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Ecovillage Dreams: Redux

Due to the popularity, I suspect, of the WITCHVOX website, it’s taking months and months to publish a single article through the editing process. I cannot even begin to express my respect for the attention to detail of the staff of this website to read every single posting to ensure all things correspond with the goals and objectives of the body. The down-side, of course, is that in some of the more fluid projects, like the creation of any community, the article contents are no longer accurate or necessarily conclusive after six or eight or ten months. That, however, is not necessarily a bad thing either. If you, my audience, were to read the posting-dates, add six months for good measure, and plot a time-line, it would be reasonable to plant a scene of how the project changed and had grown. No pun intended. That said, This is a new update for a huge, fresh chapter in the Tir Tairngire Ecovillage; one that changes all the rules.

Allow me to explain the time-line a little bit so we may begin on the same page, as it were; since 2002 the 44 acres (17.8 hectares) that the ecovillage would one day be built upon has been opened, in spirit, to me. My father owns the deed that had been passed on to him by his father and his grandparents. This land is in St. Fintan’s, Newfoundland, Canada, in an unzoned region of rural area without a town council, municipal water or sewer. We DO have Newfoundland Power poles with Eastlink cable television, telephone and high speed internet, though eastlink is not quite as far down the road as my site, yet. That isn’t even the big news!

As of August, 2012, I have applied for a Crown Lands Lease, through the Dept of Lands for the procurement of deed for an additional 44 acres, including a service road, adjacent to the property in question. Both blocks are 100m (~330′) wide, and 1700m (just over a mile) long; a total of 200m in new width. The service road was built by the Newfoundland Department of Forestry to act as a “woods road” for those who use with pulpwood permits. If I secure this property, after a long battle with the Newfoundland Department of Agriculture, I will also secure private ownership of this road. The lease is for agricultural purposes, and has very strict rules; but that’s a battle for another day. The lease will be annual, and less than $100.00 per year for all this land.

This new change has allowed us a significant greater opportunity with new rules. We cannot build permanent structures (such as residences) on the crown land. It must be devoted to disposable uses, such as barns, sheds, greenhouses, which can be dismantled easily and readily should the land change hands (which I have no intention of letting that happen). Also, there must be a needs analysis, an environmental impact assessment, and many other documents that I wanted to have anyway. Furthermore, certain acreage must be CLEARED each year. Trees removed, de-stumped, and ultimately, topsoil destroyed. Farming in Canada is a terrible burden on the soil, “Industrial Monocropping” is a blight upon the farming community. I need to establish a firm foundation of permauclture, hugelkultur (likely using ridges, swales and raised-beds) and forest gardening. I want to have strips and clearings among the wooded crownland section, with boardwalks, and so on.

Now, the logistics. Each road is named for a tree, in alphabetical order. Ash, Birch, Cedar, Dogwood, Elder, Fir, Ginko, Holly, Ironwod, Juniper, Kiwi, Larch, Maple, Nectarine, Oak, Pine, Quince and Rowan. Each is a branch, a right-hand turn, off of the “Main Street” which is the woods reservation. Each road, or “(Name) Place”, is 200m long, and bisects the entire property. These will be professionally built dirt roads, dug down and bedded properly. The relatively low traffic on the roads will help with longevity, may even consider lime-stabilization to add some life to the project’s infrastrcture.

