Take-Away Conclusion and Action Steps
“in order to be sustainable, human settlements (or human habitation systems) must be modeled upon natural living systems. Since all living systems – from cells to organisms to ecosystems – are foremost self-organizing and self-creating”
Quote taken from the paper Fundamentals of Villages Design
Through this exploration of ecovillages, I have learned about the power of education, the value of sustainable living, and the importance of community. In a world where people are constantly trying to find their place, ecovillages create an accepting community that allows for self-discovery and neighborhood connection.
Ecovillages create a space for education to be prominent everyday, since community members are consistently learning and growing together. Everyone is both a teacher and a student, which make ecovillages an ideal place for discovering new sustainable practices everyday. Furthermore, since a major part of being a member of an ecovillage is providing food and energy for yourself and your community, people living in ecovillages are aware of the immediate suppliers of their resources.
Ecovillages also demonstrate the importance of living sustainably. With so much chaos occurring in the world today, particularly around climate change, ecovillages demonstrate communities that have found a way to live without impacting the environment. I believe that this newfound way of life is essential if humanity wants to mitigate the effects of climate change and create a more just, sustainable world. Through practices such as homesteading and gardening, ecovillages create a basis for the world to be modeled after.
Another important aspect of ecovillages are that they display the importance of a close-knit, supportive community. Sharing resources and knowledge is essential for the world to be more environmentally friendly. Establishing a local economy where people support one another creates a thriving community where people feel comfortable in their surroundings. So many people today do not even interact with their neighbors, but by creating a society where interaction and support is a part of everyday life means a stronger, more educated community.
Ecovillages can be used as an example for how to live a sustainable, community based lifestyle. In order for the planet to be happy and healthy, we must model ecovillages and think globally while acting locally.
After researching ecovillages for the last few months, I can honestly say that I learned quite a bit about the subject itself, as well as public perceptions of this type of living environment. Going into the project, I wasn’t even really sure what an ecovillage was, but found common ground between the topic and homesteading, something I wanted to learn more about. Interestingly, my study did not delve into the food systems aspect of ecovillages as I predicted: rather, it focused on the bigger picture. Perhaps one could argue that in that sense, I did not get everything I wanted out of the project; in contrast, I would just argue that the learning that took place was unpredictable.
I have found that when it comes to growing and learning, one cannot look too far into the future. The best learning happens when one is open-minded and not only follows through with their original plans, but lets those plans evolve and transform as information is gathered. This makes a lot of sense, after all, the ideas I had first considered blogging about had been formed by someone who knew nearly nothing about ecovillages: surely molding my workplan was necessary the more information gained. I would argue that I approached this project similarly to the way I would do another research project: you can go into it with an idea, but you cannot go into it with a preconceived “answer” or “result”; if you do that you won’t do much learning. When I read a scholarly article, I often take from the references and citations in order to weave my way into other sources of information: this is the kind of exploration I did for this project. One video would lead me to another topic, which would lead me to an interview, which lead me to another, and so on. That being said, even though I did not manage to focus on food systems, I did manage to broaden my horizons and effectively learn.
I will admit, it did take me a while to get engaged in this project. Though I started writing pieces on articles mid-semester, only towards the end of the project did I get into the juicy stuff. Looking back, I really regret not taking advantage of the various outlets that I utilized towards the end of the project because after talking with people and surveying folks, I have developed a much more personal relationship with the subject matter than I had when I was first researching. Moreover, if I had been able to make these connections earlier, perhaps I would have found the articles I read compelling in completely different ways.
By April, I realized that my idea of researching ecovillages without actually visiting one was a big mistake. After conducting two interviews at quasi-ecovillage locations, I so badly wanted to visit a traditional ecovillage setting in order to make everything come together. Because of that, a week and a half ago I decided to take on a third and fourth interview, and contacted Cami Davis and Ted Montgomery, two folks currently living at Ten Stones Ecovillage in Vermont. Even though I have done enough posts to fill the project parameters, I figured this would be a great thing for me to add to the blog, even if it was last minute. Tomorrow, the day we submit our blog for evaluation, I will be visiting this place. I am meeting Cami in the garden, then will take a tour with her of the village, followed by meeting up with Ted, one of the founders, for conversation. Moreover, I would like to add photos and an event map of my time spent there to the blog.
