'Preppers' vs Self-Sufficiency

10 Questions for Sustainable Design Expert, Phil M. Hahn

 What is the Difference between a Dooms Day ‘Prepper’ and self-sufficiency?

 There is a philosophical difference between traditional self-sufficiency practitioners and Preppers. Preppers tend to be pessimistic about society and the future, while traditional self-sufficiency practitioners are realists who study nature and technology to learn techniques to provide for themselves, their family, and their community. For example, a traditional self-sufficiency activity is gardening, but a Prepper’s approach to self-sufficiency might be to hoard canned food and ammo. The conventional attitude in U.S. society is to be blindly optimistic about a seemingly endless supply of food, fuel, and money. Generally, society has become dependent upon a complicated and expensive supply chain and both Preppers and traditionalists recognize certain vulnerabilities. The difference in philosophy between a Prepper and a traditional self-sufficiency practitioner can be implied in E.F. Schumacher’s words, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius- and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” The traditionalist tries to make things smaller, simpler, and passive.


What is sustainability?

Sustainability is the careful selection and use of materials and methods that can be perpetuated. Self-sufficiency and sustainability are often used interchangeably, however, a self-sufficient lifestyle may or may not be sustainable. For example, if the self-sufficient lifestyle involves gardening practices that deplete soil fertility, then it is not sustainable. For most things, perpetual is an ideal, however selecting things that are enduring and endearing will beget sustainability.


What is sustainable home design?

Sustainable home design involves planning for an uncertain future. Therefore, the materials, methods, and equipment used should not be dependent upon a rare, inaccessible, or expensive resource. The home should be designed in the context of its environment. Understanding local natural patterns, such as the sun’s azimuth, the wind direction, the amount of precipitation, and the soil content are all essential in designing a sustainable home. As Juvenal, the Roman poet, said, “Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.”


I recently went to hear you speak at a Sustainability Conference in Belize. I was struck by your story of your grandparents’ experience during the Great Depression. Can you repeat the story for The Botanical Journey readers? And did this help steer you in the direction of sustainable development?

Over the years my father has recounted our families experience during the Great Depression and it has undoubtedly influenced my perspective and approach to sustainable development. The lessons learned from periods of scarcity can be applied in bad times and in good times. Having a keen awareness of resources and using them responsibly is simply smart and it creates an empowering resilience. My father was born in 1929 and grew up in Frankenmuth, Michigan, a small mid-western town. Like so many small rural towns of the era, it was on dirt roads, remote, so it needed to be self-sufficient. It was surrounded by farmland, located on a river, had a butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker. Oh, and a brewery. Everything a town needs to be resilient. My father tells the story from the perspective of a little boy coming of age during the Great Depression. The U.S. didn’t emerge from the grips of economic depression until 1939 when my dad was 10 years old. During those formative years, he read about soup lines and remembers realizing it was a big city phenomenon. Small self-sufficient towns like Frankenmuth were able to adapt to a barter economy and provide for their families. They lived so close to the land and close to churches and communities, so they weren’t as dependent on corporations, government, and unions as city dwellers. My grandfather was a parochial school teacher and church organist, so when the Great Depression hit, he turned to bartering piano lessons for flour, sausage and other provisions for the family. They didn’t have a lot of “swanky” things, but they had what was important, food, shelter, clothing, and a safe caring community. It was important then and it is still today, so we should heed that lesson and develop our communities to be more self-sufficient and resilient.


This brings me to an important question,

Does sustainable design have to be non-luxury or minimalist?

Sustainable design is not restricted to a particular style or level of finish. It isn’t necessarily a minimalist philosophy, however, it does run counter to wastefulness. Luxuriousness is not inherently wasteful, but it is often confused with rapacity and conspicuous consumption. Leonardo da Vinci understood, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, ” and I believe sophistication and luxury can indeed be sustainable. As long as the resources used in the design are replenish-able, the style doesn’t matter.


Can you describe your vision and growth of the sustainable development at Carmelita Gardens in Belize?

The vision for Carmelita Gardens is for it to be a self-sufficient Caribbean village that grows it’s own food and supports artisan businesses. The goal is for the community to work together to sustain itself with minimal outside input. In reality, Carmelita Gardens will not be manufacturing durable goods, such as refrigerators, cars, etc., but it can independently supply its own food, energy, and water. At Carmelita Gardens the overarching vision is to be “Independent Together”.


Where do you see the future of sustainable design?

Arthur Wing Pinero said, “I believe the future is only the past again, entered through another gate.” Sustainable design is not new, in fact, there are centuries-old examples of sustainable design. Like certain great traditions, sustainable design combines the best principles and practices of the past and blends with new innovations of the present, which will then crossover to the future. A couple of examples are in food and energy production. New farming and gardening equipment is being developed that increases production but uses traditional practices. Proven passive solar and ventilation techniques are being combined with modern solar, wind, and biomass energy equipment that are now creating very efficient and sustainable buildings. I believe the demand for clean energy and unadulterated food will increase in the future, which will lead to more innovations and implementation of sustainable design.

Are you or will you be creating any developments stateside?

Currently, I have no plans to develop in the States. In fact, I would prefer to spend time learning, experimenting, and implementing sustainable, self-sufficient, and off-grid ideas. With the lessons learned and innovations made, I plan to teach and consult, which I can do stateside and elsewhere in the world.


Can you recommend any books and resources for our readers to explore more into sustainable design and self-sufficiency?

Anything written by Stephen Mouzon for sustainable design, but his book, The OriginalGreen: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability is especially good.

Also, anything by Joel Salatin for self-sufficiency, but his book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World is a must read.

Finally, If anyone has additional questions or are interested in Carmelita Gardens, how can they contact you?

 Please email me at info@carmelitabelize.com or visit our website at http://www.carmelitagardens.com Or Join us May 7, 2017, in Houston for an interactive 1-day event focused on providing detailed and firsthand information on your best options right now for living, retiring, and investing in Belize. To find out more information click here.


Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with The Botanical Journey about sustainable design and Carmelita Gardens.

 Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this timely and important topic.

Phil Hahn grew up in Michigan but migrated south to attend Florida State University where he was a student studying Interior Design & Housing. Prior to graduation, he started a residential design business that ultimately designed 6,000 homes and expanded into construction and development. In 2003, Mr. Hahn began developments in Belize as both owner and consultant for several real estate related projects and companies. His current project, Carmelita Gardens, is a new Caribbean town, which he designed to be off-grid, self-sufficient, and sustainable. In addition to his planning and development business, Mr. Hahn is Past President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Belize. Mr. Hahn received his bachelor's degree from Florida State University and is certified by the Institute of Classical Architecture in New York.

For The Botanical Journey experience at Carmelita Gardens read our story: The Cayo District by clicking here.

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