Sustainability: Rural traditions foster community

By Ray Aberle

Growing up in rural North Dakota, what we call “sustainability” today was simply a way of life borne of trying to make a living in a challenging environment. Most homes had huge gardens with the traditions of putting up food through canning and in root cellars.
Homes were built small and efficiently, and the abundance of skills in the community meant folks were always experimenting with ways to save energy and convert to more efficient fuel means. They also partnered with the local butcher, upholsterer, and welder to craft the things they needed.

These rural traditions fostered community, a sense of the seasons, and a creative eye towards self-sufficiency.

Over the past decade we’ve seen a similar revival in our urban centers. Backyard chickens and beehives are the new rage. Space-intensive gardens, permaculture design, and the infusion of solar options from hot water to PV arrays and solar gardens are catching hold and making an abundant future possible. Through information sharing, community bike celebrations and the influence of local businesses re-writing how business is done, our community seems poised for continued sustainable growth.

The 12th Annual Sustainable Living Fair in Fort Collins aims to take this combination of rural tradition and urban revival and offer it up in an energetic, community oriented, educational event. With over 75 workshops covering a wide array of topics from woodworking to graywater management, there is truly something for everyone.

Keynote speakers for the event will come from around the country to offer insights into how an abundant future is possible. We focus on local food in our Real Food Market, local entertainment on our Mainstage, and fun and learning in our Family Planet section of the Fair. Over 250 exhibitors from around the country give you the opportunity to peruse the latest technologies as well as resources for relearning some forgotten skills.

Sustainability continues to be an experiment. Because we have so many challenges – peak oil, deficiencies in our alternative energy options, lowered water tables and nutrient-dead soils – we also have intelligent, passionate, and heartfelt folks working to address these issues. The Sustainable Living Fair draws this community together to continue the work of finding a way to address these concerns from a sense of what is possible.

The Sustainable Living Association, in addition to putting on the fair, offers year-round workshops, speakers, film festivals, community education programs and the Earth Day celebration for our community. Dedicated volunteers, grown from the roots up, make it all possible.

Please join us Sept. 17 and 18 in North Fort Collins at Legacy Park to celebrate, envision the possibilities, and work towards a sustainable, abundant future. Kids under 12 get in free, adults pay $8, and volunteers get a cornucopia of benefits for sharing their time. For more information please refer to our website:

Ray Aberle is the Fair Director for the 12th Annual Sustainable Living Fair. He lives in Rist Canyon with his family, where they have a small CSA Farm specializing in native and naturalized herbals.

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