Beautiful photos by NikiAnne Feinburg! Click on each photo to see it full size.
Beautiful photos by NikiAnne Feinburg! Click on each photo to see it full size.
by Chris Farmer
In June, residents of the Hut Hamlet became owners/users of the first electric microgrid at Earthaven! Chris Farmer designed the grid with help from Brandon Greenstein. Code for mastering, monitoring and metering usage was written by Jake Farina. Earthaven members produce electricity from sun and water, and are not tied into the Duke Power grid, so this is especially significant to folks choosing simplified lifestyles. Now bigger and smaller users alike will be able to meet their needs, each paying according to usage, the rates differing between peak- and low-usage times. The Hamlet microgrid is solely solar-powered at this time.
Before the microgrid, some Hamlet residents had barely enough power for a light and a laptop, while others had been able to upgrade their systems to power refrigerators and freezers. The new plan, which took many months and many minds to work out, and weeks of disrupted paths and phone lines, has been running smoothly for a few weeks and the future of power in the Hamlet looks, well, …brighter!
Microgrid Technical Points, courtesy of Chris Farmer (SunWorks Electric, 828-664-0268).
The MicroGrid presently powers 11 Huts, the neighborhood kitchen, and bathhouse. The system is touted to produce 31.5 kWh (kilowatt hours) of energy on an average day. (Note: In 2013 the average American home required 29.9 kWh of electrical energy per day.) All of the power available is not yet being utilized.
Hut Hamlet Microgrid Components
- An 8.16 kW Solar Photovoltaic Array (32 individual 255 watt Kyocera panels
- A 48 volt 950Ah (Amp Hour) flooded lead acid battery (HUP Solar One) that weighs 3500 lbs.
- Two MidNite Solar 200 charge controllers
- Two Schneider Electric XW6848 Inverters, each capable of 6.8kW of continual conventional AC power output. One inverter is asleep ~90% of the time, awakened only when the Master inverter needs help.
- Excess electricity produced is diverted to a 105 gallon, 240 volt AC, electric hot water heater.
- Each connection is individually metered. Capital and operating expenses of the system will be determined by users’ weighted impact.
- The system is backed up by a super quiet Honda EU7000is generator.
August is a busy harvest month at Earthaven. Abundance (and labor) abounds.
On Friday morning, March 15, with lots of lively group engagement and drawings on the whiteboard, we were treated to a two-hour seminar on basic economic realities by Earthaven member Lee Warren.
“An economy is the interactions and exchanges between people that manage the flow of resources among them,” she said, “and this implies having expenses.”
The “three-legged stool of sustainability” — with economic, environmental, and social values — is distorted in mainstream culture which primarily emphasizes economic rewards but not so much social and environmental aspects of societal well-being. And in a pendulum swing away from this, Earthaven culture primarily emphasizes social and environmental values and tends to discount economics.
Lee told us her economic premises:
Premise A. Everyone needs an economy.
Premise B. The closer your economy is tied to an exploitative system that externalizes costs, the better off you do economically.
Premise C. The more your economy comes from a land-base or from women’s work, the more you struggle economically.
Premise D. “Idealism increased in direct proportion to ones distance from the problem.” a quote by John Galsworthy
Hence folks who’ve earned or inherited money from mainstream economy sources and have no actual experience in say, starting a rural land-based business or a “women’s” service work business, can believe that spiritual values and economic sustainability are somehow mutually exclusive. Or can have strong ideas about what people “should” do to earn an income in ecological or spiritual ways, without realizing that doing so can actually make the person too poor to stay in business.
Knowing how each Earthaven member earns or receives income, Lee created an “economic snapshot” of our current village economy: 14% are self-employed; 38% have retirement or other passive income; 5% do offsite work; and 43% “piece it together” with multiple part-time jobs and small income streams. We observed that except for retirees and those with outside or family money-based passive incomes, most Earthaven members are challenged economically.
