Cambia continues working on their strawbale house. Here are some scenes from a work party with folks from Twin Oaks and Acorn participating, taken from Cambia’s Instagram account. If you are interested in the whole story, here are scenes from Part One and Part Two.
Cambia has been documenting their strawbale construction project on Instagram. Here is the step by step process of putting in the central beam for the roof. Part One of this story is here, documenting the beginning of the project.
I will post Part Three (a work party) on Friday, but first, a new video.
Cambia is this lovely, quirky little commune in Louisa, VA, very near Twin Oaks. Recently they started a strawbale building project which they are documenting on Instagram. Here’s the first set of pictures. I will have more on Monday.
We recently received this from Katarzyna Gajewska who has written for Commune Life before. This is about a book that she is publishing in conjunction with Cambia, one of the Virginia communes.
On crowdfunding with Cambia community to complete a feminine utopia and boycotting Amazon
Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, has been working on the manuscript of “Imagine a Sane Society” since 2013. She is now at the stage to engage other co-creators to complete this book. Her feminine utopia is a call for creativity and imagination. Her conceptualization has been influenced by interviews in egalitarian communities and other prefigurative forms of organizing work and life. If 60 people contribute $20 each, we will be able to pay for the first stage of production to be done by egalitarian community Cambia.
By contributing to crowdfunding campaign, you also support Cambia, a commune living prefigurative future in the now. Cambia Community is a small egalitarian intentional community in central Virginia, USA. Their mission is to serve as a model for a sustainable, fulfilling, and connected way of living. They have formed an educational non-profit called Rustling Roots, which teaches how to respond to the global ecological crisis locally, stimulating discussion and changing habits in local communities by hosting workshops, events, and tours.
Cambia has known Katarzyna for several years and has appreciated her academic work and dedication to justice and sustainability.
“The opportunity to help with editing Katarzyna’s book would allow us to invest in our business and our community, and collaborate with a project that supports our mission. With funding from this work, we would be able to plant more fruit trees, invest in solar infrastructure, and hire people with specialized knowledge in ecology or engineering for specific projects.” – Gil Benmoshe of Cambia Community
The author writes on the subject of the forthcoming book and crowdfunding campaign to prepare online version in Creative Commons, available for free.
Why Commune Life Blog readers may be interested in your book project?
You may have wondered what a post-capitalist system would look like. We know quite well what we do not like but it is difficult to say what we want. The book discusses various directions of change and proposes a vision for a health-oriented system. It shows examples of alternative ways of organizing production. The main part deals with understanding the cultural change that a new system would require of us. Culture is a set of ideas, automatic assumptions, habits in shaping human relations. It is invisible, yet so powerful. If we cannot imagine something else, we automatically submit to the shiny but destructive offer of the dominant elites. One of the reasons why I call it a feminine utopia is because I focus on inner work and not engineering another design for hollow structures which would be filled with the dysfunctions of the dominant system if not addressed. This is where communes come in. They have decided to live under different regime within a group and then they need to deal with all the psychological and cultural imprint that wants us to not even come up with such an idea. The cultural work they had to engage in is preparing for the time of crisis when cooperation will not be an option anymore. I have conducted many interviews and observations in Acorn, a commune in Virginia and in Niederkaufungen, a commune in Germany and they inspire my reflection on the culture for a new mode of production. One chapter portrays also Tamera, a political ashram in Portugal.
Whom is this book for?
If you are experiencing existential crisis or skillfully numbing it with shopping, substances, and busyness, this book can help you stop for a moment and reflect on your life’s choices that add up to the unbearable reality. Activists or people who think of becoming involved may find an aid to inquire what kind of actions to focus on. We need a broader picture to translate it into small steps leading to it.
Why do you call your book a feminine utopia?
First of all, I do not mean gender and women by this. The “feminine” in my utopia is a logic of action, a way of thinking, values, and the mode of operating. Ursula K. Le Guin used Chinese words yin and yang, probably, to avoid these confusions with gender stereotypes. We still need a lot of work to empower the feminine. My book wants to empower the feminine logic as something defining the shape of the system. I see this proposal as an advancement in comparison to the lean-in feminism. Feminism should be about systemic change. By the way, Kommune Niederkaufungen was considering these issues from the very beginning and may have been a response to the position of women in the 1980s. I believe that also men are tired with the masculine utopias pursued nowadays and the unbalanced ideas they fall prey to. At least, many men have supported me during the writing process and the final stage.
