If we could think locally, we would take far better care of things than we do now. The right local questions and answers will be the right global ones. The Amish question, "What will this do for our community?" tends toward the right answer for the world.

--Wendell Berry


Living Awareness Institute:

What are bioregions?

Bioregions are unique life-places with their own soils and land forms, watersheds and climates, native plants and animals, and many other distinct natural characteristics. Each characteristic affects the others and is affected by them as in any other living system or body.

People are also an integral part of life-places. What we do affects them and we are in turn affected by them. The lives of bioregions ultimately support our own lives, and the way we live is becoming crucial to their ability to continue to do so.

What is bioregionalism?

Bioregionalism is a fancy name for living a rooted life. Sometimes called "living in place," bioregionalism means you are aware of the ecology, economy and culture of the place where you live, and are committed to making choices that enhance them .

A bioregion is an area that shares similar topography, plant and animal life, and human culture. Bioregions are often organized around watersheds, and they can be nested within each other. Bioregional boundaries are usually not rigid, and often differ from political borders around counties, states, provinces and nations. Ideally, bioregions are places that could be largely self-sufficient in terms of food, products and services, and would have a sustainable impact on the environment.

Living bioregionally

Living a bioregionally-conscious life means making choices daily that focus on local ecology, economy and culture. It may mean any or all of the following:

  • Buying food grown locally (and organically).

  • Avoiding large chain retailers in favor of locally owned stores.

  • Seeking out products made close to home by companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

  • Banking with locally owned banks, especially ones that invest in the community.

  • Knowing the birds, animals, trees, plants and weather patterns of your place, as well as land features and soil types.

  • Understanding the human cultures that have occupied your place in the past and respecting their ways of life.

  • Getting to know your neighbors and "looking out for each other."

  • Seeking out entertainment that originates in your area; supporting local artists, musicians, theater companies, storytellers.

  • Watching less TV and spending more time with loved ones or neighbors playing games, making music and having your own fun.

  • Knowing where your garbage goes and reducing your waste to a minimum.

  • Knowing where your drinking water comes from and using water conservatively.

  • Knowing how and where your electricity is generated and utilizing sustainable energy sources, such as solar power, whenever possible.

  • Voting in local elections and being involved in political decision-making.

  • Being directly involved in your children's education, whether they are in school or are homeschooled.

Bioregional eating

Food is a basic necessity of life. One of the highest-impact actions you can take is to buy food grown locally and organically whenever you can.

If you live in a place that doesn't have a year-round growing season (most of the U.S.), ask yourself if you really need to eat lettuce or fresh strawberries in December, or if you could enjoy feasting on vebetables and fruits from the root cellar and locally-grown food frozen, canned or dried from the summer's harvest. Eating a diet appropriate to the climate not only avoids the costs and damage of transporting food; it is also healthful and wise.

Community Supported Agriculture

One way to get the best locally produced food is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. You pay up front to buy a "share," usually in late winter or early spring when the farmer is getting ready to plant, and you get weekly deliveries of vegetables throughout the growing season. Most CSA farms have mainly vegetables; others also have eggs, milk, chicken, beef, flowers or honey. You get great, organically grown local food, and the satisfaction of supporting a sustainable agriculture movement that protects the land and provides a farmer with a living.

CSA farms also offer opportunities to visit, share in the work and take part in celebrations at planting, harvest, full moons or solstices. These experiences are invaluable for city dwellers, whose everyday life is far from the land, and children, who may think food originates in a supermarket. CSA membership provides a connection to the land, the seasons and the basic, fundamentally important work of growing food.

Living bioregionally doesn't mean, however, that a northern dweller could never again eat bananas, grapefruit or kiwi, or lettuce, spinach and tomatoes in winter. The bioregional vision includes local greenhouses, solar-heated, in which such warm-weather foods could be grown. Amory and Hunter Lovins are demonstrating how well this idea can work in their mountaintop home in the Colorado Rockies, the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Bioregionalism is not about deprivation or severely limiting your choices. It's about making sure that the choices you make strengthen your local ecology, economy and culture rather than harming them.

Isn't local culture a bit provincial, though?

