Dear Folks Letters

Donella Meadows thought deeply about the limits to growth and lived her life within them. She shared that aspect of her life with friends through her monthly newsletter. One of those friends, Fran Korten, writes:

Each letter, addressed simply “Dear Folks,” started with the immediate moment …

‘Heavy snow is falling, sticking to the branches.’
‘I’m in a dorm room at the Budapest University of Economics.’
‘Today the front yard is full of yellow daffodils and blue scylla.’

She described the activities of the organic farm and its residents — young lambs careening in gangs around the barnyard, ducks that refused to leave the freezing creek where coyotes lurked to nab them, Stephen and Kerry’s acreage that served a Community Supported Agriculture group, the yummy smells and tastes of home grown food.

About five years before her death, hints of a new dream crept into her letters — the dream of expanding the farm to become an intentional community of some 20 families working for sustainability and practicing it in their daily lives. The story unfolded in subsequent letters as others joined to create the Cobb Hill community and its accompanying Sustainability Institute. Dana told of discouraging searches for a suitable site, the breathless wait for the bank loan approval, the arguments about whether the homes would have composting toilets, the endless permitting processes. She vividly conveyed the joy and the struggle of creating a sustainable way of living.

Dana’s letters would then move to her life beyond the local community. She exuded appreciation of the students in her environmental courses at Dartmouth who were ready to ask the really big questions. She told of her excitement to help with the formation of the Center for a New American Dream. Each August and September her letters were full of the inspiration she gained from the annual meeting of the Balaton Group, a global network of sustainability systems analysts that she and Dennis organized. The narrative of her letters revealed the incredible array of avenues through which she inspired the lives of young and old and created lasting institutions to help us all live within the limits of our ecosystem.

Attached to each letter were her four weekly “Global Citizen” columns, syndicated nationwide in 20 newspapers (it should have been 2,000!) and picked up by independent publications such as YES! Dana used these columns to cut through the obfuscating rhetoric of most of our news sources. The plan to abolish the estate tax, the deliberations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Honda’s 70 mpg Insight. For each, she pulled out the essence to help us see the significance for our collective future.

In her writings and her life, Dana never flinched from the reality of the limits to growth. Her special gift was to show us that learning to live within those limits is not a burdensome sacrifice, but rather a joyous adventure.”

Read Dana’s Dear Folks Letters here.


The Institute is happy to provide access to all the Dear Folks Letters, including the ones written by Institute staff following Dana’s death. All Dear Folks Letters are licensed under a Creative Commons License. DMI encourages you to share this content by following these easy steps.

Creative Commons License

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About The Donella Meadows Project

The mission of the Donella Meadows Project is to preserve Donella (Dana) H. Meadows’s legacy as an inspiring leader, scholar, writer, and teacher; to manage the intellectual property rights related to Dana’s published work; to provide and maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible archive of her work online, including articles, columns, and letters; to develop new resources and programs that apply her ideas to current issues and make them available to an ever-larger network of students, practitioners, and leaders in social change.  Read More

Newsletter Sign Up

The Academy occasionally sends E-newsletters with updates on the work of our fellows, the Donella Meadows Project and more. Sign up here if you'd like to stay connected.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Select your interests below:

Contact Form