Heathcote Community, Freeland, Maryland, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"
United States (Artist's nationality)
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When Ralph Borsodi founded the School of Living in the 1930s, the terms “permaculture” or “sustainability” did not exist. Borsodi was simply a philosophical man whose life led him to believe that a return to the land was the cure for all that ailed civilization.
His background might have predisposed him to think this way: his father had written the introduction to Bolton Hall’s A Little Land and a Living, a book which led to the founding of Little Lander colonies in California. But the real impetus occurred in the early 1920s when the house in which he and his wife were living was sold and they found themselves without a home. They moved to the country and began homesteading. As he acquired the skills necessary to live in the country with self-reliance, Borsodi began to work on his ideas, producing treatises such as This Ugly Civilization and Flight from the City. His writings influenced many, including Helen and Scott Nearing who moved to the country a few years later and whose own writings also encourage self-reliant, agricultural life.
The School of Living was founded to teach the pragmatics of small-scale subsistence farming and living, such as carpentry, organic gardening and food storage. Self-sufficiency was at the core of his belief system, but he also considered the broader aspects of modern society and was particularly concerned about the overuse of nonrenewable resources—a topic of great importance today.
After World War II, Borsodi’s mission was taken up by Mildred Loomis. In 1965, under her leadership, the School of Living purchased a 150-year-old gristmill in Maryland to serve as the center of a community where the pursuit of personal and spiritual growth could be interwoven with a lifestyle respectful of the land.
Heathcote, as it was named, has thrived, and in accordance with its communal belief that we live on a planet in crisis, it practices and teaches permaculture. A contraction of the words “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture,” permaculture is a philosophy that informs an approach to planning, building and maintaining sustainable systems, the ultimate expression of which is a sustainable community. Nature itself is the model for permaculture; close observation and working in concert with the natural world are at the heart of this thinking.
The long foreground of Heathcote—from Borsodi’s personal transformation to Mildred Loomis’s assumption of leadership; from Heathcote’s formation as a 1960s commune to its present role as a center of permaculture—offers a model of communal evolution.
From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005
Image: 26.5 × 33.2 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/8 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14 in.)
Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall
Extended information about this artwork
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