The idea of "local culture" and "local economics" and "supportive community" are equated in many people's minds with suffocating small-town life, with its lack of privacy, gossip and busybodies, as well as perceived lack of opportunity for jobs and leisure activities. A person who chooses to live in a smaller community and forego the (supposedly) endless opportunities and freedom of modern, high-tech urban life is often considered backward and parochial, and certainly not cool.

We live in a dominant culture that seeks to draw as many people as possible into the urban high-consumption lifestyle and to wipe out differences between regions, replacing them with a monoculture of consumerism and Hollywood entertainment. In this type of culture, a locally-centered life is labelled parochial and old-fashioned. This image is one that the global economic forces continually reinforce, since locally based economics not only does not fit with the global vision, but is actually a threat to it.

The image of local culture as provincial actually does reflect many people's real experiences of suffocating small-town life, however, and it is worth taking some time to examine this issue. Even though bioregionalism does not by any means envision the elimination of cities, it does advocate close-knit communities of mutual support and interest, and this sounds to some people like the fishbowl existence of small towns they came to the city to get away from.

Here are Voluntary Simplicityfive arguments that are often raised against bioregional consciousness. It may be necessary to make a major paradigm shift in terms of what we think locally-centered life is like.

What would a bioregional community look like?

The bioregional vision is not monolithic, but the following snapshots describe what my vision of a healthy locally-focused bioregional community would look like.


  • Food is fresher and more healthful because it is transported at most a couple of hundred miles to your table, rather than the 1,400 miles that is the current average.

  • You probably know, or at least know of, the people who make the products you use. These companies are part of the community, and have a stake in making quality products and not polluting the neighborhood.

  • "Green" businesses flourish, making products from recycled materials and, when necessary, raw materials obtained as close to home as possible. Businesses devoted to cleaning up the messes left behind by polluting industries employ many people. "Design for the environment" is the foundation of all production.

  • Workers feel more connected to the locally owned company they work for and they are less at the mercy of market forces thousands of miles away, such as downward pressure on wages because of lower wages being paid to workers in another country, or downsizing done to reduce expenses and increase return for investors.

  • Co-operatives, collectives and other variations on worker or consumer ownership of companies are encouraged in a locally-based economy. These different styles of ownership change the way businesses operate, making them more committed to the community.

  • Relationships that have become commodified and monetized can return to the community--activities such as caring for the elderly and the very young, some aspects of health care and some aspects of education.

  • People bypass the money economy completely by trading or bartering skills and services informally with each other.

Culture/civic life

  • Grassroots democracy flourishes; civic life develops the vibrancy that comes when people feel that their opinions matter and when they care what happens to their community. Big money and special interests have much less power.

  • Communities are cohesive, neighborliness increases and people help each other more, with small and large problems.

  • More people are involved in the education of the community's children because they see it as their obligation to provide help to children who seek it from them and in doing so to prepare the next generation for participation. (See Daniel Quinn's essay, A New Way to Live.)

  • Local culture flourishes: music, art, drama, storytelling, games that arise from the local community and the people's sense of connection to their environment and each other.

  • Communities decide to support local artists, as well as other occupations they value.

  • People are healthier because they are not steeped in human-made chemicals and they are not subject to the inhumane stress of a corporate, global economy.


  • People know and cherish their surroundings, and schools teach children their connection to the features and creatures that make up their place and the importance of taking good care of them.

  • Pollution is not tolerated; companies that do it are quickly reprimanded and even boycotted. Everyone understands that all the things they have--house, clothes, appliances, products of all sorts--are made originally from the Earth, and they treat everything with care and do not over-consume.

  • Restoration of damaged areas is an ongoing project for schools, civic organizations and individuals. Planting trees and gardens, dismantling dangerous, unsightly abandoned industrial areas and constructing greenways, bike and foot paths and other inviting outdoor spaces occur in cities and towns.

  • People recycle nearly everything; very little waste is generated that must be burned or buried. Everything that households and businesses recycle is made into new products.

  • Most households have gardens for growing some of their own food. Very few places other than playing fields have large expanses of grass, and people do not use chemical weed or insect control. Nearly everyone has a compost pile for yard and food waste. Many homes have small greenhouses.

  • There is no longer a distinct separation between "ecology" and "economy." People understand that these concepts are different ways of looking at the place they live and the way they live, and this interweaving provides the warp of a strong, healthy fabric for living in place with fulfillment and enjoyment.

Taken from: Great River Earth Institute