Intentional communities range in size from two or three people to several hundred. Their physical sites range from city houses to 5,000 acres of country land; the average is perhaps 20 people on 80 acres. Early communities were often founded to promote a particular philosophy or religion; the majority of modern communities are open to and accepting of diverse personal beliefs. Most communities are located on rural land and are ecologically oriented, with energy-efficient housing and organic food production. The emphasis is on group support and cooperation. All ages are represented. Many intentional communities provide schooling and communal nurturing for resident children.
Many intentional communities have evolved from the counterculture communes of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. The communities of today, while still usually at odds with business-as-usual politics and social norms, are generally more conservative in their approach to right living. Those I have visited are populated by people with the same motivations described in this book‘s Chapter 4—Who Are You? Intentional community residents are much like the rest of us who choose to live in the country, but they prefer to live with others in a supportive group environment.
People in intentional communities typically live more peaceably than the rest of society. Most communities make decisions by consensus, and are continually working to improve skills in noncompetitive conflict resolution. Group needs are balanced with individual members‘ needs.
Three examples of intentional communities
Founded in 1937, Celo Community is the oldest land trust community in America, and one of the most successful. It comprises some 30 family units living on 1,200 acres of North Carolina land owned by the community. Members purchase “holdings” which are confined to the realistic needs and uses of each family. Celo community members are diverse in background, occupation and religion, and make their livings independently (membership includes craftspeople, farmers, teachers, doctors). A number of successful projects, services and schools have been developed, some with a national clientele. Celo has a two-year waiting list of potential new members.
Perhaps the best-known intentional community is The Farm, founded in 1971 by Stephen Gaskin and 320 San Francisco hippies seeking to create, as spokesman Albert Bates says on The Farm‘s Web site, “a cohesive, outwardly directed community which could, by action and example, have a positive effect on the world.” Today, approximately 250 residents and about 40 businesses flourish on its 2,550 acres in southern middle Tennessee. Most of the land is held as a conservation trust to “encourage natural biodiversity.” The community is described as “full featured,” and has all the facilities of a thriving village: grocery store, post office, medical clinic, pharmacy, gas station, water system, many homes and businesses. A school offers basic skills plus foreign languages, fine arts and apprenticeship training. Businesses include the Soy Dairy, Mushroompeople, Tempeh Lab, Solar Electronics, the Book Publishing Company, the Birth Gazette, Total Video, WUTZ-FM and the Dye Works. The Farm is home to the Midwife School—babies are delivered regularly, only 1.8 percent Caesarean, versus 20 percent Caesarean for mainstream hospitals. Its Kids to the Country program maintains a nature enrichment program for urban children.
Situated on 1,000 acres of south-central Washington, Ponderosa Village is a subdivision that was intended and advertised to be an intentional community. The stated organizing concepts are self-responsibility, voluntary cooperation, personal growth, individual spiritual values, respect for each other and the environment, and a place of security in case of serious problems. Those who have bought lots are community-oriented. With the exception of a 7-acre park site, the property is comprised of 5-acre lots. Lots were first sold in 1980; by March, 1996, all but 17 lots were sold, with 35 homes built, many of alternative design. PV has 75 residents aged from a new baby to a 94-year-old. There is a community water system, but sewage handling is the responsibility of individual homeowners. Visitors are welcome and camping is available, but call or write before visiting. Seminars on subjects as diverse as soap making, gardening, straw bale construction and wilderness skills are conducted for varying fees.
Eco-villages—redesigning human habitat
Eco-villages are cooperative communities embodying current technology that aim to live in sustainable harmony with nature while growing their own food, generating their own energy, handling their own wastes. Housing often consists of duplex, triplex or higher-density units clustered in small groups, all oriented toward common buildings, open areas, parking, office facilities. The eco-village concept allows inhabitants to buy individual living units, have access to common land and facilities and have wide latitude in how collective or private they choose to be. From my ex-real estate broker perspective, eco-villages are small, energy-efficient, ecologically-designed, planned-unit developments. They are very progressive and are oriented toward social and environmental sensitivity. This is high-quality, light-on-the-land living for those who wish to live in a modern village atmosphere.
EcoVillage at Ithaca, New York, is affiliated with Cornell University. About 20 percent of its 176 acres will be used for housing, the rest for gardens, ponds, orchards and nature preserve. A common parking lot is planned with paths leading to the clustered homes. Residents will share such items as lawnmowers, snowblowers, washing machines. Private, semiprivate and public areas are designed to help create strong social networks. The mission statement reads: “The ultimate goal of EcoVillage at Ithaca is nothing less than to redesign the human habitat. We are creating a model community of some five hundred residents that will exemplify sustainable systems of living—systems that are not only practical, but replicable by others. The completed project will demonstrate the feasibility of a design that meets basic human needs such as shelter, food production, energy, social interaction, work and recreation while preserving natural ecosystems.” The first neighborhood of 30 homes (15 duplexes) was completed July 1997 and includes a common house overlooking a pond. Home sizes range from a one-bedroom (922 sq. ft.) unit to a four-bedroom (1,642 sq. ft.) unit. All homes will be super-insulated and airtight and have large triple-paned, south-facing windows; yearly heating bills are projected at $200 per household. Initial owners were involved in design decisions. Two EcoVillage residents operate on-site West Haven Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture operation (see chapter 13), which provides organic vegetables, herbs and flowers to shareholders from early June through mid-November.
Albert Bates, spokesman for The Farm, reported in 1995 that “The Farm will launch the Ecovillage Network of North America (ENNA), to be headquartered initially at The Farm Ecovillage Training Center. ENNA will link together the efforts of a wide variety of green communities, Eco-City projects and incipient ecovillages to make the way easier for future ecovillagers and to lay the foundation for a major shift in Western consumer lifestyles across the broader culture.”
The Eco-Village Network of the Americas
Albert Bates, The Farm
556 Farm Road
Summertown, TN 38483-0090 Phone: 615-964-3992
Route 5, Box 79
Burnsville, NC 28714
195 Golden Pine
Goldendale, WA 98620
For information about EcoVillage at Ithaca
Ithaca, NY 14853
Eco-village resource list with on-line links:
The Shared Living Resource Center published the 1995 book, Rebuilding Community in America, by Ken Norwood and Kathleen Smith. The book has excellent
background, examples and plans on community and eco-villages.
The Center is at:
2375 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
Fellowship for Intentional Community
Rt. 1, Box 155
Rutledge, MO 63563-9720
FIC provides quarterly journals, newsletters, audio tapes, and referral services. It also published Communities Directory, Second Edition (1995), a 440-page
reference guide with detailed listings of 540 communities across North America (and 70 international), 31 in-depth articles about various aspects of community
living, and an extensive resources section. It‘s available for $23 postpaid (check payable to Communities magazine) from:
Rt. 4, Box 169
Louisa, VA 23093