In October of 2014, my fiancée, Amie, and I finally completed the last of our paperwork and moved into our new home in Beacon, New York. We had been living in Hamilton Heights for 4 years after both of us graduated from Sarah Lawrence College (Amie staying a year longer to get her Masters degree in education). While New York City has its good points, we had grown weary of sirens at all hours, nameless interactions at coffee shops and delis that tended toward distant apathy, and claustrophobic morning rides in a crowded subway car with all the other disgruntled travelers. Manhattan was not helping us grow into the best version of ourselves.
We had never planned to stay forever, and when I got a job that could support us both for a short time while Amie transitioned to a new one, we made the leap and moved.
We had visited Amie’s father, Dan, in Beacon on numerous weekend escapes while living in Manhattan as we tried to remind ourselves what mountains and trees and sky and nature really were. Amie had grown up in Garrison, just two towns south of Beacon, and was a full-blooded Hudson Valley girl. Having grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee (another awesome river town), I felt immediately at home. We fell in love with Beacon. The more we thought about where we’d want to move, the more we realized just how special this little corner of the Earth was. So by the time we were ready to make our move, the choice was clear. And Beacon took us in with welcoming arms.
I won’t bore you with the entire process of buying a house (the many hours spent on Trulia and Zillow, countless open houses, lawyers, mortgages, paperwork, and living with Amie’s dad who graciously took us in for the summer). Long story short, in the end we truly found our dream home. The previous owners had put their heart and soul into the house’s renovations. It felt like the passing of a torch from one family to another. The kitchen had two ovens (two of them) and chalkboard paint on the walls. The downstairs had beautiful old hardwood floors, and the living room was big enough for house shows and dance parties with friends. The total square footage was 9 times the size of our apartment in Hamilton Heights. There was a real yard. With apple trees.
So we dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. When we got the place inspected (a standard part of the home buying process), the inspector casually told Amie that because we had a south-facing roof we were good candidates for solar panels. He said there were programs available for people who couldn’t afford the initial cost of the panels, and that it might be cheaper than our electric bill with Central Hudson.
Amie’s ears perked up, and she immediately texted me.
You see, Amie and I had been thinking about the environment since we were kids (like many people in our hippie-parented, climate-aware, Captain Planet generation), and a couple years back we gathered together a group of friends and started having meetings as a community. We started dreaming, and then getting practical about one day starting an ecovillage—a sustainable, educational shared living environment.
Ecovillages are akin to what people used to call “communes”, but that word has gotten a bit of a stain since the high-profile cults and failed farming attempts of the 1960’s. Not to mention the McCarthy-era attitude that still has remnants today, where anything remotely akin to communism is seen as an insult to the American dream.
What most people don’t tell you is that a number of those farms and intentional communities that got started in the 60’s and 70’s (Twin Oaks and The Farm being major examples) are still running successfully today. And with the advent of the Internet, there’s a wealth of publicly available information and community support for people trying to start a farm, cohousing community, or ecovillage today. Not to mention there are thousands of ecovillages across the globe now, serving as examples of how societies can be more cooperative, egalitarian, and aware of environmental interdependence.
Part of the reason that Amie and I had gotten a house with trees, space for growing things, and space for housemates was so that we could directly continue forward winding threads of our planned ecovillage, Wildflower Farms, in our own home.
So, suffice it to say, when the inspector mentioned that we might be able to get solar panels on our roof right now—not fifteen years from now when we were “real grown-ups”, but right now—Amie and I had the first of many conversations about how to make this a reality.
The wheels began to turn.
- Here’s a great NPR story from last week that perfectly summarizes the situation many find themselves in. Thanks to my dad, Rich Metzger, for this one!: The Great Solar Panel Debate: To Lease Or To Buy?
- Research that was released last week highlights the megadroughts that are projected to hit the American Southwest if we maintain our current course of greenhouse gas emissions. A good reminder of why we need to start changing our way of life right now.
- Diana Leafe Christian’s work researching intentional communities is essential reading for anyone thinking of starting or joining one. She has distilled a lot of the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences that fledgling and seasoned communities face, and she is expert at sharing what works best when bringing groups of people together to live in community for the long haul.
- The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) and the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) are great resources for learning about ecovillages and intentional communities all around the world.
Some particularly cool ecovillages and intentional communities worth checking out:
- Sirius Community (Massachusetts)
- Dancing Rabbit (Missouri)—be sure to check out Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig’s fantastic TEDx talk
- Earthaven (North Carolina)
- Twin Oaks (Virginia)
- The Farm (Tennessee)
- Findhorn (Scotland)
- Damanhur (Italy)
- Auroville (India)
Here’s a sampling of some of the other communities from the ‘60s and ‘70s still around today (with their founding dates—thanks to Laird Schaub for help with this list):