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.
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).
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.”
In this video, Earthaven Fire Keeper, Steve Torma, answers the question “what is Earthaven to you?”.
I know, I know, it’s May. I’ve been chasing after a baby recently. Better late than never……
When I was growing up there were a lot of family traditions around the holidays. One of my favorites every year was making Christmas cookies with my mom, brother, and cousins. We would get together to make dozens and dozens of what I consider to this day to be the quintessential Christmas cookie, basic sugar cookie dough with a basic powdered sugar icing. There were tons of cookie cutters in all kinds of fun shapes and the decorating potentials were unlimited.
Although my holidays now as an adult with a new family of my own are quite
different from when I was a child, this is a tradition I have carried with me into adulthood. This was the second year I have had this annual party at Earthaven and it was a huge success. The day was cool and rainy, perfect for hot drinks, hanging out, a little Christmas music , and cookies, cookies, cookies! Kids and adults of all ages came together in the Village Terraces kitchen to cut, bake, decorate, and eat. How can sugar and flour mean so much to me? It’s yet another way to bring people together.
I have been delighted to discover a product offered at Shangri-Laundry that is effective for laundry and household cleaning and is environmentally friendly. I call it “enviro-oxy” because its real name, sodium percarbonate, is such a mouthful.
You mix this powder with water in varying proportions to provide stain-remover, laundry booster, surface cleaner, and so on. It is excellent for cleaning and removing organic stains (such as coffee, tea, wine, fruit juices, foods, sauces, grass and blood) from fabrics, plastics, fiberglass, porcelain, ceramics, wood, carpets, asphalt, concrete, etc. Don’t use it on wool or silk, however.
Greg Geis, laundry designer, researched to be sure that Enviro-Oxy would be safe for Earthaven’s water. After use, it breaks down to oxygen and baking soda. Sodium Percarbonate (Enviro-Oxy) is the underlying ingredient of Oxi-Clean products.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find out how effective it is for a variety of uses. Like Greg, I am a convert and use it regularly. It comes in one-cup bags, which last a long time because a little bit goes a long way.
When you get some for the first time, you can also pick up a printed sheet of all the ways to mix it and use it. There are also helpful instructions on the web. The enviro-oxy bags and the instruction sheets are in the product cabinet pictured here.
Below is a wider shot of Shangri-Laundry and the products cabinet. The products are self-serve: select what you want, put the money in a small envelope with your name, and drop it in the cash box on top of the cabinet. If you need change, go next door to the home of laundry manager Diana Leafe Christian.
1-Aesthetics: Let’s face it. Little baby lambs are cute. There is nothing quite like walking by a big beautiful pasture full of lush green grass and mama sheep with tiny new lambs.
2-Wool: The Gateway sheep are sheared twice a year, in the spring and fall, and the wool is available for sale to Earthaven residents and friends. Just imagine wearing a hat knit by one friend from yarn spun by another friend with wool that was grown right in your own back yard!
3-Pasture Fertilization/Integrated System: Gateway is one of several farms at Earthaven and the sheep are one piece of a farm system working towards sustainability (while realizing that we have a long way to go.) Sheep, chickens, turkeys, winter storage vegetables, bio-fuel, house building, solar energy and human connection are some of the many pieces involved. Poop makes great fertilizer.
4-Education and Radical Responsibility: Two Earthaveners slaughtered one of the Gateway lambs to serve for the Thanksgiving dinner served in the Council Hall. One had experience with animal slaughter and the other was excited to learn. Both were taking radical responsibility for their food by being a part of the death that gives them life.
5-Meat: The lamb meat was roasted in the oven at the Village Terraces common kitchen while we listened to food songs on WNCW, drank wine, and prepared stuffing and gallons of gravy. The meal was a sort of pre-arranged potluck and folks could choose to purchase (at cost) turkey and/or lamb. YUM!
6-Haggis: “Made from all the parts of the sheep the English won’t eat” read the sign in front of this dish that many of us have only heard about in old stories. This version was made by one of our Dutch members using the organs to create a surprisingly (to me) tasty treat.
7-Head Cheese: No it’s not cheese, and Yes it is made from the head. A molded gelatinous ring making good use of even more parts of this animal that would often be discarded.
8-Fiddle Strings: A friend heard that a sheep was being slaughters on the land and called to ask if he could have the intestines to make fiddle strings. The request was of course honored and perhaps he will honor us with some of his music in the future.
9-Testicles/Stretching Our Comfort Zone: The testicles, batter dipped and fried, were served as an appetizer before our incredible dinner. My mind was a bit squeamish (ok, repulsed) at the thought of eating testicles, but I certainly wasn’t going to pass up this rare opportunity. I pushed through the discomfort and was rewarded with a superior taste sensation. I mean really, batter dipped and fried? You can’t go wrong.
10-Stock: After dinner the lamb bones came back to the VT kitchen where they spent 24 hours simmering on the stove to create a rich delicious nutrient dense stock. We love to use this for soup, cooking grains, or mix it with miso and drink it. We also pressure canned a round of it to use in next Thanksgivings’ gravy.
11-Hide: The lamb hide is currently undergoing the tanning process. You just might see it as apparel at next years’ dinner.