I read the most recent newsletter from Peak Prosperity and was excited to see in the subtitle of one article the topic of Nicaragua. I’m always interested to know what North Americans might have to observe and say about Nicaragua, particularly since we in the north often display such a limited awareness of the country, let alone any particulars. So I read with interest the description of a place about which I had never previously heard, Finca las Nubes (Farm of the Clouds). Peak Prosperity wrote about it as a sustainable community, an example of self-sufficiency and insulation from some of the insanities that we face today in the “developed world.” It’s an interesting story, but one that has also given me pause to reflect about the purpose and the impact of such sustainable communities.
On the face of it, we all understand the value of sustainability, in whatever ways that term is measured. If we could somehow draw upon the world’s resources without depleting those necessities, or at least not despoiling the environments around which they are extracted or used, our lifestyles and quality of life could go on, theoretically forever, a perpetual, natural bank account that would never be overdrawn. In these days, with the convergence of crises in energy, environment and the economy, sustainability takes on an essential importance, whether in the U.S., Nicaragua or anywhere else.
Here in the U.S., as we become more attuned to those looming crises, we are called to become more active in transitioning our homes and businesses and environments to more sustainable footprints. (Or at least, I’d like to believe that.) Geothermal, wind, solar and other technologies will need to become more mainstream, yard gardens might become the norm in even the wealthiest communities, and chickens just might find suburban living to their liking as communities revise local statutes to allow for their migration and housing. But the troubling news is that such transitions as these have not evolved quickly, nor are they likely to blossom suddenly in the near future; we are too much creatures of habit and comfort.
As a result, those who have a different vision of the future sometimes hear the call to look abroad for a place to call their own, to create their own concept of sustainable Utopia, to craft the kinds of relationships, cultures and conditions which reflect their priorities and values. Like the founders of Finca Las Nubes, they seek a place where culture and society have a seemingly soft footprint, where they might settle a new community without conflict or intrusion from whoever might already be in that space.
It’s an intriguing idea. At some time or other, we all have likely imagined ourselves in some simpler, easier place, where basic needs are met by basic work, where we are compatible with our surroundings and they with us. But there are at least two realities which render such dreaming problematic: first, there are no spaces on the face of our earth that are immune to global cause-and-effect. Second, even if there were such places as Shangri-La, they would be inhabited by someone else.
Finca las Nubes may, in fact, be a noble undertaking that has generated very positive results for the members of that community; I read very encouraging things about them. But with certainty it can be said that their presence in Nicaragua is not taking place in a void; there are already Nicaraguan communities, traditions, histories to be found in the very same region and which, therefore, cannot help but be impacted by the North American immigrants. Maybe it’s the occupation of the land. Perhaps it’s the gated community. Possibly it’s an unintended consequence of farming methodologies employed. Whatever the case, the establishment of a new community- even a sustainable one- is not without its consequences upon those already present.
My observations are not intended to be an indictment of sustainability or intentional communities or efforts to oversimplify what has become an unsustainable way of life as experienced in the U.S. I know very little about Finca las Nubes. But before we choose to flee our complexities for the anticipated relief of another land, perhaps we owe it to ourselves and the inhabitants of those other lands to seek retooling and relief within our own boundaries. Fairness suggests that we simplify and clean up our own spaces rather than to risk the importing of cultural carelessness elsewhere. And even if we can become antiseptic in our behaviors, we are required to possess an intimate understanding of how our idealistic visions will impact the indigenous others. For certainly, they will.
I really like the notions of sustainable community, self-sufficiency and like-minded people coming together in cohesive society with their peers to preserve a way of life. I’m pretty sure that Nicaraguans do, too….