Monthly Archives: May 2013

Earthaven Ecovillage

Black Mountain, North Carolina

May 17-24, 2013

Finally, the long awaited and procrastinated write up on Earthaven! This is a post-dated write up on our visit back in Mid May and since it’s been so long, I think I’m just going to jump right into the nitty gritty.

Earthaven Ecovillage was another one of the four communities on our greater list that we didn’t plan to visit for very long. We wanted to favor those who had visitor programs so we could get an in depth feel to the ins and outs of the community. When we decided to leave East Wind in Tecumseh, MO, we suddenly has three weeks to use. Earthaven was our third community, thus we didn’t have too many others to compare it to. It was certainly different then Dancing Rabbit’s dense and clustered model, and much more similar to the sprawled out nature of The Farm, but it still felt walk-able. There are a lot of interesting visual points and places to stop when you walk through Earthaven. From well tended gardens, to bamboo patches, to alternative buildings of all sorts all running through their valley and designed around their mountain streams. Not only that, but it was easy to meet people along the way. While they are essentially a car culture (being as rural as they are) things are still human scale. Their streets are 1 1/2 lanes and there are tons of foot paths running through that people used. Because of a couple of people who helped fill me in and connect me to others, I experienced Earthaven as unofficially friendly and inviting to guests. They hold and invite guests to their weekly potlucks, grill-outs, and meetings.

Earthaven incorporated sometime around 1993. It was a group of aspiring communitarians from the hip and growing city of Asheville, NC and some folks from Florida. How they discovered each other I can’t quite say, but it’s fortunate that they did because they paved the way for a large and growing community of earth conscious people to live together (or at least right next to each other). If you ever go there, make sure you stop in their meeting house and offices, because they have a large book that will do a much better job at explaining who they are then I ever could. It’s nice when communities give you that option of  reading up for yourself and you don’t have to pin people down to ask them all the questions you have and didn’t have. Anyway, they’re not currently around 50 members with 20 rotating guests, visitors, workers, and prospective members always around. They own a few hundred (my memory is now fuzzy, but I think it’s around 300) acres collectively and have agreed upon policy on how the vast majority of it is managed. Given that it was started by permaculturalists, their design on how to manage their land is very site specific, land appropriate, and generally well done. Details always change of course, but in general they’ve been following their plan. Lots of the acreage, especially on the steep hills that lead into their valleys is set aside for light forestry, the keyline area and slightly below for housing and roads, and below and around that down into the valley is set aside for various types of agriculture. Earthaven has some very steep topography to deal with and it’s no small feat that they’ve managed it so well already. They are thinking ahead as a community to figure out what’s the most effective and efficient way to use their arable land. Because they are a proclaimed ecovillage, they seem to tend to think a lot about meeting their needs hyper locally. This means they have to be thoughtful, because they certainly don’t have a lot of easily accessible farmland to feed themselves with.

One of the most beautiful community building's we've seen, and examples of natural building we've seen for that matter.
One of the most beautiful community building’s we’ve seen, and examples of natural building we’ve seen for that matter.

Earthaven, like some other communities, has buy in fees. There is a $4,000 non-refundable membership fee that you contribute once you’re accepted as a member by a majority (I forget what the percentage is) of the members. After that, what you pay for housing is up to you. There are some rental spaces in cooperative housing, finished houses for sale, empty plots of land that are either 11k or 22k depending on the size (1/4 an acre for the former and 1/2 to 3/4 an acre for the latter. They call them half and full sites respectively. You can share a full site with friends if desired), or you can stay creatively (in a camper on someones piece of land). For some, the buy in fee for land and membership has been either a huge turn-off or just plain unaffordable. This has especially been an issue for younger people who are strive to live their permaculture and low material use living and in the process have no savings. Earthaven’s distance from large population centers is both a blessing and a curse depending on who you talk to. It makes it so those who live there are certain they want to be there, giving them a relatively low turnover rate compared to some communities, and also that it’s hard for some to earn an income or to envision how they will earn an income while there. They are currently building a large wood shop and craft studio that they plan to use for a small community business making toys, furniture, and dolls using what is generally considered waste wood. This, I imagine, would help with the livelyhood of some younger individuals.