Why people being part of commune movement may be interested in promoting the campaign?
If you are part of communes’ movement, you will meet your friends on the pages of my book. You may want it to be available to your family and friends from previous life to help them understand your choices. Now that more and more people start to perceive the limits of the system, it is time for deeper discussions and questioning it all. I embed communal life in the reflection on a broader vision. I see communities as an inspiration without preaching that everyone should move to one of them. But this can be a side effect. One of my interviewees in Acorn community mentioned the book “The power of Now” as one of the steps on her journey of self-inquiry that led her to move to the commune. Maybe my book will have a similar effect on some readers.
Bringing this book to the masses without a publisher is also a political statement. Many people who live in communities want to escape corporation world. I do not want my ideas to be censored by corporate gate keepers. Instead, I rely on the wisdom of crowds, who have other interests than selling simplistic books. I also do not want to be bound by contracts and my books be sold on Amazon. Of course, this implies a different strategy in the entire process. I cannot expect a publisher to invest in book production and then compromise its sells. Therefore, we need to invest together in making this book happen and have it accessible for free. Instead of benefiting Amazon, you give money directly to a group of people who work on change.
Do you live in a commune? – The question that many people have asked
I do not. Education is my passion. I would not feel fulfilled not pursuing it. I want to combine my professional goals in the field of alternative education and communal living in one project.
What to do if one wants to help completing your book?
You can send the crowdfunding campaign calls to your friends or post on social media. Letting people know is a big help! The book will be available for free (digital text and audio) so if many people give $10-30, it will be like buying the book for yourself and your friends and strangers. This is a good deal!
If you want my book ‘Imagine a Sane Society” to be published and available for free, please, donate HERE!
Listen to an exerpt from this book HERE!
For updates on my publications: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar
My publication list (selection): https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Katarzyna_Gajewska
My recent publications:
from their newsletter:
Here’s what’s been going on.
It was a strange spring and summer has been no less.
Grey days, April snow, May frost…and lest we forget, there’s a global pandemic going on.
But even under clouds and quarantine, life at Cambia continues much the same as ever. A nice benefit of creating a self-sustaining community-based infrastructure–the more you are able to rely on yourself, the less the outside world can shake you (self, in this case, is the extended communal self of Cambia). We are quarantined, but we have enough space and systems in place that life feels rich and varied.
Speaking of relying on self–Cambia has gone solar! We have long made use of passive solar systems, but the arrival of brilliant intern Charlotte and her extensive electronic knowledge has enabled Cambia to create a very functional system with twelve solar panels set up in the field next door. This setup provides enough energy for almost all of Cambia during the day and hopefully, with new battery storage we just obtained, we won’t need any grid power at all. We have great fun plugging our devices into the inverter and proudly announcing everything from “solar hair straighteners” to “solar chainsaws”. Gil has been busy tracking our usage and production of energy. In an effort to combat the “duck curve” (the high demand of solar energy in the morning and evening), we are testing various lifestyle changes and technologies to better sync our power usage with its availability.
Another word about Charlotte: This is no ordinary intern. In her day job programs autonomous race cars as part of her academic career. She is taking a bit of the break of the rat race (which has yet to become autonomous) and is sharing her knowledge and her passion towards our technology goals and still getting course credit! Sadly, she will someday go back to the academic race track, but not without establishing an internship connection with her university, UNC Chapel Hill, and furthering Rustling Roots as an education and an internship center. Her stay here has been incredibly mutually enriching, not to mention a bit of a culture shock for both parties…
An ongoing conversation that’s happening at Cambia, is how to find a harmonious balance between nature and technology. In stark contrast to the way large corporations sacrifice the environment for efficiency, we are exploring sensors and automated systems to make life more graceful and less impactful. Charlotte created a device that rings a bell when the well pump turns on, making us more aware of our water usage. Now we can notice leaks or bursts, irrigation that’s left on as well as estimate the water depth and therefore pumping efficiency to optimize timing of water usage.
