Ecovillage Design – An experts perspective

We are lucky to have some very talented folks presenting at this years Communities Conference.  In the coming days there will be several workshop highlighted on this blog.

If we are going to change the way relate to our environment, we are going to need to build new types of buildings and entire ecovillages.  Fred Oesch has been doing exactly this for years now.

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Charlottesville Ecovillage Design Proposal

 

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Acorn/SESE Seed Office design

This is the workshop Fred is offering at this years Communities Conference.

Ecovillage Design – Principles and Practices

Presented by Fred Oesch of Oesch Environmental Designs and Openworld Villages

We now have significant experience designing ecovillages both in rural and urban settings and this workshop will take stock of what has been learned over the last 30 years.  There are sustainability elements, aesthetic aspects and design components connected with high degrees of sharing which all go into making a high functioning ecovillage. In many cases these are not elements which are taught in architecture school.  We will explore conversions of existing non-ecovillages as well as designed from scratch solutions. The workshop will start with presentation and then go into question and answer.

Fred Oesch Head shot
Fred Oesch – Architect/Ecovillage Designer

Fred Oesch is a licensed architect who designed the seed building at Acorn and lives in Schuyler VA.  He has also been involved in several ecovillage projects, both urban and rural as well as new builds and conversions.  He serves on the Ecovillage Charlottesville Board and throws a mean quarry party.

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Site of ecological design and excellent parties

Some of what is covered in the workshop is Principles of Regenerative Environmental Design:

1] Design as a Way of Life.

2] Reflection of Evolving Regional Society, Tradition, Culture, and Religion

3] Utilization of Indigenous Technology, Materials, and Labor Skills

4] Direct Response to Microclimate / Seamless Site Integration

5] Minimum Inventory / Maximum Diversity Systems

6] Direct Designer / Builder / Inhabitant Participation

7] Net Resource and Energy Production

8] Self-Regenerating ‘Living’ Systems

 

It is still possible to come and participate in the Twin Oaks Communities Conference on August 31st thru Sept 2.  You can RSVP here in Facebook.  Or simply register for the Communities Conference

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Acorn/SESE Seed Office Actual

 

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Ecovillage Design – An experts perspective

What it’s Like to Organize All Three Twin Oaks Conferences

By Julia Onedia

“Ask me again in September.” This phrase is my shield against requests of all kinds—everything from friendly hangouts to an offer to join the tofu management team. I say it so often now that I’m just waiting for the moment when someone asks me “what’s your name?” and all that I can say is a dreamy “September…”.

I was the Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering intern in 2016, which is why I decided to join Twin Oaks [you can read more about my protracted membership process in a future post]. Therefore, it was only logical that I would become a Women’s Gathering organizer this year. I’ve been attending the planning meetings since I was a visitor in January; I traveled to the farm from Baltimore for every meeting but one between then and when I became a member on May 26th.

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Twin Oaks Conference Site Pavilion Roof

At some point this spring, I joined the Queer Gathering team thanks to some friendly pestering from the original organizers. From there it became a slippery slope: I was just dipping my toes into Communities Conference work when someone who had agreed to bottom-line the whole conference suddenly left the community to take care of a family member. At that point, I decided to stop fighting it, and I allowed the conference beast to consume my being in its entirety.

As July inches in, everything is eerily calm. The conference site is slowly becoming habitable after its long winter hiatus. I usually have no more than twenty unread emails in my inbox at any given time. I still have time for tofu shifts, cooking, and childcare. But I know that’s all about to change.

Come find me at the Queer Gathering on August 3rd—only slightly deranged—as I lead a workshop on using glitter to battle gender dysphoria and body hate. Then, join me again at the Women’s Gathering on August 17th, slipping into full lunacy as I fittingly lead a group of women to howl and scream at the moon and the sky (it’s healing, I swear). Finally, you might recognize me as hot pink hair on a human-potato hybrid at the Communities Conference from August 31st to September 2nd  as I coordinate childcare and put out (hopefully metaphorical) fires all over the conference site.

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Portrait of the communard as a conference-induced human/potato hybrid

On September 3rd, I sleep. Then you can ask me your questions.

