Our Story:

The idea for Transition Lab started in 2010 when Russell & Heather Evans set up an internship in their home by exchanging rent for work in their organic garden with Evan Lavin. The idea was simple: Evan knew how to grow food. He was also looking to save money on rent in order pay off college debt. Russell and Heather had Evan live with them in exchange for weekly labor in their garden. The result was that Evan saved thousands of dollars in rent while extending their growing season by several months.

Later, while teaching a Permaculture Course at their home, several participants asked if Russell could find them interns as well. After that conversation, they created this goofy video to help others replicate the model elsewhere. After all, it created employment, built community, saved money, and nurtured resilience.  Even though there was a newspaper article about it, the video did not go viral, they were not given keys to the city, and the entire town did not tear up their lawns the next day. It was a good reminder that a good idea isn't always good enough.  People need an opportunity to model, explore, and train with others first. 

Our Teachers


Russell Evans- Director of Transition Lab

Russell began teaching as Program Coordinator at Intercambio in Boulder, CO. He later taught high school Spanish for 6 years and earned a Master's Degree from Naropa University in Contemplative Education. He wrote his masters thesis on Loving Kindness Meditation and how it could help relieve trauma in high-school students. This work was subsequently published in Shambhala Sun Space. He has also been recognized by various organizations including and The Huffington Post for his ideas and activism. He is the director of Transition Lab -- and when he is not teaching, gardening, or making ice cream, he spends time with his wife Heather, and their daughter Genevieve

Jake Hanson- Teacher and Replicator

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Jake was Transition Lab's first official graduate and will be replicating the program in Salt Lake City in 2015. He became interested in building alternative ways of living after graduating from the University of Utah on a full-ride scholarship in BioMedical Engineering, and was unable to find meaningful work in the recession. At the same time, he became friends with Tim DeChristopher and was a founding member of Peaceful Uprising. After spending many years in activist circles, Jake decided that it was more important to create alternatives to our economy instead of fighting it. In 2013, Jake proved that all the models of Transition Lab were in fact viable by living in a "Skilled Resident" arrangement with Cindy Harwood. He was able to meet all of his basic needs in just 20 hours of work a week, and reduced his dependence on the dollar economy to just $50 a week.  In 2014, he'll be overseeing the replication of many projects that he tested and developed with our incoming students. 

Laura Cavin Bailey- Green Building Designer

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Laura Cavin Bailey sees environmental design as a way to build more healthy, energy efficient, and adaptable spaces. With a masters in Architecture from the University of Oregon and certifications in Non-Profit Management, Ecological Design, and Permaculture Design, Laura seeks solutions that cross conventional disciplines.  Her diverse work experience includes construction using natural building materials, solar electric system design and installation, natural ventilation and daylighting analysis, and documentation of historic rammed earth buildings in the high Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Besides being an amazing Architect, her superpowers also include downhill ski racer, bike commuter, and damn good cook.


Daniel Aragon- Permaculturist

Daniel literally stumbled into permaculture when he found a Permaculture Education Center in the jungles of Costa Rica. Thus began 8 years of study and application, integrating the crafts of farming, environmental design, and alternative building.  After studying at the ECOSA Institute in Arizona, Daniel helped merge stakeholder-driven design with the creation of public green infrastructure at the Nucla Historical Park, and the nationally recognized Naturita Public Library. He spent 5 years living in the "Ico" -which was recognized in UTNE magazine, and was featured in the documentary, "Tiny".  

Daniel's interest in agriculture is decidedly ecological: he always seeks to mimic ecosystems while producing abundance.  He has overseen the San Juan Osha Preserve at Tomten Farm, where regenerative pruning and harvesting techniques are used to wildcraft native edible and medicinal plants. Daniel has also been a Permaculture instructor for the past three years with the University Centers of the San Miguel. Besides that, he's always up for a good bike ride. 

Wiley Freeman- Low Cost Infrastructure Hooligan

Wiley in front of his Solar panels, Mini Greenhouse, and Mobile chicken coop- All of which he built himself. 

Wiley in front of his Solar panels, Mini Greenhouse, and Mobile chicken coop- All of which he built himself. 

Wiley is a master at falling into the trap of dichotomies; manmade vs. natural, steel vs. wood, conscious vs. subconscious, wise vs. crazy, simple vs. complex, complex vs. even more complex.  The solution: to jumble them all together and just build, alter, spend, salvage, grow, break, collect, weld, burn, mix, cut, join, design, redesign, learn, relearn etc. 