Charlotte has also been doing research on how to implement an IOT sensor system to gather information around Cambia for a more comfortable and management of our experimental technology. As it stands, our level of experimental technology is now a far cry from any notion of the “simple life”, and is more of a human-machine interface laboratory, where gauges, alarms, and LCD displays blend in with dry medicinal herbs and quacking of ducks.
We are documenting our experimentation and designs through blog posts and youtube videos. We’ll be adding these to the website with the hopes that others can learn from our successes (and failures).
The solar shower has gotten an upgrade too we found used evacuated tubes on Craigslist and a free water heating tank from the nearby plumbing store–on sunny days, we now have more hot water than we know what to do with and even on chilly mornings we can bask and bathe in comfort without carbon.
Over at Bruce Academy, Avni and Anthony are happily playing with fractions and orders of magnitude, pondering the origins of the universe, listening to stories of pirates and conquistadors, and running around with cries of “fair Helena!” “good Lysander!” as they make their way through Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Maybe the biggest success of our homeschool is how often one or both of them express gratitude towards it as a highlight of their day–hooray for Bruce the teacher, hooray for the ability to learn in a personalized, idyllic setting.
We are grateful too, in these times of shut-downedness, to have work opportunities to keep the Cambia economy alive and healthy. At Acorn, we have just succeeded in taking down a large, tired greenhouse–now we work on putting it up again, further down the field. Here, Gil and Ella combined their unique and creative minds to create systems that work well and get the job done–like building a 15-foot tripod of trees and belaying the wire frames down as a team. When Jason is not building a deck at Cherry Hill, he and Charlotte tackle Acorn’s robot, troubleshooting the finicky seed-packing machine and sorting the seeds as orders come flying in (hooray for the abundance of work of Acorn–both that it means we are able to play a part and work together with them, and also that it means more people than ever are starting their own little gardens). A wonderful benefit to this job is that we get to take home the robot’s mistakes–meaning twenty packets worth of sunflowers will soon be bursting forth all up and down the field next door.
Speaking of the field next door–we have been planting hundreds of tomatoes and pepper plants with Mimosa, and there are other plantings to come. Stay tuned for the summer edition, where we happily harvest, preserve, and eat the best food money can’t buy. As for now, there are still foods from the wild that make it into our meals–plantains, chickweed, wild onions and thinned turnip greens make for good salads and cooked greens, and our exploding catnip, peppermint, and lemon balm are being dried and stocking our tea shelves.
Charlotte and Nomi gathered inspiration and unused clothes and items to create the Cambia Free Shop, a place where lonely clothes seek happy homes. Now whenever long-term members or short-term guests are in want or need, they will be able to sift through creative clothing, colorful fabrics and knitted scarves–hopefully finding that which their heart most desires, or at least having a good time exploring opportunities (Who will take on the Indiana Jones hat? The jar of dead bugs? The handcuffs?)
And once our members are creatively clad, should there not be a space where they can make creations themselves? Hickory, once two bedrooms, then an apartment for baby chickens and mealworms, is now a workshop. All of Cambia’s tools have made their way inside a luxurious wooden shed with the high ceilings and skylights–a place filled to the brim with creative and cozy potential. There are hopes of further development to this workspace, too–Nomi builds a kiln on the south side of hickory, with possible plans to build a glass house around it and open it up to Hickory, so that it can be solar/kiln-heated in the winter.
Did you catch the baby chicken reference? Cambia welcomes fourteen new members–four ducks and ten chicks (pakeeksters, in Cambia vernacular). They came as helpless squirming babies in early April, and are now boldly walking the lawns, uncontainable, wild and free. Thankfully, our cat friends Schmutz and Turtle have little to no interest in them. There is joy to be found in watching a gang of ducks waddle as a team, making laps around the house and mowing the lawn as they go. We can only aspire to their level of cohesiveness.
