The Technologies of Living Energy Farm

by Deanna Seay and Debbie Piesen

Living Energy Farm (LEF) is an income sharing community, organic farm, and environmental education center in Louisa, Virginia that uses no fossil fuels or grid electricity. We are currently four adult members and four children. Our mission is to address the issues of climate change and income inequality through example, by demonstrating that a comfortable and fulfilling life is possible- and affordable- using only sustainable, renewable energy. The most important technology we use is community: living cooperatively and sharing resources is what makes renewable energy practical and affordable.

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EarthHeart- the main residence at Living Energy Farm. When one walks up the hill,
this building is the first to display one of the many renewable energy technologies
that are used at LEF. In this case, solar hot air panels and solar water heaters are
mounted on the roof. The solar hot air panels heat up air which is blown under the
building in the winter, and the solar water heaters use the strength of the sun to
heat water. Furthermore, the southern exposure of these windows allows the entire
house to absorb the winter sun, and the straw bale insulation prevents the warm air
from escaping. In the summertime, south facing windows do not collect much
sunshine, and east and west facing windows can be covered to reduce the amount of
radiant energy passing through. The strongly insulated building will also help moderate summer temperatures.

How does one source electricity in a zero-fossil fuel environment? Solar panels!
LEFEH2There are two arrays at LEF; the one pictured to the left is the low voltage array and
will power LED lights after dark. These panels will charge a battery- and not just any rechargeable, solar compliant battery. LEF will use Nickel-Iron (NiFe) rechargeable
batteries. Unlike the more common lead-acid batteries, NiFe batteries are non-toxic and do not degrade over time. The one currently being tested at LEF, pictured below, is ninety years old- an original model made by the Thomas A. Edison company in West Orange, NJ!

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The second solar array is a high voltage, direct-current system that is used to run
the water pump, fans, and any equipment needing more power. This system (see picture below left) harnesses the sun with customary photovoltaic panels, and produces enough energy to power this saw (below right) used for cutting wood. This system is only used when the sun is shining, eliminating the need for expensive
electronics like inverters and batteries. Instead of storing electricity, we store the
energy in other forms: cut firewood, water in a storage tank, heated thermal mass.

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People sometimes ask us why we don’t use solar electricity to cook. The answer is that it is very inefficient to produce extremes of temperature with electricity. It would take a system much more expensive and elaborate than ours to cook with photovoltaics. Solar thermal, using the heat of the sun directly without turning it into electricity, is much more efficient but still limited to when the sun is shining (see below). When we want to cook other times, we rely on firewood.

Living in the rural countryside, wood is abundant, but we still try to minimize our
demand (and emissions) by using super-efficient rocket stoves. The ones we use are made by Stove Tec. The most difficult aspect of the rocket stove can be simply getting it lit…damp days provide a challenge. The rocket stoves at LEF are set up outside under a cover, and one is enclosed in a flue which directs the ash and smoke away from the cooking area. This is the stove used for open pot cooking such as sautéing vegetables. The other stove is used when there is a lid on the pot.

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If there is ample time, food can be partially cooked on the rocket stove and then completed under the “hay box,” or hot box. Once upon a time made out of hay, this
contraption is pretty much an insulated box lined with reflective foil. The pot with
hot food is placed into the box and left alone…good for things like rice, quinoa and
anything else that needs to simmer.

Another option, with enough planning and sunshine, is the parabolic cooker- also known as the “death ray.” A pot is hung over the middle of the reflective dish, and the LEFEH8light is focused on the bottom of the pot. Remember watching fires be started by focusing sunlight through a pair of eyeglasses? This system uses reflection to achieve the same result. It is a little tricky at first as the details are very important; the pot should hang at an optimal distance above the dish to allow for a tight “focal point”; the pot should not be too big; the dish needs to be adjusted as the sun moves across the sky. Once these elements come together, however, this solar cooker is very effective.

Finally, we have the solar oven, which is brilliant for anything that needs to be baked. Open the lid, place the food inside, close the lid and aim towards the sun. This oven bakes bread, potatoes, etc as well as a conventional oven would. The only drawback is that the sun needs to be shining…this is not an activity to be saved for a rainy day!

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The Technologies of Living Energy Farm

A Better Labor Day Plan

by Paxus Calta

Perhaps you are thinking about what you should be doing over Labor Day weekend.  You have decided it is too expensive and too much hassle to go to Burning Man.  You could visit your relatives, but Thanksgiving is looming and that is really a much better holiday for that activity.  You could stay home and watch some sporting spectacular on TV, with teams you don’t especially care about and with perhaps too many advertisements between plays.

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Ads can make you crazy

Or you could come to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  It is reasonably priced, it has no commercials, you won’t get fine dust in everything you own, and, unless they are pretty cool already, you probably won’t see any of your relatives.

