Sunday, June 27, 2010

No one is really "self-sufficient". Nor would they want to be.

(Written Yesterday)

Today is Saturday, and as such, we’re taking a break from work, and thank goodness because it’s ninety degrees, sunny, and huuuumid. I endured the first thunderstorm in my tent last night, complete with gusty winds, lightening, and torrents of rain. I am happy to report that my tent and all its contents remain completely dry!

I spent much of the morning engaged in an intense game of ultimate Frisbee- a Saturday morning community ritual at Dancing Rabbit. Later in July, residents of DR (myself included) and its two neighboring ecovillages will compete as a team in the “Show-Me State Games” in Columbia, MO against any number of teams throughout the state. For most of my life, I’ve unconsciously avoided keeping score during pick-up games of basketball, softball, or name-that-pick-up game. I’m not one for scores. Therefore, blending in to the non-competitive fervor of ecovillage Ultimate Frisbee was a pretty seamless endeavor. The team rosters change constantly as participants sub-in and out, and the game ends when everyone runs out of energy. The experience is topped of with a blissful dip in “the pond”, the thermo cline of which a human of my stature can reach right around knee-deep. Few experiences are as refreshing, except for maybe a Bela Fleck accompanying Ruth Akello on thumb piano.

Before the ultimate game, I took time to photograph some of the more exciting structures in the village. I’ll do my best to post some pictures as soon as I get a hold of the necessary hardware to transfer pictures from my camera to my computer. While wandering the village, I entered into one particularly fruitful conversation about “self-sufficiency” with a neighbor. As I’ve discussed earlier, members of this community produce much of the energy, food, shelter, and waste management on-site. Relative to conventional residential development, which replaces gardens with supermarkets and roof-top solar panels with regional-scale power plants (and their accompanying security risks), ecovillage life is often described as “self-sufficient” because residents are able to fortify most of these systems locally.

But, as I discovered, there are multiple “levels of self” throughout this village. Very few residents actually do everything alone. For example, it would be very difficult to construct your own house without at least some help raising walls and transporting lumber. For this task and others, DR residents have outsourced work exchangers (wexers), like myself, opting to trade food and knowledge for labor. There are other more formalized “levels of self” throughout the village. Very few residents actually eat/cook in isolated households and have, instead, opted to form food cooperatives to share the cost and energy burden of a kitchen. The largest food cooperative, called “Sunflower” combines multiple families and their wexers. They share the burden of cooking with a rotating schedule, and eat together in the common house, a large central facility. I eat in the “Ironweed” eating cooperative, which meets in a comparatively smaller and newer kitchen a bit further from the center of the village and, conveniently, right next to my work site. Ironweed also shares an enormous garden, the food of which supplies a kitchen no more than 50 yards away.

Shared kitchens also reduce space and energy burdens. The best way to keep a house cool in the summer is, well, not heating it. By keeping the heat of kitchen appliances outside homes—especially during the summer—residents lower the effort of cooling their homes. They can also conserve the amount of space needed in their homes, which reduces the ultimate cost of construction materials and labor.

Energy is another resource that is shared amongst neighbors. The eight solar panels that power Ironweed kitchen share power with several neighboring households, many of which are not members of the kitchen itself. The community has also assembled similar cooperatives for cars, orchards, and other resources some of which encompass all official community members and others that are more restricted in scope. It is a community of multiple "webs" of sufficiency.

Therefore “self”-sufficiency may be an inappropriate word to describe life in an ecovillage. There are probably very few people, anywhere, that are entirely self-sufficient. This would be a lonely and arduous existence, indeed. Perhaps a better phrase is “locally” sufficient—a reliance upon resources and other people within a distance that can be perceived by the senses on a regular basis. This parameter makes sense in many ways. By relying upon the things and people we can see, hear, and touch, we reduce the risk of abusing the finite resource of our planet and increase the responsibility and love we have toward each other.

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