Lee listed current or former onsite member-owned businesses and noted that the majority have gone out of business, moved off the property, or are struggling. She noted the number of entrepreneurial folks who have withdrawn from or left the community, discouraged by the lack of understanding about the need for economic sustainability. She demonstrated the economies of scale with an analogy about finding food on a tropical island — including guerilla-theater help from several seminar participants — and why we reduce our effectiveness if we each try to create self-reliant homesites, as some permaculturists advise. She advocated specializing instead, with some of us supplying, say, eggs, and others supplying, say, blueberries.
“To create a sustainable economy when we finally become our envisioned village of 150,” she said, “we’ll need at least 10 small businesses employing at least five Earthaven people.” We concluded by listing ways to support onsite businesses, including buying member-made products (which we already do quite well), induce experienced entrepreneurs to move here (and entice those who have left to return), raise funds to kickstart existing businesses up to the next level, offer community work credit for labor that helps onsite businesses, support specialization, subsidize the cost of clearing forest land for agriculture or businesses, and perhaps most important, allow and encourage members to experiment in their businesses and farms — rather than regulating and suppressing experimentation, as we’ve sometimes done in the past.
The presentation was well received, and in fact was one of the best events I’ve seen at Earthaven. Two members started an ad hoc committee to find ways to better support onsite businesses. Lee said she’d realized her goals for the presentation — to be slow-paced, participatory, fun, and smart.”
Many of us are clamoring for her do it again!
Happy Spring Equinox! At Earthaven we are singing and drumming at sunrise, and holding a children’s ritual and egg hunt. There are two equinoxes each year, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator.
A few years ago, our interns at Imani Farm, NikiAnne and Drew, told us about a rumor that at the equinox, eggs would balance perfectly upright when put on end on a flat surface, because of the tilt of the earth at that time.
Well, Lee and the interns got down on the floor in the Village Terraces Common Kitchen and, after some effort, balanced the egg! The only thing is, we never tried it when it wasn’t equinox, so for all we know, we could balance an egg like this any day of the year.
Imani Farm chickens are pastured and receive soy-free, organic feed. A limited number of their eggs are available in Asheville. No GMOs! When you go to the farmer’s market, please check with your local egg farmer to see if they are using conventional feed (GMO) and, if so, tell them you want to pay more for GMO-free eggs. Let’s use our consumer buying power to support organic feed rather than Monsanto GMOs!
Because increasing numbers of members over the last several years have been dissatisfied with our consensus decision-making method, in October 2012 Earthaven agreed to modify its consensus process. For 18 years we used consensus-with-unanimity, which requires 100% agreement (not counting stand-asides) to pass a proposal. We also had no recourse if someone blocked — no criteria for what constituted a valid block, against which blocks could be tested, nor a requirement that blockers meet with proposal advocates to draft a new proposal.
“Blocking potentially gives tremendous power to one or a few individuals, and the only way for that to function successfully is with a check and balance,” advises consensus trainer Tree Bressen (Communities magazine, Summer 2012). “In my experience, every successful consensus system . . . restricts blocking power in order to guard against tyranny of the minority,” she adds (Fall 2012 issue).
Here’s how Earthaven’s new “check and balance” method works:
- To choose officers in our annual meeting, we adapted a technique from Sociocracy: a series of “go rounds” to nominate and choose people for these roles. We used this method successfully in annual officer elections in our November 25th and December 9th Council meetings.
- To approve incoming new members we retained our previous consensus method.
- For all other proposals we added criteria for a valid block and a way to test blocks against that criteria (i.e., a block is declared invalid if 85% of Council members present say it’s invalid).
For any remaining blocks that have been declared valid, we use an adaptation of the N St. Consensus Method, in which blockers and several proposal advocates participate in up to three solution-oriented meetings to co-create a new proposal that addresses the same issues as the first proposal. If they cannot, the original proposal comes back to the next Council for a decision using consensus-minus-one (meaning it takes two blocks, not one, to stop the proposal).
