorded history temperatures in Anchorage, Alaska soared into the 90s, while rising up to 115 degrees F in Paris, France.

These were but three among the advancing army of clanging climate-change alarms.

As baldly stated in one of the UN reports from the Human Rights Office, if we maintain our economic and agricultural course we are headed for deeper disaster. Going forward on a status quo pathway will have a mighty impact not just on some remote places featured on TV news, but on our backyards, pantries, refrigerators, supermarkets, and our overall way of life. We are “sleepwalking into catastrophe.”

Note well these parts of the report: Climate change also threatens basic human rights, and democracy itself. Within the next 10 years or so, the report states, climate change will cast tens of millions more human beings into poverty, hunger, and displacement from their homelands, according to the report.

Climate change demands our attention now. That’s the core message. A rowdy cascade of extreme, biblical-level weather events is steadily piercing the misinformation and complacency that surround climate change.

But acknowledging reality of climate change and its ominously real threat is but the first step in a decades-long journey into our future. For survival and for prosperity, what’s needed is an all-hands-on-deck reckoning with the vast scale of the change that is essential.

As people’s access to food, land, water, health care, housing, and education are threatened or destroyed, there will be an intensified need for policies that ensure respect for human, social, economic, and environmental rights.

The policies and actions that address climate change are not impediments to economic growth, but rather catalysts for a necessary transition to a green economy, improved labor rights, and poverty relief.

Agroecology: A Righteous Response

Although mass media paid minimal attention, on July 5, 2019 The UN’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) released a report, Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition.

The CFS report offers detail on the global food system, which is perched precariously at a crossroads. The report concludes that the food system needs a profound transformation at all levels, including the local level. We face complex, “multidimensional challenges,” including a growing world population, urbanization, and climate change. They all increase pressure on natural resources, and negatively impact land, water, and biodiversity.

Crossroads of choice. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

In our era of challenge and tumultuous transition, agroecology is a leading idea: a stabilizing set of principles and practices for clean, just, and sustainable farms and food. Transformation of agriculture through agroecological techniques and principles can and will profoundly have profoundly beneficial impacts on land, workers, and food.

Our entire relationship to the earth and our specific environments is being challenged. Agroecology and deep agroecology are intelligent, sophisticated, practical, and effective ways to meet and transcend those challenges, establishing a clean, healthy foundation on the earth for the next evolutionary step of humanity.

While governments may choose to ignore hard facts, and to hide information about it, we cannot afford to ignore it. Our lives, and the lives of our children, depend upon us waking up and acting now at some level of the system, from household on up to Washington, Ottawa, and beyond.

 In a paper published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community, Professor William E. Rees writes: “Based on current trends, the most food-secure populations by the second half of the 21st century will be those populations that have deliberately chosen and planned to re-localize as much of their own food systems as possible.”

 Knowing all these trends and their likely trajectories, I see that it has become a modern-day civic responsibility to be involved at some level with and to be directly supportive of clean, just and sustainable food production--agroecology and deep agroecology.

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in agrarian cyberspace at His wider work, and all of his nonfiction books, are detailed at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Tragic Realities of the Big Cities

New York City Skyline

Among the most notable events of the early industrial revolution in Britain during the middle eighteen hundreds, was a mass exodus from the farms and countryside into the inner cities. This mass migration was driven by the economic hardships of living on, what was largely at the time, merely subsistence farming. That is to say that the vast majority of those people living outside of the cities had little more than the means to grow (and hunt) that which was necessary for their own, basic needs of survival. The progression allowed by the industrial revolution created a host of more readily available jobs in the inner cities that paid a cash wage, even if not altogether survivable in any real comfortable fashion.

While the industrial revolution in the United States also began in the middle eighteen hundreds, it did not reach its peak until the early twentieth century. It was during this peak of the industrial revolution in the early nineteen hundreds, that people in the US began moving en masse into the cities to look for work. In fact, the nineteen hundreds saw for the first time, more people in the US living in the cities than did on farms and in more rural and isolated areas. This began a trend that continues to this day, much to the chagrin of many of the more environmentally concerned members of the human race.

It is perhaps fair to presume that most of the readers of Mother Earth News do not appreciate the more uncomfortable aspects of city life. While there are certainly benefits in terms of access to goods and services, most of the readers here are likely to be willing to compromise on such matters for their own personal health and welfare, cleaner air and the other benefits of country living. Again, this fact seems to hold particularly true of that portion of society which is primarily … or even majorly concerned about the environment and the overall benefit and well being of the planet.

