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Stories that have shaped us


This is a collection of stories that when taken together, create a portrait of  Transition Lab. They are in no particular order, but include accounts of adventures, successes, setbacks, where we came from, and where we are going. You can either scroll through these anecdotes, or just jump to stories by clicking on the circles to your right.

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Stories that have shaped us


This is a collection of stories that when taken together, create a portrait of  Transition Lab. They are in no particular order, but include accounts of adventures, successes, setbacks, where we came from, and where we are going. You can either scroll through these anecdotes, or just jump to stories by clicking on the circles to your right.

Origins

Transition Lab started in 2010 when Heather and Russell had a problem. Like most people in the world, they wanted to spend more time doing the things that made their lives meaningful, but couldn't because they were too busy working to make ends meet. Their friend Evan was in a similar situation: He was trying to make a living as an organic chef and gardener, but couldn't find work that paid well enough, to meet his basic needs. The three of them came up with a simple plan: Russell and Heather would exchange rent in their home, if Evan would garden and cook for them. 7 months later, Evan had converted 3000 square feet of lawn into garden and got to cook meals the way he loved. Russell and Heather got an incredible garden without having to pay for it, while Evan saved over $4000 to pay off debt.  

Later, while teaching a Permaculture Course at their home, Russell and Heather were asked if they 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. 

Transition Lab was created to be a training program for this kind of relationship, serve as a living laboratory to explore new ideas, and "accredit" that its graduates were prepared to become skilled residents. 

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A Letter from Daniel Quinn


When I was 16, I read Ishmael. It completely changed how I looked at the world. In fact, I was so fascinated by Quinn's writing that in 2002, I traveled the world to visit many of the places Quinn had referenced in Beyond Civilization to try to figure out what worked, what didn't, and why. Many of those experiences led directly to the formation of Transition Lab and the ideas that Quinn has articulated continue to influence and inspire us. 

When I received this letter, it was as if so much of my past had come full circle and into fruition. 

A Letter from Daniel Quinn


When I was 16, I read Ishmael. It completely changed how I looked at the world. In fact, I was so fascinated by Quinn's writing that in 2002, I traveled the world to visit many of the places Quinn had referenced in Beyond Civilization to try to figure out what worked, what didn't, and why. Many of those experiences led directly to the formation of Transition Lab and the ideas that Quinn has articulated continue to influence and inspire us. 

When I received this letter, it was as if so much of my past had come full circle and into fruition. 

Hi Russell--

Occasionally I get some variant of these questions: Have you seen any change that gives you hope for the future? Any example to be followed? Has any trace of the New Tribal Revolution you write about in My Ishmael and Beyond Civilization made an appearance anywhere?

I'm able to say with some assurance that many millions of minds have changed over the past twenty years, but I've had to confess that I couldn't point to any concrete example -- aside from the rather shop-worn story of Ray Anderson, who was moved by two books, Ishmael and The Ecology of Commerce to rethink and reinvent his Interface Corporation's products (thereby compelling the entire industry to follow suit).

Now I have another one to point to: your Transition Lab. 

We'll see to it that visitors to the Ishmael website know about it. Rennie, my wife, who looks after that aspect of things, will be getting back to you with details.

Best wishes,

Daniel Quinn

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Dreaming Myself Awake


By Malcolm Salovaara

Dreaming Myself Awake


By Malcolm Salovaara

  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had the sense that this life was meant to be more joyful, more meaningful, more beautiful than what I have thus far experienced. There have been glimpses of joy, meaning and beauty in my life, and while I don’t fool myself in thinking that these qualities ought to be ever-present, I feel that they are supposed to be the main themes of our lives. Like many of us, when I don’t find that sense of happiness, I’ve found myself escaping, isolating myself, seeking refuge in the mountains, in inebriation, and in daydreaming about the future. But during my freshman year at Dartmouth College, I had to acknowledge that none of these approaches came anywhere close to fulfilling me.

 

    Then I found out about and participated in a program called Transition Lab. There I began to ask myself questions that were surprisingly difficult to answer. What am I good at? What do I enjoy? How can I repay the gift of my existence by positively impacting the world around me while I am here? When I combined all these questions into one I asked, “What is my Gift?”. The answer has become a concrete project that combined my passion for the beauty of nature, my artistic creativity, my love of spending time with and getting to know others, and my understanding of ecosystems. I have begun the process of transforming the lawns around ten of Dartmouth’s Greek houses into food producing landscapes that are also nourishing to the soul. Essentially, every day I get to do what I love and am good at to create beauty and practically improve the lives of my neighbors.