Certainly, my interest in ecovillages has accelerated rather than waned through this project. I still want to know what exactly makes an ecovillage an ecovillage, since people’s definitions seem to reflect quite a bit of subjectivity. Moreover, I want to know more about the creation of ecovillages: how do they become established and what makes one successful? What players create the synergy present in this type of environment? My hope is that my visit tomorrow will provide me with the closure I desire, while inspiring me to continue my exploration.
As for specific lessons learned, perhaps the most significant thing I learned about ecovillages is that there is an intense variety between all of them. Of course, I expected this, but because the word “ecovillage” is so subjective, and the phrase “intentional community” is even more, no ecovillage is quite alike. Many have deep religious or spiritual ties (like kibbutz lotan in israel) whereas others funnel their focus most directly into sustainability. In some ecovillages, like on the island of Lasqueti in Canada (see this great video) there is no form of currency and those who live there do so through trading means and exchange with the outside world. On the other hand, ecovillages like Ecovillage Ithaca and Ten Stones Community in Charlotte Vermont are structured more-or-less similarly to an average neighborhood, and actually participate in outside markets through their CSA programs. Co-housing (see this site for an example) and private housing also create very different but equally dynamic environments that fit the different needs of the people who live there. I’ve found that even though it does indeed take a dedicated person to participate and live within one of these communities, not every style of ecovillage will be right for everyone. Through my previous correspondence with Ted Montgomery, I learned that unlike your average neighborhood, ecovillages really center around a vision or a dream. In order to successfully live in an ecovillage then, a lot more is necessary than just purchasing a house: you need to understand the common goals of those around you and work towards similar successes.
Overall, I found this project to be extremely rewarding. As mentioned, I did not exactly study what I was expecting, however my stray from that path actually proved to teach me a lot more than I think I could’ve gained otherwise. I hope that this website can act as a resource to those who are interested in ecovillages, as the combination of media present here really has the ability to tell a story and captivate people who find an interest in this subject. As for action steps, I am not sure what that will consist of, however an interest in living in an ecovillage myself has emerged. As I contemplate where I would like to go after I finish my studies at UVM, I hope that I can continue this exploration, and perhaps find a place where I can live with meaning and connect with the vision of those around me.
I didn’t know anything about ecovillages before this project. What I imagined at the onset was what was portrayed in the 2012 film Wanderlust, starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, an overtly stereotypical, slightly annoying group of people living a dirty, hippy life in rural Georgia. The film was, in my opinion, pretty bad, and it was technically portraying a “hippy commune” rather than an ecovillage, so I was aware there was no basis to my presumptions. I was even slightly ashamed that this was what came to my mind because I knew very well that it was not close to what I was going to learn about ecovillages. And I was right.
Fast forward to now. It’s amazing what a little research can do to someone’s perspectives. Within the first Google search, I saw tons of communities of like-minded people, living together in search for a better way of life. It is a life of minimal emissions, no carbon footprint, and self-sustenance, while at the same time working to live in harmony with nature. It is life – simplified. However one should never confuse the words “simplify” and “easy”. They are not synonymous. Living sustainably is hard work. It is growing your own food, collecting your own water, creating your own shelters, and depending on the land and your neighbors for everything. Not to mention you need a way to make money, or else you will get kicked off your land (if you want to live legally in this country at least).
It’s not lounging around, picking apples, and occasionally tending to the massive pot garden, it is surviving off of what is directly around you. Looking back at the posts I wrote about Lakabe, the ecovillage in Spain, or Currumbin in Australia, I see people trying to do something that the majority of the western world will never do unless there is an Y2K happens a few years late. They are trying to create a utopia. Although people may have different definitions of utopia, I never hear anyone say that our current rates of production and consumption are somehow pushing us closer and closer to a future utopia. Even though we’re supposedly still progressing, technologically, socially, and otherwise, it’s hard to tell what it is progressing to. Sometimes it seems like we only keep producing and consuming, so that there can continue to be production and consumption.