If you want to follow developments of the events on Facebook, here are the pages for these events:

What it’s Like to Organize All Three Twin Oaks Conferences

Bicyclist’s Diary

By Noah

In early April I was biking from Washington DC to my hometown of Greenville, SC, on an old mountain bike with all my belongings tied on to it with paracord from Walmart. At the end of the third day I was 150 miles into my journey, in the middle of nowhere Virginia. The sun was setting and I was loudly dying of exhaustion as I pedaled slowly past a pointed sign, ‘cyclists welcome.’

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welcome signs matter

I looked at the place, looked at the sign, looked at the road ahead, looked at myself, looked at the sign.. I was indeed a cyclist and all signs pointed to a place that I would be welcome. I didn’t even notice the giant, suspended boat with a deck built around it, or the huge wooden tricycle immediately to my right. I didn’t notice much other than an old house and a rumbling in my tummy. I hopped off the bike, walked past another welcoming sign, and knocked on the door.

I never got back on the bike.

I had arrived just in time for dinner. Gil, who had let me in, was cooking, while another dirty man, woman, and child smiled at me from the bed in the kitchen. I was sweating so much it looked like I had pissed myself. My first impression was suspicious, but after a shower and being shown the composting toilet I felt mostly safe with my new hippie friends. We laughed a lot at dinner and I decided I would stay a day to rest and see what this place was about.

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Thumbs cooking

5 weeks later I was driven to the bus stop to complete my ride into South Carolina.

Cambia is a small egalitarian community comprised of nomads and a small central family. They build everything on their property themselves, live in harmony with the natural world around them, and work as hard as they play. I have never known such immediate, unpretentious warmth and love. We lived together, worked together, and played together. I’ve probably never had so much fun, like, ever. Can’t wait to see them again.

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Noah – author of this post
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Ruby + Whimsy
Bicyclist’s Diary

We Build Community by Building Community

By Thumbs  from Cambia

“Work is love made visible”

                          The Prophet, Khalil Gibran

           This Spring a team of colorful communard builders convened for a secular barn raising.  Even though everyone came for different personal reasons, the shared goal was clear, make an old sheep barn more hospitable for commune members.  One would assume that a simple, tangible goal would lead to a predictable week, but jumping to that conclusion would skip all the flying fish and cornucopia of magic that happened in-between.

           Within the Federation for Egalitarian Communities (F.E.C.) this type of trip is called a LEX, and it’ as culturally far from the norm as East Brook is from any major city.  With each turn down another unmarked country road, you are taking another deviation from the cultural norms around work, leadership, and purpose. Officially a LEX, short for Labor Exchange, is a time based currency used between participating members of the F.E.C. through which community members can help their fellow communities, and expect equitable hourly return of help at their own community   Yet, the culture of LEX goes far beyond any quantifiable market exchange, and unlocks a culture of radical generosity that questions cultural norms most people take for granted.

           While driving down Country Highway 22, the first intersection I had to make a turn at was “Construction projects need clear blueprints in order to be productive.”  It seemed obvious that would be a right turn, but I was wrong. On the first day of the build, the travel weary crew was introduced to a small warehouse of materials and an even smaller dilapidated barn, with the general guiding principle being, “The more of these new building materials that we can refurbish the old dilapidated barn with, the closer we will be housing more communards.” One week later 1,000 square feet of insulated flooring was installed, two new walls were built, two doors were installed, and the ceiling was made watertight with a glistening new roof, and yet I didn’t see a single blueprint drawn.  Not even a back of the envelope sketch was made. This whole project was a streaming interplay of experimentation, action, teaching and rethinking.

EBCF Group Photo in snow
Snowing on the last day of April, normal doesn’t happen at East Brook Farm (from left Nina, Rebecca, Ananda, Rachel, Skylar, Keenan, Becky, Thumbs, Mittens, Denise)

          The next crossing on the road was across the train of thinking that says “successful projects need leaders”, which I expected to be a mandatory stopping point, but instead we rolled right passed it.  While gaining labor credits through LEX was a periphery benefit to some of the builders, the majority of us came with the intention to gain more confidence in our building skills. Keenan and Nina have decades more building experience than the rest of us, but I’d be surprise if an observer would have been able to discern this.  Both of them held space for learning in the egoless way a graceful mentor let’s you flourish in the skills you already have while opening the door for you to lean into your learning edge. It wasn’t that we were leaderless, but more accurately it was that each of us lead ourselves to show up the responsibilities we could fearlessly accomplish.