Earthaven currently chooses to use consensus decision making. It sounds like this processes (as you can imagine) has been difficult at times, but for the most part, it works really well for them. They are currently changing their community structure to one of 50+ individuals making up Earthaven to small clusters or hamlets of individuals making up the community. It sounds like this would allow each hamlet to make minor decisions for themselves and not have to ask 50+ other people if they can move a stone two feet. There will probably be an over sight group for some of the larger decisions. They have been in the process of changing their legal structure for the past year or so and will be intensely focusing on that for probably one more. The reasons for doing so are to not have everyone in the community at risk if there is a legal action taken against someone in the community and to have a more fluid decision making process for the members of Earthaven.

Given our short period of time there, it was hard to make a judgement call on how much we loved this place. I was there a bit longer and was able to plug in a number of different ways and had invitations to other places I didn’t have time for. They had some social systems in place that seemed to guarantee interactions with others of you wanted to attend them (saunas multiple times per week, a weekly potluck, weekly farmers market, community meetings, community work projects, etc. And if you didn’t want to attend the organized events, there was a directory of people and phone numbers that’s given out and you’re always free to call them. Right next door there’s also the mad farmer Leon and his wife who built a small and incredibly beautiful zen meditation building that’s open for everyone to meditate in every morning together or at any time during the day otherwise. Even though we were away from most others in the campground, I found the people we came across to be very inviting (though, I have also heard there a couple hermits tucked away on the land).

For me, the main deterrents are the sprawled out nature of the community, the limited access to “farmable” land, and the initial buy in costs that don’t get you anything except land and membership. There may be options to farm with others, but they didn’t seem readily apparent and it instead seemed like many people were farming right next to each other. There also seemed to be a strong need and use of cars to meet some personal human needs. Some even drove from their house in or near the community to the potluck or farmers market. I loved the use of green or natural buildings on the property, the close and detailed attention to their landscape, the use of springs for their drinking water, consensus based decision making, and, of course, their use of organic and permaculture principles and growing their food. Like every community, there are some things to love and some room for improvement. Finding the right mix of what you want is part of the process.



The Farm

Summertown, Tennessee

May 9 – May 13, 2013


Hey Everyone! Adrian here as Christie is on a short trip to Florida to visit with her mom and sister.

Ohhh the farm! It’s a must visit on so many people’s list; both those interested in community and those in midwifery. With us leaving East Wind (where we had a three week stay planned) after only two hours, we suddenly had some new possibilities of what to do, for how long, and when. We left southern Missouri and went East, stopping for a day and a half to regroup in a West Plains, MO hotel before we went to Tennessee.


Before we left, we had sat down and thought long and hard about communities that were high on our list to visit. The Farm made it, but because they didn’t have a visitor program we didn’t plan on staying long. As we’ve been finding out and will elaborate on later, it’s much easier to get to know a community if they have a formal way for visitors to transition and meet the members who live there. Anyway, here we finally found ourselves at The Farm for a yet undetermined amount of time (up to a month if we fell in love).

If you don’t yet know of The Farm, let me fill you in a bit (and only a bit). As most of us know, there’s a lot of history that’s wrapped up in most places, and The Farm isn’t immune to that. Their history is probably more interesting then some, especially for places their size. They started out in the late sixties and early seventies in S.F. California when a man named Stephen Gaskin started organizing new-agey talks that people wanted to listen to. He started to have 100+ people showing up; a small force. L

ike others in his day, his response to the pressures of the Vietnam war, isolated and violent culture, and unsustainable living by those around him was to go back to the land. He was able to gather a sizable group to travel around the country, giving more talks, and in search of a new home for their social experiment. Along they way, they picked up some more folks and made their way to Summertown. There are photos of their journey and arrival where someone is looking back at a long, long line of yellow school buses packed with people on their way. And in 1971 they arrived and began to attempt a life together.