 

    But to find my gift something else had to happen first. Everyone has the creativity and the motivation to offer their own gifts to the world in a way that benefits everyone around them, including the natural world. It is the scarcity of time and space in our culture that disallows us from stepping into the more beautiful world. We always have to go do our homework, go back to work, go pick up the kids from school. Transition Lab broke through that by first showing me how to meet my basic needs through meaningful work instead of just getting by. From there I was able to create the space and time to reflect and figure out what my place in the world was. My education at Transition Lab was a tool that did away with scarcity while equipping me with the skills to literally follow my dreams. I’ve learned that the key to a good life comes from dreaming, imagining, and envisioning what the best world would look like, and to then create it.  


   Transition Lab let me bring my dreams, usually outsourced to the future held teasingly forever in front of me, into the present. I continue to use what I learned there to imagine what a resilient, stable, and adventurous future looks like. I’m also creating this world without having to sacrifice stability, comfort, or practicality. I now know that a more beautiful world is possible.

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Nourishing that Which Nourishes Us


By Jake Hanson

Nourishing that Which Nourishes Us


By Jake Hanson

In 2009, I graduated from the University of Utah and moved into a house in downtown Salt Lake City with three friends. The housing bubble had burst and everyone was talking about how few jobs there were -- especially for fresh college graduates like myself. Since my degree in biomedical engineering presented little opportunities, I made my own job, putting my computer and design skills to use as a freelancer web developer.

 Tending my first garden in 2009

Tending my first garden in 2009

I mostly enjoyed my work, made enough to pay the bills, and thoroughly appreciated the freedom and spontaneity of self-directed work. Yet, as I continued on this path, I found myself falling into a downward spiral. It became harder to get up in the mornings and find the motivation to get started. Like so many others I know, who work menial corporate jobs or are otherwise caught up in unsatisfying careers, I felt that I was giving up far too much of my vitality and potential for life experience… just for the sake of "security" in the form of a paycheck.

But in the midst of this downward spiral, I found a consistent remedy. In those moments when my reserves of patience had dried up, when I couldn't stand to stare into a computer monitor for another second, I regularly found myself doing one thing to feel happy and sane again:

I went to the front yard and nurtured a garden.

Without fail, my mood would lift as I watered plants, weeded, and observed nature working its magic. Sometimes, it felt like this work in the garden was the only thing that made any sense. I could spend just ten minutes, or sometimes hours, and always left feeling highly nourished and revitalized.

 My first garden- later that summer.

My first garden- later that summer.

 Breaking ground at Cindy's house. 

Breaking ground at Cindy's house. 

I continued with this balancing act through the next four years, burning up vitality to make money then recovering it in the garden. But after reaching a deep place of burnout in 2012, I realized something had to give. That winter, I heard about a new school called Transition Lab. As I learned more about it, my gut started making a very clear push for me to start doing more of what I knew made me feel good, and less of what was burning me out. So I moved to Colorado in 2013 to follow my passion for working with plants and local food.

It was the right move. Having now completed two years with Transition Lab, I can identify a distinctive change in my quality of life -- my mood, my energy, my vigor to embrace each day -- all better than ever before in my life.

Now, as I wrap up my last week at Transition Lab, and prepare to return to Utah, I'm excited to bring all this experience with local food, collaborative community, and new economies into a new phase of life. And again, I'm keeping a central focus on those things which truly make me feel best. My vision is to help people to start converting lawns into "foodscapes" -- whether that's a traditional garden, a permaculture food forest, or an aesthetic landscape which happens to include many edible and medicinal plants. I know that I'm going to be good at it, because I've spent the last two years converting lawns to gardens here in Colorado. This has given me solid experience with the day to day practice of starting a small business and growing landscapes. Best of all, I know that this work nourishes me and that it will serve to create a more beautiful and harmonious world.

I'm going to call it Nourishing Landscapes. Not only will these edible landscapes nourish our bodies and minds with hyper-local, nutrient-dense food, but they will nourish our spirits by bringing experiences of beauty, healing, and deeper relationship with the natural world and the awesome wonders of life itself. 