One of the ways Earthaven honors longtime members is with Member Appreciation evenings – where the person tells their life story. In this clip from his story, Chris Farmer presents his vision for creating an Appalachian version of Machu Picchu in our village.
Raising heritage fowl off the grid challenges us on how to increase the flock. Not enough power for a typical incubator. Difficulties providing consistent heat for babies when they hatch or come from mail order. We have been experimenting in using the old fashioned way…..a broody hen. Simple so you say…let the mama do it. Well there are some points to consider.
You are at the whim of nature. This plays out in several ways. The sex of your hatch is up in the air. Not just pullets (females), guaranteed a few or most will be roosters. Are the eggs fertile and will they take? Candling is an art to figure out. The learning curve is accelerated by the first rotten egg you experience. Will the broody hen be a good mama or will she abandon the nest for some reason. And with ducks, all domesticated ones except the muscovy came from the mallards, and have had the broody instinct bred out.
Fortunately for us we were able to convince the sort of broody duck hen to sit for 28 days on her nest. So now we have 4 ducklings. They escaped the black snake by the savvy mother getting them out of the nest when they were less then 1 day old. She did abandon the 4 other eggs. One was actually hatching, so some quick thinking, a hot water bottle, and wool sweater sleeve allowed the duckling to survive. All are doing well and growing so fast. Still don’t know if they are hens or drakes, that will take awhile to figure out. And the black snake…it got away. Let’s just hope it’s pulling double duty on the voles and mice!
In this post we profile one of our villagers.
“My whole life has been leading toward me doing this role.”
Steve Torma is guiding Earthaven through the awkward teen years as Earthaven’s Fire Keeper. As Fire Keeper, Steve seeks to honor and value the community history while accepting change and valuing transformation.
Steve sees Earthaven as one of the places on the planet that’s grappling with what humans need to do to evolve as a species. Steve believes that for Earthaven to thrive, we need to balance our attention between developing the physical and cultural aspects of the village. To keep this balance, he uses the four-quadrant view of the Integral Model:
- I quadrant – how I view reality, what I like and don’t like
- It quadrant– my body and things, such as food and housing
- We quadrant – relationships between two or more people
- Its quadrant – systems that we are part of, such as collective buildings, the ecosystem, and external governing bodies
During the first 15 years of the community, Earthaven placed most of its attention in the It and Its quadrants — developing the roads, water systems, community buildings, housing, and farms needed to house the village. With some of those completed, Steve sees “my role is being a catalyst in the I and we quadrants so we can evolve more successfully – be more creative and productive.”
Steve explains more about the Integral Model at Earthaven in a series of videos:
- Introduction to the Integral Model at Earthaven
- Example of the Integral Model at Earthaven
- How the quadrants relate to each other
Steve has a strong appreciation for “the value of the group mind and synergy of the collective intelligence.” As Fire Keeper, he is the leader of the Fire Orbo, which is responsible for the overall well being of the community, including peace, safety, spirit, and community process, and is also the President of the homeowner’s association. He is supported in this role by his co-Fire Keeper, Kimchi Rylander, and a committee of Fire Tenders.
Steve’s personal transformation mirrors Earthaven’s. When he came to Earthaven Steve was in poor health and made his living selling books at conferences. After rebuilding his health and co-creating the Village Terraces neighborhood, Steve turned his attention to developing a teaching and coaching practice. Steve teaches through the REAL Center where he offers courses on compassionate communication and the art of intimacy. He also offers personal coaching and mediation services, and is available for workshop and consulting for groups and businesses.
For fun, Steve likes to build and fix things, enjoys lifting heavy objects, and gets deep satisfaction out of seeing the richness of life at Village Terraces and Earthaven. “With each passing year we become more of a village. I enjoy watching the children being able to walk around and knowing that they are held in the safety of our village. I also like having our own cow and chickens.”