Now, Ash and Birch place will not have any homes on them. Ash is separating The Grove (The wooded section between the asphalt highway and the property within) and Caili Park (the 600′ by 300′ playground). Birch place separates Caili Park and the first of the farms and homes, and will have three infrastructure buildings on it. These will be a headquarters/office place, and maybe a dorm for visitors. From then on, Cedar (3rd) through Quince (17th), the design suggests 6 seasonal cottages per “place”, each on a 10,000 sqft block of land. This land is designed to accommodate the 2-3 bedroom cottage (perhaps 20′ x 20′ or a little larger), with or without basement, as well as the workspace which will be significantly larger, as much as 50% larger than the home. These will be where the cottage industries are facilitated; pottery (Solar-electric kilns and Leach-type kick-wheels, blacksmithy (using solar-electric induction forges, rather than coal or LPG), carpentry (hand-tools and organic paints, pitch and so on), Herbalism (with devoted greenhouses, homeopathy, and masters making simples, tinctures and salves, as well as preparation of herbs, spices, potpourri, and other pagan-y goodness, and food preparation and preservation), an aide station where animals and humans alike can discover healing, we need industries for textiles (a spinner to weave our plant and animal fibers into spools, a facility for our knitters and knitting machines, as well as a seamstress, tailor and looming equipment). Six workshops will exist inside each neighborhood for redundancy and attention to detail. As the community grows, the workshops will specialize more and more until a master sits on every stool.

In the mission to spread the word of our mission, to provide a cohesive advantage and the why to the ecovillages what, we created the idea of the Ecovillage foundation. At the date of this article’s composition, August 18th, 2012, that goal is very much alive. The Tir Tairngire Foundation will be an official non-profit sister organization who’s sole mandate will be to catalog and distribute the research data, free of charge. But we need income to purchase that which we cannot harvest on our own site, such as electrical cable, solar cells, specialty woods and technology like the Induction Forge, and so on. To that end, myself and Karen Wilcox-Gorman had been discussing farmers markets targetted at the population at the South Western corner of the island of Newfoundland, from Deer Lake 200km north of the site, to Port Aux Basques 100km south, and all points in between. Upwards of 50,000 people live in this region, and we will have access to much of those who are willing to travel to these events. In the discussion of how to go about it, we wished to keep our solid assets as low as possible, as well as the required man-hours. We wished to not be burdened by property and real estate in several locations, and then the burden to afford them becomes an issue, by way of staff, supplies and insurances, to speak nothing of the purchase or construction cost. The solution was rather simple: Trucks.

The conclusion was that if we were to purchase a 40′ moving truck, similar to the models that UHAUL issue regularly, which employ disk brakes rather than airlocks to avoid certifications, we could have mobile farmers markets. Fueled, possibly, by our own harvested biodiesel, we could maintain them in-house as best we can (understanding the pollution and garbage “expenses”), and mobilize them as we see fit. We can find sites to park them, and modify them as we wish, with all the artisan and craftmanship of the old gypsy caravans. Hydraulics could move the modified walls out to form canopies, and lower decks to form a bridge. The entire inside could be designed much like the old grocery lots, where customers make requests and the GROCER (not a cashier) serves them individually. Several people could man (at the risk of sounding gender-biased) each side of the mobile unit, and each morning the staff of that day could stock the vehicle with only the freshest produce and crafts. In the winter we could facilitate craft shows, selling preserves, pottery, fabric and woodworking. In the summer we could sell berries, baked goods, and so on. Cash-only, or trade for other resources. Imagine the assets we could accumulate, and the connections, if we can feed a starving family who is willing to harvest proper timber from the woods on their pulpwood permits for use in our lumber mills? We would not only be facilitating a service to the community, but also keeping our needs met in the process. As mobile, we can get around certain legal issues, and can move with the markets, including large public gatherings like Canada Day celebrations, Salmon Festival, Strawberry Festival and Blueberry Festival (You really have to be a Newfoundlander to appreciate the SCALE of these events)

Each household is built upon a 10,000 square foot area, and no more than 600 feet away, have access to a 10,000 square foot farming area. The building lot is where any animals will be lodged, on a rotating grazing operation designed my myself and Karen, which will be adapted to each type of animal. If a household wishes to raise 50 or 100 chickens, they can have a huge area of nearly 8000 square feet to free-range them to the best of the earth’s fertility and the animal’s tastes. Make it ducks, turkeys or geese and the numbers change, but the area stays the same. Each lot is a carbon-copy in perimeter, but each one will be custom designed for our needs. Further, each farming lot will be designed for a very specific purpose, be it hugulkultur for raising basic-needs crops, like all the vegetables required by the neighborhood to survive, en-mass, with enough surplus to sell at the farmers market. All members of the neighborhood will share in the responsibility of tending to those fields. Each additional field will be designed a little differently, perhaps growing industrial crops, or a vast area of greenhouses designed for medicinal herbs that cannot grow in our local soil/climate, or a field of fruiting trees. We cannot forget that whatever we grow for ourselves, we must also grow animal food for our pets and our livestock; I’ve made that mistake (in my calculations) before. Each neighborhood of 6 cottages will have 6 industries and 5 fields; the 6th field will be a parking lot with a loading zone for the Market Truck and 13 spaces for cars, carts, trucks or similar.

