Sunday, February 14, 2010

Building the Eco-Village

How do the kind of folks who would be interested in such a venture (e.g. the slaves that have been sucked dry by the centralized system) afford the land and resources to create such a community?

This question got me thinking this morning about the whole idea of "building communities", and I question the wisdom of buying a parcel of raw land and creating an "eco-community." I just don't think it's a good idea, especially when we're raping the landscape all over the world to build our communities, and half of those (like most of Detroit, Michigan) are now sitting feral, because we've decided to give up and start over.

It's easier, right? But it's also very irresponsible.

In keeping with my central theme of surviving the suburbs, I have a solution.

The above picture is the suburb where I spent a significant portion of my youth. It is in Alabama.

But there are suburban areas, just like that one, all over the United States, and there are even places where whole neighborhoods are little more than ghost towns as the former residents leave.

What if, those people interested in "building" these eco-villages, were to purchase property in these depressed areas and begin the process of building a system of interdependent urban/suburban homesteads?

A suburban house can be taken off-grid, and while it does take a bit of an investment to do so (and probably costs more than buying a piece of junk land out in the deserts of Nevada and Utah and parking an RV or building a shed to live in), it can save significant resources, because much of the infrastructure is already there.

In an extreme survival situation, shelter should be the first priority, followed by water and food.

In the suburbs, we have shelter and (for the moment) water. We have land, not a great deal of it, but working together with our neighbors and using permaculture and small space gardening techniques, we'd have enough (one 4x4 garden bed will feed an adult two vegetables per day for the duration of the season, and depending on where one lives, that could be quite a lot of food ;).

We're tapping our maple trees today.

When we're done, we'll have a total of fifteen taps. Last year, the eight taps (in six trees) gave us 165 gallons of sap over a period of three weeks (we believe that we waited too long to tap last year).

One mature oak can yield around 1000 pounds of acorns in one season, and acorns can be used for flour to make flat bread, as a substitute for coffee, and as a nut meat to add bulk to winter soups.

The linden tree, or basswood, has edible leaves that taste like lettuce.

One quarter acre suburban lot is large enough for several large trees (including maples, oaks, linden and a couple of fruit trees), plus, several garden beds for annual vegetables, perennial herbs, and small livestock, including chickens, ducks, rabbits, and bees.

We've been spoiled into believing that we need large parcels of land or that we need to start from scratch, and while I do recognize that remodeling is more difficult than building new, it is the only responsible option we have left.

Small space gardening and suburban homesteading is, actually, less labor intensive than trying to farm large tracts of land. It also requires fewer inputs, because, frankly, the best way to cultivate a quarter acre is with hand tools.

Transitioning from our consumerist lifestyles to a lower energy future can only happen if we use the resources we have available - including, and especially, our suburbs.


  1. I couldn't agree more. When we first bought our house, we thought it would be a starter home and we would move on to bigger and better things. Over the years I started to realize that everything we needed was right here. We have fabulous neighbors, enough space to do what we need and just the right amount of space in the house. (somedays I'd like a little more though) On our little lot we have 8 fruit trees, many fruit bushes, 1500 sq feet of garden space, chickens, and there is still more to be done.

  2. I love the idea of eco villages. But you are right about them eating up new land, sorta the whole consumer aspect of it seems counter to the movement's intentions. Also, to me, it seems sorta a class-ist response and segregates the community from the whole. We looked into eco-villages in Maine and the prices of the homes were way, way out of the reach of our income. It may be different elsewhere. My thought was lower-income folks share the same concerns as folks with incomes that could afford these homes but there was no room in these communities for folks in our income. Hardly utopia.