Ancient-Future Solutions

— by Scott Deerwester —

Isaiah 58:12 says:

Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. (NASB)

Here at the The Wildcat Center, we’ve often found ourselves looking back to look forward:


A gorgeous crop of teff.

  • Back to centuries of cultivating teff – a wholesome, glutin-free, beautiful grain that supplies 40% of the calories in Ethiopia’s food supply.
  • Back to using charcoal powder – “biochar” – as indigenous Amazon Basin tribes did for millennia, to sustainably multiply the fertility of their soil and yield of their crops.
  • Back to using rammed earth as a building material – as generations world wide have done, creating cheap, robust, energy-efficient homes.
Biochar oven

The biochar reactor is used to restrict oxegen and cause a slow burn.

It’s not that we’re convinced that everything old is better than everything new. To the contrary, we’re more than happy to use a modern chainsaw instead of a two-man behemoth of a cross-cut saw to gather our firewood or mill lumber for a cabin – and we’re very fond of the exterior furnace that the firewood feeds, electric fan and all.

For us, it’s more of an attitude of honor and respect for the wisdom and experience that generations purchased with centuries of trial and error, and plain hard work. We certainly have our own trials, and plenty of errors to go along with them, in large part because we haven’t chosen Walmart and the like as our usual means of meeting our needs. But there is treasure and beauty to be found in the wisdom of past generations, and the privilege and joy of seeing the walls of our first earth bag building rising week by week, or the first shoots of teff poke up their heads (72 hours after we planted the seeds!), is something that we don’t want to miss.

Scott Deerwester is director of The Wildcat Center, a sustainability research and training campus, focusing particularly on technologies, methods and ideas that can help those who live on $2 a day or less. In that quest they also strive to:

  • provide healthy food, locally (and abundantly) produced
  • reduce or eliminate the need for petroleum
  • offer attainable, affordable means of living well to families and communities in changing times
  • help people trapped in poverty find their way out with projects focusing on sustainable food and water, energy, tools and shelter.