In the mission to discover what animals we intend to raise, we wish to keep the land-use as fundamental as possible, that means no animals with HUGE food-conversion ratios like horses (perhaps MUCH later when we really specialize in our assets) and animals that require large pasture land like cows. We will, instead, devote ourselves to more mobile animals like chickens, goats and perhaps pigs. Animals that can be free-range, but are less fundamentally based upon grazing. This is one means for us to reduce our carbon footprint and require less actual tangible land for our living expenses, as it were. We also require to have multi-use animals were possible, where chickens lay eggs, can then be slaughtered and the feather/down can be used for many purposes. I have even read that chicken leather is a commodity in some cultures. We expect to only use heritage breeds that do not require heavy medication and inoculations, hardy and cold-tolerant. Tamworth pigs, for example, and icelandic goats.

Pets are an issue, and allergies notwithstanding, we wish the use of animal labour as well as any other sort. Certain breeds of dog, for example, are only happy when hauling; Malamutes are an example as they are larger and slower than Huskys and fit our purposes fine. We will employ dog carts for the non-winter months and slays for the snowy season. It has also been discussed to build ratio-belted wheels to turn a circular sawmill in which we train our dogs, in teams, to turn the drive-wheel that runs belts, pulleys and gears to the action below the blade, to saw our lumber in a nearby assembly. The dogs will love the exercise, and we can brush them for the short-staple fibers for our warmest sweaters. Under negotiation with a woman in St. Petersberg, Russia for future models to her animals, a specialty breed of Canadian Black Wolf and Alaskan Malamute. These animals can stand 7′ tall when on hind legs, and are larger than either of the two breeds, a trick of genetics I suppose. These animals, based upon my research, can be raised and trained very acutely to act as a household animal or a sled-dog, as well as a guardian of flocks and homes. No one would dare cross a flock of chickens with a 200lb black wolf hybrid sleeping on a large stone in the center of the field. Qalipu, a Newfoundland First Nations band, native status which I will soon have, allows animals with mixed wolf-domestic heritage. So all bases are covered there.

In the quest to connect us enough with the outside world to make use of it’s economy (while it exists). I have designed a system of WIFI repeaters using solar and lithium ion batteries to allow wireless access for desktops, tablets and smartphones. We wish to connect ourselves with the earth in a tighter bond, but we will still have families that we will require attention. We also have the assets of people in the community having the freedom to make their own videos, and I would like to encourage many of them to make a daily blog on the ecovillage youtube channel ( People commenting about their day, the weather, the harvest, all these things collected and re-distributed would help enlighten an audience about the sort of life we choose, CHOOSE to lead. I am sure that many of the members of WitchVox would wish to live in a lifestyle resembling the ecovillage that I envision, perhaps not our exact flavor, but definitely a nourishing juice of the same variety, rather than the bile feed to us by our consumerist economy. It also allows us to use free VOIP telephone calling using a locally run linux server attached to the grid internet. It will allow problem-free communication with the outside world without the monopoly from Aliant Telecommunications.. As long as the world wide web (and ironically, Eastlink Communications, but we could use any provider we like, by rights, if we involve satellite communication but our weather is prohibitive to that idea) is available to us, we have communication with the world. We wish to have online sales, a website and e-commerce solution to allow us to reach a broader audience.