So there you have it–a small picture into the current life of Cambia. The scene here is extensive, the work is never-ending. And yet you can still find Cambians, more than every once in a while, sitting together in the clover, idly creating little pieces of beauty, lying with our heads in each other’s laps and our hands draping over purring cats, murmuring or laughing in conversation as dusk falls around us and the first stars come out…
from the Rustling Roots Winter Newsletter 2020
(Note: Rustling Roots is a project of the Cambia community in Louisa, Virginia.)
Rustling Roots is Getting Off-Grid!
We recently got a fabulous deal on used solar panels (30 cents/watt shipped!) so we acquired enough to power our community for at least 80% of the days. (Time will tell if these are reasonable estimates). We’re in the design process for determining if we’ll have a central array in the field or if we’ll have separate panels for each of the buildings.
The current price of gently used solar panels makes all functions including space heating and water heating cheaper than any other means (besides south facing windows) but given that electric storage is still polluting, costly, and complicated we are starting to experiment with thermal storage. One example of thermal storage is warming a barrel of water with electricity while the barrel is covered with a blanket and releasing the warmth to the space by taking off the blanket when the warmth is needed. So far, we have been experimenting with powering a heating element to warm the hot tub and other hot water applications, but it’s yet to be streamlined.
We will also be limiting our need for batteries by using more direct solar and using the power when the sun is out.
We will have to confront the question of what to do with surplus power in the summer. Any ideas?
Well, I guess one idea is powering our…
It has already been a year since we first bought this car and we now finally have it upgraded to lithium batteries. We’ve been through a long, treacherous road with this short-range vehicle, but have finally worked out the kinks and got it working again (after a lightning strike blew out its motor controller in July)! It’s now our most frequently used vehicle, but it doesn’t get us up on the freeway and to the next city. It does get us to town though, and to all the local communities.
Our intention is to be able to teach about how to convert cars to electric and how to charge them with solar. We are also intending to show how community living is what really enables reduction in gas usage, as electric vehicles start to make a lot more sense when more people share them and can have access to another long range vehicle when necessary.
So what have we done with this car?
Fixed the parking break, speedometer, headlights, replaced incandescent with led lights all around, made a trunk both in the front (where the fuel tank was) and the back (where the engine was). Made a new passenger seat that folds all the way down! And of course installed the (used) li- ion batteries, new charger, motor controller, rewired everything, and now the car travels 5 times farther, charges 3 times faster, and the batteries are supposed to last 4 times longer. (We got the charger programmed to take it easy on the batteries).
So how does this make sense if it takes so much work? So this car gets about 140 mpg-e, and while that doesn’t make much difference with the ridiculously low gas prices, there are many other benefits to driving electric. Every part on this car is very easy to replace and is made to last a long time. For example, a gas car that has motor problems might cost $3000 to $5000 to replace, and several days of work. In this car, it is 4 bolts, 2 wires, less than an hour of work, and a replacement motor would cost around $700.
So this project is by no means a maximization of any single factor. Rather, it is an optimization of a few factors together, as it would not make sense otherwise. For example, working as a carpenter makes more financial sense, donating to environmental organization makes more environmental sense, and building model ships is much more fun, but at Rustling Roots we are demonstrating how there is a wonderful way of combining all of these factors together into one meaning rich lifestyle.
Passive Solar Sunroom!
Our south porch is covered with fabulous grape vines in the summer. This year we removed them off the arbor and will have them ready to throw back on it in the spring. Underneath, we built a clear roof that we are going to keep for the summer to keep the rain out, but all around we put windows salvaged from a construction site, and we have created the main house heater and hang out space of Cambia. We also built a sunny shower room to the side of the space. It is a great success, but a slight hassle to have to take it down and rebuild it twice a year. On sunny days we generally don’t have to use the woodstove during the day and the house stays warm. The sunroom is a great demonstration of passive temperature control that can be achieved very cheaply with just some effort and design.
The many ways to visit Rustling Roots
Aside from our regular tours and the in-depth experience our work-exchangers receive, we now have other platforms for folks to come and see Rustling Roots, give themselves a self-guided tour of the museum, and visit the community first-hand. One of those is through Hipcamp, a new online platform similar to Airbnb, in which folks can book camping experiences. We’ve had great success with it so far. During the fall we had at least half our weekends booked with campers. It’s a great way of connecting with people that otherwise might never learn about us.
