Transition Lab builds hands on curriculum to build community

By Russell Evans, Transition Lab 

Colorado -- The current economy is not working out for a lot of people- particularly for those in their 20's. These individuals want jobs that are both meaningful and offer ways to make the world a better place. Unfortunately many are left with choices like working at Halliburton to pay for their marine biology degree, or living at home and scraping by as a barista. If we want to create a livable future it's clear that we need to do several things differently: First we need affordable educational institutions that can teach skills which will be useful regardless of what happens in the traditional economy. Second, these institutions will need to be living laboratories where passionate individuals can come together to invent the business models of the future. With a combination of skills, experience, and camaraderie in such an program, I believe that we can create a future that we dream of.  

We built Transition Lab to be this place and our pilot program is launching this Spring. The vision for it came, like most good things, from the garden. 

I had been learning how to grow my own food when I read a story about Kipp Nash. Nash had wanted to become a farmer but land was prohibitively expensive. So instead of buying his own farm, he went to a bunch of neighbors up and down the street in Boulder, Colorado, and convinced them to let him cultivate their yards and buy into his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) endeavor. The homeowners didn't have to worry about lawn maintenance any longer, their water bills would be the same, they got fresh organic veggies, and Nash got his farm - on 13 different plots of land that first year.

I envision that the future of our economy will look a lot like this: There will always be a group of people who work in traditional jobs with steady incomes - like the residents who owned the land where Nash farmed. They will use dollars to pay for health insurance, iPods, and the mortgage. But a second group of folks, like Nash, will find creative ways to use existing resources more elegantly, and meet needs that our current economy cannot. This kind of exchange happens in a collaborative economy rather than the traditional one. In Nash’s case, he used an existing resource to make money while benefitting the homeowners, too. In the process, he did something else: His business "transitioned" the yards of people wanted a more sustainable lifestyle, but did not have the time or resources to create it. The businesses of the future will do exactly this. They will generate wealth for the business owner, while providing truly sustainable products and services to the surrounding community. 

My wife and I decided to take Nash's model a step further. By exchanging rent in our guest bedroom for labor in our garden, we could take money out of the picture altogether while providing affordable housing and employment to a young farmer. Through our local CSA, we had become friends with an intern named Evan Lavin. Once the growing season ended, he was looking for a way to apply his skills. We proposed that he put 15 hours of labor a week into our garden in exchange for rent. That autumn, Evan moved in, and over the next seven months we converted 3000 square feet of lawn into a forest garden with five low tunnel greenhouses for just $500. Evan saved $4000 on rent, and we got free produce throughout the winter and spring. The experiment proved that we could build resilience affordably and efficiently by simply re-imagining our relationships with one another and our resources.

Evin Lavin with the first Spring harvest (Photo by Russell Evans)

When our friends came to us asking if we knew other folks like Evan that could be skilled residents for them, we saw a huge need in our community. There is no shortage of homeowners with guest bedrooms who would love to exchange rent for skilled labor towards specific projects that would improve our world. The only thing missing was an institution to both train these individuals, guarantee that they possessed a certain skill set, and network the students with homeowners in the community. In the same way that a college degree is a stamp of credibility for an employer, our graduates will be recognized as having the training and experience necessary to transition our world. 

At Transition Lab we are bringing together an experienced group of teachers who have already spent decades figuring out what works, what doesn't, and can pass that wisdom on. Our Skilled Resident Program will train ordinary folks to grow their own food, create affordable housing arrangements, start micro-businesses, work for the community, and develop leadership. They will do this through courses like Permaculture, FirstAid/CPR, Conflict Mediation, Advanced Democratic Citizenship, and Low Cost Local Infrastructure. And this list does not include all the great ideas that will be generated when we bring together a group of passionate students that will spend the next seven months creating a future we have only dreamed of. 


Tearing up the yard and putting in beds (Photo by Evan Lavin)

I want you to imagine what this means: As soon as we start producing graduates, and partner them with the homeowners to meet our needs, we will have created a labor force that is both self sustaining and empowered to create the change we want to see in the world. And because all of this will be driven by using existing resources more efficiently, we will become self-reliant with our Transition initiatives rather than depending on grants or government programs to power the change. 

If you are as excited about this as we are, there are several ways to get involved: The first is to visit our website at From there you can sign up for our newsletter, apply for future classes, or help us fund crowd-sourced student loans. We look forward to hearing from you and creating a better future together. 


RussellRussell began teaching as Program Coordinator at Intercambio in Boulder, CO. He later taught high school Spanish for 6 years and earned a Master's Degree from Naropa University in Contemplative Education. He wrote his masters thesis on Loving Kindness Meditation and how it could help relieve trauma in high-school students. This work was subsequently published in Shambhala Sun Space. He has also been recognized by various organizations including and The Huffington Post for his ideas and activism. He is the director of Transition Lab -- and when he is not teaching, gardening, or making ice cream, he spends time with his wife Heather, and their daughter Genevieve


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