“Ecovillage Dreams” or “How I Invested 50% of My Life”


ogoI’ve mentioned my interest in agriculture, specifically sustainability, green housing, passive solar, traditional woodworking, et cetera, ad nausium. But all these interests stem from one particular obsession. This obsession carried me through my entire post-secondary career, through three failed engagements and a dozen changes of address. It got me through desperate poverty, cycles of abusive company and the discovery that I had Aspergers Autism (which explained more than I thought it would). That obsession forever haunts me in the back of my mind the way that liquor haunts a recovering alcoholic. That obsession is for a life reminiscent of The Shire from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, and kept me warm at night when everyone else left me for dead. That dream is Tir Tairngire Ecovillage, and the embers have not grown cold yet.This is the world that I dreamed of for so very, very long. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I own a lot of land, 35 acres (~14.2 ha) which is 266′ (~81 m) wide by over a mile (~1610 m) in length. AKA, A Dirty-big block of land. I’ve got the original survey maps from 1910 in which they were given to Isabella Pike, my paternal grandfathers maternal grandmother. She was given more than that, but the area has diluted a bit through the ages. Anyway, it’s heavily forested, has never been farmed, and has a lovely undulating topography that would fit my vision for my own little “The Shire”. Downside is that, this far north, it’d be virtually impossible to feed population worthy of a designation of “community” on that land area in this climate. So I turned to Aquaculture, Greenhouses, Permaculture, Forest Gardening and similar techniques. I may possibly write articles on all those in the future, but to make a long story even longer, my work lasted nearly 15 years, and it’s far from complete.

Originally I envisioned a community of hundreds living in a localized area, with various layouts and ZERO understanding of the dynamics/demands of a community that size, and have since resolved my work to something a little more practical. The land is, conveniently, 80m wide; which is JUST wide enough for a “driveway” (as far as the government is concerned) and a series of cabin lots on either side of this road, which splits my land in half. Each lot, which will be more or less a 40m deep by 50m frontage (2000sq.m = 21500 square feet, or about a half-acre), separated by a slightly winding dirt road, running the whole length of the grounds. Each household will become it’s own homestead, with a half-acre per unit. Each unit will contain a log (or similar) cabin, a wood shed, a workshop and not inconsiderable greenhouses. EACH cabin will be 100% off-grid, relying on rainwater collection, groundwater taps, wells, private sewer, limited solar/wind power, passive solar for heating supplemented by a high efficiency wood stove. Basically taking a page from Dick Prenneoke’s book, with a few modern conveniences. He backpacked into Twin Lakes Alaska with nothing but a backpack full of victorian-era (1850’s) tools and dried food, and made a life for himself for 35 years, living off the land. We had one simple wish, and it was much the same.

I say we, but of the several HUNDRED people who once shared this dream with me, but a handful remain. Oh, people left for various reasons, whether it having been political, romantic, academic, professional or personal, they all drained away like water circling the drain. I learned a lot, took a lot of hits and made some really great friends in the process. That’s really all I can take from it, is what I’ve gained, and not focus on what I’ve lost. I still own the land. I still have the dream. I still intend to pursue it, now that I am less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, though not QUITE jaded yet (YET!), I will walk more carefully and build my assets before I walk into this off-grid world.

MapThat land is way down in St. Fintans, a community that neighbors (borders) my hometown, and is a significant distance from here, something on the order of 534km (~331mi) if I am not mistaken. I’m not, exactly, able to poot down to the site to do a little forestry while I wait for the resources (and my proverbial ship) to come in. I will continue the research, raise capital assets and collect the tools/knowledge I’ll need to make the whole thing work. For starters, I’d want to build two cabin, each maybe 20′ x 20′ (~7m square) with two small bedrooms, a composting toilet (avoids septic tank installations) and a woodburning fireplace. The roof would probably be one of those fancy aluminum/steel roofs, for the purposes of it lasting a damned eternity, which would be painted entirely black, with my roof-mounted solar water heater attached, and under greenhouse plastic, or perhaps proper heavy glass. Coupled with a battery bank, some micro wind and solar panels (maybe a little bicycle with inverter) to sustain what little power we’d require, perhaps for LED lighting or some I.T..

We would rely on greenhousing technology to sustain us, and each house would have a series of independent 15′ by 15′ (5m square) units, dug 6′ into the ground, heated by hot-compost and supplemental lighting which are solar/wind powered through battery banks. These greenhouses would be virtually identical, but seperate to avoid contamination or disease from wiping out our crops. Redundancy is the key to off-grid survival.

Each cabin will be 100% off-grid, with the minor exception of a wireless connection and a series of overlapping solar/wind powered wireless 802.11AC repeaters to allow families living/working on site to have some connection with the outside world. I also want to have a website full of statistical data, journals and reports of mine and the others’ mission, objective, productivity, resources, temperatures, everything. I am a HUGE supporter of freedom-of-information, and our research must be shared with the world.

