Center for Resourceful Living

In the mid-1970s, North Adams State College embraced the mission of sustainable living and environmentalism with the establishment of the Center for Resourceful Living.

In July 1975, North Adams State College (NASC), now MCLA, approved a nearly $15,000 (equivalent to nearly $70,000 today) grant for the establishment of the Center for Resourceful Living (CRL), a program with a ‘back-to-the-land’ ideology and facilities that spanned over fifty acres in Clarksburg, Massachusetts. This program came about during the rise of environmental consciousness, a national oil crisis, and the ending of the highly charged Vietnam War.

As an off-campus, credit-bearing interdisciplinary program, the CRL dedicated itself to teaching students about living off the land, sustainability, and homesteading with courses including ‘Introduction to Homesteading’ and ‘Energy and Environment.’ The program housed, among many other things, a pond, gardens, an orchard, a greenhouse, and solar-power facilities. According to the Beacon, Harvard University regarded the CRL as “one of the nation’s first interdisciplinary sustainability programs” (Beacon, 21 February 2017). The CRL’s operation, facilities, and courses were supervised and taught by or with the help of twenty-nine professionals, ranging from NASC staff to professionals from the Berkshire area and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Lawrence Vadnais, the NASC sociology professor who conceived the program, directed the CRL for most of its existence. Vadnais told MCLA publication Beacon and Seeds: “[After the oil crisis], I started wondering how prepared students would be to face a time of scarcity. This prompted me to look into other things” (Beacon and Seeds, quoted in Beacon, 21 February 2017).

Students worked and, in certain cases, lived at the CRL. This created a close-knit community of students and professors who shared similar ideologies. The program contained a small membership and “never [became] mainstream” on campus, according to Vadnais. “We were countercultural all the way” (Beacon and Seeds, quoted in Beacon, 21 February 2017).

After six years, the CRL closed in 1981. Vadnais retired from teaching in 1987 and passed away in 2017. But his legacy lives on as MCLA is now home to an annual lecture series: the Elizabeth and Lawrence Vadnais Environmental Issues Lecture.