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From Self Reliance to Relationship


By Andrea Lotz

From Self Reliance to Relationship


By Andrea Lotz

People used to call me a “sensitive child.”  This was a nice way of saying that I cried a lot and was prone to anxiety.  The climaxes of Disney movies sent me into bouts of terror, and I often had to stop watching TV or reading a book if there was a confrontation too awkward or upsetting.  Conflict in real life was even worse – I tried actively to avoid instigating it, and when it was unavoidable, I cried.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to “cure” myself by brutally attacking my comfort zone, forcing myself into situations that caused me anxiety.  Through my time here at Transition Lab, however, I’ve come to realize that there is, and has always been, a deeper wound, which all my past efforts at controlling myself have merely scabbed over.  

Loneliness and isolation have been at the center of my struggles. I hid my deepest wounds and fears from the people I love most, never trusting others to help me or care for me when I needed it, exhausting myself by serving others because I feared that if I stopped for a moment, I’d be left alone.  It was nearly impossible for me to say no to anything, because I imagined that the disappointment of others would lead to abandonment. 

My time at Transition Lab has taught me that the cure isn't self-reliance, as I've always been told, but relationship. Because I perceived myself as separate, I was separate. Now, as I practice finding my voice and taking action, I find more and more that honesty and clarity are crucial skills for living in the kind of relationships with people that are worthwhile.  In addition, my insatiable craving for connection, love, and oneness has started to heal as I simply acknowledge it with the support of those around me. 

I’m finally making progress after so many years because, fundamentally, I no longer perceive myself as isolated from the people I interact with, from the organisms that nourish me, or from the universe that shelters me.  Instead, the more I meditate, the more I consciously open myself to the beauty in the people and the world around me. The more I ask for help, the more deeply I feel the connection I’ve been looking for all my life.  My interactions with others have become more meaningful and more fulfilling, I enjoy the food I eat more than I ever have, and I savor the beauty and constant flowing movement of the world I inhabit.  

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t setbacks.  It doesn’t even mean that the progress is rapid and incredible and that everything is great now.  I still feel a lot of pain in my heart, I still procrastinate, still commit to things I’m too scared to do, and I still push people away through misguided efforts to control my relationship with them.  But I’ve also learned a lot of skillful means to deal with conflict, and I’ve learned to trust other people a little more.  It’s easy to get frustrated when things move more slowly than I had hoped, but these are the kinds of crucial lessons that need time to fully sink in, and I’m learning to be patient.  After all, taking the first step, despite the cliché, is often very easy.  What’s hard is to keep on walking day after day, even in the face of relapses and setbacks, and to not become discouraged or self-aggressive when things become challenging. 

And this is the greatest thing that I have learned this year: The more I live in relationship, the more I know that I'm no longer walking the path alone. 

 

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What have we given up? Well, Nothing


By Kevin Studley

What have we given up? Well, Nothing


By Kevin Studley

The first class we had this year with the summer students, Zachary asked all of us a great question: "What have we given up in order to pursue this life of relationship with Transition Lab?" My answer was simple and truthful, "Nothing." We tend to believe the fallacy that in order to pursue a life worth living, we pay our dues and often sacrifice things we love just to get by. Transition Lab is living proof that this cultural belief isn't true. Here is what I mean:

Before Transition Lab, I worked different jobs for 40 or more hours per week. When the weekend came, I needed to escape from "civilization" and sought adventure in order to replenish myself, or in some cases, just to stay sane.

Currently, between the Transition Lab curriculum, work trade agreements, and my part-time job, I'm working about 60 hours per week. This is the busiest I've ever been and yet for the first time in my life, I'm working my butt off and simultaneously replenishing myself without feeling the need to escape every few days to maintain my sanity! The reason is that I have learned to meet my basic needs of food and housing through relationship. Every part of what I do not only meets my basic needs but rekindles lost connections with fellow community members, the food I eat, and the people who grow it, and it has transformed the way I live my life.

 I feel replenished each week because I'm meeting basic human needs, such as: relationship and connection, meaningful work, security, community, and being a part of something greater than myself. And this has lead to another transformation in my life: Transition Lab has created the economic freedom that allows me to pursue a life worth living. 

Yes, I wake up tired and sore sometimes, but every day I wake up stoked- whether it's Monday or not, or when I go to my job as a dishwasher two nights a week. Washing dishes isn't anything to get excited about, but now I am able to enjoy the mundane work. It allows me to conserve my creative energy for the meaningful work I take on each week. And I'm grateful for the cash that this part-time job gives me because it allows me to do the things I love and get to where I want to be: a debt-free, economically-sustainable future. It feels good to know that I can control this job and the money it provides, rather than being controlled by a job and money. For the first time since graduating college and working in the cash economy, I feel good about the trajectory of my life. After all, there's no contractual agreement made when we're born that says, "When you get older, you must dread Mondays and be thankful for Friday." We should be grateful for each and every day as an opportunity to give our gifts, and know that we are blessed.

