School's Philosophy Is to Foster Relationships, Use ResourcesWisely
MONTROSE – On a cool September morning, Russell Evans and Jake Hanson rip ripe squash and tomatoes from dew-moistened vines at Straw Hat Farm south of Montrose. This is not just a farm now, but also a classroom in a new, sustainable learning academy designed to teach students how to build a future based on self-reliance and creativity to such pressing issues as food shortages and housing.
Transition Lab, founded in 2010 by Russell and Heather Evans, fosters relationships while developing leadership skills and teaching small-scale sustainability models that create jobs, food production, affordable housing. Its goal is to find and connect inspired young people with hosts willing to put their empty guest bedrooms to use so Transition Lab students can do work throughout the community. The program offers a curriculum that covers everything from growing food to creating affordable housing, "participating effectively in democracy, starting their own business and bringing to life their deepest calling on this planet.”
On this early September morning, Russell reported that Transition Lab won the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's CoLab Contest, out of a field of 40 worldwide entries.
"We are so stoked," Evans said. "This morning we won a worldwide contest trying to provide local solutions that will reduce CO2 emissions and help people use resources better.
Evan will deliver a presentation at MIT during its Climate CoLab Conference in Cambridge Nov. 6 and 7.
Evans and Hanson have been at Straw Hat Farm, a certified organic farm since 1997, for about six months learning the process of growing food from "seed to seed."
Straw Hat owner Chet Byler gets free labor from the arrangement, while Transition Lab gains education and real-world experience growing organic food. This knowledge will be passed on to other students as they sign up for Transition Lab courses.
"One of the approaches of Transition Lab is instead of having large capital to build a huge building or a separate school, it's using existing resources and using them more efficiently," said Hanson, age 26, a Transition Lab student.
Hanson said the process is much more rewarding than just "waking up and going straight to a computer.
"It's really great to get out here in the mornings. It's just a really good start to the day, busting out here working in the dirt working with the plants. Right to the farm is really, really good for me. It's good for me mentally and physically," Hanson said.
Transition Lab is about reconnecting people with the land in a time where a focus on convenience and the consumer culture has disconnected people from the simplicity of growing their own food and automatically using "green solutions" to conserve energy in their home and businesses.
It began in 2010 when Evans let a friend stay in a spare bedroom, trading rent for gardening labor. Evans, 32, said the concept was hatched because the arrangement offered an instant solution to the two deepest human needs: food and housing.
"I see unlimited potential for economic growth in Montrose,” said Evans, simply “by using what we already have more efficiently.”
A side benefit of that efficiency is that it "requires us to better become at relationships. It's like time-banking on steroids, with more personal freedom.”
Byler pronounced the concept of Transition Lab "a really great idea," because it helps younger people focus and care about the land.
"I think they are teaching some things that are important and it’s good for young people to learn," Byler said, adding that he sees mounting participating by young people in local farmers markets as a sign that this generation of young adults is "caring about the land and caring about food."
Evans agreed. "It's a win-win relationship,” he said. “They get the labor that they need without using the few dollars that they have.”
Hanson echoed his enthusiasm. "It's a double win for me,” he said. “I'm getting really, really healthy organic food and having a sense of helping someone in the community.”
This is the first year Transition Lab has used Straw Hat Farm as a de facto classroom. Byler said it has been fun working with Evans and Hanson throughout the process.
"These guys have been big supporters of keeping me going,” said Byler of what he described as a “win-win” situation.
Transition Lab offers a seven-month schedule of courses in organic gardening, permaculture design, advanced democratic citizenship, direct civic engagement, community practice, CPR/first aid, community housing, green building, and low-cost local infrastructure.
"It's experiential education, not just a textbook," Evans said, adding that he hopes his program will become regional in both Colorado and Utah within two years. In five years, he hopes to become national.
Montrose resident Jim Branscome, who has been working with Evans to develop a sustainable business model, pronounced the idea a great way to help people return to a more "pioneer way" of life, by being self sufficient.
"I think it's something that needs to be looked at seriously in terms of a sustainable enterprise," Branscome said..
Branscome added that it encourages people to grow their own food, free of genetic modification or pesticides.
Looking at trends around the world and population growth, Branscome said food shortages and using fresh water more efficiently must be better integrated into modern education. To that end, Evans said Transition Lab will travel through the Northeast to "speak with as many folks as possible" to help educate people about Transition Lab and its ideas.
"These could be high school graduates wary of the cost of college, college grads looking for ways to apply their skills, or anybody else who is ready to create meaningful alternatives to consumer culture," Transition Lab's website stated of the upcoming tour.
For more information about Transition Lab visittransition-lab.com.