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"In Grave Danger of Falling Fruit"

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By Diana Leafe Christian

The idyllic path Vince and I strolled along at Village Homes.
This phrase of permaculture co-developer Bill Mollison (although he said “falling food”), kept running through my head each time I almost bumped into limbs heavy with peaches hanging over the path. This happened last August in Davis, California, when it was my great pleasure to visit Village Homes with my friend Vince, who lived there at the time.

Village Homes is 240-home subdivision in a college town in California’s Central Valley. Begun in 1975 by developers Mike and Judy Corbett, one might call this 60-acre property a “proto-ecovillage.” While the Corbetts had most likely not heard of ecovillages yet, they were nevertheless passionate about developing this unprecedented model housing development that combined ecological savvy with a socially connecting site plan.

Vince and I ate a lot of these plums!
The homes are laid out on narrow, curving, shady east-west cul-du-sacs with Lord of the Rings names (Buckleberry, Bree, Overhill, Bombadil, Rivendale). The 23-foot-wide streets create a cooler microclimate in summer than the usual 36-foot-wide streets, (and take less petroleum-based asphalt to build). Their east-west direction gives the homes north-south orientation for passive solar gain in the winter and natural ventilation from evening delta breezes in summer. Deciduous trees along the streets were selected to overhang and shade the narrow streets, but they’re not tall enough to block sunlight from roof-mounted solar water collectors.
One of the development’s 240 homes across the commons.
The backs of the houses look out onto the narrow east-west greenbelts and footpaths (the natural “sidewalks”) that connect each housing cluster along the backyards. A north-south greenbelt and path runs the length of the property and connects with all the smaller greenbelts, so you can walk or bike anywhere on the property. Nestled in the eastern side is the large commons, with two large playing fields, community gardens and orchards, a children’s playground, and a commercial building with a daycare center and offices. There’s even an upscale Italian restaurant.

As Vince and I strolled along footpaths overhung with fruit trees, we saw backyard after backyard filled with tomatoes and onions, peas and broccoli. We stepped aside as folks whizzed by on bikes, and waved to his friends on back porches. Like most communities with few streets or fences and with footpaths close to the houses, people know their neighbors. We made impromptu visits to the homes of two of Vince’s friends to see their special high-tech features. All homes in the subdivision are energy-efficient, and most are passive solar. Some residents have added solar hot water, PV panels, or other eco-tech features. Many homes are designed to scoop up summer evening breezes, and don’t need air conditioning.

We passed these boys playing soccer.
Vince showed me the storm drainage system, a network of above-ground natural ditches which become small creeks when it rains. These allow water to percolate naturally into the ground and replenish the water table, and was much cheaper to build than the usual underground piped and pumped stormwater system. Before we finished our circuit I’d seen heat pumps and natural drainage, and eaten plums, cherries, nectarines, peaches, apricots, and more different kinds of berries than I can remember.

The Corbetts intentionally designed the subdivision to support mixed incomes, with 500 sq. ft. apartments next to 3500 sq. ft. homes. However, they felt strongly that carpenters and others working in the trades on the project should be able to live there too, so they added 1000 sq. ft. affordable homes. Some of the workers, most of whom were Mexican, did buy homes and live there still. (Vince and I passed by backyards of corn, beans, peppers, papaya, avocado, prickly pear, and agave.) All the homes are quite expensive now, much more than comparable homes in nearby neighborhoods.

It wasn’t the homeowners who insisted on enough trees to create “a grave danger of falling fruit,” but the developers. Back in a time of even more cookie-cutter subdivisions and agri-biz than we have today, the Corbetts dared to include environmental features and edible landscaping. And since most fruit trees take 10 or 15 years to produce abundantly, the energy and resources that went into all this sustainable agriculture didn’t benefit the first homeowners, but the next generation. This was visionary! As I walked along that summer day savoring yet another juicy peach, I wanted to go back and say to my community, “We need to plant fruit trees. Now!”


Diana Leafe Christian, editor of this newsletter, lives at Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina, US.


