Twin Oakers help to insulate East Brook’s newest building and explain the labor exchange system.
Twin Oakers help to insulate East Brook’s newest building and explain the labor exchange system.
Working on Skyfish:
by Raven Cotyledon
Thumbs has already detailed the story of the early construction work on Skyfish, at East Brook Community Farm, including how a fish actually fell from the sky and thus named the building, in an earlier Commune Life post.
I visited East Brook Community Farm on my way to the FEC assembly and toured the farm. I was intrigued by Skyfish.
From the outside it looks finished:
The back of it is especially colorful:
There are some lovely details:
But inside the building is a different story:
Sarah told me that they hope to finish Skyfish this spring and it will provide housing for new community members.
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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.
This is the workshop Fred is offering at this years Communities Conference.
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 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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stocking a kitchen that serves the needs of over seventy people requires a lot of space for food storage. Steps away from Rock Bottom (our community’s main kitchen and dining hall) we have two stand alone buildings for food storage: a walk-in refrigerator (‘the walk-in’) and dry storage. East Wind now enjoys a newly constructed dry storage building thanks to the helping hands of many community members.
Beckie, a member for over twenty years, planned and led the construction of the building from demolition of the old structure to completion of the new. The biggest challenge for her was preparing for and executing the pouring of a large concrete slab that was required to support the new building, which is more than twice the size of the previous dry storage structure.
Pouring of the slab, to the left you can see the ‘walk-in’ (walk-in refrigerator) and to the right is Rock Bottom (kitchen and dining hall)
The pour went well and the concrete provides a large thermal mass that helps to passively regulate the temperature along with the high ceilings and wall vents. Beckie, having decades of experience in construction and building maintenance, and the skillful hands of JR and Wild Horse were able to finish raising the walls and roof in short order.
With the actual construction of the building finished there remained the electric, laying out the interior, and all the little finishing touches. Beckie’s son Wes, born and raised at East Wind, along with his grandfather Ed ran all the electric lines. Boone and Tony put in place shelving and a large rack of drawers. Winter painted the exterior walls to match Rock Bottom’s forty year old aesthetic (custom color tin was ordered for the roof for this same purpose). The small details are still being worked on to beautify the space and make most efficient use of it.
The new dry storage offers ample space for two freezers and yards and yards of shelf space. Everyone is free to take what they need, but don’t forget to close the door behind you! In addition to this facility, two new shower houses are currently under construction, this is certainly a building year for East Wind.
Now that’s one gigantic pantry! A big thank you to Beckie and everyone who put time in on this project!
Post and photos by Sumner