I can’t remember the last time I looked at world events and thought that our forward progress was actually progress. Because we live in a finite world, things will run out, for instance space, food, or energy, and things can only really get worse and way more complicated. But somehow it’s so much easier to live in this complicated, convoluted, confusing, modern world that does all of the thinking and legwork for us. Short list of things I don’t have to deal with: waste disposal, produce harvesting, animal slaughtering, water collection – the list goes on. All of these things are those that are necessary for survival, and I don’t have to do any work or thinking to acquire the final product. All I am left with is the satisfaction of the product, and the guilt of where it may have come from, or in the case of waste, where it ends up, and what that ecological impact is.
So, shifting gears away from the cynical ranting, I admire the work that I’ve seen people do in ecovillages infinitely. They are a select group of people that are able to see the problems being created by humanity, and fighting them back head on. Even though life may be tougher, and one may have to sacrifice some of the truly amazing things that have been accomplished in recent years (I’m looking at you iPhone), they are able to be happy because they are doing positive work in something they believe in. I wish I could be so lucky in my future endeavors. To conclude here, I would like to leave you with a quote from a movie I actually do like. The quote is by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, in the documentary 180° South, which actually derived its title from his quote:
“It’s easy for us to blindly consume, when we don’t see the effects it has on other places. The hardest thing in the world is to simply your life, it’s so easy to make it complex. What’s important is leading an examined life because most of the damaged caused by humans is caused unintentionally, I think. And in response to people saying,’You can’t go back.’ and I say, ‘Well what happens when you get to the edge of the cliff. Do you take one step forward or do 180° turn and take one step forward? Which way you goin? Which is progress?’ The solution to many of the world’s problems maybe to turn around and to take a forward step. You can’t just keep trying to make a flawed system work.”
Prior to this project, the extent of my knowledge on ecovillages was no more than speculation. Through the research that I have done I have come to respect the project of creating and living in ecovillages. Given the state of our natural environment, we must do all we can to change what has become the norm in our society. I started with some research around the idea of deep ecology.
According to the Global Ecovillage Network online page, “An ecovillage is an intentional or traditional community using local participatory processes to holistically integrate ecological, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of sustainability in order to regenerate social and natural environments.” It is this sort of idea we need to build our society around. We need to step away from the foundations on which our current society is running and we need to stop using our natural resources as if there are no consequences.
Humans stand apart from other species in the sense that they have the ability to CHANGE the PLANET! So far, this change has been negative, more or less. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn it around. Perhaps what I have learned most from this project is that the human mind is a wonderfully beautiful thing. The human mind can create ideas to save our planet. The different concepts around creating a more sustainable future for our planet are highlighted in the peak moment video series. Ten minutes of exploration through that youtube channel, and I guarantee you will learn about something new you can do with your living situation make it more sustainable. Henry Ford once said “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Let us come together in sustainable and friendly ecovillages in order to overcome the looming destruction of our environment! Listen to the people around you and their ideas. Plant your vegetables and share them with your neighbors! Every little bit of change helps!
If I could add to our society to make it more sustainable I might implement educational programs regarding the importance of ecovillages as living options. One hinderance is that so many people grow up thinking they can have their own house and their own little car, to drive them to get there own food. Why can’t we share the food! We can share our living space and travel together, each of which are heavily amplified in societies with successful ecovillage areas. It isn’t easy to implement such large scale social shifts. Its much easier to do things the way we have been doing them for many years. It will take soldiers in the form of citizens to stand up for their environment. The movement has already started but it needs to pick up the pace if we want to rework our entire society.
I am glad this blog was a requirement for our NR 104 class. I believe it allowed me to learn about something that I can truly use in the future. I cannot say that about all of the classes I have taken, not even most of them. It takes a unique assignment like this one to hold value in a students everyday life. I feel as though the blog format allowed me to write in a personable and friendly manner. It allowed me to experiment with the different ways I could try to relate with people on the internet, who have a similar interest and concern for our diminishing environment. Too often in school do we find ourselves bored. And too often when we are bored do we find ourselves unproductive. It takes a smart professor to be able to capture the attention of his students through a classroom environment that promotes productivity outside of the classroom. It takes a smart professor to run a unique class like NR 104 and I am glad to have been a part of the class this year.
“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” -Abraham Lincoln