Saving the Planet

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Rice Library has several editions of this title. Source: https://bit.ly/2R0BMGC

Rice Library has several editions of this title. Source: https://bit.ly/2R0BMGC

April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  The 1960’s and 1970’s were decades of change, of unrest. The hippie movement of the 1960’s was still going strong, although hairstyles and clothing that would once have identified someone as a hippie were more commonplace among the general population. Protests against the Vietnam War raged.  The year 1970 was particularly bloody, with the shootings at Kent State University and Charles Manson murders. Into this environment the first Earth Day was born. The general public was not focused on environment concerns, although the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring 8 years earlier was changing that dynamic.  “The book represented a watershed moment, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries, and beginning to raise public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and links between pollution and public health.  Earth Day 1970 gave voice to that emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns on the front page.

Fast forward 50 years and environmental challenges are still with us. Let’s take a look at some ways those challenges are being addressed.

One of the collections within UASC is Communal Studies. This collection focuses on intentional communities, both historic (like the Shakers) and contemporary. “According to the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), an intentional community refers to any custom-made community. “Intentional community” is an umbrella term that includes “ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, income-sharing communes, student co-ops, spiritual communities, and other projects where people live together on the basis of explicit common values.”” We’re going to look at some of those that are ecovillages—communal attempts to live a sustainable life.

One of the oldest ecovillages in the United States is The Farm, located on approximately 3 square miles/1750 acres of land near Summertown, TN. It began in 1971 when some 200 self-styled hippies from San Francisco caravanned across the country in school buses on a speaking tour with leader Stephen Gaskin. “The Caravan wound down after five months. By then mere talk was no longer enough to satisfy its metaphysical aspirations. “A bunch of hippies were sitting around a kitchen table,” Gaskin says, “and somebody said, ‘We got to go get some land. We’re not really doing anything.'” After weeks of scouting they came upon a backwoods tract in Lewis County, Tennessee, about 60 miles southwest of Nashville.” It was time to put those ideals of peace and living in harmony with nature and with others into practice. As you might expect, life wasn’t easy for “largely upper-middle-class English majors with little practical experience. What had begun as a spiritual lark quickly turned into a crash course on life’s fundamentals. Metaphysical musings gave way to nuts-and-bolts talk—how to get water, food, heat; how to fix engines; how to deal with bodily excretions.

According to The Farm’s own website, “Throughout the 70’s and early 80’s, The Farm was a Mecca for a generation in search of the 60’s dream.  From the original group of around 300, the population grew quickly to 500, 750, eventually reaching over 1200. In addition, the community took in up to 10,000 visitors a year.  With much of its energy and resources going into outreach, the undeveloped infrastructure inside the community was unable to meet the demands of a growing population. A recession in the early 80’s also placed increased economic burdens and there was concern that the land could be lost to creditors. Many began to question the leadership and direction of the community and grew disillusioned with the failings of the communal system. Many people left.  After numerous meetings and discussions, a task force was created to develop a new economic and governmental structure which would place greater responsibility on all Farm members.  With the Changeover of 1983, each adult Farm member was required to contribute financially toward the annual budget and operating expenses for the community.  By 1985 the population had stabilized at 250. It was a period of introspection and a new beginning as The Farm worked to redefine itself.

Today The Farm has “put money where its mouth is” and serves as an example of sustainable living.

Conference Center at The Farm, 1996. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-70sc-0036c).

Conference Center at The Farm, 1996. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-70sc-0036c).

The Community Center, seen here, is a green construction: the framework is recycled lumber, the interior utilizes recycled steel beams and a hardwood floor that came from a gymnasium, and the external brick from a demolished factory. The deck is made of locally harvested cedar purchased from Amish neighbors.  Cedar is insect- and rot-resistant.

CS 662-70sc-0039

School at The Farm, 1996. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-70sc-0039).

The school has solar panels, as do many of the other buildings.

CS 662-70sc-0030

Cultivating mushrooms at The Farm, 1993. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-70sc-0030).

One of the businesses that helps to sustain The Farm is Mushroom People, which supplies individuals, farms, and commercial growers with Shitake mushroom spawn.  These are grown on hardwood logs, seen above, and ready for harvest below.

Dancing Rabbit is another ecovillage, considerably smaller and newer than The Farm, although it, too, had its origins in California—a student co-op at Stanford University, in this case. Between 1993 to 1995, it consisted primarily of monthly get-togethers of like-minded individuals who shared a meal and discussed the possibility of creating an ecovillage. When it became clear that purchasing a place to do this in California was not affordable, scouting trips across the country took place. In 1997, 280 acres in Scotland County, Missouri (northeastern part of the state) were purchased. After a period of struggle when it wasn’t clear whether Dancing Rabbit would continue, membership stabilized and grew at a slow but steady pace, with 40 members and 16 buildings by 2007.