It has been the experience of the author that some experts believe that large cities should be eradicated completely in order to ensure the welfare of the planet itself. Though it is difficult to believe that such an occurrence would actually be a benefit either to the survival of the human species or even overly beneficial for the planet … at least in the relative short term … from a planetary standing. The tragic reality of the big cities is that they are an absolute necessity for the ongoing existence of the human species and for the overall concern of human growth and development … at least for the meantime. In a very simplistic world view, global interaction or international affairs take place in only two realms. There is either international trade or international war over resources and land masses that provide those resources. Now the author, given these two realistic options, would have to vote on the side of international trade rather than seeing the world return to a more tribal and isolated setting. If there is no international trade, the end result can only be international wars. Simplistic perhaps, but still very accurate in practice. This is one of the reasons why many wars are preceded by economic and trade sanctions. These sanctions are in fact, the opening salvo in a war and the commencement for the beating of the war drums.

While this is a very simplistic view, it does serve to encompass the greater portion of interaction by and between the nations of this world. As such, it is very easy to agree that war is not going to be good for the people or for the planet. As such, it is fairly safe to presume that war is not a viable alternative except for those who stand to enrich their own fortunes from the misfortunes of the masses in war … or in the rebuilding of all of the infrastructure and the economic systems in the aftermath of these wars. The fact remains that international trade is decidedly more preferable than international war, and as such, global ports and large cities and their industry are in large part, great aids in the global peace process.

Industrial Production centers continue to require large work forces and to provide a means to congregate people in such a fashion so that the modern farmer need only transport goods to more limited markets. In some aspects, this is even more preferable as large shipments can be shipped from one central location to another, without a hundred small farmers being forced to ship a hundred different products to thousands of different markets individually. While it is perhaps not an ideal solution, it must be said that these large, urban population centers do serve a great many purposes in regards to global sustainability.

City Skylines

Furthermore, anyone who has had the (mis?)fortune to encounter an urban city dweller in an agricultural or country environment, probably has a pretty good indication that these people would not be comfortable or content in the same, simpler life that many of the readers here have chosen. The author has had people question the viability of eating a freshly laid egg … how can it be safe if you did not buy it at the store? The need for killing an animal in order to have meat on the table when all their meat comes from the store, and there is no need to kill anything that way. Granted, these are extreme examples, but many of the readers here will be personally or at least closely familiar with such conversations as have taken place.

Still, given the current socioeconomic and sociopolitical situation of the world and the global markets, international port cities and industrial centers are presently every bit as necessary as the large, rural farms and ranches. The key here however, is “presently”. What is going to happen as the current Technological Automation Revolution reaches its peak? What is going to happen when workers are no longer in demand as machines and computers and computer programs begin becoming more capable and competent at performing the tasks of the workers?

That day when the worker is no longer needed is fast approaching, and not only in the interest of sustainability, but the continued human growth and development of the species as a whole, this matter needs to be addressed now. Continued support of outdated programs and methods will only worsen the blows when that day does arrive. Not only should humanity accept the inevitability of the Technological Automation Revolution, but it needs to jump into the game with both feet already running full speed. There are answers and there are solutions but they will require change, and change can sometimes be painful. The alternatives however, are much worse.

As always, please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that they can be addressed individually, and perhaps even used for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.

Photo Credit: top, bottom.

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo, Whole-System Sustainable Development Expert. Ruth has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author of Whole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food. Connect with Ruth on Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Bird Watching


Since the Spring wildfire (one year ago) has burned all around us for miles, it left us in the middle of a small oasis of green. The birds that survived the wildfire have migrated back to black trees and scorched earth in many places. The wildfire destroyed such a vast area that the birds are seeking places to nest and raise their young which brought them to the only nearby spot of green with live trees - our property. While we initially lacked birds migrating back, we are now surrounded by an abundance of birds. 


I have never considered myself a bird watcher but with so many coming for refuge to our homestead it is hard not to notice them and their entertaining ways. One family of fly catchers has nested on our electric meter for years and we had been wondering if they survived. It appears they did; the nest is built and the mother fly catcher is hatching her eggs just like in past years. (see photo). Even though the electric meter has been changed from last year they still constructed their nest on top of the new addition.

