Advancing Zero Fossil Fuel Technologies at LEF

from the Living Energy Farm newsletter, May -June, 2017

We have continued to bring in new tools and organize our shop. We added a nice, old, heavy duty drill press, powered by direct drive high-voltage DC power as we like to do. We also added a winnowing fan and a heavy duty bench grinder to our collection of direct drive tools. We love our direct-drive! Just run a wire from a set of photovoltaic panels (in series to produce high voltage) straight to the motors, and you can do anything you want during daylight hours. It is a simple and cheap setup.

 

We have continued our research concerning a low-cost high-temperature solar storage system for cooking.  We have discovered a material that we think will make a big difference. In considering high temperature solar storage, we have looked at both tracking collectors and a trough system that needs no tracking. The trough is simpler, but leaves a long collector pipe hanging in the air. As the pipe heats, a lot of heat is lost to the air around the pipe. It would make sense to put some kind of insulating glass around the pipe. But the material would need to be able to withstand very high and fluctuating temperatures well beyond what normal or tempered glass would handle. The high-temperature glass used on woodstove doors is much too expensive. And we would either need a fancy frame to hold the glass around the pipe, or some kind of glass tubing. Finding very high temperature, reasonably priced, large diameter glass tubing just was not  happening. Then we found it. The original Pyrex cookware was made with something called borosilicate.  We have found that we can get borosilicate cheaply in large diameter tubings. This should make a huge difference in our high temperature solar collector.

 

We are also re-assessing whether to use steam or oil as the heat transfer medium. Steam has the advantage of being very cheap as it is just heated water. It has the disadvantage of needing pressurized storage tank(s). Oil has the advantage of being capable, at least in theory, of handling and storing much higher temperatures in non-pressurized vessels. Industry uses various forms of modified mineral oil that they call “heat transfer fluid,” or HTFs. The market for HTFs has been evolving rapidly. In just the last few years, more and cheaper HTFs have become available. In our case, we could use a large heating oil tank, pack it full of small, clean rock, and circulate HTF through it. That’s the design concept at least. Hopefully, after we finish the current round of infrastructure improvement, we can focus on this project.

Low Density Nickel Iron Batteries

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Nickel and Iron plates for a homemade NiFe battery.
Eddie (our technical intern now resident in Pittsburgh) has been working on low-density nickel iron batteries. He has a working prototype. The electrical storage capacity of his prototype is low, so he is working to add more nickel and iron plates to expand the storage capacity of the batteries. If this technology works, and we can build it cheaply, it could give us a way to provide lighting for a lot of people around the world.
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Prototype NiFe battery.  Cheap, durable, homemade?  We hope so.

Taking the LEF Model to Other Locations

If we hope to expand the LEF model, we need to know where we are going to take it. We have been working with Kate (see previous 2 newsletters) to find sites where we might use what we have learned at LEF to help people in the non-industrial world. Kate has extensive experience working with development and aid organizations around the world. Kate has been traveling in Latin America, and looking for sites where  LEF can help. This seems to make more sense than locations far away. Kate made some good connections, but we have not yet picked a specific site. As we mentioned in the last newsletter, we will stay in touch with Tom (from New Community in Harrisonburg) as he travels this winter to the Dominican Republic.
Advancing Zero Fossil Fuel Technologies at LEF

Levels of Sustainability in Community

by Raven

Sustainability is a hot topic in communal living, but I think that there are several different types of sustainability.  I’d like to take this post to explore some various levels of sustainability.

The first level is what many people think of when they talk about sustainability, what some people call ‘eco-sustainability’.  Living Energy Farm is an example of a commune focused on eco-sustainability, as is the Stillwater Sanctuary, but even Twin Oaks, which has never tried very hard to be eco-sustainable, has a very low carbon footprint.  With the climate crisis we are in now, this type of sustainability is very important.

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Old fashioned sustainability at Twin Oaks

But it isn’t the only level of sustainability in the communes.  Twin Oaks is a model for a very different type of sustainability, the ability of a community to sustain itself, which Twin Oaks has done for fifty years.  Not only has Twin Oaks lasted, but it has provided a model that has influenced other long lasting communes (some of which have been around now for twenty to forty years) .

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There’s also a third level of sustainability to community living.  Dancing Rabbit (which is not an income sharing community but is an interesting model for community living and sustainability on many levels) refers to this as ‘inner sustainability’.  It is not enough to live ecologically sustainably and to sustain the community.  It is also important to sustain the individual members of the community.

