Enjoying “Ecovillage Energy” in Our Rural Area
By Patricia Greene
After the barn of one family burned down it was rebuilt by a group of Mennnonite Christians, back-to-the-land homesteaders, and simple-living folks.
Our “organized neighborhood”-style rural community in northern New York is not an ecovillage per se, but we certainly function like one!
We started several years ago as a Peak Oil discussion group near the town of Canton, New York. But when daunted by the massive task before us, we slowly morphed into what we now call the Ark Community, a group of about 50 actual or aspiring homesteader/simple- living neighbors residing in a roughly 30-square mile area. We include ’70s-era back-to-the-landers and more recent converts to a simpler lifestyle and a “back to the future” attitude.
We meet monthly at each other’s homes for potlucks and discussions, and get together often for workdays. If anyone in the group is in need, we help. We are lucky enough to live in an area with a large old-order Amish community, and many of us, in our search to live more sustainably, have copied some of their customs. For example, we were inspired when a local Amish family’s house burned down on a Saturday, and the Amish community turned out in force and had it rebuilt and ready to occupy by the following Wednesday. Now that
is a different kind of homeowners’ insurance!
Last October when a family was driving their horse-drawn buggy to town, a car ran into them. The mother was badly hurt, the father had broken ribs, and the three children were banged up. I put a call out on our email list, and within half an hour after the accident 10 Ark people showed up at the emergency room. Throughout the day more people came to visit and help, and we kept the kids comforted and occupied.
The kids, who had been homeschooled, needed to be enrolled in the local alternative school, Little River Community School at Birdsfoot Farm, a local intentional community here. Over the months since, we’ve held a benefit dance for the family, Ark members have contributed money, and we had an amazing raffle — with one of the prizes being that six Ark members would show up at your house and work for you for four hours. We raised enough money to keep the kids in school until the end of this year. For four weeks different Ark members made and brought over dinner for the family. People offered transportation and help with farm chores, for example, harvesting all the family’s corn and potatoes.
At a Februrary ice-cutting party.
During our two-and-a-half-year history, we have raised a two-story barn and a house, expanded another barn (my partner’s and mine), helped build a large greenhouse, put the siding on a house, and weeded a large garden for a member who had to have open-heart surgery. We look forward to our workdays with great anticipation. They promote a deep sense of community, accomplishment, and service, and give us a real sense of the meaning of the old axiom, “Many hands make light work.”
In the project to expand our own barn, for example, a crew of 24 Arkers came at 9 a.m., built and roofed two large wings on either side of the barn, and put up battens all around the barn. They were done by 12:30 — in time for a huge lunch feast on the porch. It was jaw-dropping amazing, since this was a project that would have taken my partner and I weeks to finish.
We have twice had ice-cutting parties in February at the farm of some founding Ark members who also live without electricity. (They don’t use solar panels, they pump water with a windmill, they use horses for farm work, they grow and raise about 90 percent of their food, they brew alcohol to fuel their lamps, and they mostly use horse and buggy for transport.) In our ice parties, one crew cuts ice with hand tools, another crew carries it from the pond to the ice house in sleds, and a third crew piles it up with sawdust in the ice house.
As you see, it’s an amazing group and although we don’t live together, we have strong community ties. The people are quite varied. Some are Mennonites, some are not religious at all, some are newcomers to simple living, and others have been living off-grid and doing it for 30 years.
Our newest project is a Food For Life program with our more experienced gardeners mentoring people who want to get started with serious gardening. The new folks will give so many hours per week in the mentors’ gardens in exchange for learning as well as some of the bounty from their new gardens. Over 50 people showed up for the first meeting.
It’s the good life, the “ecovillage life,” but we didn’t have to all go out and buy a piece of land together. We just put ecovillage principles — ecological sustainability via the rugged homesteading culture already present, and economic sustainability via good, old-fashioned neighborliness — in place. Other people can do this too!
Patricia Greene has been involved in the intentional communities movement for many years. She and her partner John live at Borderlands, a 35-acre farm where they hope to start a small community. She is also a writer with one novel published and another, which is set in an intentional community, coming out soon. Contact Patricia at peagreen AT earthlink DOT com.
Coming in Future Issues:
- Anastasia Ecovillages in Russia (Andrew Jones)
- Konohana Family Farm in Japan (Hildur Jackson)
- First Philippines Ecovillage Design Education Course (Diana Leafe Christian)
- Pintig Ecovillage Partners with a Local Green Business (Diana Leafe Christian)
- Our Whirlwind Aussie Road Trip, Part II (Russell Austerberry)
- Svanholm in Denmark Becomes Carbon Neutral (Christina Adler Jensen)
- Ecovillage Conference Tokyo 2009 (Hildur Jackson)
- ‘Glue’ or ‘Shrapnel’ in Your Ecovillage (Diana Leafe Christian)