For the past two summers, I have worked at Sustainable Settings, a demonstrative ranch run by Brook and Rose LeVan in Carbondale Colorado.
The people who work here are very passionate about the importance of sustainability, out of interest for the planet and also for the advancement of our civilization. They run a garden using absolutely zero chemicals or foreign substances. They have sheep, goats, chickens, and in the last few years have begun a raw dairy.
They have interns (a program that is very competitive to get into). I worked about a month each time, acting as if I was one of the interns. I worked with the animals, in the dairy, the garden, and around the ranch. I also accompanied Rose on Saturdays to the Aspen farmer’s market, where I practiced valuable business and interpersonal skills while we sold the crops grown during the week.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience both years, and one that undoubtedly shaped who I am today. As I left the ranch this summer, I realized that there was such depth to the message that they were trying to expose the community to, as well as the world. I had spent so much time on the ranch, and had adopted their maxim as my own, but walked away with not much more than acceptance.
I do not doubt that the reason behind their pursuit of sustainability is a fantastic one. I know it now that there is so much importance to their message, and I truly believe that discovering the origins of this term ‘sustainability’, and the impact it currently has (as well as the impact it could have if it was more widely practiced) will not only benefit me, but also those who I can present this idea to when I return.
Holt Perkins, Senior 2013, Principia High School, St Louis MO
When I stumbled upon Sustainable Settings I was on a mission to find a pure source of real milk and eggs. However, I found much more than that. As I began volunteering with farm chores, it was like I had been missing something in my life, something big that I couldn’t really put into words. A sort of silent accomplishment I previously had not known. I began to feel very at home, partly due to the Le Van’s lovingkindness, and partly to the system that was Sustainable Settings.
I dove in headfirst and made it my mission to learn as much as I could about the animals and the way the seasons worked here. I found such joy in such simple things, like flooding a field or digging into the rockiest soil I’d ever come across. With each new challenge that faces us I see new opportunity for learning and growth for all of us. Becoming a critical part of this organization has been like a dream come true to me or like a prayer answered.
Since helping this organization day-to-day has continually enriched my life in ways I never thought possible it only makes sense to me to offer my commitment in helping it succeed here and in the future.
Sustainable Settings’ lamb and other food tastes better because it is better for the land and the planet. This shining example of land stewardship, experiential education, and whole-system thinking and action is a wonderful asset to our community.
Amory B. Lovins
Cofounder, Chairman and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute,
Old Snowmass, Colorado
When I went to Sustainable Settings I expected to learn how to save the planet. But that wasn’t what happened. I learned how to work my ass off. I learned how to build a gambrel roof, and how to plant multicolored chard and orach. I learned that an 8 year old kid can design and build energy efficient model houses and tell you all about how they work.
I learned that happiness and laughter are wonderful and a little kindness can go a long way. Before I went to study at Sustainable Settings I did not have much hope for the future. Now I am full of hope.
Dylan Mace, Senior at Colorado Rocky Mountain School
Reflecting on his senior intern project, May 2005
Sustainable Settings’ unique setting and whole systems curriculum provided my students with insight into the bigger picture of our society’s culture of consumption and gave the students first hand experience in ways to reduce our impacts through awareness and thoughtful choices.
Our students are now meeting with the head of the school and board members to explore actions to reduce our school’s carbon footprint and bring local food into our lunch program. This is a direct result of their experiences during our stay with Sustainable Settings. The students now feel empowered to educate and create change.
I have taken many classes on a wide range of trips and none have provided as powerful and life changing learning as Sustainable Settings.
Ryan Jaret, Environmental Education Teacher
Logan School for Creative Learning
The highlight of our grandchildren’s trip to Colorado each year is to visit Sustainable Settings. They have saved their allowance earned doing chores—$1 for making their beds, $1 for setting and clearing the table, $1 for sweeping and vacuuming— and created The New Barn Savings Plan to help build Sustainable Settings’ run-on-the-sun dairy barn.
Sustainable Settings Member
Over the past 7 months at Sustainable Settings I learned how to build healthy soil, grow organic food, raise livestock, kill and butcher an animal with humility and respect, can and preserve food, market our produce, drive a tractor, use power tools, and even write a grant.
But the most important thing you taught me was how to truly find the beauty and humor in everything and in every act. You helped me find a sense of independence and self-reliance. You helped me discover what I am truly capable of.
There were days at Sustainable Settings where we felt completely immortal. And days where the weight of the world felt heavy enough to demand that I kneel down and cry. But there was a predominant understanding of the brevity of life and a call to arms to embrace its beauty in everything we do and to act.
Thank you for teaching me to think systemically. Thank you for showing me how to live, how to love, the importance of community for our selves and for improving the world, and ultimately for teaching me the real meaning and source of wealth.
Lucy Emerson-Bell, Intern 2009
Seeing first hand that there are people living out the vision of a sustainable lifestyle made a huge impact on me. You are probably aware of this, but I truly believe that most people just need to see this stuff with their own eyes and meet people like you to be convinced that these systems are feasible and worthwhile to invest in.
Sandy Ha, Graduate, Green Building Technologies
Architecture and Planning Department, University of Colorado
As the hills of statistics go up, up, up on soil erosion, climate change, fossil fuel use, chemical contamination and more it becomes increasingly obvious that we will need one day the good examples from such marginal places as Sustainable Settings as a hedge on our cultural bet.
And oh, by the way, they produce better quality food.
President, The Land Institute