Pole BeansMany of us inherited a dream. In the dream everyone is pursuing their individual interests. In the dream everyone has a job, the kids are in school learning the skills to get an even better job and we are all on the path to the happiness we deserve. But it is only a dream. We all really know that there is more required of us than the pursuit of happiness.


We thought that we can control the world, which limits us in the same way that thinking the sun revolves around the earth limited our view of the universe. We thought that humans are the pinnacle of evolution. That thought keeps us mired in poverty in the same way that believing that the earth is flat kept sailors near the shore. From this perspective we just can’t see all the wonderful things that are possible from a deeper understanding of our place in the world.

There is a different perspective.

As we begin to understand that we are a part of something greater than ourselves, we begin to see a whole new world of possibilities and responsibilities.

It is this perspective, this understanding of our place in the world, this something greater than ourselves, that we study at the Living Systems Institute. It is a pattern of interactions among the living things in a place. In the same way that an individual cell exists as a functional part of a body, each of us exists as a functional part of the pattern of interactions in the place where we live. We call this pattern of interactions ecosystem and community and it is both.

Each cell in your body depends on you as a whole. Your body can be sickly or it can be healthy. Each of our cells depends on the body being healthy and the body depends on each cell being healthy. Like you, the community in which we find ourselves can be sickly or healthy.


We cannot ignore the needs of the living things around us . . .


Rabbit BrushAs we learn these lessons about our relationships within our community we can begin to update the dream. It is the realization that we cannot ignore the needs of the living things around us. A healthy world needs all its parts. We can dream a dream in which humans are the species that sees to the needs of all those parts.

From the perspective of the old dream we cannot see solutions to habitat loss, climate change, poverty and violence. As we change perspective we begin to see that each of these is merely a symptom of the sickness within our community. We can begin to see that a sick community is missing the contribution of missing organisms in the same way that a sick body is missing the contribution of the cells necessary for health. We can find ways to nurture the missing organisms and attract their contribution. We will find that as we are successful in addressing the needs of those missing the community begins to regain its health.

In the Agents of Habitat series we go into details about restoring what is missing. There are things that each missing organism needs in order to participate in the pattern. There are things that each participating organism contributes to the pattern. When we supply what an organism needs to participate the community benefits from its contributions.

These are simple principles. When the community has all its organisms it will build resources into itself cycle over cycle. A community without the vital contributions of all its organisms runs down and becomes sickly. The organisms remaining in the community suffer as a result. A community building resources into itself cycle over cycle is becoming healthy and participating organisms benefit as a result. In a community that is sick there are organisms excluded. A healthy community is an inclusive community.

This next step requires us to change our perspective. We and the living things around us create a pattern of interactions that is like our body. We are cells in that body. We call the body by different names because we cannot see the whole of it or our place in it. It is called ecosystem and community. In both senses all the living things in a place, including the humans, are an ecosystem and a community and it is that community that determines the well being of each of its cells. The well being of each of the cells determines the well being of the community. And each of us, individually and through our groups, has influence on the health of the community and each of its cells.

we can heal the community by finding ways to include those left behind . . .

Fruit Tree Guild BedWhat we learned when we thought we could control the world is all the wonderful things we can do through the market form of production. Those things are not wrong. The market is an incentive to the innovation and creativity that produces a wonderful array of things. But the market perspective does not give us the whole picture. From the perspective of money as the only market driver we cannot see all of the missing organisms. From the perspective of money we do not have the resources to heal our habitat, pull excess carbon from the air, feed and house the poor or end the violence. But money is not the only measure of value. From the new perspective of each organism as a cell of the community we can see the value of those left behind. We see that we can heal the community by finding ways to include those left behind.

Now that we can see from the perspective of community, we can see the resources we need all around us. All that is required is to include those organisms left behind in the pattern of interactions that is our community. Including an organism is just a matter of finding out what it needs and what it contributes. Interactions build one on another.

We begin to include soil organisms and pollinators by neighbors coming together to stop the use of poisons and make their neighborhood Bee Safe. We begin to tie up carbon from the atmosphere by building deep mulch gardens as a habitat for soil organisms. Healthy soil ecosystems form the basis for the habitat of all larger organisms. We give our community the genetic diversity needed to adjust to climate change by propagating plants adapted to each community through a plant propagation cooperative. We produce an abundance of food for humans and participating organisms when we institute integrated closed loop production systems to cycle carbon locally.

Father's Day SaladThe latest project of the Living Systems Institute is to crowd source a narrative about how our communities can come to apply the understanding that forms the basis of our updated dream. The narrative is called 'How the Cook and the Gardener Saved the World."  In this narrative, Pat the gardener works with homeowners to convert their old fashioned yards, designed when we thought we could control things, into habitats that support the health of our community. Through this process Pat finds opportunities to produce an abundance of food. Pat partners with Chris the cook who converts this food into meals that are sold to fund the needs of the partnership as a cell of sustainability within a sick community still missing many pieces.

As that community comes to understand and support the work that Pat and Chris are doing, the partners will have more work than they can handle. That work opens the door for more partners who can contribute to the health of the partnership and the community. As the partnership expands it can invest its resources into the capacity to produce the food, shelter, learning, health, belonging and purpose that the partners need to thrive. With the help of the community the partnership can find a place for those left out of the old dream and begin to heal the community.

It is not magic. These are down-to-earth common-sense ways of reaching out to the living things around us. We start with food to eat, a place to stay and the opportunity to share our gift. All the other things we dream about our inclusive culture can spring from there.

Contact Us

  • David Braden IV, Executive Director, Living Systems Institute
  • (303) 549-9787

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