The world’s greatest problems are usually solved through the most creative solutions.
And as we continue to become painfully aware of the problems in our world, the beautiful Eden Farms in Hawaii may be just the place to look for those creative solutions.
“Solutions to what?” you might ask. Well, you name it, and the Seeger Institute at Eden Farms is probably working on it: combating climate change, creating structures for local and organic farming, educating the next generation of difference-makers, pioneering green technology, and bringing about real community in an age of increasing isolation and loneliness.
Think that’s a tall order to fill? It certainly is, but the team at Seeger Institute isn't letting that stop them.
I recently had the opportunity to get a virtual tour of 38-acre Eden Farms via Skype, see the amazing work that they are doing, and even meet a few of the animals (including a few baby goats, who were not available for comment).
While I was virtually walking around the farm, I talked to Gary Rosenberg, the mastermind behind Eden Farms to find out more about the farm and the institute, how it all works, and what their goals are. Instead of trying to share our conversation in my own words, I’m going to let Gary tell you in his.
What stirred you to start this kind of work? What was the tipping point for you?
One way or another, I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. I have always felt a connection with animals, big and small. I have taken in stray dogs my whole life and been very involved with animal rescue since 1994.
I grew up in an apartment in New York City. Potted plants were very important to my mother. My mother was a Holocaust survivor and never wasted anything. She never threw out a plastic container and took furniture off the streets and brought it home. I’ve always found the concept of waste to be abhorrent.
I don’t know if there has been one specific tipping point. I’ve always been concerned about waste and the temporary nature of a society built on fossil fuel energy. We are all addicts. The sooner we realize we’re addicted to petroleum and start living accordingly and trying to get the needles out of our arms, the better.
It’s definitely evident that you’re trying to do that through Eden Farms. So, what kind of alternative technology do you use to keep the farm going?
We are using every technology available and experimenting with technologies as they come online, with the idea of reducing or fossil fuel reliance and transitioning to various forms of green energy. The main source of our power is solar panels.
We are also experimenting with methane digestion. This is the conversion of carbon material and water through bacterial energy into methane gas—as a substitute for propane or natural gas—to burn as a fuel to heat water.
A supporting technology that we use is smartphones and the internet. This place is a laboratory, or university, without a large teaching staff, because there is an infinite teaching staff available online if one has the means to conduct practical experiments.
Using the steam engine as an analogy—which existed 40 years prior to the invention of the steam-driven locomotive—our smartphones are incredible tools which we have barely begun to understand how to use effectively to create community.
Tell me about this farm itself—what all do you produce? What's the goal?
My goal here is to create a replicable model for a place-based solution to mitigate climate change that will be privately funded and directed. We need to take the opportunity presented by the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, private individuals to deal with problems that are not contained by national boundaries—but global in nature—to address climate change.
Right now, we are growing a variety of food crops and raising many animals. We have parallel goals of raising enough livestock to feed us and to provide starter flocks and herds for neighbors in a consolidated effort to create a federation of local, small, organic farms. We raise chickens, donkeys, goats, ducks, horses, sheep, turkeys, quail, guinea hens, pigs, fish, and bees.
Wow! All the animals are so beautiful, by the way. So where did these animals come from?
I bought the horses about fifteen years ago, or thereabouts. I got here before this most recent volcanic eruption—I think it was in April 2018—and all the other animals have been rescued because they were displaced during the eruption.
Tell me more about the people who live and work on the farm.
I’m fortunate to have about 16 people working in my orbit—some part-time, some full-time—helping me with the work. I have two young people who have serious post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of military service. It’s clear that the work with both animals and the plants is healing. Our society is much more diseased than we realize. We have become disconnected from one another and we have lost most of the rites of passage and mentorships and affiliations through assorted local and regional institutions which support us as a species.
As this place matures we hope to make it available to anyone looking to create a lifestyle more in alignment with long-term planetary and human health.
I don’t expect to see the fruits of my labor during my lifetime. I have a 250-year business plan and I only plan to be around to lay the foundation for the work to continue after I die. The planet is in a big mess we’re not gonna be able to clean it up in one or five or ten or even fifty years.
What are some of your guiding principles for Seeger Institute and Eden Farms?
This farm is modeled on a university. It’s clear to me that my mission is not growing food or raising animals. However, it is educating and empowering a new breed of leaders dedicated to repairing the planet and inspiring the creation of new communities based on local, regenerative food systems.
I first heard Eden Farms described as a “sustainable farm.” What does "sustainable" mean to you?
I don’t use the word sustainable. It’s too late for that—our actions need to be regenerative in nature. We cannot sustain the level of degradation we have created, we need to actively mitigate climate change and restore the vibrant biosphere and ecosystem if we are to survive. The work that we’re doing here is with a regenerative bent.
What we’re going to have to do if we’re going to save ourselves as a species and mitigate climate change is take a much broader perspective on how we approach the problems. We’re going to have to come at it from a place of humility and understand that we need to back away and let nature heal itself.
So, what would you say to someone who wants to adapt more of a sustainable—or maybe better said, regenerative—lifestyle?
One point is to understand that the virtual world we have created for ourselves, through our devices, is not real and to focus one’s attention and limited time on establishing and supporting one’s local, three-dimensional community in any way possible. Ask yourself how you are spending your time and “Is this time adding value to my community?” If you’re going to the gym, think about working in the garden instead.
Get away from the disposable society as much as you can. Try to rid yourself of excess, and acknowledge that we are in a society that has flooded us with garbage. Give things away to people who need them. Participate in local conversations and be active in your community. Make shopping decisions and speak up to retailers regarding things that they should or should not be selling.
Writer, editor, and all-around language enthusiast who uses her love of words to help others.