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Sharing time at Dancing Rabbit

There are many tools to do this.  Two that are practiced at some of the communes are Transparency Tools and the Clearness process, but sometimes people use things like meditation, Nonviolent Communication, and Re-evaluation Co-counseling as well.  Some of this shades into interpersonal sustainability, where forms of conflict resolution are often helpful as well.  Good communication is an important part of sustainability.

So in community, we have the opportunity to learn to sustain ourselves as well as our interpersonal relationships, and the community as a whole as well as living in a way that is ecologically sustainable.  And this is how we create a sustainable world.

 

 

Levels of Sustainability in Community

Batteries and Boilers at Living Energy Farm

from the March – April 2017 Newsletter

Low-Density Nickel Iron Batteries?
We have been continuing our research and work with Nickel-Iron (NiFe) batteries. NiFe batteries are non-toxic, extremely durable, and very tough. Lead-acid batteries are fragile, toxic, and short-lived. Lead-acid batteries dominate the off-grid market, and have largely destroyed it because they die so quickly.

All of the research and development of batteries, NiFes included, has focused on power density- storing a lot of energy in a small space. Thomas Edison made and sold NiFe batteries, intending them for use in electric vehicles and other portable uses where high power density is very desirable. For such uses, short recharge times are also desirable. NiFe batteries have lower power density and longer recharge times than lead-acid. Modern research on NiFe technology has continued to focus on these issues. (There is one substantial research project underway at Stanford University.)

From the perspective of how we do things at LEF, power density and recharge time are irrelevant. At LEF,  we store energy in various ways that allow us to minimize the need for stored electricity. We store water in pressurized tanks, so we don’t have to run a water pump at night. Our buildings have massive thermal mass, so we don’t have to run a heating system at night. We will pump irrigation water through the house while the sun is shining, getting free air-conditioning in the summer from solar pumped irrigation water.  We use high voltage DC motors when the sun is out. We use stored electricity for lighting, nothing else. Our NiFe batteries charge all day long from our solar electric panels. It would not matter if their recharge times were slow or if their power density was abysmally low. Big, cheap batteries would be just fine.

A few people have tried “out in the garage” experiments with homemade NiFe batteries. The basic ingredients — nickel, iron, potassium hydroxide (aka potash) — are easily available. We have been looking over Edison’s original manufacturing processes, as well as the documentation of various homemade NiFe attempts. From his shop in Pittsburgh, Eddie is going to continue the research and try to build low-density NiFes in mason jars. We are not so presumptuous as to imagine that we could outsmart the many well-endowed entities that have worked on high-tech batteries over the years. But it is very possible that low-density NiFes have been ignored simply because there is no immediate profit to be made.

If we can make cheap, low-density NiFes, it would be revolutionary. A very small solar electric panel could be wired straight to the batteries. Small houses in villages all over the world could have light with small LED flashlight bulbs designed to run on low voltage. That could be a cheap, very durable way to provide lighting to millions and millions of the world’s poorest peoples. Wish us luck. If the mason jar NiFes fail, we will continue our overseas efforts using purchased NiFes.

Solar Boiler?

Finding a clean, sustainable way to cook food each and every day has proven to be the most challenging aspect of our project. A defining characteristic of LEF is that everything we do has to be as cheap and simple as possible. That is embedded

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Solar boiler is operational, but not adequately effective (yet).  New shop in the background.

in our definition of sustainability. Finding tools and machines that are accessible to most of humanity is not easy.  At LEF, we are using a combination of solar cookers (parabolic and ovens), and wood stoves. Our rocket stoves are very efficient, using about one-tenth of the wood of an old-fashioned wood cook stove. There are numerous organizations working to spread rocket stoves around the world. That’s a good thing.

The rocket stoves work, but they are an outdoor technology. They are a fire hazard. They mean that some ash and soot get into the food, and some smoke gets in the face of the cook. We built a biogas system at LEF a few years ago. (Biogas = methane = natural gas.) It worked, but there are limitations. The gasifier needs to be kept warm. In cold climates, sometimes they are buried. It needs to be of considerable size. It needs to be fed biomass each and every day.

Seeing the limitations of biogas, we have built a prototype solar boiler. We designed a tracking collector that followed the sun, but decided to use a simpler trough system that needs no tracking. The collector reflects light onto a pipe which contains water. The water boils and the steam collects in a storage tank. The steam could be then piped into a steam-jacket kettle in the kitchen to cook our food. Cooking would be as simple as opening a valve leading to the kettle.

