Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

A Utopia Made Real in Colombia

If they can do it in Colombia, why can’t we do it here?

Working with the land, rather than against it, Paol Lugari was able to help the village of Gaviotas become a sustainable, self-sufficient, and financially successful model for other eco-villages, all while repairing the land and doing their part to heal the Earth. It’s an inspiring story.

From the National Post:

Colombia is a country dominated by gun violence, drug trafficking, kidnapping, illness and poverty. But in the midst of all this, there is one small village that remains healthy and prosperous.

Here, visitors will find windmills instead of machetes, fields of trees instead of cocaine and clean drinking water instead of widespread intestinal disease.

Gaviotas, situated about 240 kilometres from the capital city of Bogotá and accessible only by prop plane – or, if you’ve got a sturdy stomach and about three days to spare during the dry season, by Jeep – is a model of sustainability and peace, a functioning utopia that exists in spite of, and to some degree because of, the surrounding strife.

Perhaps utopia is the wrong word, though. As Paolo Lugari, who founded the village in the late 1960s, said: “Utopia literally means ‘no place,’ it’s just an idea; but Gaviotas is real. We’ve gone from fantasy to reality.”

That fantasy began some 40 years ago when a group of local engineers, academics and scientists traveled to Colombia’s eastern Llanos region in an attempt to transform an empty and remote plot of land with no arable soil into a self-sustainable and productive community.

The experiment was so successful that it continues to this day. Amongst the features of Gaviotas: a children’s seesaw that doubles as water pump, which can tap aquifers six-times as deep as conventional pumps using far less effort; homemade wind turbines and solar panels, which are particularly suited to the Colombian climate and crafted from cheap building materials; and locally brewed biodiesel, which fuels the handful of vehicles that aren’t bicycles.

As well, the people of Gaviotas have planted 80 sq. kms of trees to regenerate the rainforest – a feat that was, at first, considered impossible by experts at the prominent Yale University School of Forestry on account of the high acidity of the soil, which used to have a pH of 4.

The solution lay in Caribbean pine trees, which have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungus that helps to keep them alive in acidic conditions. Once these trees took hold, greater shade was produced, more rain came down, and there was a reduction in the ultraviolet rays penetrating the earth.

In the end, these factors combined to create fertile soil with a pH of around 6.8, which means a range of agricultural foods can now be grown there, such as coffee. On top of this, the trees produce resin, which can be tapped and exported for various industrial and cosmetic uses.

But perhaps one of the most impressive feats Gaviotas has accomplished is the solar-powered hospital that was in operation through the 1980s and early ’90s.

Read the whole article here.


The Limits to Growth and Greece: Systemic or Financial Collapse?

Could it be that the ongoing Greek collapse is a symptom of the more general collapse that the Limits to Growth model generates for the first two decades of the 21st century? Author Ugo Bardi (Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet) examines the correlation between what is unfolding between Greece […] Read More..

Wild Edibles: 5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

Ever spotted a dandelion growing in your backyard and wondered, can I eat that? According to wild plants expert Katrina Blair, the answer is a resounding yes. And there are plenty of other commonly found weeds that fall into this category as well. In her book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, Blair introduces readers to […] Read More..

10 Books to Celebrate the International Year of Soils

Beneath our feet lies a resource that is critical to our future. It’s the first thing we think about when it comes to farming and gardening – and yet, one of the last things considered when thinking about the long-term preservation of our earth. It’s the basis for healthy food production, is a crucial tool […] Read More..

5 Shareable Strategies for Creating Climate Action

Frustrated about climate change? You’re not alone. Most people in our society find themselves somewhere on the spectrum of depressed about our climate situation to flat-out denying that it exists. In fact, the more information about global warming that piles up, the less we seem to do to combat it. What is the reason for this […] Read More..

A Permaculture Approach to Managing Hedge Bindweed

As Permaculture Month continues, we are making our expert authors available to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form. In the below Q&A, Tao Orion, author of the new book Beyond the War on Invasive Species, discusses how she approaches weed management. Orion believes invasive species are good ecological […] Read More..