The rest of the week? Well, I meet my needs by: riding my bicycle 50 miles per week, working on organic farms for food, exchanging my skills with a host in the community for zero dollar rent, gardening and working the soil, building and fabricating with scrap materials, engaging in radically intellectual conversations, meditating and studying metacognition, and spending my time amongst beautiful people. Oh yeah, and I still love to ski, hike, bike, climb, and venture into wild places whenever I have the chance. However, I no longer need to use these activities as an opiate to numb myself from the dreary parts of my life. I choose to do these things for the sheer joy the experience brings. These last five months have been some of the happiest times, learning how to be present and to fully enjoy my life as it unfolds. We have everything we need to contribute to the change we most desire in this world. All we have to do is start somewhere. 

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Mondays…We Changed the Name for Mondays


Mondays…We Changed the Name for Mondays


Does, "Make the World a More Beautiful Place Day" sound like something you would look forward to? 

 Zeno Learning to Weld

Zeno Learning to Weld

In the Co-Creator Program we spend each Monday learning to physically build a better world with Wiley Freeman.  He is the master of doing all the stuff that we dream of doing, and helps us get started. Wiley is the guy that 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. Basically, he's the guy to talk to if you want to go to a wasteland like Recla Metals (see photo above) salvage what you can, and make it into something beautiful. 

 Wiley (center) watching as Russell and Kevin assemble their flowers

Wiley (center) watching as Russell and Kevin assemble their flowers

We started this year with a simple project: We would weld flowers out of scrap metal, and then plant those flowers in some of our favorite spots around Montrose. 

Several months later, we planted our flowers throughout the community. Later we moved into dozens of specific projects, but these are still the coolest. Enjoy the photos below.

 


 Kevin's Flower overlooking Spring Creek   

Kevin's Flower overlooking Spring Creek

 

 Russell's flower in the Adobes      

Russell's flower in the Adobes

 

 

 Andrea's "Century Plant" in Wiley's garden

Andrea's "Century Plant" in Wiley's garden

 Jake made a tomato trellis with old computer fans as flowering vines. 

Jake made a tomato trellis with old computer fans as flowering vines. 

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Opening Doors through MIT


In 2013, we were invited to present our ideas at MIT. It changed everything for us. 

Photos by Dominick Reuter

Opening Doors through MIT


In 2013, we were invited to present our ideas at MIT. It changed everything for us. 

Photos by Dominick Reuter

In 2013, Transition Lab won a contest. Out of 40 entrees worldwide, we were selected as both the judges and popular choice winner of the "Local Solution" for addressing climate change. It was a big deal because it meant that were invited to one of the world's most prestigious colleges to share our thoughts. 

The funny thing about it, was that speaking at MIT was kind of a disappointment.

 Russell speaking into a real MIT Microphone during a question and answer period!

Russell speaking into a real MIT Microphone during a question and answer period!

Here's what I mean: While getting to speak with other guests like Andrew Revkin of the NYTimes, or having dinner with Obama's head of environmental policy was awesome, the conversations tended to focus on addressing specific issues. Interest was focused on shifting public perception on climate change and developing new sources of energy. I wanted to talk with some of the best minds in the world about how to address root causes of systemic problems, but that didn't really happen. 

Ironically, the conversations that we wanted to have came about because of our MIT award- but not at MIT. 

Since we began working, we have tried to connect with groups across the U.S. to share our ideas and work together to create a more beautiful world. However, all of us are weary of people with "great ideas" because great ideas rarely reach fruition. MIT helped us change that: When we reach out to folks now, our award has given us enough credibility that people are willing to listen. 

And this brings our story full circle: The place where change really starts is in the living room conversations of small dedicated groups across the world. It's where the best conversations always happen anyway- and where the solutions are tied directly to our lives rather than the impossibly large and abstract ideas of policy makers. 

Since our MIT appearance, we've been invited to connect with groups at the grassroots from coast to coast. Honestly, this is one of the most fun things we do. If you'd like to invite us into your group's conversation, let us know and we'll do what we can.