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Paul Smith's College students imagine a sustainable future

August 28, 2012
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

LAKE CLEAR - It's Wednesday night in the Lake Clear Lodge's Retreat Center, a large room with knotted wood walls and a scenic view of a colorful sunset over the lake.

About 35 people sit with their eyes shut, picturing a world several decades in the future with a society that is environmentally and spiritually sustainable and socially just.

"The more of us that can believe in this possibility, the greater the chances that it can come to be," said Chris Robedee, who guided the crowd through the exercise.

Article Photos

Lois Stunzi serves a locally sourced vegetable rosti at the Lake Clear Lodge last week at a dinner that was part of this summer’s permaculture class at Paul Smith’s College.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)

Robedee and Elaine Lengyel gave a talk on the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, an educational program developed by an alliance between indigenous Ecuadorian people and North Americans. The program, developed in response to environmental degradation, aims to create an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on the planet.

The alliance's work dovetails with the principles of permaculture, so Tom Huber, who coordinates the permaculture programming at Paul Smith's College, asked Robedee and Lengyel to talk to this month's crop of permaculture students about it.

Permaculture, a design concept and practice developed in Australia in the late 1970s, looks at how to build sustainable societies and agricultural systems modeled after natural ecosystems. The idea behind it is to prepare for when environmental problems like peak oil and climate change get to the point where current global economies won't work and small communities will have to fend for themselves.

People who support the concept believe that in order to have a real impact, there also needs to be spiritual and social change.

The Pachamamma Alliance has similar beliefs, though it uses different language to address it in some cases.

Robedee and Lengyel were students in the August permaculture class at Paul Smith's until they had to leave due to the death of a friend. But they connected back to the class via Skype to give the presentation last week.

The August permaculture design class began Tuesday, Aug. 14, and ended Saturday. It delivered 72-plus hours of instruction over a two-week period.

"It's an intensive format," Huber said.

The first week focuses on classroom work, and students' eyes will often glaze over from processing so much content, Huber said. But the second week, teams start looking at and trying out their own design projects. When students start applying what they've learned, they start to process the connections, Huber said.

The college has run the class before and brings in people who are certified to teach permaculture design. This time, the class was taught by Steve Gabriel, co-founder of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute.

Before the presentation by Robedee and Lengyel Wednesday night, students and other attendees ate a locally sourced meal of chicken schnitzel, vegetable rosti, cooked beans and salad that came fresh that morning from Tucker Farms in Gabriels.

Huber said lodge co-owner Cathy Hohmeyer was supposed to give a presentation on the meal before the talk from Robedee and Lengyel, but she was too busy with guests in the lodge's restaurant.

Huber said the permaculture class has been popular. The college used to offer it to community members, but this time it had to be mainly for students of the college to keep the class numbers to a manageable 24.

Huber said that's proof that the concept is growing in popularity as the word gets out.

"Permaculture in some respects is coming of its own as Americans get more concerned with peak oil and other environmental problems," Huber said.



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