The view from The Human Path’s 50-acre plot spans from their mined landscape of a previous quarry to highway 281, the passing traffic within earshot. Minutes from downtown San Antonio, The Human Path has taken a different approach to self-sufficiency. Food, as always, is an integral part of their operation, but they have also incorporated other approaches to alternative living. The Human Path focuses on teaching primitive skills and a fusion between traditional primitive skills and urban primitive skills taking into consideration that “the world is not a primitive place anymore.” With two sites, the organization teaches a huge range of classes. Their year-round offerings include primitive engineering, homesteading, herbal medicine, blacksmithing from salvaged materials, primitive survival skills, wildlife tracking, and urban preparedness. Their curriculums incorporate an interconnected approach to wilderness medical and basic survival skills. Through their training, their goal is to “create the best possible people in the worst possible circumstances.”
There are currently about twelve instructors that come to the site to teach, most of which are previous students. They host WWOOFers and try to be as connected with the extended community of San Antonio as they can. They are also in the process of building an eco-village onsite, which will serve as a template for permaculture design and as a model for intentional communal living.
During our visit, they working on two structures utilizing salvaged wood and straw bale building techniques. Already constructed are two yurts on site with rainwater harvesting systems, and one house built out of repurposed pallets. They also have a straw bale bathhouse with a rainwater catchment tank that gravity feeds the shower.
Why San Antonio when the city is so close to its more progressive neighboring city, Austin? “Because they need it here,” Suchil, co-owner of The Human Path explains. “It’s hotter, drier and more remote. There are a greater number of people in need because the average income is lower.” San Antonio is no Austin, and The Human Path’s land is flanked with conservative southern neighbors. “I don’t think they know what to think of us,” Suchil grins, “Just when they think we’re hippies, we have a firearm tactics and safety class.”
The land, previously a heavily mined rock quarry, was in terrible need of attention when it was given to Suchil and Sam seven years ago. “It was essentially a huge hole in the ground, and some beautiful trees,” Suchil gestured around the property, “You pick a direction, and the land has been destroyed.” Their land had previously been used for mineral extraction purposes, particularly limestone, as are the properties adjacent. Tired of years of ongoing quarry activity just outside their backyards, a well-off housing development in the hills above their valley gifted Sam and Suchil the land under the pretenses that they would restore it’s aesthetics.
Based on their agreement, the land will forever be used as a wildlife and botanical preservation site, in conjunction with educational pursuits. Originally a flood plane, they are working to fill in the mined area of their land and planting native and perennial species for biota restoration. One of the major species that most people in the area try to eliminate is Roosevelt Willow, which Suchil has noticed “popping up” all over the landscape as they have started the restoration process. Roosevelt Willow is also one of the most abundant and important sources of nectar flow for the native bee population, and serves as a good marker that their restoration attempts are making a difference. Moreover, The Human Path is working with the Central Texas Bee Rescue to restore the bee population in the area to create a “solid and safe environment” for the bees.
Suchil has been the program director at The Human Path for five years, after deciding she simply wasn’t happy in her career in fine art photography and web design. She started working for The Human Path as the cook for students of the program, which led to the realization that without the understanding of food there would be a missing piece of the puzzle. Therefore, she began teaching classes about food production and preservation, with an emphasis on seasonal canning. She is also currently building a root cellar in an area of the quarry.
Suchil’s husband, Sam, was in medical school when he realized that allopathic medicine was not his passion and he was more interested in natural medicine. This passion eventually led to the creation of The Human Path’s sister non-profit, Herbal Medics. In the San Antonio community, Herbal Medics provides discounted herbal-based healthcare to low-income residents without health insurance at their “herb”an clinic. Herbal Medics also offers an herbal medic certification course, emphasizing the importance of using foraged and indigenous plants. When we visited, they were off on their yearly trip to Nicaragua, where they teach health from the bottom up. “You can’t go into a foreign area you know nothing about looking to fix symptoms,” Suchil emphasizes, “So we’re looking more at the problem and helping them find a solution.” A happy marriage of the content of their primitive skills classes and their medical knowledge has Herbal Medics teaching rural Nicaraguan villages everything from native plant identification and use to water filtration techniques using easily salvaged materials.
The Human Path’s logo is a DNA strand with five runes in the supercoils, signifying each path of their teachings; the final rune reminds the wilderness student to live mindfully within nature. The restoration of their property and their approach to an education based around independence brings a new twist to what it means to be a steward of the land.