Over the next five years, I'll be working on two site-specific research projects focused on sustainable community development. Both projects will be focused on developing ecological literacy programs and community-supported agriculture, energy, and natural building initiatives that will help communities to operate self-sufficiently.
In both locations, I'll be developing a centrally located community garden that will function as a model site and outdoor classroom where I'll be facilitating Permaculture design courses and other re-skilling trainings in order to equip citizens with the capacity to grow their own food, medicine, and fuel; and plan and develop resilient home and community infrastructures while creating durable and vibrant livelihoods for themselves and their family.
Over the course of the next five years, I'll help equip communities with ecological concepts and creative exercises that will allow them to perceive ecological systems in their physical and social environment and generate place-specific design strategies capable of providing a secure, and abundant livelihood. Throughout the the project, I'll be documenting the process, in detail, through time-lapse photos, large scale surveys, and in-depth interviews. Below is a brief description of both project locations.
Barbuda is a small island in the West Indies.
Indigenous cultures were believed to inhabit the island in phases dating back close to 4000 years ago, but when western nations colonized the Caribbean, indigenous populations were wiped-out along with their culture and environmental knowledge.
In the 17th and 18th century, Barbuda was used as a British slave colony focused on agricultural export to Antigua.
In 1981, the island gained its independence as an integral part of Antigua and Barbuda, and today, the majority of land is owned, collectively, by the people of Barbuda.
The Barbuda Research Complex is an anthropology and sustainability field school made possible by support from City University of New York, The National Science Foundation, and a dedicated, interdisciplinary team of international scholars led by Dr. Sophia Perdikaris.
The Barbuda Research Complex is committed to preserving Barbuda’s environment and cultural heritage through collaborative education ventures capable of bringing together local stakeholders and interdisciplinary, international scholars.
Located in the Center of Barbuda’s residential district, across the street from the elementary school, the Barbuda Research Complex is actively engaged with the community, throughout the year. During both Winter and Summer months, international undergraduate and graduate field schools occupy the space, providing a wide range of temporary work opportunities related to housing, transportation, and food services. Throughout the year, a team of local residents maintain the museums, aquaponics facilities, and edible gardens offering supplemental income, access to educational material, and the opportunity to fulfill a positive role in the community.
As a small, low-laying island Barbuda is particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. Land erosion, erratic weather patterns, and ocean acidification are all observable phenomena that affect the livelihood of Barbudans on a daily basis.
In recent decades, the livelihood of Barbudans has been directly impacted by unchecked commercial fishing which led to a cascading die-off in the aquatic populations Barbudans once depended on for food and income. The island also lacks fresh water resources and strategies for recycling and conserving their limited supply.
Over the past two years, the Barbuda Research complex has developed a highly-productive Aquaponics lab at the research center in an effort to inspire Barbudans to engage in similar practices capable of providing a high-yield, regenerative source of fish, and edible plants through fresh-water recycling strategies.
Over the next five years, the interdisciplinary team of scientists working with The Barbuda Research Complex will be offering free ecological design consultatations to the government and individuals, through which we will recommend plantings and earthwork strategies to prevent erosion and stabilize micro-climates, while promoting agroforestry and sustainable agriculture techniques for obtaining healthy, diverse, and nutritious yields.
Many Barbudans are dependent on small government subsidies from Antigua for their main source of income. Their government checks are often undependable, and insufficient. With no financial resources to leave the island, and extremely limited opportunities for generating income on the island, many Barbudans seek a more secure lifestyle that can afford them the opportunity to participate in the modern, globalized world.
Due to their historical experience on the island, many Barbudans are not interested in an agricultural lifestyle. Until Barbuda supports low-maintenance, high-yield agroforestry systems -not industrial scale fields of oppression and domination- the adoption of localized agriculture will prove difficult. Our goal is to inspire perennial, ecologically-integrated, aesthetically-pleasing, natural designs capable of promoting relaxation, independence, and security through abundance.
The main employment opportunity on the island is a handful of low-wage, manual labor jobs for the three exclusive, high-end resorts. Recently, a new US-based corporation has signed a land lease to rehabilitate one of Barbuda’s centrally located resorts. In the coming years, we hope to develop beneficial and regenerative relationships between this exclusive, high-end resort and the people of Barbuda through local agriculture, eco-tourism, and technical training programs that will allow Barbudans to occupy a wide range of roles associated with encroaching modern world
In Barbuda, the majority of the land is owned collectively by islanders, However, prime, ocean-front land is currently leased -tax free- to the 3 high-end, exclusive resorts which currently give very little back to the community.
As an NGO recognized by the Antigua and Barbuda government, in partnership with a US-based public university, The Barbuda Research complex has the infrastructure and support network needed to ensure sustained efforts towards all of it’s community-based environmental projects.
While many sustainability-oriented projects can loose focus and initiative if they do not provide an immediate and continuous benefit to the community, the BRC’s efforts are continuously reinvigorated by passionate students, teachers, and researchers capable developing innovative strategies and securing outside funding to ensure the success of on-going initiatives.
In Barbuda, like much of the Caribbean, the vast majority of food in imported. Barbudans rely on a weekly supply boat for packaged and processed foods, with only a few small stores offering these goods throughout the week,
Within the Barbudan food supply there is a clear lack of fresh plant-based foods.
At the moment, Barbuda does not have any farmers markets or community supported agriculture programs. However, food venders are set up in the center of town on weekends for lively celebrations, offering mainly fried meat and bread products.
