The Kalu Yala Blog

Homecoming: A New Economic Model for America

October 10, 2011

by Victor Ansley
Posted In: A Home Grown Economy, Crafted Investing, Designing the Village, Our Global Community, The Creation of a Culture

Here at Kalu Yala, we are investing in Panama with new models for building, owning, and living in the world. We believe these models are more environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable than the models that brought us the suburbs and the global recession. Using new models sometimes means you have to unlearn the education that taught you to build old models. Kalu Yala faces this challenge as it considers a truly sustainable economy.

Have you ever had a moment when a conversation, book or another exchange confirms something that has been in your heart or mind for a long time? I had this moment upon studying the essays of a man from Kentucky named Wendell Berry. Wendell’s essay “Homecoming” confirmed many feelings I had concerning our present issue of economic exploitation of land. In this essay he describes how our industrial economy has indentured the education system, and in order for us to change our industrial economy we must first relearn land economies.

Berry argues that in our present day, there is only one major offered in our universities, and that major is “Upward Mobility.” The Upward mobility major has put our schools far too much at the service of what we have been overconfidently calling our “economy;” education has increasingly been reduced to job training. Instead of educating our young people for responsible adulthood and citizenship we specialize in teaching expert servitude to the corporations.

Berry argues that this failure stems from our economy’s ignorance of our most plentiful resource- our land. The industrial nature of our corporations has somehow created an “American” ideal that has reflected itself in our health, education and business organizations. The industrial economy operates with the core belief that getting more for less is the best way. Treating every resource as a vendor that is expected to do more for less is the idea that is ruining many of our social resources.

The Urban Jungle

The Industrial Economy treats land resources as a vendor.

Berry writes:

The current industrial “economy” is not in any respectable sense an economy but rather a financial system based on easy credit, cheap energy, over-consumption, unsupportable “development” waste, fantasy, “bubbles” and sometimes on nothing at all [the securities trading industry]. We are in a position where the production of monetary wealth involves the destruction of necessary goods.

The current economy has no foundation; our jobs in the economy are independent of the land that creates any sort of economy possible. How is it that the most educated people in the world (not the uneducated) are the ones ruining our world eco-systems?

As a young boy I loved the recreation that nature provided. The beauty of being outside was always one of my favorite things. As I grew older and became more educated my relationship never evolved with the land I called my “home.” I was never taught to understand it, I was never taught to ask questions about it or how it related to what I wanted to do. I was never taught to befriend it. Instead of considering the land and its goods as the primary foundation for an economy, I was taught to consider markets and money as the foundation of an economy.

Our idea of “Upward Mobility” is actually downward mobility.  It implies social instability, ecological ignorance and economic insecurity.

When our young people leave the education of their land for “higher learning” we are not only losing potential stewards of the lands to the city, but those that work in the city create businesses that are ignorant about the land, thus compounding the issue. And what of those people still on the land? Agribusiness is much different from agriculture, if they don’t operate within the agribusiness economy, their agriculture is not worth the investment. Its no wonder that only 1-2% of Americans are farmers.


The population of Farmers in the U.S today is at a historic low

Berry argues the human economy as a whole depends, as it always has, on nature and the land economy. The economy of land use is our link with nature. Before we can make authentic solutions to the problems of credit and spending we have got to begin by treating our land with the practical and effective love that alone deserves the name of patriotism. He proposes there should be another major in our universities- Homecoming.

That our universities would help us explore “what it means to be a human in a living world.” We should be asking how the things we construct connect to the enveloping eco-sphere. Do they love the ground on which they stand? Just as modern design build study is focusing on nature to learn how to build our buildings, business people need to look at nature and understand it to learn how to run our businesses in harmony with it. That is sustainability. Homecoming is local adaptation; a species either adapts to its environment or it dies. How have we accepted this truth for every species except for humans? Homecoming won’t create intellectual heroes; instead it begins with a confession of ignorance. Most of us are to a certain extent more ignorant of our land than our forefathers were when they discovered this land.

The Fibonacci Wave

Developers use natural sunflower growth sequences to incorporate them into the design of this canopy structure

This education will require and acceptance of locality. Berry refers to it as “home place.” Before we create local businesses and use our creative imagination to improve our land, we have to understand and know our land. If we somehow were able to migrate the millions of smart people currently creating industrial programs to create programs that stressed respect of the land, I believe our future would be much more secure.

I believe that the future’s most organic, efficient and profitable businesses will be created by entrepreneurs that care for their land as they care for a friend and will be known as people of their land.

The Kalu Yala Valley

What do we need to learn about this land that will enable us to grow with it?

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