But rather than talk about what won’t be there, let’s explore some of what will be happening at this year’s conference.

The event is a mix of different types of content and social/cultural aspects.  The content comes in three big forms.  There are scheduled workshops, the schedule for which is at the bottom of this post and the detailed descriptions can be read here.  [You need to click the arrow by the workshop titles to open up the full descriptions].

There is Open Space, which allows the participants to design their own workshops and present them.  While the scheduled workshops are all on themes directly related to communities, the open space portion of the event can be on any topic which participants are excited about.  In the past this has included permaculture, polyamory, anti-oppression work, a critique of Occupy and how to dumpster dive.

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Open Space’s slightly tautological rules

The other formal piece of content to conference provides is the “meet the communities” gathering Saturday morning.   Everyone who is in a community (including ones which are forming) gets 60 seconds to introduce what they are doing.  Then all the representatives distribute themselves in the main gathering area and put up little signs or put out other information on their place and answer questions presented by milling participants.  There might be 30 or 40 communities represented.  And you might just find the one which is a great choice for you.

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A bunch of tables like this talking about different communities during “meet the communities”

There is lots of informal content.  Experts and adventurers at meals talking about their experiences.  Late night chats around the fire, about how happy we will be to not hear so much about Trump and concerns about Hillary.  There will be new friends and romances. Smokers will chat comically or conspiratorially in their little area.  Coffee and early morning rituals will bond new allies.

While the information provided would be sufficient reasons to come to this event – the culture, fun and personal connections seal the deal.   For many people the conference is brushing up against the very different way of living at an income sharing, secular community which has deep sharing agreements.  The communities conference dance on Saturday night is one of the best dances Twin Oaks has all year.  Mud pits beckon.

 

comm conf table

Here is the scheduled workshop program

Saturday: 1:30 – 3:15 PM

Panel discussion with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities
Consensus 201: Different levels of agreement for a consensus proposal
Organizing Community? Remember PC2
The Community Land Trust: Networking Wealth

Saturday: 3:45 – 5:30 PM

The Parable of the Sower Intentional Community
Culture Hacking 101: How to Create a Participatory, Intentional Culture For Your Community
Legal Clinic
Mutual Credit and Sociocracy

 

Sunday: 9:00 – 10:45 AM

Creating Fertile Ground for Community
Boundaries: Speaking Truth, Meeting Needs, and Releasing Attachments
The Role of ICs in Manifesting a New Paradigm/Next System
Overview of the new Urban Kibbutz Movement
A Better Labor Day Plan

Horizontal Housing Co.

from the Baltimore Free Farm website

Horizontal Housing Co. is a non-stock corporation formed by members of Baltimore Free Farm in 2013. Because Baltimore Free Farm is a project under the umbrella of the 501-c3 organization Fusion Partnerships, it cannot collectively purchase property. The sole purpose of Horizontal Housing Co. is to purchase property for utilization by Baltimore Free Farm members as either gardening space or housing.

In 2012, our good friend and Baltimore Free Farm member Paul Pojman passed away, leaving behind a house which BFF collective members lived in but did not own. Working in conjunction with Paul’s family members and NASCO, an organization which helps co-ops and housing collectives purchase property, Horizontal Housing was able to purchase this property and continue housing several BFF members on campus.

Untitled-1 copyIn addition, Horizontal Housing was able to purchase two lots from the city that are a part of Baltimore Free Farm’s gardening space. Like much of Hampden, these lots were under threat of housing development before Horizontal Housing was awarded the rights to purchase the land and it will now remain part of our garden for many years to come.

Our goal is to create an intentional community housing project here at Baltimore Free Farm. We are working to join the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and we hope to be fully income-sharing by the end of 2016.

In 2015, we purchased a vacant home and now we are fixing it up! We need your help! No matter your level of experience in construction or power tools, we can use all hands on deck, and we’ll teach you the basics. Are you familiar with Baltimore City building codes? We would love for you to be our consultant! We can’t pay much, but could barter with vegetables!

Any way you can support us, be that labor hours, material donations, making lunch for the crew etc., we would be so glad to hear from you! Email horizontal-housing@baltimorefreefarm.org to get involved.

 

Horizontal Housing Co.

A Wwoofer’s experience at Cambia

by Katie

Earth

Nature’s beauty has, for my entire life, captivated me. There is so much to learn. Why am I not working with the creation that is all around me?  With this realization I decided I wanted to work on organic farms and check out intentional communities. I wanted to work on farms and gardens  learn skills, how to grow plants and build with my hand, using nature naturally.  Since I currently live in Virginia I looked into finding some communities/farms to work on in my area. I came across Cambia on the wwoofer website. I called Gil and he asked me why I was interested in their community. What makes me want to live in a community? I explained that I wanted to learn more about community and how to grow plants and learn other skills with my hands. The ‘normal’ way of living wasn’t working for me, I had quit my job serving about a month ago and was ready to be doing something different.

