We sometimes get discouraged trying hard to live with a light ecological footprint but not seeing the same commitment to the Earth in others. Living sustainably is much easier and much more enjoyable with a support group of like-minded friends or family members who can reinforce the benefits of preserving the environment. Maybe you’ve already got your family living green; maybe you even have some neighbors who feel and live the way you do. But what if your entire neighborhood – or even your entire town – was as passionate about helping the planet as you are? What if you lived in an ecovillage?
An ecovillage is a community where people live and work together in support of a sustainable lifestyle and harmony with the land. People choose to live in these communities because of a desire to live simply and with a minimal impact on the environment. These ideals promote practices like:
- Renewable energy
- Buying locally
- Permaculture and organic farming
- Sharing tools and labor
- A strong sense of community
- Consensus-based decision-making
While most ecovillages are in rural areas that demand these practices, plenty exist in urban areas as well. Following is a brief look at just a few ecovillages across the USA.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage lies in northeastern Missouri. Almost all of the 70 people who call this community home work entirely within it as well, though a few communal biodiesel vehicles are available for those who need to make the occasional commute. Though the village is relatively small now, it intends to grow to a population of 500-1000.
The residents of Dancing Rabbit love their ecovillage, but do not shun or isolate the rest of the world. Instead, they see their community as providing a viable alternative lifestyle for like-minded urbanites, and they keep the lines of communication and immigration open for anyone interested in visiting or joining. Visitors can stay in the straw bale bed and breakfast inn located on the village premises at the Milkweed Mercantile.
Since 1995, this aspiring ecovillage in the southern Appalachians of North Carolina has grown from just a few families to 55 committed members. Today, aside from the residents, Earthaven Ecovillage is home to five village-based businesses, including a farm, a construction company, a carpentry business, an herbal medicine shop and a nursery. Almost all the employees are Earthaven residents and most of the work takes place within the village.
Earthaven’s electricity is 100% off-the-grid thanks to a combination of hydroelectric and solar power. Sustainable forestry practices provide most of the building materials for the passive solar structures throughout the village’s 14 neighborhoods. On-site classes and tours are offered to those wishing to visit.
EcoVillage at Ithaca
Located in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, this thriving ecovillage is composed of three cohousing neighborhoods (one under construction) on a 175-acre site. Residents frequently gather for shared dinners, and everyone volunteers a few hours of their time each week for things like maintenance, repairs and planning. Like most ecovillages, a decision-making process based on consensus is employed, and renewable energy and energy efficiency abound, including passive solar building design and solar PV.
As one of the older and more well-established ecovillages in the U.S., the EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) uses its clout to draw attention to the benefits of sustainable communal living. Among other outreach effots, EVI partnered with the Ithaca College of Environmental Studies to create a curriculum and teach courses in sustainable living. It also co-organized an international ecocity and ecovillage conference in Senegal, West Africa, and it created a nonprofit that allows students to visit and live in ecovillages all over the world.
At a glance, nothing about the 611 EcoVillage is conventional. Instead of being situated in the woods near a stream or river, it’s in Oakland near a BART train stop and the 980 freeway. Instead of providing rows of cohousing buildings, there are two early 20th century homes connected by a courtyard. Instead of acres of farmland, there is a rooftop garden. And there’s a hot tub.
But while the appearance of 611 is far from that of other ecovillages, its principles are not. Food, chores, ideas, and decisions are shared, solar energy powers the buildings’ heating (and the hot tub), energy-efficient appliances are found throughout, and a greywater system is in place. While small in population, the 611 EcoVillage has ideas and innovation to spare, and proves that a community of sustainable living is possible even in a major metropolitan area.