We're frequently asked — how and why did you create Bioneers? This is our attempt to tell the story.
Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons founded the Bioneers conference in 1990. It arose from three principal streams of work:
- Biological and cultural diversity
- Natural medicine
Kenny and Nina also brought strong backgrounds in event production and media.
Kenny and Nina first met in the spring of 1987, became a couple and began working together.
Bioneers and Seeds of Change
Bioneers originally co-evolved with Seeds of Change, the biodiversity organic seed company Kenny co-founded in 1989 with Gabriel Howearth. Nina joined the company soon afterward. Initially called the Seeds of Change conference, Bioneers was closely linked with Seeds of Change from 1990 to 1994, after which Kenny and Nina parted ways with the company (shortly before its acquisition by M&M Mars).
Immediately after launching Seeds of Change, Kenny and Gabriel started a sister educational nonprofit that became Collective Heritage Institute/Bioneers. Its first project was the Native Scholars Program. Working directly with indigenous farmers, it was designed to help conserve traditional cultural practices as well as seed stocks.
The word bioneers, which Kenny coined, first appeared in print in the conference program and Seeds of Change seed catalogue in 1991, and became the primary name of the Conference.
Bioneers' Founding Perspectives
- Natural Medicine. Nature has a profound and profoundly mysterious ability for self-repair. The primary source of healing lies in nature. In environmental restoration as in medicine, the role of the practitioner is to support nature to heal itself. This principle became foundational to Bioneers.
- Nature’s Solutions. Nature has solved all the ecological challenges we’re trying to address. Practitioners such as John Todd, Amory Lovins, Wes Jackson and Donald Hammer, as well as traditional indigenous practices, were a primary inspiration. In 1997, naturalist and author Janine Benyus gave this emerging science a name in her landmark book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, the same year she first spoke at Bioneers. Biomimicry has been a core focus since Bioneers’ inception.
- Biocultural Diversity. In nature, diversity is the very fabric of life. Because change is the only constant in nature, diversity is the source of resilience to adapt to change in both natural and human systems. Successful adaptation requires keeping open the greatest range of biologically and culturally diverse options.
Diversity is also the sacred tree of life, with intrinsic value.
Genesis of the Bioneers Conference
The idea for the Bioneers conference arose from a 1989 meeting with Josh Mailman, a visionary leader in social investment and philanthropy who was involved with Seeds of Change and the Hoxsey film. When Kenny described various biomimetic innovators and other breakthrough environmental solutions, Mailman proposed a conference and offered to fund it.
The First Conference
The conference began in Santa Fe as a small, primarily regional event with modest national aspirations. About 250 people attended in the first year, which seemed large at the time.
The original conference focus was narrower that it is today.
- Ecological food and farming
- Biodiversity conservation (especially seeds)
- Cultural diversity (principally related to indigenous and Hispanic cultures)
- Bioremediation (natural treatment systems for environmental decontamination)
- "Green medicine”
- Progressive politics
The conference has always provided an explicit orientation toward broadly progressive views including values such as democracy, justice and equity.
Outgrowth: Move to the Bay Area
After three years, the conference outgrew facilities in Santa Fe and moved to California’s Bay Area in 1993. (The organization continued to reside in New Mexico.) The Bay Area was optimal for its spirit of innovation, environmental consciousness, progressive values and cultural diversity, as well as having a passionate base for Seeds of Change.
Where We Are Now
In 2006, the world began to experience a “global ecological Enlightenment,” in David Orr’s words. We’re finding a vastly greater receptivity to the kind of ideas, solutions and practices Bioneers has been highlighting for 20 years. In particular, government and the business community are now searching for solutions and showing a new openness. Change has finally come.
We are grateful Bioneers exists to meet this historic moment of crisis and opportunity.
We look forward to celebrating our 20th anniversary with you in 2009. Please join us in this ongoing co-creation story. The world is at stake.