Inspiration through Outdoor Education with Cottonwood Institute

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Spending time in nature through outdoor education and adventures are brilliant ways to create success in a technologically advanced world. We realize that this statement is highly ironic. However, the more we connect to natural places and build relationships with the natural world, the better we are able to handle all the s**t the “real world” throws at us.

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Outdoor Education and the Real World

Actually, those words – “the real world” – might be the problem of why many people haven’t connected to nature. Think about it. From a young age, we’re all connected – computers, cell phones, social media, emails, news outlets, and more.

And while that may be great, we’re all also bombarded with everything that happens all of the time. So, we want to leave the “real world” to get away from it all. And where do many of us go to escape? You got it – nature or the natural world.

Ford High School Senior Pose Colorado Cottonwood Institute
Ford in his natural environment.

The Benefits of Outdoor Education & Adventures

But what if we called nature what it really is? The real world. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones growing up and experienced the true real world of nature. Maybe you started camping, hiking, and adventuring in nature before you started school.

Maybe in school, you were exposed to outdoor education and service learning projects. Maybe you learned to love the outdoors more than the indoors, regardless of the weather.

If you were lucky enough to have experienced any of the above and more, we’re willing to bet that you are now a fairly successful adult. Able to function in our technologically advanced, always connected, over-stimulating world that we now consider the “real world”.

But we’re also willing to bet that you are able to do this because you intentionally find your way back to the true real world – nature.

Because nature teaches us how to be patient and how to persevere. She teaches us how to be strong and courageous, yet to also remain humble and serene. Nature teaches us how to handle the s**t!

Meet Ford Church, Founder of Cottonwood Institute

Ford Church, the Founder and Executive Director of Cottonwood Institute (CI) is one of the lucky ones. From a young age, he was exposed to the natural world (the real world) while growing up in New Orleans.

Knowing how nature had an impact on him throughout his formative years, he knew he wanted to have an impact on kids in the future. He knew he wanted to change the world by ensuring that kids had the chance to get into nature so they then would have a reason to care for it.

Responsible Nature Lovers Become Responsible People

As fellow campers, RVers, travelers, and adventurers, we all have a responsibility to the real world. We use it, even when we don’t. Because the “real world” came from the real world. And that’s just one thing Ford touches on in this podcast episode all about how connecting to nature can change the world.

Changing the Wold through Survival in Nature and Business

Cottonwood Institute is an educational nonprofit based in Denver created from a passion project and a college thesis over a decade ago. But it is much more than that. Ford has gone above and beyond a typical nonprofit. He believes in building a foundation for kids that connects them to nature to ultimately give them the skills to succeed in the “real world”.

This is Ford’s story about Cottonwood Institute, yes. But it’s actually a story for anyone wanting to follow a dream. Ford can tell you how to survive in the woods – and we talk about that – but he can also tell you how to survive in business – we talk about that, too. You’ll learn a lot from Ford, but more importantly, you’ll be inspired. That’s just what he does.

“You get that self doubt that creeps in your brain. And it’s like, ‘ You don’t know enough, you’re too young, whatever.’ I think you have to duct tape those thoughts and shelve them because you’re never going to know everything you need to know. You’ll figure it out along the way.”

Ford Church, CI Founder and Executive Director

Connect with Cottonwood Institute

Outdoor Education & Adventure Resources

Want More?

Meet Aleyna, former CI student and instructor, now also a brewer.

I was impressed the first time I met Aleyna as a student. So when she later became a CI instructor and then a brewer (after living in a teepee in the winter in Colorado), you can bet we had to interview her.

Ready to head out into the real world with some boondocking?

Seasoned camper or not, it’s always nice to learn more about setting up camp without all the amenities from home. Plus, it’s entertaining to watch us on video – at least, we think so.

Normally, we ask you to buy us a beer, but this time around, don’t buy us a beer, buy one for the fine folks at CI with a donation instead. Go ahead, you can skip one (or three) beers this week. Give that money to help get kids into the outdoors!

Buy us a beer next week. This week, scroll up and donate to Cottonwood Institute, instead!

For about the price of a beer, your virtual beer purchase will help keep us on the road bringing you the stories behind the beer.
Let us know you did just that, and we’ll put together a virtual happy hour with you. We’d love to see your smiling faces.

“We appreciate you highlighting our brewery on your podcast, your enthusiasm for craft breweries, travel and adventure and the patronage of not only you, but the friends you bring into Tres Litros.”

Jason at Tres Litros Beer Co

“Ken and April do a fantastic job of mixing the culture of beer and adventure into something akin to a fine barrel-aged sour. They are wise beyond their years. Loving this podcast and it will be on our weekly playlist for SURE!”

The Dog In Us


Also available on Radio Public, PodBean, Google Play Music, iHeart Radio, Tune-In, and Google Podcasts.

Shout Outs:

I met Ford over a decade again when I was first beginning my teaching career. From the beginning of our professional relationship to now when we are both friends and colleagues, Ford has inspired me to learn more and do more.

Through Ford and Cottonwood Institute, I have met many spectacular people that are doing great things. (Speaking of that, he is also the one that connected us to one of our favorite bands, Michael Franti & Spearhead). If you think you don’t need nature, think again. Ford is proof of that.

Nature connects. Nature balances. Nature inspires. Thank you, Ford, for all you do for both kids and adults to help change the world!


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