We have been making solar steam, but so far, not enough to make it an effective heat source for cooking. We have some design modifications under way that should improve performance substantially. At LEF, we live with these technologies. We are currently eating small amounts of ash and soot in our food almost every day. Such is unavoidable when cooking with wood, and unacceptable in the long run, especially for our kids. The fact that we live with the technologies we espouse gives us a very different perspective than just experimenting with them.

Another advantage of developing the solar boiler is that we need the exact same parabolic trough setup for a solar ammonia ice maker, a super low-tech refrigeration system. We have thus given ourselves a head-start on that project. And we decided we are also going to look at biogas again. It could be a good bridge fuel for times when the weather does not support the solar boiler. Can we do it and still keep it simple and economical? Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Can we control leakage? What is the impact of that on a larger scale? We will be seeking to answer these questions in the coming months.

Batteries and Boilers at Living Energy Farm

The Common Unity Project – Spring/Summer 2017

by sweetgum

We have taken some leaps this year towards our goal of a permaculture food forest and perennial plant nursery, thanks to a generous donation from The Cassandra Trust. What we are designing and building here on our property, we hope to be able to teach, inspire, and supply the means to do elsewhere.

Step One: Water.

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Since we live without ties to the grid or water lines, and we chose to build our home in a sandy field relatively far from the river, ponds was our chosen method of water catchment and storage.   We have one pond that was dug in 2015 and has been supplying our water needs since, supplemented by the tank that catches rain from the roof of the earthship.

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Last year we upgraded with a solar powered pump that pumps water from the pond to a tank on the hill supplying gravity fed water for the garden.

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Now this year we dug a pond next to the tank, to supply water for the hugelbeds we planted in the fall. The hugelkultur is on contour around the hill and will be flood irrigated via a swale above it. So far even without the swale, the trees and shrubs we’ve planted below the hugelkultur seem to be doing well (those that survived the winter anyway), as well as the annual crops we planted on top.

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The pond, being on top of a hill, won’t hold water right away, but the excavator operator, Taylor, smeared the sub-soil with a heavier clay content up on the sides to facilitate sealing. The next step for us is to get pigs and have them live in the pond until fall. Pigs are great pond sealers, they stomp and compact the ground, and love to wallow in the muck. The idea is to keep running water into the bottom of the pond, which alone helps bring the finer clay particles to the surface, and start a small pond that will expand as the pigs seal it. So far we have the electric fence charger and poles in the ground, now we just need a pig shelter and some pigs.

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Next came a lower pond, or crater garden, between the chickens and the bees. This was a naturally low lying area that held water in the early spring. Water slowly trickled in as it was being dug, and now it is about half-full. The peninsula in the middle was our compromise for a duck island, since we would like to have ducks live there in the future. We will watch and observe it over the year as we build up the soil around it for future gardens.

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TCUP17SS14And last but not least, a shallow well. We stuck a ten foot culvert, drilled with holes in the bottom 6 feet, in a hole by the pond and piled gravel around it. It was a battle to get the pipe in and the gravel around before the silt caved in, but we did a fair job and so far its holding water three feet from the top. We will pump it out until the water runs clear, and hopefully it will be a source of future drinking water and winter irrigation.

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Greenhouses:

This year we constructed two greenhouses in the field, as well as a mini-one attached to the cabin on the hill. They will act as nurseries for propagated plants and winter storage for perennials. We also get to grow some heat loving crops like tomatoes and peppers in them now 🙂

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Another greenhouse project that is close to home for us, the earthship in Sik-e-Dakh (Glen Vowell) is finally done.

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The project has gone from a deconstruction zone of the old hall, to a one month long dusty tire pounding party, to a more traditional construction workplace with roofing and painting, to cob and plaster fest.

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The greenhouse is now complete with grow beds planted with tomatoes and peppers. Much thanks to Caylin Holland for all his hard work on the project, as well as all the volunteers from Sik-e-Dakh and elsewhere who helped out. It is certainly a beautiful greenhouse built for generations to come.

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The Common Unity Project – Spring/Summer 2017

What Does it Mean to Build a Pond?

written by ella sutherland, cambia community

cbPond1Cambia’s pond today, before the addition of the creek.

There are many reasons to build a pond. Here I’ll talk about all of Cambia’s reasons, the design and function, and how it relates to community.

