I do!

I just learned about the Bioneers, and realized that is what I have been trying to be for many years.

My grandparents were my pioneer role models.   In middle age, a country school teacher and a rural mailman moved from their house in town to an abandoned farm that took every penny they could command.  My grandparents used a spur of the moment yard sale to scrape together the last dollars for the down payment. They had to jetison much of what they owned to get to their destination.  How reminiscent of the posessions that pioneers had to jetison from their wagons to keep moving forward.

My grandpa and my dad with their horses. I remember riding Tony, his last horse.

Then my grandpa took the horses he had used to deliver the mail and hitched them to a plow to become a farmer.

They entered a new world when they took stewardship of 80 Illinois acres in the Sangamon River valley – half  fields and half woods bisected by a muddy creek.

They started out hard scrabble and lived sustainably.  There was no other way for small farmers in the 1930s.  They pinched every penny and wasted nothing.  As the world began to change around them, they stayed frugal and believed that small was beautiful.

I know my grandparents weren’t actual pioneers – it was their grandparents who moved to Illinois in a covered wagon.  My grandparents traveled to their land in one of Henry Ford’s early offerings. But I felt their pioneering spirit as I helped my grandma in the garden and rode with my grandpa on his John Deere tractor.

The horses were traded for horsepower. I know my grandpa and dad were excited and proud of their John Deere my dad is driving here, but was this progress?

I’ve always wanted to be a pioneer.

But now I have a new goal.  I want to be bioneer.

Bioneers don’t necessarily have to move out of town to take care of nature.

I learned about this concept while researching an article about the Health Equity Team of Madison/Dane County’s Public Health Department.  Two of its nurses, Kim Neuschel and Jessica Leclair,  were named Badger Bioneers by Sustain Dane, an organization in Dane County, Wisconsin that promotes sustainable choices.  They were selected because of their work in making a low-income, high-crime neighborhood of Madison more sustainable.

The term Bioneer  was coined by Kenny Ausubel in 1990 to describe what he called social and scientific innovators from all walks of life who are guided by natural principles such as kinship, cooperation, diversity, symbiosis and the cyclic pattern of natural processes.

Often Bioneers use these principles as general guides for organizing society.  I am also interested in their more literal application.  The Bioneer organization is a nonprofit educational organization that shines a light on individual efforts that are innovating more sustainable ways to live.

Their annual conference in San Rafael CA draws thousands of enthusiasts.  And many areas have formed local programs  like the Badger Bioneer program I stumbled upon.   You can listen to their award-winning, 13-part series of half-hour radio shows here.


My grandparents and their extended family are gathered here to press and share cider from the apple orchard filled with tasty unnamed apples every year. Doesn't that incorporate kinship, cooperation, diversity, symbiosis and the cyclic pattern of natural processes nicely?

I want to find my way to a more sustainable life. I’m not even sure I or anyone else can define sustainable yet.  It’s a widely used, and often abused term today, but that is my quest.

Like the pioneers, whose fortitude and stamina I admire, I want to explore the world that we are moving into in this new year of 2012.  With the environment and economy both bumping up against limits and entering new territory, the future is as uncharted as the wild west that our ancestors confronted.

I want to be a bioneer.  I want to move forward with my eyes open, scouting for ways to not only survive but to help the environment around me maintain or regain some balance.

Out on the edge of Business As Usual, the wagons are being packed and setting off.

How are you planning to travel through 2012?

Categories: Uncategorized

4 replies

  1. I can see you presenting your housebuilding process, learnings and stories at a Bioneers conference. You have so much to share from your experiences–and you do share–thanks! I can’t think of a more values-driven process than what I’ve been witness to in reading your blog. There’s no doubt in my mind: you are a true bioneer!

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Eleanor.
    Doug and I are trying to make very mindful decisions as we build and try nonconventional techniques where ever possible in the hopes of helping to deepen the path to more sustainable building.

  3. We’re bioneers! Wow! How cool is that?! I love seeing your old family photos and reading about your efforts today. We’re doing the same thing here at our place — only on a much MUCH smaller scale than you. But every little bit helps, eh?

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