There is a lot of history, and if you’re interested you can find a number of books written by people who live or have lived at The Farm. Their website also has lot of info. The Farm was doing well and continuing to grow up until about 1983 when from what we heard there was a breaking point. They were up to about 1300 people and there was a lot of pressure on those who worked the hardest to support many of those who didn’t. Work in the area was hard to come by and they were sending people out to far reaches of the state to earn money to bring back to the commune. Then something big happened. Stephen who was their inspiration, stepped down and left (though he’s back now). That was the time of the Change Over. Much of the commune left because he did and they went from an egalitarian and i

ncome sharing community to one that suddenly had a lot of new start up businesses by individuals. And that’s basically where they find themselves today. To support yourself at The Farm you must either have your money in savings, or you need to be creative and create your livelihood.

Our first destination point when we arrived was The Farm visitor center, just inside the entry gate to the community. Vickie runs the visitor center every weekday from 12 to 5pm. She is always happy to answer any questions of guests and orient you to the community. She set us up with a camp spot and off we went! Where was everyone? The farm sprawls out quite a bit over a number of finger ridges. The main gathering point is definitely not the visitor center campground, though there is a disc golf course that starts there that some men often play at.  Instead we were told we’re welcome to walk around any of the land and we will most likely meet people around The Farm Store when people are arriving and leaving the shopping hub.  After spending some time walking around and checking out the interesting array of vehicles and buildings at the Ecovillage Training Center, we went up to hang up the towel and relax for the rest of the evening. Over the next few days we did have the opportunity to meet a few people, but most of those who we met were not residents. In contrast to the visitor program of Dancing Rabbit, we actually met very few residents of the farm. We still did our best in our short four day visit to integrate in and have our questions answered.


Besides Vickie and one other resident, we weren’t really a

ble to ask many other questions of members. My most insightful and memorable experience while there was actually located just outside of The Farm at Spiral Ridge Permaculture. They are a five minute drive around the corner to another finger ridge where a few folks who visited the farm over four years ago decided to settle and start up a permaculturally based homestead and informal community. Their biggest “beef” was not being able to raise animals for meat over in the main community so they decided to look close by. We had an invite from a young man of The Farm to come on over and help butcher a big if we would like. I’ve butchered two before, so I thought I would see if I could be of any use (and luckily I was). From them and from one of the sons of Stephan Gaskin and Ina May we were able to hear about some of the deeper ongoing issues within The Farm, how they’re still changing, and what they’re doing right. Their biggest issue seems to be bringing in the next generation of people. We were told that because of their firmly held beliefs of non-violence and vegetarianism/veganism and their two year membership process (even for those who grew up there), a new generation of back-to-the-landers and self-reliant youth were driven to look elsewhere (the lack of work and it being hard to find a partner are other reasons that were mentioned). Apparently some of this is changing (they now having laying chickens… but what do they do when they age and lay no longer?), but it’s painfully slow for those who want the change. We were told that in the end change has to come. The members aren’t finding the same ideals in the youth that they want to replace them and the youth that want to jump in want to do it their way. That will either lead to The Farm dying out or morphing into a yet unknown entity.


For me (Adrian) The Farm was an interesting stop on our way to the next place. It was a place that I had heard people mention as a must visit community, but also heard people say that they would never live there (for various reasons). It has the presence of elders who have seen it all which I consider very important, but it doesn’t have much of a focus on self-sufficiency and food production which I hold so dear. Although I don’t know how the community acted in the past, it seems to me that it has morphed into something of a gated suburban community. There is a lot of sprawl over those finger ridges and not a whole lot of gathering place in between. Cars dominate and even to get to the community center or farm school it is a mile and a half for some people. My feeling was that people just didn’t rely on each other enough and that I would be an isolated farmer in community for the majority of my time there. While my experiences were not negative, I feel there wouldn’t be enough to hold me there. While it’s not for me, I still highly recommend the visit to see if it’s right for you.

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Rhythm of Rutledge

Rhythm of Rutledge

There is a trifecta of intentional communities in Rutledge Missouri: Dancing Rabbit, Red Earth Farms and Sand Hill Farm. Filmmakers have created a documentary of these three communities called Rhythm of Rutledge. Trailers of the film and more info can be found at this link. I’ve only watched the two trailers; they are meditative and artistic. I look forward to seeing the film when it is available. It is exciting to see the places we’ve experienced documented in such a beautiful way.