So now we are offering the wigwam we built for a previous workshop as a sleeping accommodation! We also built a bedframe out of lashed branches and fire pit inside. The wigwam is built from cedar saplings, large sections of peeled poplar bark, and hickory and pawpaw lashings. In the spring we’re hoping to complete it with a hand-woven reed mat for the door. For now, a blanket keeps it cozy warm inside.
Come spring, we’ll be getting ready to host homeschool groups, volunteer college students from UVA, alternative technology interns, hipcampers, as well as our monthly workshops in primitive skills and off-grid technologies.
For all the folks coming through we have created a more prominent display for the eco-kits we offer to Rustling Roots participants, made possible a grant from the Charlottesville Area Eco-Living Fund. Participants can buy these kits at half- price and receive a discount to future Rustling Roots workshops for implementing them.
(exact dates, and more workshops, to be announced soon)
May: Moccasin Making
with Jeff Gottlieb
July: How to Build your own Solar Electric Car
with Gil Cambia and Jason Taylor
October: Weaving Rattan Pack Baskets
with Jeff Gottlieb
November: Growing and Saving your own Heirloom Seeds
with Irena of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
At the Communities Conference this summer, I got to take a tour of Cambia and I learned a few things.
Like the connection between their pond and one of their buildings.
This is their pond:
They dug it out themselves, it has a nice deck (built from a deck that was torn down at Twin Oaks), and is great to cool off in, among other things. (For more about the pond, see Ella’s post, What Does It Mean to Build a Pond?)
Not far from the pond is a building they call ‘the barn’:
This is a residential building where a family lives, but it also has a common space where meditation and spiritual activities happen:
The flooring and walls are made from clay. It says this at the beginning of Ella’s post, but I had forgotten, the clay is from what they dug out for the pond. So two of the things that they accomplished at the same time were digging out the pond and getting clay to create this room. It’s very much how they do things at Cambia.
A couple of new things that I saw this summer were this wigwam (which I believe was built during their Wigwam Building Workshop):
And this new outdoor classroom:
Check out the amazing roofing:
Cambia continues its combination of ecological innovation and a lovely esthetic. I wonder what I will find next year.
Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!
Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:
- Acorn Community
- Compersia Community
- East Brook Community Farm
- The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
- Twin Oaks Community
- Aaron Michels
- Brenda Thompson
- Cathy Loyd
- Em Stiles
- Jenn Morgan
- Jonathan Thaler
- Julia Elizabeth Evans
- Kai Koru
- Kathleen Brooks
- Laurel Baez
- Lynette Shaw
- Magda schonfeld
- Michael Hobson
- Nance & Jack Williford
- Peter Chinman
- Sumner Nichols
- Tobin Moore
- Warren Kunce
- William Croft
- William Kadish
from the Commune Life Instagram account:
Written by Thumbs from Cambia Community
Through the haze of old safety goggles I struggle to read the fractions of an inch I was told to measure. When I look up to ask for the length again my voice is droned out by the grind of iron against steel, groaning like tectonic plates being forced against each other. I pull out my earphones to try and hear the number my friend is saying, but as soon as my ear is exposed the scream of dull blades splintering wood makes my ears ring like funeral bells for the death of hearable tone. We are here to build a natural home, a safe place for the community to gather and celebrate, but our means of getting there is through the dehumanizing technology of industrialization. Does community begin when the project is done? Are the projects ever done?
Construction has become a means to an end. There are customers who design compositions of geometric shapes on two dimension screens, and builders who are tasked to turn these teeny tiny drawings into voluminous structures which exceed the cubic area of many hundred year old trees, and preferably they should complete the task in the same amount of time it takes to simply imagine doing some of the steps. This impossible task can only be dared to be dreamed of due to the cunning bedmates technology and globalization!
However, home construction also has potential to be an artistic celebration of the unique local environment. In fact, the architecture styles associated with various cultures of the world, are a beautiful expression of the dance between place-based resources, local climate, and the human imagination. On the other hand, building a Laotian bamboo stilt house at the 45th parallel north will look stunning in a picture, but a close up would show popsicle frozen homeowners entombed in their own dream house. That example sounds ridiculous because it’s unfamiliar, but there are innumerable identical architectural discords made bearable due to enough synthetic insulation, chemical wood embalming, and gently off gassing décor.
