From TED talk to nature walk – meeting Green School founder John Hardy

The number of exceptional human beings wandering around the Green School campus is through the roof. It seems as though everyone I’ve talked to in the two weeks that I’ve been here is successfully balancing three or four projects, enacting individual visions that, woven together, create the rich tapestry that is Green School. Chief visionary is Green School founder John Hardy.  If I haven’t already bugged you to watch Hardy’s TED talk, it’s worth taking a few minutes to check it out:

In the Green School, Hardy has created a forum for conscious innovators in a multitude of fields to bring their visions to life.  Last week, I was privileged to meet John and join a handful of community members for one of his Founder’s Walks, which he’ll be hosting every Thursday until mid-February. 

I hitched a ride on the back of a school security guard’s motorbike and sped through villages and rice paddies toward Bambu Indah. Maybe the driver wanted to shake things up a bit for bule. He took a few turns too quickly and I arrived trembling, half an hour early. Hardy’s property in the hills near Ubud is unassuming from the outside, but every inch of space inside the gate illustrates this Ontario College of Art & Design graduate’s eye for natural design and attention to detail.

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A door to one of the Green School classrooms – one of my favourite design elements

Even though I was early, John gave me a one on one tour of his home, commenting on everything from the intimate lives of the Indonesian black pigs to the purpose of the water hyacinth growing in the ponds that surround his naturally climate controlled bamboo home.  We walked through the garden designed by his permaculturist son, Orin, whose gorgeous produce would grace our table later in the evening. I was particularly impressed by Orin’s nursery, an open-air structure (like most Green School buildings) supporting a leaf-shaped roof shingled with repurposed car windshields.

While I waited for John to freshen up, browsing coffee table books on contemporary design, his lovely assistant Dewi brought up some stevia-sweetened pop and ’emping’ chips made of the local melinjo nut. John and I chatted candidly about the Green School’s curriculum and its growing network of entrepreneurial, cultural, social, and educational activities. Hardy has strong opinions and unique perspectives, and talking to him gave me insight into the school’s vision and values. After a while, the rest of the group arrived and we set out for a walk.

I came expecting a little show-and-tell stroll around the property. After all, John is a middle-aged artist who is rehabilitating from a recent coconut vs. noggin incident. Little did I know, he walks 10km every morning and is perfectly at home scrambling down muddy cliffs and wading through knee-deep swamps. Suffice it to say, I was grateful for the walking stick Dewi handed me before we set out.

The walk took us through forests whose levels were stacked with useful yields – coconuts in the canopy, bananas, taro and cassava, and a host of other edible, medicinal and livestock feed plants. “Come down here with a Balinese grandma,” Hardy told us, “and she’ll show you twenty five plants you can use right here!”

We balanced on the narrow pathways between rice fields, all the way down to the Ayung River where John stopped to chat with some local fishermen. According to one of the other guests, a long time American resident of Bali, the river’s population of fish has dwindled greatly in the last twenty something years due to the abuses of conventional farming and heavy tourism. John also pointed out what he called a ‘giraffe tree’ – chopped for cheap mock-African souvenir carvings. Many of the other species and landscapes that we observed on the walk showed signs of the careless ways in which humans have interacted with this island. This further drove home the Green School’s central message.

The pool and one of the rooms at Bambu Indah

The pool and one of the rooms at Bambu Indah

Finally we arrived back at Bambu Indah, greeting Dewi’s entire family (she is literally the girl next-door) who were hanging around chatting with the neighbours. Bambu Indah is a sustainable boutique hotel adjacent to John’s private residence, whose cool freshwater pool and high design details reinforce the fact that green and luxury can go hand in hand. Then straight into the pool (entry by stairs or rope swing), followed by a soothing hot shower in one of Bambu Indah’s renovated antique Javanese bride houses.

I was happy that Orin and Elora, Hardy’s children who are around my age, joined us for dinner. We feasted on a massive variety of Indonesian foods in Bambu Indah’s restaurant, accompanied by some nice wine (a rarity in these parts) and homebrew pale ale provided by one of the Green School parents. Conversation was lively and dessert was abundant – featuring authentic gelato from Gaya. I got a ride home with one of the other guests (this time, thankfully in a car).

All in all, the Founder’s Walk was a great evening. I am still figuring this place out for myself, making my own observations and judgments. As a lowly volunteer instructor, it is a unique privilege to have the opportunity to hear about a school’s founding vision from the horse’s mouth. But then again, this is a very unique school.

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