Dancing Rabbit on map of Missouri Ecovillage, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-192dc-0002).

Dancing Rabbit on map of Missouri Ecovillage, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-192dc-0002).

Dancing Rabbit’s website contains the following ecological covenants and sustainability guidelines to which members agree.

  1. “Dancing Rabbit members will not use personal motorized vehicles or store them on Dancing Rabbit property.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage bike shed, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-192dc-0006).

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage bike shed, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-192dc-0006).

  1. At Dancing Rabbit, fossil fuels will not be applied to the following uses: powering vehicles, space-heating and -cooling, refrigeration, and heating domestic water.
  2. All gardening, landscaping, horticulture, silviculture and agriculture conducted on Dancing Rabbit property must conform to the standards as set by OCIA for organic procedures and processing. In addition, no petrochemical biocides may be used or stored on DR property for household or other purposes.
  3. All electricity produced at Dancing Rabbit shall be from sustainable sources. Any electricity imported from off-site shall be balanced by Dancing Rabbit exporting enough on site, sustainably generated electricity, to offset the imported electricity.
  4. Lumber used for construction at Dancing Rabbit shall be either reused/reclaimed, locally harvested, or certified as sustainably harvested.
  5. Waste disposal systems at Dancing Rabbit shall reclaim organic and recyclable materials.”

A few of the sustainability guidelines are:

“Dancing Rabbit is committed to working in the following ways to make itself a sustainable system:

Dancing Rabbit will strive to rely only upon renewable resources, and to use them at a rate less than their replacement.

Dancing Rabbit will try to understand and minimize its negative impact on global ecological systems.

Dancing Rabbit will attempt to preserve and rebuild healthy ecosystems and have a positive impact on biodiversity.

Dancing Rabbit will try to create a closed resource loop where byproducts are reintegrated as useful resources, thus attempting to minimize waste products, especially those toxic or radioactive.”

CS 192dc-0011

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage dwelling garden, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-192dc-0011).

Here’s a typical community house—note the garden, solar panels, and rainwater collection barrel.  Other structures “use straw for insulation because it is a locally available, renewable resource. Straw bales or light clay straw walls are lined with earthen plaster, another locally available resource that also serves as a thermal mass, which moderates temperature extremes inside.

In addition to living sustainably, Dancing Rabbit offers an intensive 9-day Permaculture Design Course in order to educate others.  It includes:

The Berea College Ecovillage is yet another example of sustainable living. Berea College (about an hour south of Lexington, KY) itself is interesting–it offers tuition-free education.  Each student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship worth about $100,000 over four years.  Each student is expected to work 10-15 hours per week (in more than 100 campus or off-campus locations) while carrying a full academic load. The Ecovillage is apartment housing for single parents with full time custody of dependent children, and married couples, with or without children. “The Ecovillage is first and foremost about education. It is an example of learning by doing. Residents and children learn valuable lessons in environmentally responsible living through everyday activities and shared experiences. Other components of the Ecovillage provide educational opportunities for the entire campus and beyond. The complex includes 50 apartments, a state-of-the-art Child Development Laboratory, a Commons House, a Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) demonstration house, and the SENS Aquaponics facility.  Rigorous performance goals for the Ecovillage include reduction of energy use by 75%, reduction of per capita water use by 75%, treatment of sewage and wastewater on-site to swimmable quality, and recycling, reusing or composting at least 50% of waste. To accomplish these and other goals, the Ecovillage incorporates a wide range of “green design” elements including passive solar heating, and photovoltaic panels. Roof-top capture of rainwater contributes to landscape irrigation and production of fruits and vegetables.

Berea College EcoVillage dwellings, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 622-200dc-0014).

Berea College EcoVillage dwellings, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 622-200dc-0014).

Some of the eco-friendly components of the apartments include:

Residents have access to a Toyota Prius for off campus needs such as grocery shopping. If only one person uses the car, a mileage fee is charged, but if two or more people ride in it, there is no fee.  Another innovation is the Jackson L. Oldham Ecological Machine. “In theory and practice, an ecological village does not send waste downstream. The Ecovillage has an on-site sewage treatment system that illustrates the concepts of ecological design. The ecological machine consists of a series of tanks that provide optimal conditions for bacteria, snails, plants, fish, and other aquatic organisms to consume organic wastes, converting wastewater into odor-free, swimmable-quality water. The greenhouse-like environment is also an excellent classroom for teaching biology, chemistry, and other sciences. The ecological machine can process up to 10,000 gallons of sewage a day, which—after flowing through a subsurface wetland and passing through an ultraviolet sterilizer—returns to a majority of Ecovillage buildings to flush toilets. Because much of the wastewater from the Ecovillage community flows into the ecological machine, which contains living organisms, residents are taught to not use bleach, antibacterial soaps, or other products that may harm the organisms and decrease the ecological machine’s effectiveness.