When we were beginning to build our new common space, ‘the Barn’, we decided to create an earthen floor for the main room. This meant digging up quite a bit of clay to mix with sand and straw. But we also knew we wanted to have a pond. A small pond, for relaxation in the summers, for storing rainwater, for demonstrating the way plants can clean water. So we dug out our clay for the floor in a shady little nook across from the new building. Close enough to easily wheelbarrow over the clay, close enough that the pond would serve as part of the communal yard of the house.

cbPond2Starting the pond dig, last summer 2016. The clay here was dug to use for the earthen floor of the barn.

cbPond3Finishing the dig. Removing the last of the clay pile from around the pond.

The pond is about 10 feet in diameter, and three feet deep. It has a ledge all the way around it: one half for sitting, and one half for plants. The water flows in a cycle. Rainwater washes down the metal roof of the barn, flows through a gutter into a smaller pond. This smaller pond is in the sun, with lots of gravel and plants for filtering the water. The water then travels down a ‘creek’, lined with pond liner, gravel, and plants, and finally into the main pond. Fish eat all the mosquito larvae, frogs and toads moved in almost immediately, and birds are loving the new place to drink.

cbPond4The smaller sunny pond that is filled with rainwater from the barn roof. The creek will connect the two ponds.

The plants provide many functions. They help to clean and filter the water while at the same time providing a beautiful, serene place to relax. The water hyacinths, when they grow larger, will provide shade to the larger pond, keeping it cold in the summer. Their long roots uptake the excess nutrients in the water.

We built a deck around the pond, using the scrap redwood from a deck that Twin Oaks disassembled. The deck is low, so you can sit on the edge and put your feet in the water. We lined the other half of the pond with flat stones that were unwanted at Acorn. This demonstrates the sense of abundance and mutual support between the local FEC communities. Both are a beautiful and essential addition to the pond.

cbPond5The pond and deck, with the wood-fired hot tub in the background. The solar panel will power the water pump, which will cycle the water. We’re using the bilge pump from our landlocked sailboat house (more about that another time).

In the development of our educational non-profit, we are planning to use the pond to demonstrate to the children and their families who attend our programs the ability of biological systems to clean and filter water. It is a physical, intuitive, and hands-on demonstration of these scientific concepts: aeration, nutrient cycle, photosynthesis, the function of aerobic bacteria, providing habitat for the local fauna, while providing ourselves with a source of clean water.

cbPond6The next step is to also set up a slow sand filter called a Biosand Filter. This is a filter that uses aerobic bacteria in a barrel of sand and gravel to make the water clean enough to drink. It is used in many countries where access to a well is limited. We built one in California, in the previous community where we lived, because we did not have well water and this filter produced much cleaner water than can be stored in rainwater catchment. It worked well for a number of years.

In hot Virginia summers, it is crucial that we have a cool place to sit and relax. It brings people together, slows us down, and help us to appreciate the beauty of the land we live on and the plants that keep us thriving. Although the creek is not yet finished, we started using the pond almost immediately to cool down when the afternoons are too hot.

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What Does it Mean to Build a Pond?

ESCAPE THE GOLDEN HANDCUFFS

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.     Albert Einstein

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.     Audre Lorde

Aurora1The world has changed so much since I was 20.  I am not only speaking about the internet and gay marriage, which are good things, but rather how it seems harder to find your way socially and economically.  The road to economic security far more bumpy. Alienation is rampant. Workplaces are often dehumanizing and many people hate their jobs. There are many causes of this breakdown in our culture, environmental degradation, wealth inequality, a weakened  labor movement, unbridled capitalism, systemic systems of oppression, government cutback of social services, unsustainable and consumer driven lifestyles.  My generation (I graduated high school in 1981) did not do enough to build communal spirit and tackle key problems.  We gave greed and materialism a pass.

I was lucky enough to be part of a generation that had access to higher education that was affordable. Unlike many of today’s graduates, I did not graduate from college in huge debt. I could choose meaningful work even if it did not pay well. I could travel and choose to live alternatively. Currently, student debt is crippling and thus limits choices after graduation.  From the get go, you have to make money to pay off your school debt.  This is the beginning of the golden handcuffs that force people to work for money rather than to have meaningful occupations.

