Bringing Doughnut Economics to a Bioregion

How a self-organizing network of individuals and local organizations is caring for a bioregion with the four lenses

Who we are

The Swannanoa Watershed Action Network (SWAN) is a self-organizing network of individuals and local organizations committed to social justice and ecological regeneration, based on Doughnut Economics, with local communities, governments, nonprofits, schools, and businesses in the Swannanoa watershed. Our slogan is “When All Thrive, Earth Regenerates” (WATER.) 

Our bioregion

The Swannanoa River watershed is in the beautiful mountains and valleys of western North Carolina, USA. It contains dense forests, a multitude of streams, a variety of animals and plants, and roughly 45,000 people. The river flows from east to west into the French Broad River and ultimately reaches the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi River. The area was home to indigenous people for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans and their slaves from west Africa. 

The Swannanoa watershed is in eastern Buncombe County and stretches from the towns of Black Mountain and Montreat in the east, to the city of Asheville and the town of Biltmore Forest in the west, with the town of Swannanoa in the central area, and continues northward toward Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The watershed is the source of water for Asheville and other local communities. 

Nicknamed “Climate City”, Asheville hosts a National Center for Environmental Information, with America’s largest home at the nearby Biltmore Estate. A popular tourist area, Buncombe County is currently experiencing an increase in gentrification, homelessness, poverty, cost of living, and rainwater runoff.    

Our network

Beginning with four members in March 2022, SWAN includes, as of May 2023, up to sixteen regular members, thirty-four members in its Google group, one hundred and forty-one people in its Facebook group ( ) and has a Notion website ). We have grown through personal invitations, announcements on social media, and articles in a local newspaper and newsletter. 

SWAN is fortunate to have members with experience and expertise in permaculture, bee keeping, videography, political activism, environmental planning, group facilitation, art, writing, business, raising funds for BIPOC initiatives, native-plant fabric dyeing, cyber security, climate change adaptation, solar energy, Pilates, university teaching, local governance, strategic planning, database, map, and slideshow creation, real estate, county and town government, pastoring, yoga, decentralized autonomous organizations, and management. 

Our members represent several local organizations and groups including Warren Wilson College, Cool Rivers Forever, Neighborhood Economics, Haw Creek Church, Climate Conversation Group (The Unitarian Universalists of the Swannanoa Valley), Buncombe County planning board, Black Mountain town council, Belly Full Plant Nursery, Phat Ninja Foodforest, Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, Black Mountain Pilates, the Black Mountain School of Theology and Community, and the Compassionate Civilization Collaborative (C3.) 

How we organize

SWAN members have been meeting for two hours each week since March 2022. We began meeting on Monday mornings and now meet on Friday afternoons from 3 to 5 pm in Black Mountain, NC, in a meeting room provided free of charge by the Black Mountain Presbyterian Church. 

We enjoy taking turns in leadership roles at the weekly meetings. These include room setup, facilitation, leading meditation, hosting Zoom, and note taking. Each meeting begins at 3 pm with a welcome and introductions, followed by a brief meditation. The first session goes on until 4 pm when there is a break. The second session continues until 4:50 when the following week’s meeting agenda is planned, and members volunteer for leadership roles. The meeting ends at 5 pm. SWAN members have become good friends.

What we've been doing

SWAN has hosted speakers of several local organizations in its weekly meetings including groups promoting permaculture and home food gardens, offering food to those in need, and petitioning the county government for affordable housing from tourism taxes.

One SWAN member who is a professional group facilitator helps SWAN plan each quarter using the methods of the Technology of Participation (ToP.) 

Our members carry out cleanups of the Swannanoa River, sometimes around homeless settlements, and enjoy an occasional river float with family members. Recently, a field trip of SWAN members was held at Veterans’ Park alongside the river. Regularly, one member speaks at county meetings about rainwater runoff, and other issues. We have also given our input in the Buncombe County 2043 plan. 

In terms of social outreach about Doughnut Economics and the watershed, SWAN members have been interviewed on radio, podcasts, and in conferences on Zoom, posted about SWAN on social media, arranged articles about SWAN and Doughnut Economics in a local newspaper and newsletter, prepared SWAN flyers, created a Facebook group, a Google group, and a Notion website, and recently created a SWAN exhibit in the local Earth Day celebration at Lake Tomahawk in Black Mountain. 

SWAN is also attending town council budget meetings and discussing how Doughnut Economics might help.

In preparation of holding Doughnut Economic workshops, one SWAN member has prepared a thirty-page handbook, and members are refining slides and practicing leading workshops that will be held in the watershed.

Members have also created a database and maps of social and environmental dimensions of the watershed’s geosocial area.

Another member has launched a watershed fund to support local initiatives. And very recently, we secured an umbrella organization through which to raise funds.

Benefits of Doughnut Economics ideas and tools

We have found that using Doughnut Economics ideas and tools has inspired us to maintain a clear focus on promoting social justice and ecological regeneration and creating a safe space for humanity without shortfalls to the social foundation or overshooting the ecological ceiling. We love the circular, visual model of DE and feel that it has become an important part of our brain. Working with the DE workshop tool has become our major passion.  

Challenges of Doughnut Economics ideas and tools

We have also experienced some challenges and questions related to Doughnut Economics ideas and tools especially related to DE community portrait workshops.

Some in our group think that the workshops should take eleven weeks to set up and eight weeks of follow-up. Others feel that they can be done with much less time on both ends. Some feel that each workshop should be four hours in length. Others think that they can be done in one or two hours or on a drop by basis.

Some members think that they must be done in each of the twenty-six subbasins of the watershed. Others feel that they should first be done in the eastern, central, and western zones of the watershed.

Some members feel that the emphasis should be on data collection to design projects for centralized fund raising. Others think that the workshop focus should be on awakening and motivating residents to work on their own projects.

Some people want to use a set of slides for the workshops; others prefer cardboard and posits.

Some members want to change the global lens to a regional one. Others prefer keeping the global dimension.      

What next?

As we sort out the above, SWAN is preparing to facilitate Doughnut Economic workshops and events with local communities, governments, nonprofits, businesses, and schools in the watershed.

We are working to awaken and empower a movement of social justice and ecological regeneration throughout the watershed, help local groups formulate projects and locate funding, and give other support.

SWAN is hoping to be a source of inspiration and knowledge to others who wish to apply Doughnut Economics in local bioregions in North Carolina, the USA, and in other countries as part of the global movement of Doughnut Economics. 






    Kate Copeland-Rhodes

    Uttoxeter, England, United Kingdom

    We are currently exploring how the Doughnut Economics Model could be used to support the Staffordshire & Stoke.

    Susanne Rodemann-Kalkan

    Hannover, Niedersachsen, Deutschland

    I would love to support the creation of more regenerative systems in businesses & connect with engaged people/ initiatives!


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