Ecological Living at Earthaven
Permaculture Design at Earthaven. Permaculture is one set of principles we draw from in designing our community. We apply the permaculture principles organically and situationally. Permaculture is a set of techniques and principles for designing sustainable human settlements with plants, animals, buildings, and organizations—and especially the relationships between them. “Ecologically sound and economically prosperous” is how some describe a sustainable settlement.
“The core of permaculture design,” says Peter Bane, publisher of Permaculture Design magazine, “is the belief that all living beings and systems have intrinsic worth, that we each bear responsibility for our own lives and the lives of our children, that human life is inextricably embedded in the web of life which is the Earth, and that if we choose patterns of land use and technologies appropriate to these ethical precepts, we will have the best chance of surviving over generations in a world we’d like to live in.”
Permaculture design trainings are sometimes offered at Earthaven.
Permaculture-Based Site Plan
One of our first tasks was to create a permaculture-based site plan for developing our mountain forest property. We identified sacred sites; land to remain forested; areas for gardening, farming, and orchards; locations for ponds and hydro-power stations; locations for roads, paths, and common community buildings; and locations for residential neighborhoods. We agreed to build homes on slopes and save flat bottom land for agriculture; retain as much water on the land as possible through roof water catchments, swales, and ponds; regenerate our soil with layers of organic biomass; protect our sacred sites; and not build on ridge tops. See “Maps of Earthaven.”
We build passive-solar heated buildings of natural Earth-friendly materials and generate our own off-grid power. We practice sustainable forestry and preserve many of our wilderness areas. We are grow and raise some of our own food.
Earthaven’s passive-solar community and residential buildings are built of mostly natural materials with metal roofs for roof water catchment. Two buildings have living roofs. Most are built with lumber milled from trees on the land, and are either timber-framed or stud-framed, with either earth-plastered exteriors or clapboard, with insulation and thermal mass from walls of straw-clay or chip-slip (wood chips and clay), or insulation from recycled cellulose or cotton.
We also have an Earthship, a straw bale cabin, an adobe-brick and cob home, a tiny home on a trailer, and a home built of plywood from recycled fruit juice pallets.
Power & Heating
Passive Solar Heating. All of our community buildings and most residences are designed for passive solar heating with wood stoves or propane heaters for backup heat.
Off-Grid Power. Earthaven is off the electric grid. Two micro-hydro power systems serve our central village area and several neighborhoods. All buildings not solely powered by micro-hydro are powered by individual or shared solar electric systems. During a series of rainy, snowy, or overcast days, homes and businesses can run low on electricity, so most of us use electricity conservatively.
Propane is used for most of our cooking and hot water, and some refrigeration.
We go to great lengths to preserve our water quality, and educate our members about not contaminating our streams from construction or homesteading activities. We want to keep as much rainwater runoff on the land as possible, so we’ve dug ponds at strategic locations, and through a series of swales we direct water to where we want it to go. Members are required to catch water off of roofs and store it for irrigation in tanks, in ponds, or in the ground using swales.
Growing and Raising Food. We have about 40 acres of potential agricultural fields at Earthaven; mostly bottom land along the creeks and benchlands. We intend to grow and raise much of our own food, by gardening our own homesites and leasing agricultural fields to members for larger-scale crops and livestock-raising. However, we have needed to clear trees from these fields first.
We have developed fields, orchards, and terraced areas, which are being used for a variety of farms and gardens, including:
- Forest Garden — A two-acre orchard in which edible trees, bushes, smaller plants, and vines mimic the native forest in a perennial polyculture.
- Gateway Farm — A five-acre farm integrating animals, plants, forestry, and biofuel production using renewable resources to demonstrate and perpetuate the synergy of economy, ecology, and technology.
- Imani Farm — A cooperative, pasture-based, neighborhood farm focused on vegetables, perennials, and laying hens.
- Peace Garden — A wooded sanctuary of refuge in the midst of community intended as a movement towards peace.
- Trout Pond — Raising food to catch and eat, which makes good use of our clean and plentiful spring water.
- Useful Plants Nursery — A permaculture-based nursery selling useful, phytonutritional food and medicine plants adapted to our mountain region. Usefulplants.org
- Yellowroot Farm — A biodynamic farm employing a rotational system of animals, cover crops, and annual vegetables.
The trees that we don’t clear for homesites, agricultural areas, or forestry management, we will leave in perpetual forest stands. We practice sustainable forestry, which means that whenever possible we log in winter, when the ground is frozen, to minimize damage to the earth. We don’t fell trees adjacent to streams in order to protect against runoff from disturbed soil, and to preserve the leaf canopy so streams stay cool enough to maintain fish habitat. We fell trees directionally so they won’t hit and damage other trees that are to be left standing, and when skidding logs results in bare soil, we replant with grasses to minimize erosion.
In perpetual forest stands, we’re harvesting the smallest and least healthy trees first and leaving the best genetic stock to propagate and harvest later, so that the forest will get progressively healthier and preserve habitat for animals, fish, birds, and other forest creatures.
We encourage our members to work on site for many reasons, including to reduce driving and gas consumption. We are beginning to look at additional ways to reduce dependency on gas-powered vehicles and individual car ownership. For example, there are now three solar-powered golf carts at Earthaven.
Some members walk or bicycle around the land; others drive even short distances here. A few people use biodiesel fuel, but most use commercial gasoline.
Some members operated a car co-op a few years ago, and others have talked about starting another one. Several members are talking about instituting an ethanol-based vehicle fleet, with a weekly van shuttle service to Asheville and a small number of Earthaven cars based there.
We set aside some of our most tranquil and beautiful areas as permanent wilderness. We honor waterfalls along our seven creeks, our many springs, and a beautiful rhododendron grove on the east end of our property. Some of our members would like to build retreat cabins in the forest in the eastern part of our property so people can enjoy one of our quietest, least visited spots.