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A living laboratory for a sustainable human future.

Neighbor Profile: Leon Birstein and Geni Stephenson, of Full Circle Family Farm

Just outside Earthaven’s main entrance lies the homestead farm of Geni Stephenson and Leon Birstein. Like many of our neighbors, Geni and Leon used to be Earthaven members. They lived at Earthaven in the early days, helping to carve out a space in the forest. They helped build some of the very first infrastructure—roads, water systems, the Hut Hamlet kitchen—and the first permanent residence in the Hamlet, the “Zen Hut,” which was built entirely without power tools.

When they decided that community living, complete with meetings, long processes, conflicts, and joint land ownership was not quite their style, they decided to buy into our neighbor community to create their own vision of permaculture. And did they ever!

Full Circle Family Farm is a permaculture site that’s got to be seen to be believed! Alive with experiments, it hosts bees (now up to 30 hives), Nigerian dwarf goats (three milking nannies, a buck, four others who will someday be milked), fruit trees galore, lotus flowers floating atop greywater ponds, and gardens abounding with everything from heritage corn and rows of greens to alfalfa hay for the livestock.

Their projects are a seedbed of ideas and inspiration, and they themselves are a wealth of information to many of us whenever we visit, purchase food, and seek knowledge about life lived close to the earth. On a recent visit, we were introduced to their weeping mulberry tree, whose branches grow “down,” allowing the harvester to “step inside” and pick the fruit without having to use a ladder.

Geni, Leon, and their ten-year-old daughter Kayla, who is homeschooled in this mountain paradise, have created a home-based life that many would envy. Once an electrician, plumber, and all around engineering type, Leon uses his skill and intelligence to develop their homestead and continue perfecting his husbandry skills. Geni, a potter, mom, gardener and cheese maker, sells their abundance at the Black Mountain Farmers Market and “puts up” food for the family. They supplement their income from three rental apartments on their site, which often house Earthaven members and residents.

Both practitioners of Zen meditation, Geni and Leon have built a Zendo, a quiet, elegant edifice used for sitting meditation and contemplation. In the final stages of completion, the Zendo looks out over a small but lovely pasture edged with multiple varieties of bamboo (another of Leon’s passions), and will serve as a retreat center for local meditators who want to practice the art of being present. Geni and Leon meditate daily with occasional visits from neighbors who hear the meditation bell and walk over.

During the years we’ve been building Earthaven, it’s been painful for us when folks we know and love leave the community, whatever the reason. We inevitably go through a process of grief, guilt, and loss. Was it us? Was it them? What could we have done differently? Although these changes are natural parts of the process of our becoming, there’s always some regret when people decide not to stay. Yet, we’ve come to look at our community through a new lens that shows how this whole valley is part of our ecovillage: not only the intentional community called Earthaven, but members who have left and now live nearby, new folks who move into the area, and folks that were here before we came. As we learn what being neighbors is about, we find we need to draw less distinctions between “members” and “non-members.”
          Geni and Leon are our esteemed and valued neighbors, permaculturists, and members of the larger “ecovillage” that is growing itself in this valley. We sure are glad they didn’t go far.

Full Circle Farm, Geni Stephenson, Hut Hamlet, Leon Birstein, meditation, neighbors, Zen Hut, zendo

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