This is a close approximation of the original vision, but my (relatively) recent discoveries of building design codes, subdivision guidelines, provincial/federal law and various governing bodies’ regulations, my actual power to do what I originally dreamed of is impractical if not impossible. Given the current 1/2 acre (0.20 hectare) divisions, which will be ample for my needs, I will be able to sustain approximately 70 households. This is assuming that every iota of space is viable for my needs, which of course it is not.

Each house will have a large workshop space, sort of like the one I’ve cropped-img_1397.jpggot behind my current house in Bide Arm, though definitely more deliberately-built than this add-on salt-box thing. Each household homestead will be responsible for a trade, as well as the maintenance of their greenhouse gardens for farmers markets; one such place I had dreamed of building a large circular park (perhaps 4 units in area) in which large barns can house our community events, like meals and open-top-public harvest festivals. Hey, I can dream. Each trade will provide a marketable product for the community, as well as supply the community members with an in-house product good; pottery, woodworking, blacksmithy, textiles (looms, knitting, seam-stressing, etc) and a herbalist/apothacary/midwife. Basically all the essential trades to the running of any medieval village. That said, we would be selling all of our excess goods via online store/auctions and have semi-trailers pick up and deliver goods and materials, so we won’t exactly be quakers, just living within a lower-carbon-footprint.

The community-centred objective, with daily (or weekly) community meals, internships for young people, homeschooling for the kids designed to exceed public-school standards, and building a real culture here. Though it would not be it’s own municipality, it would be more of a loose cabin community, and all buildings would belong to me or in the form of a corporate body in which all members of the site are stakeholders and volunteers living and working and sharing the goods produced by the project. Everyone “volunteers” to grow their own vegetables and shares them, “donating” what they grow to the corporation (Which could, on paper, already own the produce that is grown out of the greenhouses it owns) and the dividends go towards each of the cabin dwelling “volunteers” as a stipend or dividend paid in monthly company profit distribution. There are many ways to play with the legalities and accounting, but all stakeholders would be required to sign contracts with various terms congruent with the community goals, all decisions made by the community that effect the community would be voted on via 100% participatory democracy and discussed in town meetings before hand. Should a villager move away from the village, they forfeit their share and surrender rights to their place within the community. I was thinking on giving additional shares (percentage of shares) to each member of the community each year as a bonus, reward or pay raise, but I haven’t sorted those details out in the most recent iteration of the project.

You see, every few years the ENTIRE thing gets re-written with a different zeitgeist and philosophy, or perhaps a new layout and constraints upon the members, etc. Sometimes we have livestock, then the next version might involve a vegetarian (plus fish and insects) diet to reduce our carbon footprint. Some involve multi-family dwellings, others do not, it’s all a learning process. I do v12.0 to completion, discover what I like and don’t like based upon how it naturally came together, and see what shakes out. I build v13.0 with that in mind, and complete it assuming THAT is the final one… then it collapses like a house of cards, and v14.0 is born! Yeah. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. No wonder I didn’t settle down until I was 29, no one could stand me until now, and even these days I sometimes have doubts 😉

The work continues, and it may be another 15 years before I break ground. The point is, each time I dissect and dismantle and rebuild the vision, it is slowly shaping into focus. Each time a rickety wall is reinforced. Each time a questionable gable is relocated. Each time some new face in the light that is the vision adds their own brush stroke to the whole and it becomes more beautiful. I can count the number of lingering supporters on ONE hand, but that single appendage is now stronger than a stadium of yes-men, sycophants and nay-sayers. I’m building a small community from scratch with a beautiful vision, and I cannot allow cancerous personalities to be involved once the work begins. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by lovely beings with similar interests to my own and diverse-enough portfolios to bring something fresh to the table.

The time will come, and my dream will one day have wings. I invite you all to the harvest festival feast. 🙂

I’ll pick and putter with the Google sketch-up drawing and see if I can’t fiddle something out here to show you what I mean. 40m by 50m is a huge space, 131′ by 161′, like I said, a half-acre, a fifth of a hectare. When you get your head out of the black-hole that is conventional farming and star thinking of advanced vertical farming, greenhouses, permaculture, forest gardening, you begin to realize that you could grow enough food in the volume of your own home to feed five families; and I intend to prove it. In the meantime, click on the picture to the right (I hope you check all my pictures, some of them are pretty hilarious sites) for a link to “Start a 1-Acre, Self-Sufficient Homestead”, and it ought to tide you over. 🙂

Cheers!


Homestead 1 So, as promised, I’ve completed a VERY preliminary sketch of the homestead lot, and it is actually a little smaller than you think, when we factor-in greenspaces and privacy belts. So! Onto it!

The image seen to the right showcases the lot, 50m (~160′) along the “dirt road” that will facilitate a driveway for the lots, all lots will share this driveway and a lot on each side will contribute 10′ (~3m) of land for this driveway that will be maintained by the community/corporation; meaning the lot across the road will also contribute a 10′ wide lane, making it a bi-directional two-lane road. The lots will be developed in pairs, so as to always maintain a two-way street, as it were. There is a 30′ (~9m) privacy perimeter around each lot, full-sized in front and back and half-size on either side, so the next identical module (for argument sake) will allow a shared full-sized privacy wall of the orginal trees on the property; mostly spruce, pine, fir, birch, alder, locust, etc. This privacy wall reduces the overall size of the lot to 130′ (~40m) of width (Along the road frontage) by 70′ (~21m) of depth (away from the road). This is still ample space for a private residence, especially since it is only a rental cottage and not *technically* not a permanent residence, since it has no traditional septic system, no grid-hookup for water, power, telephone, nothing. There will be parking for ONE vehicle, and the main street will be cleared by a local contractor paid for by the community, who’s revenue comes from profits made from the sale of produce and product.

