Kaila Binney, MEd ’12, is a Vineyarder through and through. Although she’s traveled many places in the world, today Kaila is back where she calls home, Martha’s Vineyard, where she’s helping build a sustainable society.
She came back because she loves the island and wanted to be near her family, her boyfriend, and the ocean. But there’s more to it than that. She understood the drag of the Vineyard’s winter isolation, but after studying and working abroad, she began to see its insularity differently, and its potential as a vanguard of change.
“There is a strong movement here to become a model of sustainability from energy to food to water to transportation to education,” she said. “Surrounded by water, we are forced to think about the limits of our resources every day. It’s as simple as thinking about things like: If the boat stopped running tomorrow, what would we do?”
Born in Massachusetts, as a baby Kaila lived in India with her parents for three years. Back in the United States, they visited Martha’s Vineyard often her aunt and uncle owned the Café Lena in Oak Bluffsthen moved there when Kaila was nine.
She majored in international studies at Vassar College and, during a junior year abroad, worked on service projects in Senegal. After graduation, she spent ten months in ecovillages in Senegal, India, and Israel, and at Findhorn in Scotland, before returning to the Vineyard in 2008.
‘My True Home’
Every ecovillage had reminded her, she said, of home. “Each new community became my home for the moment, while also giving me tools and understanding to bring back to my true home, where I could offer myself and my work indefinitely.”
“I began to see the island in a new light, with so many opportunities to explore models of sustainability, she said. I also felt that after two years of absorbing knowledge, experience, and inspiration from these communities all over the world, it was my obligation to bring that back home, and contribute to a community for which I cared deeply.”
“Living in diverse communities will always expand your worldview because you are exposed to different philosophies, different cultures, different people, lives, beliefs, smells, faces, all of which impact how you feel about yourself and the world you live in. What was most significant about my work overseas was the element of ‘home’ that I carried with me.”
Fortuitously, a course on permaculture was being offered. Kaila had been immersed in permaculture for ten months, and here it was, on her home turf. It convinced her that she wanted to teach. She studied at the Esalen Institute in California and then returned to Auroville, India, to teach its first Permaculture Design Certificate course, which she also taught in Malaysia.
Bridges Between AUNE and the Island
Seeking more sustainability training, she enrolled in AUNE’s Educating for Sustainability program in 2010, with the help of a Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellowship, funded by the Philip Evans Scholarship Foundation. Her AUNE program enmeshed her even more in sustainability practices on the island. For a practicum, she became involved with Island Grown Schools, (IGS) a farm-to-school program of the nonprofit Island Grown Initiative. She was hired as the IGS school coordinator for the Oak Bluffs School and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, bringing locally grown food into school cafeterias.
Her master’s project was a curriculum for IGS connecting its learning goals to Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. This was a huge step for our organization to be recognized as legitimate curriculum support and not simply an ‘add-on’ or engaging distraction from the required learning objectives in the classroom.
For the FARM Institute, a nonprofit farm that teaches sustainable agriculture, she developed a curriculum, as a project for the Curriculum Design course taught by Sue Gentile, core faculty in AUNE’s Department of Environmental Studies. “One of the frameworks we learned was Understanding by Design! This framework not only resonated with me on an individual level but is also widely used by the Martha’s Vineyard public schools, so the integration of my coursework into my professional work was seamless,” she said.
Now she lives and works at Allen Sheep and Wool Farm in Chilmark, and is involved in Island Grown Schools and the FARM Institute in Edgartown. “These initiatives, and others, such as Slow Food, are contributing to one of the most powerful and growing local food movements I have seen,” Kaila said.
Local Food System Thrives
“New farms are sprouting up, old farms are being revitalized, young people are learning from elders about traditional agricultural practice…[It has] transformed the way the island community views food. There is an awareness here about where food comes from and how we can empower ourselves through local food production that is thrilling to be a part of” says Kaila.
“AUNE has helped to contribute to that. There was not one course in my EFS (Educating for Sustainability) program that did not have a direct impact on my work, on both a conceptual and practical level,” Kaila said.
“What is fascinating about this community is that it is viewed from the outside as a tourist destination essentially a consumer-based community, dependent upon visitors who spend their money on our views, our food, our resources,” Kaila said. “Whether this movement towards sustainability is a direct response to that or not is a great question, but either way we are actively working as a community to maintain and build upon the resources that we have, to ensure that this special place will be here for future generations.”