Due to the lack of fresh plant-based foods and the abundance of fried and processeed foods, Barbudans are susceptible to a wide variety of chronic diseases due to nutrient defficient diets resulting in compromised immune function.
Barbuda's groundwater supply is limited, especially in the dry summer months. The water quality also fluctuates throughout the year due to sea water infiltration and land use. While numerous wells dot the countryside, many are unusable. On-going research is being conducted to understand the fluctuation of supply and quality of water in these locations.
Almost every structure in Barbuda is equipped with a rainwater harvesting cistern where water is collected off rooftops. For a few months out of the year, this is more than sufficient for a small family. However, in the dry months rainwater harvesting systems offer very little. Furthermore, residents who cannot afford a rainwater harvesting system often have no choice but to purchase bottled water at a local store, requiring a substantial part of the average Barbudan income.
The main source of energy for citizens of Barbuda is an outdated, inefficient petroleum-based power plant. Rolling black-outs are a daily occurrence on the island. Due to it's sunny location near the equator, Barbuda would be an ideal candidate for decentralized solar power, however it often requires an upfront cost thats out of range to many citizens. In the coming years, solar power will become more efficient, more affordable, and more portable. With government subsidies and/or public donations, dependable, decentralized, solar power could be a reality for Barbudans over the next decade.
Much of Barbuda's waste is landfilled or dumped deep at see where it not only contaminants valuable ecosystems but robs Barbudans of rich, fertile soil. Through the process of composting organic waste -including human waste- Barbudans could be building soil depth and fertility throughout the island.
The majority of residential buildings in Barbuda are constructed out of imported cinder blocks. It often takes families several years to save up enough money to purchase imported building materials while they're surrounded by abundant natural materials that could be used to make durable, affordable, energy efficient structures. Many Barbudans seem to be seeking a more modern lifestyle in which Industrial materials represent progress, and durability. If natural building methods are to be adopted by Barbudans emphasis will need to be placed on energy efficiency (heating and cooling) and creative design. Natural buildings need to be understood not as a "poor man's" home, but a unique opportunity to express culture and individuality through the use of Barbuda's natural resources.
Over the next 5 years, I'll be using ecological design strategies and natural building techniques to create a sustainable, self-sufficient educational homestead in Blaristown, NJ designed to produce an abundant, regenerative source of wild edible plants, fruits, fungi, herbal medicine, bio-fuel, natural fibers and building materials, throughout the year.
The entire design and construction process will be documented, in detail, through design sketches, time-lapse photos, essay, and short documentary-style videos in order to create a comprehensive manual for developing ecologically-integrated settlements.
Once the site is up and running, it will function, primarily, as a self-sufficient homestead and outdoor education center, offering a diverse line-up of sustainability-oriented programs, and musical performances, throughout the year.
14 wooded acres on the south-facing side of a mountain. Ideally suited for maximum solar exposure, gravity-feed rainwater systems, and diverse microclimates. The property will be divided into 1, 5-acre homesite and 8 Acres of edible forest gardens.
Blairstown is a small, rural township in northwest New Jersey with a population of roughly 6,000 in an area of roughly 32 square miles. Located in the Kittatinnay Valley just east of the Delaware Water Gap National Park, Blairstown is surrounded by protected land, farms, and forests.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the median household income was around $83,000.
Located at the center of Blairstown is Blair Academy, a private boarding school established by philanthropist and railroad tycoon John Insley Blair, for whom the school and surrounding community are named.
Blair Academy is not only the physical center of Blaristown, it's also the social center. Many residents of Blairstown are employed by the academy.
Blairstown is also home to the Ridge and Valley Charter school, a public charter school established in 2004, focused on Environmental Literacy and Sustainability.
While located in a rural environment with numerous organizations focused on Environmental Conservation, Blairstown is subjected to New Jersey's strict Environmental and Zoning Laws that make it difficult to legally construct off-grid, self sufficient homesteads.
Blairstown has a traditional Township form of government, with a five-member committee. The Township Committee is elected directly by the voters in partisan elections to serve three-year terms of office , with either one or two seats coming up for election each year as part of the November general election in a three-year cycle
In addition to being surrounded by small family farms offering Community Supported Agriculture programs and "Pick-your-own" site visits, Blairstown has a centrally located healthfood store, and a thriving weekend Farmers Market in the town's center. Outside of town residents can also choose from two local supermarkets.
Blairstown receives around 40 inches of rainfall per year. Most public water in the area comes from rainwater that makes it's way deep into the buried valley aquifer carved out by the last glacial melt. The aquifer produces high-quality, high quantity water, however, many rural residents of Blairstown rely on private wells that are not located in this aquifer and must be drilled into the underlying interbedded limestone and shale.
Electrity in Blairstown is provided by Jersey Central Power and Light which produces energy primarily out of fossil fuels, and due to it's central location losses more than 80% of its energy in transmission from the power plant to the end user.
Blairstown could provide meet all of it's energy needs, affordably, through small-scale, decentralized solar, wind, and micro-hydro strategies.
Garbage is predominantly landfilled in Pennsylvania, and human waste is contained, predominantly, in septic systems, If composting and biofuel production were adopted on a local scale, residents could significantly improve soil quality while producing high-quality ethanol to be used for transportation and energy.
The Blairstown building department oversees all construction in the Township. Most structures are build out of mined and imported building materials while the area is abundant in hard woods, stone, and clay.