Berea College EcoVillage wastewater treatment, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-200dc-0004).

Berea College EcoVillage wastewater treatment, 2009. Source: Donald Janzen collection (CS 662-200dc-0004).

In addition to a community gardens, the apartments have space for individual gardens.  The Ecovillage also includes the Dr. Margaret S. Austin Sustainability and Environmental Studies House. It includes

Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) House, n.d.

Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) House, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2sVfEVY

a composting toilet, a 1.5 kilowatt tracking photovoltaic panel array for electricity, a sun oven, a rooftop rainwater collection system that provides the house’s water supply, its own grey water treatment system, a wall constructed of straw bale and natural plaster, post and beam framing in the main room with timber from the College forest, and passive solar design with no central heating or cooling. As part of the College’s labor program, four students live in the house and demonstrate a variety of technologies, materials, and actions that can contribute to a sustainable lifestyle. The SENS House residents offer community, Ecovillage, and campus-based programs and workshops on sustainability, natural building, and ecological design. The House is an academic and research facility for the Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) Program, which is designed to infuse the teaching of sustainability concepts throughout the College curriculum while guiding and supporting the efforts of the College to practice sustainability.

Berea College itself is governed by 8 “Great Commitments,” one of which deals with supportive and sustainable living.  Dedication to this commitment goes beyond the Ecovillage, and includes a dormitory built in 2010 called “Deep Green” that incorporates environmentally friendly construction and operations. The college also owns its own forest and farm, both operated on sustainability principles.

4. Deep Green Dorm

“Deep Green” dormitory, n.d. Source: https://www.berea.edu/the-great-commitments/#plainliving

The college has an Office of Sustainability, and academically, offers a Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) program (the Ecovillage is administered through this department).  Several campus buildings are LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). And, according to its website, “Our most ambitious and progressive project is yet to come. Electric power in Kentucky is created from coal, and powering much of campus depends on it. In 2018, Berea College will begin construction of a dam with engines to produce hydroelectric power. In doing so, we will help lead the transition to clean energy.

Another intentional community, although not an ecovillage, is Shiloh Church and Trust, aka Shiloh Community or Shiloh Family. “The Shiloh Family, a small Christian communal group, had a modest beginning on several hundred acres of farmland near Sherman, New York, purchased by the Reverend E. Crosby Monroe in 1942.  Ordained a minister of the Apostolic Church of England, he conducted Bible study lessons that attracted a number of followers.  Concepts developed during these sessions led to the founding of the Shiloh Bible School shortly after World War II. … Monroe was a charismatic speaker, yet he never intended to start a communal group and withdraw from mainstream society.  It appears that it was just the opposite.  He was a teacher, and his goal was to help those in need and impart the message of Christian love and fellowship that others could carry into the world.  However, the atmosphere of his school was so appealing that instead of leaving after their training, many wanted to remain and live together communally as directed in the book of Acts (2:44-45). … This led to the formation of an intentional community in which the residents referred to themselves as the “Shiloh Family.”

The thing that makes Shiloh relevant to this blog topic is its bakery and farm.  It began simply with a resident offering to be the community baker, and soon Shiloh was supplying bread, garden produce, and dairy and meat products to Sherman, NY residents. What began as a way to feed themselves soon became a business enterprise to support themselves. Below are, respectively, photographs of the original bakery and local delivery trucks at the bakery.

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Monroe himself was interested in healthy food and felt that pesticides and processed food were things to be avoided.  The community began to use wholegrain products and natural sweeteners. Members began to educate themselves about organic foods and what it took to become certified organic. In 1969, the family/business operation moved to Sulphur Springs, Arkansas to be able to expand their business and to centralize what became nationwide delivery. The following photographs are from the Arkansas location–in this order: bakery employees (2003), a bakery worker with wrapped loaves of bread (circa 2000), and the sign for the general offices of the farm (2000). After these are photographs are products available during this time period.

