Today, I found myself announcing to the class I am TAing for that I will be building a regenerative retreat center in the US to help sustainability professionals rejuvenate. One of my students had just presented on Leyla Acroraglu’s regenerative CO Project Farm (Creative Optimists Project Farm) in Portugal, and we were all chatting about how much we need that in the US as well. I explained how based on my thesis research I see self care as a core part of regenerative design and sustainability work in general. Sustainability is a ‘caring’ profession not unlike teaching or the medical fields with a high level of dedication and high stakes work that can lead easily to burn out (Brundiers & Wiek, 2017). Without ‘preventative self care’ (Brundiers & Wiek, 2017) and maintenance, we can run out of steam, ideas, and hope. Yet, self care is not often taught in sustainability higher education programs (Brundiers & Wiek, 2017), and it is often looked at as selfish or frivolous.
When I first started noticing that a large percentage of the regenerative design case studies I could get my hands on were retreats or spas, I thought, “what a waste of this innovative regenerative theory.” To be fair, one of my gripes was the concern that these spas were commoditizing what is supposed to save the world from an individualistic capitalism and the reductive and static exclusively mechanistic worldview (Kambo et al., 2016). However, with the realization that self development is the outer most circle of the Regenerative Nest—not solely nested under cooperation, with the recent dedication of part of my primary research to self care as a part of that self development , and with the current state of the global pandemic and the Climate Change era, I realized I was overlooking a core system: myself. Self development is the beginning. It is also the glue for each other circle of The Nest. I now believe the reason three of my case studies are spas and retreats centers is because that is exactly the thing we need to do first. We need to learn self care, personal development, and integrate that with our professional development and creative regeneration. These regenerative practitioners either intentionally or intuitively knew that regenerative societies start with people who know how to regenerate themselves: mentally, emotionally, and physically.
With these larger goals in mind, I am taking a moment for my own creative regeneration and reflecting on these three inspiring regenerative mini systems that powerfully nesting in their local and global communities.
First, we have Playa Viva near Juluchuca, Mexico (along the coast). As discussed in a previous post on regenerative equity, Playa Viva is much more than an eco-friendly, solar powered tourist destination (although they do steward resources wisely with solar and onsite water treatment). This retreat center and hotel has been an integral part of restoring the local forest and founding a sea turtle sanctuary. Beyond these restorative practices, Playa Viva has also worked to bolster their communities ability to self organize by providing job training in permaculture farming practices and by supporting the local health clinic. Playa Viva is an astounding example of nested living systems influencing larger systems for net positive impacts on people and the environment. Yet, they are also grounded in the concepts of self care and holistic wellness.
One newer case study comes from Unschool’s founder Dr. Leyla Acoraglu. The CO Project Farm or ‘Brain spa for creative optimists’ is a regenerative retreat center in rural Portugal near Serra, Tomar. The site was a run down, abandoned olive farm (Yes, it’s very Under the Tuscan Sun.) that is being restored to a place for environmentally-minded individuals and groups to refresh and find the next inspiration to continue moving our world towards regenerative sustainability. The Farm offers workshops in self development through cooking as well as various hands on trainings in sustainability methods, such as creating a food forest. Again we see the pattern of developing your own skills, soaking up inspiration, and resting as the starting point and the continued support for regenerative design.
Finally, we see the developing plans for a ‘Luxury Spa’ called Nunduk in Seacombe in Victoria, Australia. This spa will be built on the edge of Lake Wellington which is a severely degraded ecosystem from salt water intrusion. The plan is to go beyond conservation of what remains to restoring wetlands and promoting the return of biodiversity. Additionally, in their planning process, they have included a local indigenous leader among other community representatives to ensure the project will also support cultural inclusion and equity, as well as help build the local economy (Hes et al, 2018). It is yet to be seen how this spa will in practice help support individual, community, and ecological vitality, but the development process has shown great promise. Seacombe’s willingness to allow the community and regenerative frameworks guide their professional self development has them started in a grounded space that I hope to see continue through the building and site maintenance stages.
Maybe one day soon I will find derelict property or anthropogenically damaged slice of land that with become the next regenerative retreat center. The Regenerative Nest would become the guide for the redesign, restoration, and plan for co-evolving with nature. Regenerative sustainability professionals would come find a haven and maybe a home there. Habits for self care and maintenance would fuel the ideas that would grow regenerative societies near and far… Yet for the moment, I am letting this idea simmer and percolate as a way to push me forward, as I complete this small piece of the puzzle: learning to educate our future practitioners about the theory and methods of regenerative design.
Brundiers, K., & Wiek, A. (2017). Beyond Interpersonal Competence: Teaching and Learning Professional Skills in Sustainability. Education Sciences, 7(1), 39. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci7010039
Hes, D., Stephan, A., & Moosavi, S. (2018). Evaluating the Practice and Outcomes of Applying Regenerative Development to a Large-Scale Project in Victoria, Australia. Sustainability, 10(2), 460. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10020460