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I am not surprised when I meet people in their 20’s (which I do quite frequently since I have a 24 year old daughter) that they are frustrated with their lack of prospects and are often not sure what to do with their lives.  Given my generation’s failure to usher in a world with better prospects, I hesitate to give advice.  Nonetheless, this is what I think: Pursue paths that teach you how to think and live differently. If you can learn one thing, it would be how to radically share resources.  This solves many problems including alienation and economic instability.  Millennials are already choosing to live communally out of necessity.

Egalitarian income sharing communities are models for radical sharing and living in non-hierarchical ways that offer a way of life that gets us away from competition and the scarcity mentality and instead offers a way to learn skills that build cooperative culture.

 

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No one really knows how life will change as the planet heats up, but we do know that we cannot and will not be living in the same unsustainable way we live now. At the very least, we can predict that we will be living with scarcer resources and less mobility.  People will have to work together and share more.  In the future it will be helpful for people to know how to grow their own food and conserve water  People simply cannot be so wasteful.  Conservation and community building will be the key to your happiness.  It will be important to learn to live simply and by that I mean learning to be happy with what you have and getting out of the more is better mentality. Learning to find joy in connecting with others, sitting around having good conversations and working side by side will be the best way forward.

What are the tools for building this way of life?  This is a complicated question that is explored in  Maikwe Ludwig’s upcoming book “Together Resilient” (soon to be released).

 

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College is no longer the only way forward.  I am not even sure it is the best way forward.  (A comical perspective on this assumption.)  Sadly our education system with its emphasis on test scores and competition does not emphasize cooperative culture skills.or the skills needed for a post climate-change world.  Many people leave college having never really learned the skills required for building community the heart of which is cultivating a sense of interdependence and problem solving.  I am not saying everyone should abandon college aspirations, but I do want to offer another way for those who can’t afford or are not drawn to academia.  The life lessons one learns when building and living in community are lessons that are transportable and don’t leave you in a mountain of debt. For more information on income sharing egalitarian communities check out the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.

 

Aurora DeMarco lives and works as a member of Ganas, an intentional community in New York City.  She is also looking to join an FEC community down in Louisa Virginia.  She is 54 years old and a mother of two daughters.

ESCAPE THE GOLDEN HANDCUFFS

Expanding the LEF Model

from the Living Energy Farm

Zero Fossil Fuel on Prime Time?
We at LEF have had some interesting experiences with local and global media in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, we spoke with representatives from BBC, Discovery Channel, and Netflix about their desires to do shows about off-grid living. BBC said they wanted to do a show about a group of people living off-grid. I told them about LEF, as well as several other projects around the U.S. with similar goals. (Possibility Alliance in Missouri, a Neo-Christian group in Iowa called Brotherhood of Christ, a small group in Harrisonburg VA called the Downstream Project.) I suggested that by looking at groups who had been working on this idea for years, they would get a great picture of what life can really be like without fossil fuel. They said that they were not interested in my idea. They intended to drop 50 people with no experience living off grid in the Australian Outback and film what happened for the first year. That sounded pretty grim. We declined to participate.

 

Discovery sent a couple producers out. They looked over our project. Then they informed me that they had found a couple living in a bedraggled cabin on the Eastern Shore. The couple was struggling to manage livestock, build their buildings, and deal with all the necessities of homesteading. They then offered me a few thousand dollars to hire a crew, buy building materials, and go build them a barn or a composting toilet so their show could look like rustic home make-over heroes (I guess…). Seeing my blank look the producer responded “there’s not much money in television.” They were not particularly interested in LEF either.

 

Producers from Netflix interviewed us, and then dropped the idea without much explanation. Fox News has also done its part to contribute to the image of living without fossil fuel as a Grim Specter, though in that case it had nothing to do with LEF. If you haven’t seen Gaslands I & II, they are excellent, low-budget documentaries about fracking. The original Gaslands caused enough trouble for the fracking industry that they counter-attacked. Fox News ran a “story” about “debunking” Gaslands in which the commentator listed the “falsehoods” in the documentary with a backdrop of film from an African famine playing behind the commentator, who then concluded with a comment about what life would be like without fossil fuel. (It’s on youtube.)

 

 There have been numerous stories published about LEF. (There is a list at end of this article.) These stories have been a welcome avenue to reach people. The most recent Atlantic article portrayed off-grid living as a hardship, and then closed with a comment about how solar energy is “expensive.” Several other writers have commented about how solar energy is “too expensive.” Funny thing is, they didn’t ask me how much it cost to build our infrastructure at LEF.