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Cambia

When I got to Cambia the first thing I notice was how beautiful the garden was and how cute the home was. There were a variety of vegetables, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, lavender, sunflowers and more. The goal at Cambia is to have a  sustainable permaculture garden/forest.  Seeing this garden that always had something ripe and ready to pick, was a treat. I’ve always found it interesting that no one really knows how to grow any of their own food. My grandmother had a nice flower garden when I was little and would visit her. I remember her telling me about ‘victory gardens’ that she had growing up and wondered why we didn’t still practice this type of natural garden growing. Here at Cambia the victory is present and there are plenty of delicious veggies to grow and, if you don’t know what something is, Avni, (the resident kid) is ready to tell you! I’ve never met a more knowledgeable three year old on what plants are what. He doesn’t forget the names of the plants!

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Starting at the bottom with Avni and Wildhorse.

There are many different projects going on at all times at Cambia. When I first arrived, I was there to help with the barn. It is not easy work, but with a group of five we all set up the foundation.

The vision of Cambia is to form a community that works together to build a permaculture environment in accordance with Nature. The vibe at Cambia is fluid. There is flow, there is constant movement. Sometimes the movement is slow, life happens.Other times, once we know the direction of the project being done, then it is steady and true. Projects can get done or at least gain some momentum.

Food

There was a sun cooker and a water collector along with a trampoline. The land is about 20 acres and, at the entrance of the community, it is more cleared. The sun cooker has been used to make cookies, bread, beans and other delicious food.

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The sun cooker was used a few times to help make dinner while staying at Cambia. Some items that were made in the sun cooker include, cookies, beans, and some veggies. Seeing a sun cooker was great and a wonderful way to make food without using energy from the grid. Free energy in use is a wonderful advancement for thrivability!

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Avni is ready to eat!

 

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Outdoor Kitchen

There was always many different things to be doing and cooking for the group is certainly one that many enjoy. The food while visiting was mostly vegan which I greatly appreciated, as I do not approve of killing animals. I am Vegan.  The community said they were planning on being as vegan as possible, they do however subscribe to the freegan lifestyle which I can completely understand.  The only animal products used while I was there were dairy. The community conversed that this was not always going to be a staple and the eventually they would prefer to have a goat and make their own milk and cheese.

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Here is Shawn, Gil, Ella, all working on the barn.

After talking to Shawn, he explained that one of the main purposes of the barn would be for the projects various members would be working on. Also for classes like yoga, communication, wood carving, ropes, etc.

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This area was cleared by a cyclist that came through and is now a more cleared camping area. There are several of these little nooks throughout the property leading out into the forest which is the final destination of the community.

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Avni and Mac dog leading me into the forest.

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Here is a little creek to relax and cool off in the afternoon.

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There is a bench and the community is working with the creek naturally to help create a bigger habitat.

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This is a dehydrator in the common kitchen, here Gil and Avni are checking out the peppers to see if they are ready yet.

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In this picture there is an outdoor refrigerator, it is made out of styrofoam and wood from the property. It works well at keeping all the fruits and veggies from perishing during the hot summer days.

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Ella and Avni are just chilling out and having some relaxing time on the porch.

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This is a nice little shed which reminds me out the saying from the popular show ‘Dr Who.’ “It’s bigger on the inside.” This is where most of Cambia resides for now.

I’ve had a good time working here at Cambia, it has been a great learning experience for me. There have been many interesting conversations and interactions with everyone working together. There was never a dull moment and rarely was anyone on their electronics which was a nice change from what I’ve seen in society lately. In a time where everyone is so immersed in their electronic devices it is nice to be in a setting where the emphasis is on community and unity. Working together to find common ground and achieve some progress in everyday life is commendable.

A Wwoofer’s experience at Cambia

Visiting Communes

by Raven MoonRaven

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might be intrigued by various aspects of communal living, or maybe even what goes on in a particular community.

I ended an article that I wrote here a couple of weeks ago with the thought: “If this sounds exciting, you could contact any of these communes and visit or even join.  You could be part of the experiment.”  I still think visiting communes—or even better joining one—is a great idea.  But there is an etiquette to visiting communities.  And even if you’re thinking of joining a commune, it’s a really good idea to visit and check the place out first.

First rule of visiting any community:  Call, write, or email them first!  Do not simply show up at a community!  Communities are people’s homes.  Most of them like visitors but they really don’t like unannounced visitors.

I’ve visited Twin Oaks and Acorn many times and have done really short visits to Living Energy Farm, Sandhill, and the Stillwater Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance.  Each of these places has a different protocol for visiting, although it always starts with contacting them.