Related articles:

What We Can Learn from Ecovillage Sieben Linden – This issue
How Yarrow Ecovillage Got “Ecovillage Zoning” – May ’08
Whole Village Moves Ahead – Oct ’08
Is The Farm an Ecovillage? – Oct ’08


Also in this issue:
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Newsletter Staff

Mission & Purpose

To encourage and inspire new and existing ecovillage projects with news about ecovillages and related projects worldwide.

Advisory Board

  • Lois Arkin,
    CRSP; ENA; Urban Ecovillage Network; Los Angeles Eco-Village, US
  • Peter Bane,
    Permaculture designer; publisher, Permaculture Activist, US
  • Albert Bates,
    Co-founder, GEN; Post-Petroleum Survival Guide; Director, Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm, US
  • Tree Bressen,
    Consensus & Facilitation Trainer; Cofounder, Walnut St. Co-op, US
  • Ernest Callenbach,
    Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging; US
  • Giovanni Ciarlo,
    GEN; ENA; Huehyecoyotl Ecovillage, Mexico
  • Raines Cohen,
    Cohousing Association of the US; Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC); Berkeley Cohousing, US
  • Leila Dregger,
    Peace journalist & writer, Peace Research Center & Ecovillage, Tamera, Portugal
  • Chuck Durrett,
    Cohousing; Senior Cohousing; Architect, The Cohousing Company; Nevada City Cohousing, US
  • Jonathan Dawson,
    Ecovillages; Findhorn Foundation, Scotland
  • Robert Gilman,
    Co-founder, GEN; Ecovillages & Sustainable Communities; City Council Member, Langley, Washington, US
  • Michael Hale,
    Yarrow Ecovillage, Canada
  • Jeff Grossberg,
    Guidestone Consulting Group, US
  • Martha Harris,
    Earthaven Ecovillage, US
  • Scott Horton,
    Editor, Permaculture Activist, US
  • Hildur Jackson,
    Co-founder, Gaia Trust; cofounder, GEN; Ecovillage Living, Denmark
  • Kosha Joubert,
    Editor, Beyond You and Me, GEN's EDE Program; Ecovillage Sieben Linden, Germany
  • Elana Kann & Bill Flemming,
    Co-developers, Westwood Cohousing, US
  • Joseph F. Kennedy,
    Designer/educator; The Art of Natural Building, US
  • Fred & Nancy Lanphear,
    Northwest Intentional Communities Association (NICA); Songaia Cohousing, US
  • Mark Lakeman,
    Founder, Portland City Repair & Village Building Convergence, US
  • Max Lindegger,
    Cofounder, GEN; Director, GEN-Oceania/Asia; Crystal Waters Ecovillage, Australia
  • Chris Mare,
    GEN's EDE Program; Village Design Institute, US
  • Ronaye Matthew,
    Canadian Cohousing Network; Cranberry Commons Cohousing, Canada
  • Kathryn McCamant,
    Architect/Developer, Cohousing Partners, Inc.; Co-author, Cohousing; Nevada City Cohousing, US
  • Dr. Bill Metcalf,
    Findhorn Book of Community Living; Professor, Environmental Sociology, Griffith University, Australia
  • Ina Meyer-Stoll,
    Co-director, GEN-Europe; ZEGG, Germany
  • Tim Miller,
    The 60s Communes; Professor of Religion, University of Kansas, US
  • Hank Obermayer,
    Mariposa Grove Cohousing, US
  • Toshio Ogata,
    Professor of Economics, Chuo University; GEPA (Global Environment Project in Asia), Japan
  • Craig Ragland,
    Executive Director, Cohousing Association of the US; Songaia Cohousing; New Earth Song Cohousing, US
  • Penelope Reyes,
    President, GEN-Oceania/Asia; Tuwâ - The Laughing Fish, Cabiao, Philippines
  • Michael Rios,
    Network for a New Culture Summer Camp East; Chrysalis, Washington DC, US
  • Jim Shenck,
    Enright Ridge Ecovillage, US
  • Nicola Shirley,
    The Source Farm Ecovillage, Jamaica
  • Tony Sirna,
    Communities Directory; Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, US
  • Jan Steinman,
    EcoReality Co-op, Canada
  • Liz Walker,
    GEN's EDE Program; Ecovillage at Ithaca; EcoVillage at Ithaca, US