Turtle island (North America) has a rich place based architectural history. The indigenous cultures built migratory homes they carried with them, Lakota tepees, temporary shelters along their travels, Inuit igloos, and long-lasting homes to raise a family, Anishinaabe wigwams*. European colonists also established trademark style with the aid of hand saw technology to fell larger trees interlock them to create the signature log cabins. Even more recently with the fusion of ancient architecture and Anthropocene resources the earth ships design has become a hallmark of the South West. Each of these designs works best using the materials of the biome it’s in, because that is the region these materials, organic or inert, evolved to endure. Buried homes stay cool in the dessert but mold in humidity, and the forest appreciates the harvest of rot resistant sapling in regions known for benders (a general term for anything that involves created rounded structures using interlocking wood; sweat lodges, long houses, and wigwams).
With any of these homes, the finished structure is only a small glimpse of the true beauty that went into crafting it. Traditional building techniques also use traditional tools, which traditionally are about the volume of a loud bird (not a firing gun), and even more often require multiple people. From weaving the inner bark of Hickory to make Wigwam cordage, to collaboratively wielding either end of a large bow saw many “old fashioned” tools are meditatively redundant and quiet enough to get lost in conversation with your fellow crafts person. Without the screech of electric engines and unwieldy blades their use is also not restricted to the adrenaline hungry young men who surround me at conventional construction sites. My current highlight of traditional construction was working with a pregnant woman and young mother to peel Aspen bark while the year-old baby napped in the middle of the construction site.
When building community becomes the goal, instead of making a community building, there is less of a race to the finish, and more of a dialogue with local materials and people. Do you know the 5 most common trees that grow in your biome? Do you know which characteristics of them are equivalent to their modern synthetic mimics? Instead of exchanging money for hired time, have you considered luring your friends over for a building party with food and music (you’d be surprised how people who are deprived of hand craft in their profession are exuberant to get their hands dirty building your home).
At Rustling Roots in Central Virginia, we are turning back the wheels of time to weave community by weaving together a Wigwam. Over the course of a weekend we will all learn how to turn the sweet-smelling bark of springtime Poplar into wallpaper, and the overly abundant shoots of cedar saplings into a bedroom sized inverted nest. Not only will we be working with these materials for architecture, but you will learn about how to harvest them to appease the forest, and when they are most eager to be compliant to your construction whims. With simply tools a 1st year blacksmith could forge we will weave together a structure rich in indigenous wisdom, while weaving together the lives of every hand involved. Of course, we are planning to have a beautiful organic home at the end, but that is just the flower on top of community we’ll cultivate along the way.
Zoom Interview with Instructor, Jeff Gottlieb, Wednesday 6 p.m. June 19th (Free, Click Here)
* “Wigwam” and “wikiup” are both popularly used to describe Woodland nuclear family homes. In general reference, these terms work (like when we use the term “moccasin” to describe a type of footwear in general). But keep in mind there are so many uncorrupted terms for “a home/dwelling” from different Native dialects that are very appropriate to use, especially when describing homes of specific Nations. You might have noticed that we favor the term “wigwam” in our writings. This is only because the term “wikiup” is often an applied term to describe Apache dwellings (in poplar writing and some academic outlets), and because they are not similar, we’d rather stick to terminology that embodies Woodland traditions without the association of a very different Native housing tradition of the Southwest. But truly the term “wikiup,” just like the term “wigwam,” are born of the Woodlands region.
This video comes out of a Cambian conversation about minimalism and functionalism. The two ideas are not necessarily opposites, although sometimes a minimalist ethos can prevent things from being as functional as they could otherwise be. But is function always necessary? How much skill, and sophistication, and access to resources do we really need to live a good life? Perhaps, if we focus too much on function, we miss opportunities to connect with each other.
But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we build our community according to minimalist or functionalist principles. Either would be fine. What matters is that we take the time to really listen to each other, and develop robust empathy for each other’s values. That’s what community is all about.