Twin Oaks has detailed instructions on their web page for ways to visit and what you need to do.  A quick way  to visit Twin Oaks is to go on their three hour Saturday tour.  Even for that, they have specific instructions to follow–beyond reservations, they ask things like requesting that people not wear perfume or cologne.  They ask a five dollar donation for the tour.

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Folks on a Twin Oaks Tour

Twin Oaks also offers a three week visitors program.  This is a very structured program.  They have a sliding scale for the program, from $50 to $250, and visitors are expected to work while they’re there (something that’s true at most egalitarian communities).  In return, you are part of a group of visitors that all arrive at the same time and usually leave together.  Visitors are housed in a lovely little cabin (simple but adequate) and are given many tours and orientations.  It’s a well thought out program.  Anyone wanting to join Twin Oaks is usually required to go through the visitors program during which you are evaluated for membership.  (As far as I know, all the communes have a membership process.)  Twin Oaks also occasionally takes interns—usually during the late summer to help set up conferences that they hold.  Even interns are required to do a three week visitor program first and are evaluated before being accepted as interns.  Twin Oaks is currently looking for new members.

The Acorn Community also offers a three week visitors program.  While they do have tours, their visitors program is the main way to visit, either out of curiosity or because you’d like to join.  Their program is a lot less structured than the Twin Oaks program.  Visitors are expected to work and are invited to be part of many community activities.  Acorn asks $75.00 for their three week program.  If it is mutually acceptable, the visitors program can be extended into a three to six month internship.  Again check their website for more details.  (A personal recommendation:  If you want to do the visitors programs at both Twin Oaks and Acorn, I suggest you do the Twin Oaks program first–especially for folks who are trying to understand how communes work.  The Acorn program is much more hands on and suited to people who are very self-motivated.  I do think that you would learn a lot by doing both programs; it’s just that starting with the Twin Oaks program would help you ease into it.)

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The crew that started Acorn

Living Energy Farm, Sandhill, and the Stillwater Sanctuary all have internships and Sandhill also hosts visitors.  For Living Energy Farm or Sandhill, go to their website where they have an email address that you can contact them at.  The Stillwater Sanctuary doesn’t have a website or email address, but the Federation of Egalitarian Communities has a site for them where there is a mailing address for them.  You can send them a letter and they will respond.  Both Living Energy Farm and the Stillwater Sanctuary are demonstration sites about how to live without and beyond fossil fuels.

I will also mention East Wind community, which I have never visited but is a large communal situation in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri which is supposed to be very beautiful. They also have a three week visitors program and you can find out more about it through their website and contacting their membership team.

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Communards at the FEC Assembly 2016

The newer communities in the Ozarks of Missouri (Oran Mor), Louisa, VA (Sapling and Cambia), Richmond, VA (Quercus), Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD (the Baltimore Free Farm), may also be open to visitors–again, you should contact them if you are interested.

I would strongly encourage you to visit one or more of these communes.  You can learn a lot about communal living from reading this blog, but you could learn a lot more by visiting.

Visiting Communes

RB Floor Renovation at East Wind

Post Written by Sumner, Photos by Virgil, from the East Wind website, August 2, 2016

Rock Bottom (RB), our main kitchen and dining hall, is enjoying a sparkling new floor thanks to Building Maintenance superheroes B and Beckie and the work of many others.

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During the three weeks of plywood cutting and running new waterlines inside RB all the necessary kitchen equipment was placed outside. This outside kitchen setup and East Wind’s festival tent served us well, but we are all happy to have our main kitchen space back and in better working order than ever!

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 EWRB4Ish and General Contractor Nara assess the progress being made.

Upon completion of the floor we didn’t miss the opportunity to have a dance party in the kitchen before setting everything back into place. It held up fantastically and hopefully won’t need replacement for decades to come. The new kitchen layout has made a much more efficient use of the space resulting in better traffic flow of people through the kitchen and less frustration for those cooking and baking. Thank you to everyone who helped!

EWRB5The completed floor right before bringing everything back in and getting the new plumbing installed.

RB Floor Renovation at East Wind

Summer at Oran Mór Community

by Desiree
Summer OM1a
Our new cob oven in the Outdoor kitchen. Several East Winders and some locals came by to help stomp cob and put it together.
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One of our rocket stoves in action.
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Kalani likes to help, here he’s watching the fire for us.
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Our neighbor George came by with his tractor and some friends from the ONE group to pick up these grain bins. We donated them to ONE to store local grains.
Summer OM5a
Well pumping party! Our well operates with a windmill and when the wind isn’t blowing, we use our backup hand pump.
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Just the beginning of out annual elderberry harvest!
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Here is one of our veggie gardens growing tomatoes, peppers, zinnia, amaranth, cucumbers, squash, lambs quarter, basil, sweet potatoes, melons, and a peach tree! We always practice companion planting and permaculture methods in our gardens.
Summer at Oran Mór Community