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Community Inspiration: Esalen

May 1, 2011

Esalen Institute, located in Big Sur, CA, is the one of the world’s most dreamy havens. Over the last 30-35 years they’ve hosted an array of influential people, from American novelist & painter, Henry Miller, to the creator of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls.

This beautiful center has approx. 200 live in community members who work together to make Esalen Institute run. The institute itself is a retreat center that hosts an array of programs throughout the year, opening its doors daily to 150-300 retreat guests — which makes dining in the community hall an experience on par to dining in a mall food court on the 24th of December. Its BUSY!

The amazing part is that with all of the on-site community members and retreat guests, Esalen receives 70-85% of their produce from their on-site 30-year-old bio-intensive farm & garden. With the farm being based on bio-intensive farming practices, the planting & weeding is hand-done, the vegetables are planted in “communities” to maximize the soil’s nutrients & the all of the veggies are hand harvested. Its a lot of work, trust me — but its worth it.

With the holistic environment that Esalen offers, I have never seen healthier, friendlier, hard-working farm workers. Just look at their smiling faces!

The farm welcomes retreat center guests to get their hands dirty too. And if you are staying in or visiting the Big Sur coastline you are welcome to get in touch with the farm & garden to donate your time on the land.

Esalen has worked hard to be environmentally resilient.

On-site they have a “Living Machine” (see photo below), a gray water system by Worrell Water Technologies.  These gray water systems can filter tonnes of water at a time and have been placed in aquariums, zoos, office towers and schools/universities throughout North America. Just an FYI: Gray water is the name given to water that was used only once for hand-washing, dish-washing, etc.

Another beautiful and very important portion of Esalen are their geo-thermal sulfur baths with water filtered from a natural spring — just beautiful. And to increase the environmentally-friendly technology in this zone of the center, on top of the bath-house is a green roof.

With geo-thermal sulfur baths, beautiful organic food & a massive gray water system any eco-cynic would walk out of Esalen reformed.

Like any good recipe, a resilient design plan can be increased. Esalen hosts approx.  73,000 retreat guests per year — if they can be resilient, so can you.

For more information on Esalen visit:

More high-lights:

Cob Bench created by a Permaculture Design students & crew.

The new chicken coop built this year by Jade.

Sun setting over Big Sur

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