 

Truth is, if you do anything alone, then you can’t do much. If you live in the city and tried to pave the 50 feet of roadway in front of your house, that could be rather difficult and expensive. Societal choices determine the cost of most of the infrastructure we share. LEFers often travel by train. It is shocking how cheap cars seem compared to the train, when obviously the train is much, much more efficient. But automobile travel is largely socialized via the various federal and state Departments of Transportation.

The State bears the cost. At LEF, we say over and over again that our most important technology is community. It is only by the cooperative use of resources that we have any hope of undertaking projects of any complexity and reducing our ecological footprint. It is by focusing on the individual pitted against the wilderness that one can make life without fossil fuel look miserable.

 

So how much does it cost to live without fossil fuel? And is there any truth to the image of the Grim Specter of misery in the absence of fossil fuel? Our buildings at LEF were informed by a strawbale insulated, solar-heated cooperative house in Charlottesille that Alexis built prior to LEF. At last measure, that house used 91% less energy on a per-capita basis than the American average. The formidable cost? About $14,500 on a per-capita basis, including the purchase price of the land. (Incidentally, there is no solar electricity on that house, which belies the focus we have developed for grid-tie solar electricity.)

 

Last night it was 15 degrees F. Yesterday it was partly cloudy with a howling cold wind. Forgive me if this is “too much information,” but last night I slept naked with a sheet and one blanket over me. I can’t remember the last time we built a fire for heat. Six weeks ago? The build-out cost of our zero fossil fuel house, kitchen and attached infrastructure at LEF is about $10,000 per capita. (Not including the purchase price of the whole farm property.) It’s really quite simple. We have fewer square feet per person (by far the biggest cost difference), we don’t have to pay for a heat pump, boiler, or furnace. Our solar hot water heaters and solar space heating equipment is comparable to the cost of conventional equipment we didn’t install. We have fewer bathrooms (mostly by dividing the functions of a bathroom) and one kitchen. A strawbale wall cost less than a “normal” wall because strawbale is ideally suited to unskilled labor, but the strawbale wall has four times as much insulation. The final cost of a LEF model self-sufficient house is less than most people pay for housing in the industrial world. Energy self-sufficient communities are cheaper, not more expensive. So why the recurring Grim Specter of chaos in the outback? Why the recurring theme that a self-sufficient lifestyle is “too expensive”? One can only presume that it relieves the discomfort of the viewer or reader of commercial media stories to know that such outlandish alternatives really are impractical.
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Deb building a duck house, new shop in the background!
 It is a profound irony that so many would imagine life without fossil fuel to be a sacrifice. The world we inherited involves terrible sacrifice. So many people work so hard, taking out 30 year mortgages to pay for their houses (which are, statistically speaking, three-times larger per capita than two generations ago) and to pay for the cars to drive to work. But our culture sets our values, so we have normalized the sacrifices that support the industrial consumerist economy. We have developed a lifestyle that is expensive, and leaves each individual or family to fend for themselves. That has become a cultural value, and like so many other cultural values, we hold to it, defending our beliefs with ideological vigor and fiction as necessary.

 

And now our political system is twirling ever more into madness because the corporate powers that supply our fossil fueled addictions are also buying our political system via their own private propaganda “news” programs. History is painfully clear, economic concentration leads inexorably to the concentration of political power. Protests and expressions of indignity will not reverse that process. Economically empowered, sustainable communities can. As much as I understand the visceral reaction we have to immediate circumstance, we do not have to keep losing to civic decay. We simply have to decide that a long term, realistic plan is more important than having enemies. And we have to choose our culture, from the bottom up.

 

We are all going to live without fossil fuel eventually.  If we work on it now, we can improve our lives. If we wait for the money system and food production to destabilize, it’s going to be much, much more difficult. Think that’s not going to happen? The temperature oscillation we are experiencing as I write these words is going to hit our food production on the east coast, just like it did last year. We are at the beginning of a 100,000 year curve. That’s how long it takes to wash the carbon out of the atmosphere. We are headed for change. We need a longer term focus. Can’t afford it? We cannot afford to live an individualized, consumer lifestyle AND stack gobs of “renewable” energy on top of it. Total per-capita electricity production at LEF is less than 200 watts. We can afford that, if we can choose our own cultural values. We pay for what we really want. It’s time to want a livable world for our children. It’s not somebody else’s responsibility. It’s yours.

