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Update :: Gaviotas Still Dreaming and Growing

Ten years ago in YES! …

We featured the story of Gaviotas, a village of more than 200 scientists, ecologists, students, dreamers, and innovators located deep in the heart of the Colombian llanos—an area of virtually lifeless desert. Founder Paolo Lugari explained, “They always put social experiments in the easiest, most fertile places. We wanted the hardest place.” The pioneers of Gaviotas transformed 20,000 acres into a thriving community that sustained a wealth of flora and fauna, offered medical aid to the region, provided safety and education for young and old, built relationships with the indigenous people, and made its way toward self-sufficiency by cashing in on its renewable crops.

Today …

Kids help with tree planting, one part of the sustainable forestry cycle. Photo courtesy www.friendsofgaviotas.org
Kids help with tree planting, one part of the sustainable forestry cycle.
Photo courtesy www.friendsofgaviotas.org.

Though it has had its share of troubles, Gaviotas is alive and well. The pine forest the Gaviotans planted in the 1970s has created a lush ecosystem that supports over 200 different kinds of plants and animals—many more than there were a decade ago.

In his postscript to the 10th anniversary edition of his book, Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World, Alan Weisman writes, “Gaviotas [has] stayed alive by becoming an agro-industrial cooperative, and the industry part [means] tractors, mulchers, plows, and disks as well as motor scooters.” The biodiesel grown on-site is enough to power them all. The Gaviotans have built a massive forest-fire prevention system featuring steel lookout towers—manned 24 hours a day—and a 65-foot-long, remote-controlled zeppelin equipped with video cameras. Their co-generating boiler produces heat to refine pine resin while spinning a turbine that provides electricity to the entire village.

The founder of the U.N.’s Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives foundation, Gunter Pauli, has been working with Lugari on expanding the Gaviotas model to other parts of Colombia. With the help of the community, they are making plans to build Gaviotas II, a reforestation project that would offset the equivalent of Japan’s CO2 emissions.


Catherine Bailey wrote this article as part of The New Economy, the Summer 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Catherine is a YES! editorial assistant.

Check out the YES! archive:
See our original story on Gaviotas. It’s one of more than 3,000 YES! Magazine articles in our searchable online archive.

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