Homestead 2The while “building” area will likely be 100% cleared (minus the tree belt, which cannot be interrupted, short of pruning branches, which will remain a community/corporate policy. This will keep many original wildlife pathways in-tact, and promote some reduction in wind speed near the ground-level. The layout of the site will be one that will allow for solar advantage, though more thought will need to be devoted to optimizing solar gains given the 45 degree angle of the property lines. The shed, as you can see here, is identical in size to the main cavity of my own garage, this has been done for simplicity of context since we ought to all be painfully aware of the dimensions, scope, flexibility, etc of Homestead 3my own garage. It remains entirely likely that I would build a much steeper roof-slope, closer to a 45 degree angle (12-on-12) slope so that I may make best use of winter solar angles for passive solar heating. All buildings will have full-depth reinforced concrete basements, for the purposes of storage and structural stability over the long-term. Above ground, the buildings could easily be log-cabin construction, or perhaps earthships, superadobe, cob or similar.

Homestead 4The greenhouses will be designed to be 15′ (~5m) by 15′ (~5m) , with a 10′ (~3m) wall and a 6′ (~2m) roof peak. These four buildings will each have a distinct purpose, like building tuber staples, an aquaponics unit, one for herbs, spices, herbal remedy-based plants, etc. They are built 6′ (~2m) into the earth, so as to take advantage of soil temperatures below the frost barrier. It is entirely possible that we could avail of geothermal heat pumping technology, using drilled trenches or deep-wells, but that process is prohibitively expensive and solar energy may suffice given sufficient research to confirm viability. It is entirely possible to design green roofs to passive double as water filtration technology and a robust form of insulation. Earth-sheltering remains a viable option for our goals, much similar to the design of a hobbit house, straight out of the shire.

Sufficient, well-drained earth-sheltered material to reach a depth which exceeds the frost penetration will effectively eliminate heat losses during colder months, and cool the building during warmer months. Ventilation, humidity and light can be a challenge, but nothing is too great a mystery for creative, curious, tenacious minds.

This should give you a better idea of what I envision for the ecovillage, and why I work so hard to study and research ALL that I can, in the hopes to, one day, discover a complicated solution that can make this robust dream come true.

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3 thoughts on ““Ecovillage Dreams” or “How I Invested 50% of My Life”

    • Indeed he did, he was also a half-blind former diesel engine mechanic in the navy and NOT a carpenter or woodsman by trade. He spent a few years preparing himself and studying, and had the shear force of will to survive and make a life for himself in isolation. Our site has an asphalt highway running along the 81m (264′) mouth of the property, with infrastructure and a year-round grocery store a few clicks away. We’ve got a lot of advantages over poor old Dick, though I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or not.

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  1. Robin, am very much enjoying your vision and the practical design approaches you’re creating. We’re launching a new nonprofit venture (www.openworldvillages.org) that may resonate.

    One idea that may help spark “crowdmoves” to ecovillages/tiny house communities would be adapt a simulation game such as http://www.shiningrocksoftware.com/game/. With a mod of this game, it would be possible to import Sketchup or .fbx files of the kind of ecovillage solutions you’ve designed. Players around the world could then explore how innovative approaches to ecovillage and tiny house communities would play out in a range of settings.

    Do you have any experience doing game mods? If so, I’d be interested in finding a way to make it happen with you . We posted an initial project last month on Freelancer.com – but the freelancer we engaged has found it more challenging than expected.

    Below is a description of the initial “Openworld Villages” project. Let me know if you would have an interest in doing it. If the initial project is successful, we would like to follow up with many more until a full set of ecovillage and tiny house elements were ready.

    Look forward to hearing from you – I’m reachable at openworld via Skype or email (mark at openworldvillages.org)

    Best,

    Mark Frazier
    OpenworldVillages.org

    INITIAL PROJECT FOR ECOVILLAGE GAME (posted in January)

    One of my 2015 resolutions is to launch a mod of the ‘Banished’ computer game – hopefully on the scale and caliber of Colonial Charter – for designing and doing test-runs of present-day resilient communities.

    This will involve creating custom 3D buildings of ‘tiny houses’ (sample screenshot is attached) – along with greenhouses, square foot gardens, solar panels, wind turbines, 3D printer makerspaces, etc.

    For the first project, I’m looking to engage a freelancer – ideally with experience in doing 3D textured building models in .fbx format – to create a mod of the Banished computer game that enables this model to be imported: http://is.gd/3dmodl.

    Information on doing mods for game is at http://www.shiningrocksoftware.com/mods/ . Please post or private message me for any questions and clarifications!

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