I have recently come upon a website called WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and there is a Canadian branch. There are a number of great opportunities that we can provide people who are potential WWOOF volunteers. We could formally partner with the organization, and each of our members could, with dual-allegiance, become wwoofers using their mandate. Understanding that everyone is a volunteer will legally ease matters. Another matter is the “new” vision, or the new phrasing, of the arrangement for which the community members will be organized. I’ve fielded (no pun intended) a great many questions about how this portion will be run, and I think that I have a solution, partly inspired by WWOOF International.
All of the cottages will be known as “Seasonal Cabin Accommodations” where our “Worker Volunteers” will stay during their variable length contracts. Before planting season begins, each worker will be assigned quarters in one of our 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom cabins. Some variety will be allowed with the design of these structures, but we are also following the “tiny house” movement, and Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Houses especially (Seriously, check them out if you have not already). Each worker will be provided zero expenses while living among us, which includes home heating fuel, electricity, what medicine we offer, telephone communication (though no cellphones will be provided, nor shall they be prohibited), rent, clothing, pottery goods, blacksmith goods, etc. All will be “included” with the “package”. They do their work which will, of course, require training at no expense to the volunteer, and they will work their contract of six months or whatever the term will be.

In cases where we have farming staff, perhaps we have university graduates who wished to work on the farm for the summer, or high school graduates who wished to take a “year off” before university. They can live among us at no cost to themselves, get all the training they require to do many specialty, artisan-level crafts and learn to tend-farm. They can leave with a new sense of well-being and accomplishment at the end of their contract or sign on for the winter when the hard-core craft-work takes over where the harvest left off.

If any money is to change hands, it will be in the form of a stipend which will be of variable quantity depending on the surplus for that term (be it a month, a season or a year). There has been debate as to whether every community member will be given a household computer as part of this agreement, or if communal workstations will be available, or even if everyone gets a “company smartphone”, but those issues are still being discussed with the existing founding body. It is entirely likely that our volunteers may ascend the series of elected committee bodies from their neighborhoods (15 or 16 committees oversee neighborhood decisions and bring them to the founders committee) or their trades (each trade will have a committee with each member who has a trade in their neighborhood, and can bring those decisions to the founders committee) and so on. Everyone in the settlement has a voice, even if that voice is “No opinion”.

It is my hope that we can get a community that does not see money-matters as being as important as they are. It has also been discussed that a “reward” for service to the community will provide full repayment of student-loan debt, or credit card debt, and so on. When we have community-clout to cover off those expenses, perhaps in exchange for longer term-of-service-contracts (TOSC’s) to pay off the investment, we could provide a really solid and viable options to people buried in debt. They can change their lives and their thinking in one motion. Perfection.

We also discussed building a series of scholarship funds, when we have the assets. Speaking with local universities (Memorial University of Newfoundland and it’s campuses) and colleges (College of the North Atlantic and it’s campuses) to establish a fund where exceptional minds who seek to live this way as reflected by their academics, can receive FULL funding (we’d only end up paying it down anyway) in exchange for continued academic excellence, summer workterms at the ecovillage site, and extended TOSC’s in exchange for the bursary. I would also like to extend this scholarship fund to other nations, to offer those of other cultures the opportunity to live here, work here, learn in our schools and among our villagers. Also to take the lessons of permaculture and a degree in environmental science, for example, back to countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Berma, etc. We can then learn as much from them as we have to teach, and the cultural diversity can grow.

Only through sharing the gifts that we are able to provide can we make the global community grow. We can teach the lessons learned here, in Newfoundland, with other cultures and other communities, provinces and countries to provide a more cohesive understanding of our research. Permaculture is not magic, though it can sometimes seem that way. It is a lost art, a skill we learn from nature, and all of humanity deserves to learn from the same powerful teacher. Please join me in my mission, help with the Ecovillage Project as best you can by sharing these articles and the youtube channel videos with your peers.
I will close by saying the words that I pray mark my final resting place, “Without support, there can be no community.”

By Robin Gosse posted August 18th 2012

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