Good Ground Center: an Ecology-based Educational Community

Why I left my job by Dr. Marc Fasanella

After three decades of teaching in a traditional higher education setting, I reached a point where I no longer felt hopeful about what I was teaching or fulfilled by the experience I shared with my students.  What I knew was going to be required of my students to deal with the challenges they will face in the 21st century could not be segmented into traditional university class structure with a 3-credit per course, single subject basis.  Our new understanding of the ecosystem we inhabit and the challenges our social behavior presents to the survival of our species requires training in what a former student Nick Zanussi and I call Ecospheric Intellect - a way of thinking and being that acknowledges the connections between all living things and their non-living environments.  It involves looking back to examine how we created the cultural identity and ecosystem that surrounds us, as well as contemplating the effect of our every action going forward.  Ecospheric intellect requires remembering the past, understanding the present, and envisioning the future.

The ecological design courses I was teaching in a university setting, and the civic engagement I had undertaken in Hampton Bays, revealed what I knew to be an unparalleled opportunity to create a field-based agro-ecology, permaculture, and regenerative design program.  The ability to integrate with indigenous culture, local ecology projects, and engage in the ongoing planning process of the main street business district is an opportunity unlikely to be found elsewhere.  In Hampton Bays we have everything necessary for a world-class international Permaculture and Regenerative Design Program.  Only 90 miles from the economic and cultural hub of New York City and accessible by train, my hometown is a coastal community composed of a barrier island set along the Atlantic, an extensive network of tidal marshes, both shallow and deep bays, and a mainland section of Long Island with creeks and ponds in extensive terrestrial woodlands.

I contemplated departure from my University position for quite some time and discussed it with family, friends, and colleagues.  I came to the conclusion that there was no choice but to stake out a new path, pledging myself to practicing what many in Sustainability preach: “Think globally, act locally.”  I talked about these ideas at community forums and was amazed at how quickly a group of highly-intelligent, skilled people were eager to join the effort and build a base for a new type of educational program.  We created a non-profit organization with the goal of evolving Hampton Bays into an ecology-based educational community.  A place where the curriculum does not end at the edge of an isolated campus, but rather encompasses all public land and investigates the local ecology - inclusive of it’s indigenous and colonial fishing / farming history as well as the challenges we face entering the twenty first century.  Conversations should spill out into a local bookstore, café, clothing store, community center, place of worship, restaurant and other elements of a healthy neighborhood culture.

We are now raising funds to build the program at a location we call the Good Ground Center for Field Ecology and Regenerative Design.  The center’s mission will be to serve as an alternative to destructive land use practices and the growth-based development damaging the health of our aquifer, soil, and waterways.  Students will take part in an interdisciplinary experience as they learn how to create resilient agro-ecology systems within a built environment that is integrated with the surrounding ecosystem.  Along the way they will learn to address many of the primary challenges threatening the world’s aquatic resources - from agricultural pesticides and fertilizers to shore-hardening structures. 

The techniques of ecological design, resource conservation, and waste reduction will inform the ethos of the Good Ground Center.  Participants will be immersed in an energy-conscious, hands-on experience investigating healthy food systems, structures built from local materials, water collected from rainfall, and energy collected from the sun.  We will grow edible plants sourced from local indigenous and colonial traditions, teach medicinal botany, and study ecology-based initiatives.  Participants will live in shared housing, compost their waste, prepare and eat organic meals together as part of their education.  The Good Ground Center will be multicultural and multi-generational, and we will partner our work with other non-profit, governmental and educational institutions.

The field-based education provided by ECI at the Good Ground Center will be applicable to coastal communities throughout the world who are facing the impact of over-development and climate change.  90 percent of the human population is expected to relocate during the first half of this century to urbanized communities set along waterways.  The ECI curriculum addresses this future in a way that is of particular relevance to students of agriculture, architecture, ecology, ecotourism, engineering, environmental design, food studies, landscape architecture, recreation management, sustainability studies, and urban-planning.  Solutions we will study include: alternative architecture, ecological engineering, environmental justice, permaculture design, regenerative community development, relocation self-build housing, sustainable food systems, and much more.  An education gained at the Good Ground Center will prepare students for international careers with ecological design firms, government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), urban planning firms, and a broad array of non-profit organizations.  All students who enroll in the program will receive an international Permaculture & Regenerative Design Certificate and complete a final capstone project (a professional-level portfolio piece) that will assist in applying to graduate school or for employment.

Why should we launch this program at Good Ground – in what is now known as Hampton Bays?  We must – we have been presented with an exceptional opportunity to address the ecological challenges we face.  Our threatened local aquifer, food-web, and coastal waterways demand we seize this opportunity to educate the next generation in ways that will make our community and other coastal communities adaptive and resilient.