The Signs of Sustainability Project is a citizen-led initiative created to show gratitude to our friends and neighbors in the Rondout Valley who demonstrate sustainable practices. Sustainability is defined as stewardship and care of the present and future vitality of our wild, agricultural, and human resources.
Joan Ewing & Wilton Duckworth
|Photo by Ilene Cutler.
Joan and Wilton would happily pose for a remake of American Gothic. Full of good humor and wisdom, they both love to play, laugh. In their mid fifties they walked away from their New York City lives (Wilton was an architect and Joan a Social Worker), and moved to our rural, agricultural region to deepen their understanding of permaculture.
Permaculture—permanent culture—is a way of life that seeks to create agricultural and social systems that model natural ecosystems. Bill Mollison, the father of the permaculture movement, explored the science of placing the right elements in relationship to one another in supportive and mutually beneficial ways to reduce waste and trim resource use. The work of permaculture is to mimic natural micro-relationships in order to achieve the macro result of caring for the earth and its inhabitants. When applied to agriculture, permaculture can be high yield and low labor. When applied to society, permaculture offers a wealth of opportunity for engaging all people in meaningful work and relationships, applying the principle of “Return of Surplus” or a fair share for all.
Wilton, eager to demonstrate the permaculture principle of loops, uses the example of raising chickens. Chickens can be raised off kitchen scraps and what they forage in the yard. In return they provide fresh, high density nutrition to humans and fertilizer for the garden. Raising chickens is a closed loop practice that, when done properly, exemplifies permaculture. Wilton is a teacher who likes to use humor and stories to teach. He loves the challenge of studying the things right in front of him and learning how to improve systems—his chickens and goats are a constant source of material for thought.
Joan is a patient, compassionate, and generous listener. Her community mindedness has made her a brilliant catalyst for new friendships and partnerships. In her 153-year-old farmhouse, she invites people to come together for workshops and permaculture meet-ups. Her goal is to learn from those who show up but also to strengthen points of connectedness and ways to share. Their home is an open door where people gather to learn garden skills and techniques for goat and chicken raising and to deepen their understanding of how to hone in on the most efficient use of things.
In a short time here—10 years—Joan and Wilton have become essential elements in the local permaculture community. They model how to get older and simultaneously more alive, more interesting, more engaged. As elders they are not invisible; they have made themselves indispensable, fun-loving mentors of new ideas about how to live in right relationship to the earth and your neighbors.