Bioneers is the Place to Be

Join the revolution from the heart of nature; attend the annual conference next month at Westminster College.
by David Hoza
You may know Bioneers from syndicated weekly broadcasts or from New Dimensions with Michael Toms, both on KRCL. (The Bioneers mantra: "revolution from the heart of nature.") I got to know Bioneers around 1998 through CATALYST magazine and listening to New Dimensions while delivering food Sunday nights in Park City to subsidize off-grid living.

Bioneers-the organization-inspires, educates and connects people, addressing problems in terms of solutions that provide wellbeing for all in the biosphere.

At the roots of Bioneers are communities of committed, caring individuals with the desire to see all things thrive: our own species, the living things that sustain us, the platform for our very existence-Earth.

Bioneers-the individuals who live in that spirit-have been cultivating ways of looking, thinking and learning that make them ripe for birthing and putting ideas into action, ideas that create a more sustainable sense of health and wellbeing from the individual to the global community.

The annual national conference in San Rafael, California brings together the most innovative and effective leaders, from the grassroots to the canopy, to cross-pollinate ideas and share effective strategies for positive change.

Beaming Bioneers conferences like the event held at Westminster College link internationally renowned speakers with local topics and experts on the ground, inspiring a potent global-local approach towards solving local and regional problems. Inspiration, design and action are key components in the Bioneers way. Bioneers recognizes the framework of interdependence that bring of local, regional, national and global communities to build connections across boundaries of gender, race, culture, class and age.

Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons co-founded Bioneers in 1990. Kenny, who also co-founded Seeds of Change, the national biodiversity organic seed company (with an amazing mail order catalog), is a noted social entrepreneur, journalist and filmmaker. Nina previously served as president of Seeds of Change and director of strategic marketing for Odwalla. She teaches relational intelligence and produced a retreat for diverse women leaders called UnReasonable Women for the Earth, which was an incubator for CodePink: Women for Peace.

Originally the Collective Heritage Institute, Bioneers began with a mission for restoring the earth, conserving biological and cultural diversity and preserving traditional farming practices. Bioneers has blossomed over the last 19 years into a veritable ecosystem of health and wellbeing-oriented solution making, a residence of sustainable co-existence for all the individuals and communities of the biosphere. Interdependence is key. Bioneers thinking and action-taking reminds me of all the best parts of systems thinking and positive chaos theory.

Beyond the conference; solutions for today’s problems; a wonderfully supportive, nurturing, sustainable living social network-beyond even another route to social justice and planet caretaking-Bioneers is a process. One feature of systems thinking is it doesn’t just feed today’s people. It offers questions and solution-making for how to fish in tomorrow’s waters: rehabilitating the dead zones at the mouth of the Mississippi and Cheasapeake Bay or restoring sustainable fisheries, for example.

Natural processes and patterns go into Bioneers thinking and actions. One result is an open-ended, ever-evolving system constantly adapting to change and incorporating newly identified needs. Sustainable solutions-incorporating all the best, most successful parts of our thinking, economy, technology and sustainable life- grow organically from the well-tended consciousness.

In terms of positivist chaos theory, think of Bioneers as a telemark skier on a ridge with many snow-filled valleys as possible descents, but almost no visibility. There’s no knowing how the chosen valley will fully flesh out, but there’s an idea, based on a chosen consciousness which holds space for the future coming into being. This is hope. Bioneers thinking at its finest represents local, sustainable solutions that synthesize nature’s operating instructions with the needs of the human community.

I see the Bioneers approach like this: If we keep open neural pathway development through hope or expectation, without attaching to a static, single "right" solution, we keep the grounds fertile and open for new ideas to come. We keep our natural brain technology open to receive new ideas. Hope and optimism here are not features of naïveté; they are the beginner’s mind that allows new synapses to continue to form, new neural pathways to develop, new systems of assemblage to occur so that innovation, invention and responsible restraint meet the demands and conditions of tomorrow’s world.

Bioneers Conference Westminster College runs October 17-19. Satellite broadcasts of the national plenary speakers are interspersed with presentations from our own local experts. Local networking, idea and action exchange occur here in our region, deriving elegant solutions from a local sense of place.

National speakers include David Orr, chair of environmental studies at Oberlin College, who wrote the book on ecological literacy (titled "Ecological Literacy")-in the 1980s. His work is probably the biggest reason why ecological literacy is being taught the way it is in environmental programs at North American universities today. Janine Benyus, a naturalist who consults with technological designers, authored the book "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature." She lifts patterns and processes from nature for use in technological design. Ray Anderson is considered the most successful visionary green business leader in America. Paul Stamets is a mycologist and author of books such as "Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World." He’s been using fungi and mushroom colonies to rehabilitate toxic environments, utilizing their large capacity for absorbing and breaking down toxins. These 2008 plenary speakers were featured in DiCaprio’s documentary, which producer Chuck Castleberry calls "a primer on eco-literacy." This year’s featured "Young Bioneer" is Erica Fernandez, 18, an activist who has drawn together her California community to successfully challenge the air pollution that causes her asthma and defeat placement of an offshore liquefied natural gas facility.

Breakfast and lunch are served all three days, offering additional opportunities to make new acquaintances, informally discuss present and future issues, and exchange best practices. Friday evening features a "share fair" and reception. Local activists and organizations will be on hand to mingle and discuss what’s new, what’s working, and what needs solution-making.

Bioneers Conference Westminster College 2008 promises to be perhaps the most inspiring and engaging green, sustainable and local solution event of the year.

I’ll leave you with my favorite comments gleaned from a Bioneers video. "You learn something new every minute." "I couldn’t even sleep last night I was so excited." "You meet people who are really making a difference in the world and it makes you realize you can do the same." "You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get pissed right off, and then you’ll get active." "If you really want to change the world and stop just talking about it, Bioneers is the place to be." Or, as CATALYST editor Greta deJong (who has attended the national conference) puts it: "Bioneers is the Burning Man of the Intellect. Eye-opening, outrageous, life-changing; once you go, you’re committed for life." See ya there.

David M. Hoza is a Bioneers planning volunteer, and has lived a number of years off the grid.

Bioneers Conference Westminster College
Friday-Sunday, October 17-19, 2008
Westminster College, Salt Lake City
$120 ($95 before September 30)
(Volunteer opportunities, scholarships and sponsorships for the nonprofit funded conference are available.)