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Las Gaviotas (The River Gulls) is a village of about 200 people in Colombia, South America.

For three decades, gavioteros (gaviotans) - peasants, scientists, artists, and former street kids - have struggled to build an oasis of imagination and sustainability in the remote, barren savannas of eastern Colombia, an area ravaged by political terror. They have planted millions of trees, thus regenerating an indigenous rainforest. They farm organically and use wind and solar power. Every family enjoys free housing, community meals, and schooling. There are no weapons, no police, no jail. There is no mayor. The United Nations named the village a model of sustainable development. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has called founder Paolo Lugari the "inventor of the world." [1]

Place and Experience

Discussion by Mark Whitaker:

Ideally, there should be an ONGOING commodity ecology conference immediately where teams from each of the 71 different commodity choices—with material scientists, technologists, inventors, biologists, health workers, business owners, ecologists, consumers (who want something that no one is offering it in the area or who have an idea for what they would want to buy or phase out), and general citizens.

This is similar to the “Gaviotas”-sense of local interactivity. Gaviotas is a nice example of how user-producer relationships for the goals of sustainability and localism were institutionalized. They made group decisions about both technology and materials choice issues, in a form of democratic discussion in their community on how to optimize their material relationships synergistically, to reduce wastes and pollution as well as to generate novel material businesses and ideas for how to integrate.

In Gaviotas, it was only when the gruff “technological producer” preoccupied 'professional worker' adults were forced to share the same eating tables and forced to talk to the “user children” of their technological handiwork, did a large amount of technological innovation start to accrue. One example was the combining of the see-saw for kids with the water pump, effectively harnessing child play for water pumping, and making it fun as well instead of a drudgery, as well as putting children within the contributing world of the community instead of being external to its working life.

The school framework itself started to be bundled into these locally optimal user-producer relationships, by having classes visit various workshops in the actual material and technological world. In the process of questions and answers between the tech-adults and the roving class of children, many other user-producer links were discovered and implemented, with the children's school thus benefiting the adults as well as the children. These are only two of several examples. There are many more.

Thus, in Gaviotas, the user-producer relationships were additionally child-adult relationships that came full circle as well. Such communication occurs only if all the different user-producer frameworks are regularly made aware of each other through some regular basis. I would argue this goes for suppliers and consumers in general.

It would be fine to do this at a dinner table. However, to systematize what is going on here, as well as to note how Gaviotas failed when it attempted to "scale out" its work, the suggestion is to have specific watershed COMMODITY ECOLOGY institutionalizations.

A watershed based institution is required to enhance and cultivate geographically optimal frameworks of technological innovation and materials choice. This is based innately upon the geographic specific dynamics upon how various other material choices, inputs, and outputs are arranged uniquely in each watershed--and require different solutions for different watersheds.

The goal factors are local economic durability, ecological security, and health optimalization. These are the goals that should be the keystone criteria in mind in these deliberations.

How can this be done? If it's democratization and local input and oversight of material choice processes and procedures of decision making, this means that consumers are the ultimate power of authority in materials choice relationships and should have some type of institution in which they can do one of two activities: arrange or call attention to user-producer relationships in material choices that they want in their area (that they fail to have), as well as complain about existing separation of producers who ignore the three goal criteria for sustainability (health, ecology, and economic sustainability) in their technological choices as well as material choices.

These issues of materials choice decision making procedures are to be democratically nationalized (and watershed-based) issues, instead of exclusively a private issue taken typically with regard or even against the consumer interest (as in the current frameworks of “consumption without representation” in GMO foods for example). Instead, feedback from the public in consumer/user-producer relationships on what materials they want to consume in their watersheds, and which ones should be phased out, how to interlink each of them, and what technology is required to perform this, is involved here." (


Chelsea Green Publishing has released a 10th anniversary edition of Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World with an afterword by author Alan Weisman about how Gaviotas has evolved over the last decade.


More Information

  1. Friends of Gaviotas was formed in 2002 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to facilitate initiatives such as: North-South research exchanges like the Gaviotas biodiesel project; Periodic get-togethers with Gaviotans.



See Also