 

Expanding the LEF Model

 

For the most part, the mechanical side of LEF is working really well. We said from the beginning that we would not be a technology development center, that we would simply use technologies other people have developed. It hasn’t worked out that way. We are having to innovate quite a bit. That takes time, but it’s coming along. We will improve things, but even now, our life is very comfortable.

 

Now it’s time to build a movement of economically empowered, sustainable communities. We stuck our toes in with drilling a well in Bindura, Kenya, but the communication has not been adequate to support further work there. The silver lining is that we went looking for others who might be able to get involved, and we found some folks. One of those folks is Katherine Heitz (Kate). She has worked for numerous non-profit organizations helping people around the world. Frustrated with the bureaucracy of the bigger organizations, Kate started her own group to drill wells in Africa called Groundswell. (Website) Her family is based near LEF. We had numerous meetings with her before she left for Lebanon (where she is now working with an organization that removes land mines). In about a month, she will be back in Kenya. She has worked with a clinic there that is hauling their water with donkeys, and does not have reliable lighting. We believe we can use LEF’s approach to help the clinic, and hopefully plant a seed of sensible off-grid living in Kenya in the process.
XLEF2
Eddie starts work on the tropical solar boiler, the cold-weather hardware in the background.
 We have also had three meetings in the last few years with members of the Board of Directors of Ekal Vidyalaya, a very large organization in India who runs literacy programs in 60,000 Indian villages. They are hoping to provide rural economic support so the children they educate will have better opportunities. They have done work with solar energy, but unfortunately they have relied on solar contractors who use the poorly conceived American design of using lead-acid batteries, inverters, and AC equipment. Those systems fall apart in a few years. A few board members suggested that we may be able to help them apply an LEF-style design to their efforts. We’re still just having the conversation, but it is promising.

 

The primary root of global ecological problems lies in the industrial world, in the U.S. in particular. We lead the world in financial and military power, and as well as cultural models, like our poorly conceived solar energy systems. As the modern economy goes through its inevitable convulsions, more people will end up on our doorstep at LEF. For LEF to be a viable seed that can grow as replacement for the consumer economy, we need more LEFs. Today I am going to order a couple more DC motors for our shop. That is really easy right now. As these inevitable economic convulsions arrive, that might get much harder. The more we can do now, the more viable the idea is in the long run. LEF has some connections with the Intentional Communities (IC) movement. The hardest part of transitioning to living in an LEF-style community for the average American would be giving up control over so much private space (house and automobile). For people in ICs, the most difficult transition has already been made. We will keep trying to promote our ideas there as elsewhere.

 

That’s where you come in. We have had some generous donations to the Living Energy Global Initiative fund. But it makes no sense for us to try to build LEF-style communities for people who don’t want to live in them. We need to find people who want to live this way, where ever they are. We have a great crew at LEF now. But our bubble of ecological purity, if that’s what it is, doesn’t help anyone until we can figure out how to transplant the model. We need your help with that now. Our biggest need now, indeed the only way we can address the larger ecological crisis, is to de-stigmatize the cooperative use of resources. The only way to accomplish that is to have more people doing it and promoting it.

 

We are all going to live without fossil fuel eventually. The inherent instability of the rapidly changing modern industrial system, with its financial system leveraged on thin air, might bring instability sooner. Or perhaps the inherent ecological instability of geometric growth on a finite Earth will take some decades to play out. Either way, we will all live without fossil fuel eventually. The solution to that problem is the same as the long-term solution to civic and political ossification — sustainable, empowered
communities. You could help us organize a conference about long-term solutions, entitled You Know What You Oppose, Do You Know What You Support? If you have skills, you could take Eddie’s place as a technical intern when he leaves at the end of April. You could look around, in the U.S. or abroad, and help us find people for whom a shared economy based on renewable energy would be a welcome addition to their lives. It’s time for you to help us figure out how to plant new seeds, in the U.S. and abroad. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Article about LEF at the Atlantic Online Magazine

Article about LEF in The Central Virginian
LEF on CNN
Cville weekly in Charlottesville VA
First video on youtube
Second video on youtube
Video on vimeo
Slideshow  produced by Alexis a while ago
Living Energy Farm is a project to build a demonstration farm, community, and education center in Louisa County that uses no fossil fuels. For more information see our website, or contact us at livingenergyfarm@gmail.com or Living Energy Farm, 1022 Bibb Store Rd, Louisa VA, 23093. Donations to the Living Energy Farm Education Fund are tax deductible.
Expanding the LEF Model