Here in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina, a few local folks have been meeting two hours each week since March 2022. They began as four folks, invited by one of them to discover what they might do to catalyze social justice and ecological regeneration in the Swannanoa watershed using a “Doughnut Economics” approach.
This micro-bioregion stretches from the west, with Asheville (“Climate City”), and Biltmore Forest, location of Biltmore Estate, to the east with Black Mountain, home of the former, iconic Black Mountain College, and Montreat, home of Montreat Conference Center and college, in the east; with Swannanoa in the center, home of Warren Wilson College, and what was previously Beacon Blankets, once the largest blanket factory in the world; and north toward Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Water in the Swannanoa River runs from east to west into the French Broad watershed continuing through Tennessee and Ohio into the Mississippi and then down to the Gulf of Mexico. The Swannanoa watershed includes the source of Asheville’s water supply.
Around 48,577 people live in the watershed, with around 67% of those living in the eastern third of Asheville. Population figures in July 2022 included Asheville 97,358 (a third of that is around 32,450), Black Mountain with 8,602 people, Swannanoa with 5,231 people, Biltmore Forest with 1,402 people, and Montreat with 897 people. A few people live outside these five population centers. Before the coming of European settlers, the area had been home to native Americans for thousands of years, many of whom were killed and driven out by settlers who took possession of the land, while bringing enslaved west Africans for labor.
As mentioned, in March 2022, our emerging network decided to apply Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics (DE) models and methods in the care of all the people and all of nature in the watershed. DE intends to create a safe and just space for people by avoiding shortfalls to the social foundation and overshoots to the ecological ceiling. The social foundation includes food, health, education, income and work, peace and justice, political voice, social equity, gender equality, housing, networks, energy, and water. The ecological ceiling includes issue of climate change, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, freshwater withdrawals, land conversion, biodiversity loss, air pollution, and ozone layer depletion. There is a growing global movement using DE in pilots in Amsterdam, Birmingham, Glasgow, and many other localities.
In our first few months together, the SWAN network held discussions, listened to several presenters from local organizations to learn what they are doing and what they need, realized that we are a self-organizing, organic network of volunteers, met in a tent by the Swannanoa River, enjoyed river floating together, became friends who care about each other, held river cleanups, provided training in permaculture, raised funds for local initiatives, held public meetings at Warren Wilson College, shared news of our work on social media and radio, created our name SwanWater (Swannanoa Watershed Action Network: When All Thrive, Earth Regenerates), grew to sixteen active participants and eighty Facebook group members, and are now meeting each Friday afternoon from 3 to 5 pm at 129 Montreat Rd, in a house provided by Black Mountain Presbyterian Church.
The dynamic network contains a variety of skills and interests including home food-forests, bio-medicinal plants, rain water run off management, environmental education at the college level, environmental planning, advising county government's 2043 plan, providing capital to local initiatives, women's rights, group facilitation, decentralized governance, writing, database management, website design, videography, social media, getting out the vote (GOTV), tiny homes for the homeless, solar energy, river clean up, and more.
Recently through facilitated, participatory workshops, we developed statements of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and who we are. We also created seven actions teams on Doughnut Economics Education, Social Actions, Environmental Events and Projects, SwanWater Structure, Environmental Data, Social Outreach and Marketing, and Funding, with a three-month timeline of actions.
What we are doing:
Applying the Doughnut Economics model for environmental regeneration and social justice in the Swannanoa Watershed. The Doughnut Economics model avoids shortfalls of the social foundation while not overshooting the ecological ceiling.
Why we are doing it:
With awareness of threats, and to maintain hope, we are neighbors who take actions in a community we care about for future generations at the intersections of social, economic, and environmental justice to regenerate and conserve the watershed.
Who we are:
We are concerned citizens, activists, neighbors, parents, grandparents, outdoor enthusiasts, business owners, people with technical skills, stewards, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, organizers, gardeners, farmers, nursery owners, government advisers, educators, clergy, ambassadors, facilitators, investors, writers, planners, policy advisors, grant writers, videographers, naturalists, environmentalists, good troublemakers, Eco-warriors, perma-culturists, first responders, and political candidates.
Members of the network are also interviewing nonprofit grant recipients with the help of Warren Wilson College students, getting out the vote in local, state, and national elections, participating in global online meetings of the Doughnut Economic Action Lab (DEAL), and sharing roles of meeting facilitation, minute taking, meeting setup, and Zoom hosting.
We are now discussing how our decentralized network structure might evolve, how to “unroll the Doughnut” in the watershed through DE events (workshops), how to identify specific gaps in the social safety net and fill those needs, how to launch a watershed marketplace, how to help the homeless, how to influence the Buncombe County 2043 plan, and how to create partnerships with local governments, businesses, nonprofits, and local communities, and are creating a multi-layered data base with maps, preparing to do public DE workshops, continuing river clean ups, and much more.
SWAN hopes to be a sign to other local people of what they can do together as neighbors to care for their bioregions in Buncombe County, North Carolina, the USA, and around this beautiful Earth.
SWAN looks forward to learning from other DE pilots and to sharing our lessons with others. Our Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/groups/5322547411191905
Get inspired, connect with others and become part of the movement. No matter how big or small your contribution is, you’re welcome to join!