When I was twenty-years-old I realized I had never eaten a single thing in my life that I knew where it came from. It was like the Sunday morning cartoon where the anvil falls out of the sky and flattens the cartoon character, that was MY anvil. It just destroyed me to realize that. I thought I was connected to nature because I was going outside and connecting with nature, then I realized that I wasn’t as connected as I thought.”
The 18-year-resident of Earthaven Ecovillage walks along the 329 acre grounds of the intentional community, surrounded by breathtaking mountain views. Immersed in the sounds of the nearby creek 1 and the bright, melodic per-chic-o-ree of the American Goldfinch, Chris Farmer, a hard-working and nearly middle-aged man, made evident by the salt and pepper in his beard and tired eyes, is bundled in a black beanie hat, faded jeans and button-down shirt beneath a heavy Carhartt jacket. He inhales deeply the crisp, cool, oxygen-rich air of the diverse environment around him, his eyes begin to glisten with tears. For Chris, living with the Earth in mind is far more than a hobby.
“Trying to live a sustainable lifestyle is my means of self-medication. I have dedicated my life to figuring out where my food, water, energy and wood I use come from, and that’s literally saving me from an incredible psychological bill.”
Chris’s passion about sustainability came years earlier after he and a few of his friends in their twenties founded an organic farm. Food was merely the beginning. This early project ignited his passion for an alternative means of living and would inspire him to change his lifestyle forever. The Earthaven community consists of residents from all over the world who have come together to focus on the idea of sufficiency 2: What is enough for us to survive while maintaining an ideal quality of life? But also, where do our true values lie?
Walking along the main road, Another Way, an eclectic array of homes sit just off the street. Some, built from timber of the village forests, blend in with the surrounding mountainous land and may be missed upon first glance. Others comprised of lumber, earth-plaster, clay and straw are full of vibrant colors and works of art that stand apart from the nature around them. However, the one thing that remains uniform throughout the ecovillage is the presence of solar energy, microgrids that power entire neighborhoods of houses and rooftop units on both single-family homes and co-housing neighborhoods. Another Way, a name that appears quite fitting, offers a view of an alternative way of life -- modern yet sustainable. 3
Chris is now known as “the energy guy” throughout Earthaven and works hard to maintain their solar units that supply everyone enough energy to power their homes. Of course, as Chris points out, “The key to making it work and making it affordable is to reduce your usage immensely so that that neighborhood of 11 cabins and 20 or so people can consume the amount of electricity of your average American household of maybe 3 people. That’s the key. That’s how you make it affordable: consume way less and get really efficient in your use.” If more communities are to begin making the transition to renewable energy sources, every member must do their part to ensure sufficient power for all and affordability of the energy supplied. At Earthaven, it’s as simple as turning lights off when not in use and heating homes with wood burning stoves.
Chris admits that no one is going to be sold on reducing their use if that means living in a cold home, in the dark. But, as Chris puts it, we also “aren’t going to be modern Americans and lift the rest of America to modern middle class on wind, solar, and batteries by not changing the design of our buildings and our consumptive habits first.” He explains that simple design retrofits, such as using passive solar 4 for heating and cooling (where the majority of our energy use falls), can cut energy costs in homes by up to 90 percent. This simple shift could allow for more reliance on renewables.
“Human beings have a spiritual responsibility 5 to take care of what takes care of them. If we had that level of relationship with everything that gave us life, imagine that. But we don’t. We have mountaintop removal. We have fracking. We have wars throughout the Middle East. We have clear-cut areas of trees bigger than we can even fathom. That’s what we have and we can do better,” explains Chris. “If we knew then what we know now, humanity would be even more successful and less addicted to fossil fuels. Our quality of life and our connection with each other would be better. It can be done. We just have to keep learning from one another.”
The Sounds of Earthaven
If everyone lived like the average American, we would need five planet Earths to produce enough resources. Chris knew he had to make a lifestyle change in order to sustain our planet.
Sustainability is done by considering 3 aspects while developing society: the economy, the environment, and the social community. For Earthaven, this seems to come as second nature.
For an ecovillage like Earthaven, utilizing natural lighting is a great way to save energy. Passive solar is also a viable option for most homes in America.
As Pope Francis put it best: "Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another."