Regenerative Development at Hart’s Mill

by Leah Gibbons

Workshop 1 Activity and Outcomes*

We had an exciting time at Hart’s Nest on November 17-18 exploring and applying a development and design process called regenerative development. The aim was to discover how regenerative development might add to and enhance the work of Hart’s Mill.  Many thanks to Hope, Joe, Katy, Maria, Marilyn, Paul, and Randy for participating. 

We began the process by discussing what participants love about Hart’s Mill.  Participants love the human relationships, social and economic ideal, organizational structure, generosity, desire to transform themselves and the world, creativity, persistence, the well-defined common values and principles, opportunity for innovation, and willingness to take leadership roles and responsibility. They also love the beauty of the land, its water, its diversity of life, its gifts (like edible mushrooms), and the opportunity to become intimate with place.

I then introduced the concept of regenerative development. I explained that regenerative development is a system of methodologies that develops capacities in living systems to continually evolve to higher levels of health and well-being, from the scale of individuals to sites, neighborhoods, cities, and beyond. Regenerative development is different from other approaches in several ways. It shifts us from:

  • Focusing on problems to manifesting potential
  • Working with parts to working with wholes
  • Static ‘solutions’ to growing capacities
  • Scarcity to abundance
  • Addressing symptoms to addressing causes—worldviews and consciousness
  • A parasitic to a mutualistic relationship with nature
  • Project-focused to value-adding (i.e., being of service) to the larger context

Regenerative development charts a path for thrivability within which more specific regenerative and ecological design technologies and strategies may be used. These include biophilia, biomimicry, bioclimatic design, Permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and Living Building and Community Challenges.

I introduced the regenerative community development tools I have developed and am piloting as part of my dissertation research. These are intended to help guide communities through the regenerative development process. These may used throughout time to adjust and adapt concepts, goals, and strategies as contexts and conditions change.

Using the tools to guide us, we dove into exploring what gives life to this place. We looked at the larger communities of which Hart’s Mill is a part as well as at Hart’s Mill itself. At the next largest scale up, Hart’s Mill and adjacent neighbors form a community. At the next largest scale, this context seemed appropriate:

And then this:

We also found thinking about Hart’s Mill as part of the Upper Neuse River Basin helpful. Looking at how all of these scales relate to one another, we explored ecological and social flows, patterns, and relationships that have given, currently give, and could give your community and its surrounding landscape vitality. We looked at elements for life including water, organisms (including people), nutrients, soil, infrastructure, and information, among others. We discovered that west-east flows of humans, commerce, water, and creatures (beavers, coyotes, foxes, turtles, birds) have been and continue to be important. We found that connections, exchanges, and mutually-beneficial relationships amongst these elements are important for vitality.

We discovered the essence of Hart’s Mill—what defines it as a unique whole and gives it life and vitality—and articulated it in a short Story of Place and regenerative development concept:

Hart’s Mill is a connecting place, rooted in rich biological and cultural diversity and flows that bring forth vitality and life. At a time of great social and environmental dysfunction, we are called forth as a catalyst for collaborative transformation. We are an agrarian community of learning, inhabiting, practicing and service committed to healing our relationships to each other and the earth, within Hart’s Mill and as an integral part of our larger community.

This statement can guide regenerative development efforts, connecting past, present, and future from the scale of individuals to the region.

We began exploring potential collaborations and guild relationships. These are relationships within the larger community that would result in mutual benefits for all. Potential members include neighbors, other local communities, Minka Farms, Triangle Land Conservancy, Eno River Association, Orange County Planning Department, City of Mebane, Commission for the Environment, local universities and schools, green developers, Sally Greene (Orange County Commissioner). Participants noted some actions that can be taken right now to generate income and move towards Hart’s Mill’s vision, including on-line teaching and beginning an educational center at Hart’s Nest.

Next, we briefly explored how regenerative development enhances Hart’s Mill’s current approach and thinking. Thoughts included:

  • The inclusion of larger contexts and systems; understanding your role within those systems
  • Frameworks to guide thinking, discussion, and action in Hart’s Mill and beyond for community members and the professionals who work with you
  • A language to communicate who Hart’s Mill is at its heart
  • Help looking at the bigger picture

For our next weekend workshop, we intend to evaluate Hart’s Mill’s current principles, vision, and mission using its regenerative development concept and the regenerative community development evaluation tool. We will then use the tool to co-create regenerative development goals and strategies specific to Hart’s Mill. We will then use the tool to discuss how specific design technologies and strategies can help implement regenerative development. We will discuss potential regenerative development indicators for your community. We will also explore your role as regenerative individuals in enabling vitality in Hart’s Mill and beyond.

*If you are a Hart’s Mill member interested in attending Workshop 2 on December 22-23, please contact Hope at


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