We are no longer a rural species: over half the world’s people live in urban areas, and many have forgotten how to grow their own food. We believe this knowledge is a human birthright, and we must restore it where people actually live. Over the last twenty years, the Middlebrook Center for Urban Sustainability has developed a new model for ecovillages, which will be a crucial element in addressing climate change, and in bringing food security and food sovereignty to urban populations.
Although there will be local variations, the center of each ecovillage is a Regenerative Organic Agriculture (ROA) farm. This method of no-till farming uses native plants as hedgerows and compost to renew soil; a broad variety of fruits and vegetables; renewable energy, aquaponics, and re-use of waste to create a self-sustaining farm that is up to ten times more productive than a traditional one. Rather than depleting soil, destroying native ecosystems, relying on monoculture, and bolstering the petroleum economy, ROA works to sequester carbon, regenerate native soils and ecosystems, and wean us from our reliance on synthetic chemicals and transportation.
In addition to growing food, ecovillages serve as community hubs for education, business, and housing. At Middlebrook, we host preschools where young children can play in healthy soil and learn to grow the plants that sustain them. We offer volunteer opportunities to students and corporate groups; internships for college students to learn ROA, and classes and events for community members of all ages.
The Middlebrook Center for Urban Sustainability began as a parking lot 20 years ago. We have learned how to transform urban blight into a living garden that educates people about native plants. We are driven to prepare youth for life outside the petroleum economy.
Why Native Plants?
In our era of climate crisis, their importance is more than aesthetic. As we remove invasive species and reintroduce native plants, we rebuild the microbiome in the soils: bacteria and fungi that form a complex, resilient community to support native flora and fauna. Healthy soil is the foundation for sustainable ecosystems that sustain all life, including ours.
Why here? Why now?
Our vision is audacious, but could not be more urgent. The 2019 United Nations report is a wake-up call. In order to mitigate species extinction, global food and water shortages (currently, the earth’s soil will support only 60 more harvests), and catastrophic weather, we need radical change, and we have no time to lose. As a global center for innovation, Santa Clara Valley is uniquely situated. We have some of the most fertile land — and minds — in the world. We cannot wait for our governments: each of us must step up and contribute in whatever way we can.
Our Build 25 initiative plans to build 25 ROA ecovillages throughout our region, by 2025. We know how to work economically and quickly, and we have the interest and support of crucial institutions, large and small, throughout the area. Now is the time to put our minds and resources together and build something new that can revitalize our cities, and serve as a model for sustainable living throughout the planet.
Together with our ecovillage partners, we have developed a three-tiered approach to the “BUILD 25” initiative. We are convinced that if humans are to replace our broken food system, the ideal place to begin is Santa Clara County, USA.
1. We have created a Steering Committee model of local stakeholders who, by working together, can reach our goals. Our Steering Committee is represented by the following stakeholders:
• Community Organizations
• Urban and Peri-Urban Farmers
• Technical Committee of ROA Specialists
• Middlebrook Center Ecovillage Leaders
• Local Nonprofits
2. Establishing RAFT (Regenerative Agriculture Farm Training): Simultaneously, as we are designing and building farms, we will work with University Partners, local community organizations and nonprofits to develop training, degree and certificate programs for their students and constituents, utilizing the farms as outdoor learning laboratories, while providing student labor for farm management.
3. Establishing SULRI (Sustainable Urban Land use Research Institute): Working with university partners, grantors, nonprofits and our technical committee members, we will collaborate with leading scientists to set up research projects at our farm models that will provide data comparing ROA to existing farm models (agro/petro chemical and organic) in categories such as: CO2 emissions, carbon sequestration, soil organic content, water use, ground water contamination, number of natural pollinators, methods and efficacy of insect control, measuring nutrition content of foods, income and expenses, health benefits of people who eat food grown at local farms, costs of medical expenses, etc. Students will assist in data collections, observations, and will work with scientists to fulfill course requirements.
Working together, in a few short years, Santa Clara County will have achieved a land use model, a training program, and science-based evidence that may contribute to climate stabilization, reduced costs, greater human health and well-being, enhanced protection of ecosystem services, new sustainable jobs, and significant supporting data to persuade communities worldwide to adopt these models.