Extreme Heat and Combustion: 

I was recently informed by one of our park officials that the National Weather Service monitored the intensity of the wildfire and according to their equipment the wildfire registered 4,100 degrees. We saw video footage of homes combustion into flames due to the intense heat well before the main fire even arrived. That did not bode well for the birds and animals who would have perished long before the fast moving wildfire actually reached them. 

Indicators of Birds Perishing From The Wildfire: 

Conditions like this make it devastating for birds who stood little chance of escaping a fast moving and extremely hot wildfire. A good example is that each summer by this time we usually have 50 or more broadtail and rufus hummingbirds migrating back to our home. This year we have roughly 10 broadtail and no rufus hummingbirds. 

Many Species Of Birds: 

We have many varieties of birds: house wrens, fly catchers, robins, grey headed juncos, stellar jays, grey jays, western tanager, brown creeper, hairy woodpecker, flickers, Williamson’s sapsucker, rosy finch, yellow rumped warbler, black headed grosbeak, mountain chickadee, nuthatch, Clark’s nutcracker, various owls, raptors, ravens, crows, blue grouse, wild turkeys and possibly several other species I have neglected to include. 

Attracting Birds To An Area: 

Even with much of their prior habitat now fully destroyed they have heavily populated our small area. We have done much to attract birds to our immediate area in the past but the wildfire has amplified their proliferation in ways we have been unable to fully accomplish. We have selectively removed trees and low limbs to provide them corridors to fly safely through. We have two year-long springs which provide water and there are plenty of insects for them to eat. They manage to keep our insect populations in check and we are still hoping that the bats that have used our roosting box for many years will return and consume the mosquito population that has suddenly blossomed. 

Symbiotic Relationship: 

We put out bird food and suet for them in the winter which helps keep the yearly birds around. Our relationship with the birds is symbiotic in as much as we provide good habitat and food for them and they keep our insect population under control. During this time of year we do not cut any standing trees for fear of knocking a nest from adjoining trees. Most of the birds are able to hide their nests very well and we don’t want to disturb their nesting activity that we may fail to observe. 

Learning From The Birds:

We have also learned many valuable lessons from observing the birds and their activity. Their aerobatics when after flying insects are amazing to watch. The level of care they provide the young chicks is impressive. They force them from the nest by stopping/slowing their feeding and the young birds then fly off to be on their own. The parents will stay with them for a few days to make sure they can take care of themselves before sending them off into the world to fend for themselves. The chickadees will take turns in the winter taking one sunflower seed at a time where rosy finches swarm the feeder in large numbers that restricts their getting adequate food.  

How Humans Can Be Quickly Trained: 

With the exception of the fly catchers who nest by a door we use regularly most birds will fight to protect their nest. The fly catchers are used to us and they just watch us as we go in and out of their area. When the feeder runs out of sunflower seed in the winter the chickadees will come and light near us and chirp until we refill the feeder. Sometimes the nuthatches will do the same. They can be quite persistent until they get more food; it didn’t take long to train us. 

Avid Bird Watchers:

I have friends who are avid bird watchers and go in groups to watch, photo and catalog various birds. We are just regular homesteaders  who tend to watch the birds as we perform our tasks outside. Like any species, watching them in their normal activities is educational and informative. We are especially impressed by their exhausting care of the young birds.

Bird Songs All Day Long: 

Perhaps it is because we are mostly isolated that we derive so much entertainment by observing the birds. Now that their habitat is more constricted we are seeing many more than usual. We had previously attracted birds to our property but because of the wildfire we now have far more than we could have ever imagined. Their early morning songs are a beautiful way to wake up and they continue the songs throughout the day. 

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their longtime dog Bozwell please go to their personal blog site

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Sharing my Garden with 20,000 New Honey Bees

The bees the first day 

When I heard my friend was becoming a beekeeper I quickly volunteered my 2.5 acre mini farm as a spot for the bees. We had just moved there a year ago – and started building a garden of fruits, herbs, flowers and vegetables. I was blessed when he said OK! I knew practically nothing about bees- so needed someone who was educated/experienced. Here is the beginning of our bee adventure.  . .