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Step aside patriarchal norms of men leading construction, this is an egalitarian team of communards (from left Becky, Mittens, and Nina)

            Now that the previous turns had lead me to unfamiliar territory I knew to turn the other direction when I arrived at the assumption that “efficient productivity needs schedules”.  One of the experiences of commune culture that has profoundly changed my life is the experience of abundant food, beauty and friendship without the sweaty palm anxiety of fiscal scarcity putting you a couple paychecks away from being homeless.  This separation of work from pure fiscal survival, to making work a voluntary choice to celebrate ones gifts within their chosen commune family, is rarely more alive than at a LEX build. From 6 a.m. till 7:30 p.m. there was a steady stream of workers gracefully picking up the hammer where the last person left off.  Slipping away for a nap or meandering down to the stream to get lost in the glistening water where so common that announcing you were taking a break felt unnecessarily formal. We all trusted that everyone was giving as much as they felt called to, and our love for each other dwarfed the importance of renovating a barn, so we skipped planning our day in the morning, and instead celebrated our accomplishments in the evening.

EBCF Last Nail Dance Party
Mandatory dance party initiated by Becky after the last screw of the floor was finished! (from left Becky, Thumbs, Nina, and Keenan)

            I knew I was close to my destination when I was faced with the assumption that “hot tubs are expensive indulgences for wealthy people” and I turned the other direction to arrive at East Brook.  Communes tend to be wealthy in “resource yards”, sometimes called junk piles by other Americans, which are often stocked with a variety of metal tubs. These bulky containers are as hard to find a use for as they are to get rid of, so they tend to become vernal pools for mosquitoes.  However a few of us had experience turning these treasures into fire heated hot tubs, lovingly referred to as Hippy Stew pots. With juvenile enthusiasm we tinkered and toiled until the old barn was outfitted with the makings of a hot tub. Granted it took a few kettles of water boiled in the kitchen to nudge the temperature up to the point of indulgence, but the sensation of winning at life was authentic.

 

EBCF Tractor and Hot Tub
Moving the insulated cow trough into position to be the new Hippy Stew pot! (from left Skylar, Keenan, Thumbs, Ananda, and Grant)

          Now that all my assumptions on people’s relationship with work had been inverted, I was hardly surprised when fish began raining from the sky.  We were cautiously enjoying a hot afternoon, after a couple days of snow in late April left us suspicious of the order of the seasons, when an epic toil of prehistoric ferocity began in the sky above us.  An osprey resolutely clutching a fresh fish catch from the adjacent brook was blindsided by an eagle that mistook the osprey for a food delivery service. The two toiled hundreds of feet above the ground, claws and feathers rolling through the sky in defiance of gravity, until the still squirming fish slid out from the talons and came plummeting towards us.  With a crash it landed gasping for water on the metal roof. Maximus and Rachael swiftly collected, gutted and fried it. That night I ate flying fish, and when I tasted it, I realized that to be abundantly wealthy is to be grateful for all that I have already been given.

 

EBCF Sky Fish Fry
The bounty of East Brook feed our souls in so many ways!

 

We Build Community by Building Community

Workshop on Climate and Communes – March 15th, Cambridge MA

Feeling helpless and hopeless about climate disruption?  Some of the most powerful solutions are in places most people are not looking.

In 1985, Amory Lovins wrote the ground breaking article, “Saving Gigabucks with Negawatts,” where he argued that utility customers don’t want kilowatt-hours of electricity; they want energy services such as hot showers, cold beer, lit rooms, and spinning shafts, which can come more cheaply if electricity is used more efficiently.  Intentional communities and especially income sharing communes can use a similar approach to reducing their carbon footprint.

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Same services, less electricity

You can think of communities and climate in a way similar to negawatts.  People living in community don’t really care if they own a car or bicycle or set of clothing.  What they want are transportation services and clothing services. If these can be provided more efficiently than through personal ownership then their needs are met.  This is where radical sharing comes in and changes the entire climate discussion.

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access > ownership (shared bikes at Twin Oaks)

If you are in the Boston/Cambridge area this Thursday, please come to the MIT campus and come to our workshop (Facebook RSVP) on the techniques and philosophies which help these communities reduce their carbon footprint by 80%

MIT Campus 70 Memorial Dr Room E51-145, , Cambridge, MA 02142 – 7 to 9 PM

All are welcome, there is no cost to attend this event.

If you are not on Facebook, but wish to attend please let us know at paxus @ twinoaks.org

Workshop on Climate and Communes – March 15th, Cambridge MA