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Sometime during the 2000s the community as such ceased to exist, but the business was sold and today operates out of Pennsylvania. Its website says,

SHILOH FARMS has a long history of providing quality organic items and remains committed to sourcing organic whenever possible. In fact, over 75% of our current product offerings are USDA Certified Organic (view complete list here.) That said, whether due to industry practices, availability, consumer choice, or some other issue, there are items for which organic is not currently an option. While not meeting the standards to be called truly “organic,” these products still satisfy the strict quality standards established by SHILOH FARMS to be considered worthy of offering to our customers. As such, we do use the designation “All Natural” to describe many of these items.  So, the question remains: What does “All Natural” mean to SHILOH FARMS? To us, “All Natural” items are those that have been harvested with minimal processing, so as to preserve their inherent, nature-given qualities and nutritional benefits. Artificial preservatives have not been used to prolong shelf life, though some natural preservatives, such as salt, vinegar, and citric acid, may be added. Our goal is that any SHILOH FARMS product bearing an “All Natural” designation should contain simple ingredients that can be easily identified and understood by all.

Today, Shiloh Farms sells breads and spreads, cereals/grains, baking chocolate, fiber and supplements, flours, nuts and dried fruits, dried legumes, potato flakes, flour, and starch, and snacks.

Let’s bring this celebration of Earth Day even closer to home—right here to the Minka house on the USI campus. Minka houses are the dreamchild of Dr. Bill Thomas, a Harvard Medical School-trained physician and professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Erickson School of Aging. He rails against the so-called “continuum of care,” where we move from what Bob Tedeschi of STAT calls the “grim march — from independent living, to assisted living, to nursing homes, to memory units, and to the grave.”” One big problem seniors face is the cost and energy needed to maintain a traditional home. Thomas’ plan is to “create and market small, senior-friendly houses …and sell them for around $75,000, clustered like mushrooms in tight groups or tucked onto a homeowner’s existing property so caregivers or children can occupy the larger house and help when needed.

The term, Minka, is from the Japanese, referring to houses for those who have financial limitations and need/want to live a simpler lifestyle. The Minka homes and communities website explains,

Minkas are [to] be easily adapted to meet the needs of person(s) living in them. To achieve this flexibility we use an innovative, modular building system that makes changing the floor plan easy. The Minka system has no internal load-bearing walls, so room size(s) can be adjusted to meet personal needs and preferences. Interior and exterior finishes are also modular and can accommodate a wide range of materials.  Minka uses state-of-the-art fabrication technologies to consume less and create more. We use robotic material cutting routers to precision-shape sheet goods into an elegant portal frame system with customizable infill panels. The Minka Building System yields sensibly-sized, energy efficient dwellings. Minkas are intentionally designed so that each and every square foot has a purpose.

5. Minkas House

Minka House at USI, n.d. Source: https://myminka.com/about/

Seen above is a model Minka house built within one week on the USI campus in October 2018. A construction photo and interior views are below.  A University press release provides this information: “The model house is the culmination of a year-long pilot project titled Multi-Ability, multi-Generational, Inclusive Community (MAGIC) and is being funded by USI, the USI Foundation and supported by AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons), which has worked with Thomas previously on projects related to aging.  The MAGIC project has included collaboration with USI faculty and community partners, an undergraduate course in participatory design and construction of the model house. … Thomas’ Minka is designed to maximize independence and well-being through the application of smart-house technology and universal design accessibility. The pilot Minka unit, located on the USI campus, will serve as an educational environment to drive innovation for future design and functionality of similar units. … The Minka project received several in-kind donations including all furniture supplied by Value City Furniture of Evansville; kitchen design work at no cost by Pro Source of Evansville, as well as kitchen cabinets, kitchen tile, house floor, bathroom tile and bathroom cabinets at cost; and appliances at cost from Wayne’s Appliance of Evansville.

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Communal experiments in living sustainably, an ecovillage on a college campus that focuses on sustainability, a producer and distributor of organic products, and an application of living well here at USI—-although there is much yet to be done to protect the Earth, these are signs of progress. Happy 50th birthday, Earth Day!

Resources Consulted:

Alter, Lloyd.  “Is This a Housing Revolution for Aging Boomers?” MNN (Mother Nature Network), January 9, 2018.

Berea College, Office of Sustainability—Ecovillage.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage website

Earth Day’s 50th anniversary,” Earth Day organization website.

Farless, John.  “USI Unveils Robotic Manufactured “MAGIC” House Designed by Renowned Aging Expert Dr. Bill Thomas.”  University Communications, University of Southern Indiana, October 24, 2018.

The Farm Community’s website

“MAGIC Project.” Center for Healthy Aging and Wellness, College of Nursing and Health Professions, University of Southern Indiana.

Minka: Homes and Communities website

Mullaney, Tim.  “Senior Living Innovator Bill Thomas Introduces MAGIC Housing Model.”  Senior Living News, November 27, 2017.

Parker, Martin et al.  The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization.  Routledge, 2014. (portions available online)

Shiloh Farms business website

Tedeschi, Bob.  “A Physician Homebuilder Tries to Upend the Nursing Home Industry — And Give Seniors Back their Independence.” STATNews, January 4, 2018.

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