Preparation on my end wasn’t much. I checked with the town and didn’t need any extra permits or permission from them. I talked to my neighbors and they were thrilled. None lived closer than 500 ft. away – but I wanted everyone on board. Bees are attracted to water and pools – but the closest pool was over ½ a mile away- so not an issue. As a precaution – I asked my doctor for an epi-pen for an emergency sting (did not know if I was allergic). She quickly sent a script to the pharmacy (Note- have them order generic to keep costs way down). I had Benadryl in my medicine cabinet just in case too.  I ordered a beekeeper hat for $10 online – just to have as a precaution.

A little bit about our wonderful “bee guy”. . .  We were all new at this but he was getting trained at a local nursery that specialized in beekeeping. When I asked him “Why bees?” . . . his answer was – “because bees are freaking awesome.” Enough said – he was our guy – and a wealth of information too!

In the spring the new bee boxes arrived filled with Italian honey bees.  First they lived in the traveling box to get acclimated with the land – then a day later they were transported to the new beautiful boxes he created from wood. I have to tell you – it was intimidating having 20,000 new bees on the land. Watching someone walked around in a suit that looks like they are visiting the moon is awesome.  I just stood back and watched him carefully check to see that everything was just right. The buzzing sound of all of them was much louder than ever imaged.

Every day I would go out and visit and see if anything was happening. One box was definitely more Zen than the other.

Both bee boxes seemed pretty docile for the most part– except for the days the “bee guy” came to visit to check what was going on inside. He would get them riled up for a few hours. I would work my gardening schedule around his visits to stay inside for those hours.

Mowing the lawn was daunting near the hive. No one would mow near it but me. I learned that you should mow the closest pass first. I dressed in gloves, hooded sweatshirt, long pants, boots, sunglasses and put on my radio headset over my ears. Looking at me – I looked like the “unibomber” – but it worked. I mowed pass them once – and you could see that they got agitated. That is the fastest my garden tractor has ever traveled.  I finished quickly and high tailed it out of there. Going behind the boxes didn’t bother them – just in front. Task complete for at least another week. I have learned to keep the lawn a little longer for them to feed off the flowers that pop up. That works for me!

Then this happened . . . one day I was walking out to the garden and a bee starting buzzing near my ear. As a quick reaction – I swatted at it. In my defense - I have had several surgeries on my ears and am so sensitive. I must have hit the bee and it retaliated by stinging me right under my eye. I didn’t feel any immediate swelling – just a little pain – PHEW. I went in the house and texted my “bee guy” and he said take some Benadryl and ice it. Well I did – and no reaction. I was lucky it didn’t even swell up. Poor bee probably died – and I feel bad about that. The only repercussions were from the Benadryl. It knocked me out for hours.

Things I learned the first month with the bees:

Bees fly up 6 ft. then out 30 ft. to visit plants.

I watched other bees carry the dead bees out of the box the very first night. They are very tidy.

Don’t take any honey the first year to make sure they have enough to last the winter. We live in Western New York on Lake Erie. Not the easiest winters.

If a bee is flying around you – don’t swat at – just whistle. It calms you and they move on their merry way. If you are ultra-sensitive like I was just after being stung – wear sunglasses and ear covering outside.

I researched articles on “Telling the Bees.” It is an age old practice of talking and telling the bees about births, deaths, and other important happenings in the family. Society used to honor the bees so much more than we do today. We need to get back to that. They are so vital!

Leave out water for the bees. It can be a pan or bucket. If you have a pond or lake nearby – that works.

Bees benefit the gardens and fields in a 2 mile radius sometimes more.

If bees (the queen specifically) are not happy where they are – they swarm. It happens. You can do everything right on your end – but sometimes one day – they just leave.

Tina T. Ames is an artist, homesteading and blogger and simple living instructor in Western New York State. Connect with her at Simply Abundant Living and on Etsy. Read all of Tina’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Basic Tenets of Sociological Sustainability

Sociological Sustainability is Imperative

Median Quality of Life

The Median Quality of Life is something of a comprehensive overview of the rest of the factors listed herein. In its own way, it is a measure of success for the sociological development and a prime indicator of sociological sustainability. When sociological sustainability is implemented properly within a systemically sustainable development, the overall median quality of life will rise for virtually all of the people within the community or development. Granted, there will always be some exceptions, including a limited number of people who are more content with less and not having to work for a living, though given the proper incentives, this should remain a very small minority of the population.