In this manner Wiley has gone through the exercise of making biodiesel, breaking and fixing trucks, welding agricultural structures like mobile chicken coops, cow shades, and milking stalls, making homes and other things solar powered, building greenhouses and then making them solar hot water powered, buying and making tools, and turning everyday items—especially trash items—into new, useful things. 

As the experts have said, “When working with Wiley get ready to over complicate and over simplify all in a day’s time.”

Ashley Sanders- The Queen of Democratic Participation

"Oh, and I love social movement strategy"

"Oh, and I love social movement strategy"

Ashley Sanders was just a normal, apolitical suburban kid until she got to college, where she started a weekly discussion night that lasted for eight years. During that time, she talked about everything from the Iraq War to guerilla art, and her mind changed shape. She turned into an activist and never looked back. Soon after, she became Ralph Nader's Youth Spokesperson, and then worked as an organizer on everything from torture issues to climate justice. More recently she has been an active member of Peaceful Uprising, worked for Democracy Unlimited, and serves on the Executive Committee of Move To Amend- which is working to overturn the Citizens United Decision. Her passion-within-her-passion is political street theater, which explains why she spent most of her summer building a traveling democracy theater bandwagon and most of the fall driving a giant money-stamping machine around the country, all to get the word out about stopping corporate rule and money in politics. She hopes to continue to unite righteous joy, righteous anger and righteous dissent in as weird a way as possible for many decades to come.  

Betsy Austin at Circle A Gardens:

For more than 40 years, Betsy has been working the tough soil of the Uncompahgre Valley, to create one of the greatest concentrations of organic matter and biodiversity in hundreds of miles. Salamanders and frogs live in her potato beds, and 60 different kinds of tomatoes will be on the vines every summer. She always has time to share everything she knows with her interns, CSA members, and students. Betsy has the longest-running CSA in the valley, producing organic veggies from March through December. 

Chet Byler at Straw Hat Farm:

Chet has followed his dreams through thick and thin to become an organic farmer. Straw Hat Farm has been certified organic since 1997, produces a variety of vegetables, but specializes in gourmet garlic. 

His wife, Karen, has a state-licensed commercial kitchen with a stone-burr mill to grind fresh grains. They bake breads, pies, granola, and the best cinnamon buns around. Together, they are also the owners of and sell top quality baking goods and materials. 

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James Branscome: 


James Branscome is one of the more interesting people you will ever meet. His career has included long bouts as a successful journalist, educator, activist, and businessman. In the 70's he wrote a New York Times Magazine Cover Story about strip mining titled: Appalachia- Like the Flayed back of a Man. As an investigative journalist he worked relentlessly to require the Tennessee Valley Authority to comply with environmental, social, and labor laws. He was also a corespondent forThe Washington Post, NPR'sAll Things Considered, and eventually became editor-and-chief for McGraw-Hill News Corp. Later in life he began working for Standard&Poor’s and became Managing Director of Investment Analysis. He now serves on the Montrose Community Foundation's Board of Directors, is a business advisor for Transition Lab, and teaches business, economics, and marketing.

Horton Nash at Buckhorn Gardens:


Horton was born in Tupelo, Mississippi- the home town of Elvis Presley. Growing up in the south, he always savored the home cooking out of grandpa's garden. After graduating from Mississippi State University and earning a degree in Banking & Financing, he found himself out West working at Allred's in Telluride. It was there that he met Darren Cloud- who convinced him to come up to Buckhorn Gardens on his days off. Before long, the only thing Horton did was get his hands dirty: He interned for a year at Buckhorn, worked a second summer as a full-time employee on CSU's C.S.A. research farm, and studied soil science with Dr. Keith Paustian at the Natural Resource Ecology Lab and Dr. Frank Stonaker at the Specialty Crop Farm.


Later, he started his own farm, Isis Gardens on family land back in Mississippi with a 25 member CSA. The soil behind his great grandmother's house had never been worked and all of their financing came from the CSA members. Starting from scratch was tough but they made it work. Then Horton got a call from Darren and Breigh back at Buckhorn, with the message that their time was up and the Garden was looking for a new manager. After bringing his CSA to a close in Mississippi and painstakingly shutting down the farm he had built, Horton made the move to Colorado early in December 2011. Now going on two years, Horton has put down new roots in Montrose and is striving to learn and teach as much as he can about the Earth, Soil, Insects, Birds, Philosophy, and the Finer Qualities of local Mircobrews. 

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