The median quality of life is perhaps best measured by the readily available access to the basic necessities of life. There are four keys to improve the median quality of life that are sadly lacking in modern society. These are viable education rather than merely teaching to the test, and including options for vocational and technical training for those people who are less capable of learning in a more scholastic environment; real-world, paying opportunities for those who have received an education; accomplishing this without the creation of a dependency class; and perhaps most important of all, the ability to provide all of this without overly burdening those who are already productive and contributing members within a society or community development.

Basic and Secure Housing

Basic and secure housing is a must. Anyone who has ever tried to get dressed in their car knows how inconvenient such a feat can be, and trying to do well in school or at work while homeless is challenging even for the most rugged individuals. What must change here however, is the isolation of sections of the community based on their need to receive community assistance. These isolated communities can prevent even the most qualified of candidates from being considered for a job merely because of having an address on “that side of town” or on “the wrong side of the tracks."

Furthermore, these social assistance housing units, are generally in impoverished areas, often crime-ridden by nature if not by design. Children growing up in these environments are discouraged from doing well, and generally have few role models who are not criminal in nature. The social stigmatization associated with such isolated locations can not be ignored and every measure must be put into place to avoid that. This housing should be well integrated into “normal” or “functional” society so as to avoid any of the related stigmatization normally associated with being a recipient of social assistance programs.


Food is imperative because everyone needs it to survive, though it can also be a benefit in this case, most notably on contained Community Developments where the vast majority of the foods consumed are grown within the community itself. As such, not only will the food feed those in need of assistance, but also provide immediate, gainful employment at the same time. Again, there will be responsibilities for the people receiving assistance, and a limited number of demands as well, but in return, they will begin becoming more productive and contributing members within their community, with none of the stigmatization formerly associated with being impoverished … and again, at the same time, begin to learn how beneficial society can be to the individual when social (and societal) interaction is more readily accessible for the average person.

Education and Education Reform

Education is an absolute necessity not only in the fight against poverty and for the establishment of systemically sustainable human growth and development, but this will also require the introduction of education reform. The current system of “teaching to the test” has failed not only the students, but failed society as a whole. It is imperative to remember that each student, regardless of whether they may be an adult or a child, will have their own strengths and weaknesses, and education must be sufficiently adaptive to cater to the individual.

It is necessary to offer educational options based on aptitude … the key being options, in much the same way as military occupational specialties are opted out based on individual aptitude tests by recruits. When highly specialized aptitude batteries indicate individual strengths within certain areas, any number of options from within those areas should be offered to the student, providing them with a number of choices in areas where they will have a better opportunity for success. This should include numerous relevant options including scholastic, vocational and technical education in order to provide a more ideal learning environment for all students. As such, public expenditures or subsidization can be provided with a realistic expectation of viable returns for the community and the individual.

One additional benefit of the Incorporated Foundation structural model is the ability to utilize the corporate entities as an extension of the educational institutions in regards to both training and opportunity. It is important to note that all students will have different strengths and weaknesses. Where some may be perfectly capable of learning in a scholastic environment, they may tend to learn better in more technical or vocational areas. For these students, the corporate interests and for-profit businesses owned by the foundation, will provide paid, real-world training including apprenticeship programs for those students that would directly benefit from such a setting.

Basic (and Extended) Medical and Health Care and Treatment

Basic health care needs are an important part of Sociological and Social Sustainability as they allow for the individual to retain the ability to enjoy their lives in relative comfort. Healthy people also tend to be more productive as well, making accessible health care and treatment beneficial to both the individual and the community.

Working together, all for one

Individual and Familial Responsibility

It is equally important that a measure of responsibility be granted to the recipients of aid in order to motivate them to more fully integrate into … and subsequently to also directly benefit from society and societal interaction.

Numerous studies indicate the results of the social assistance programs currently in place are certainly less than ideal in planning, design or implementation. Among the most prevalent of these reports is the Moynihan Report which shows that the creation of a dependency class and the ultimate destruction of the nuclear family unit is a direct result of many of the “social assistance” programs currently in place. Individuals need to have some level of responsibility bestowed upon them in order that they can enjoy an honest feeling of accomplishment at having earned that assistance which they receive. This responsibility should also serve as a motivating factor for personal improvement and a desire to increase the quality of life for the individual and the familial unit. Furthermore, it should serve to assist in the correlation between the individual and society and the importance of societal interactivity.

As always, please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that they can be addressed individually, and perhaps even used for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo, Whole-System Sustainable Development Expert. Ruth has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author of Whole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food. Connect with Ruth on Facebook.

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