What We Can Build
By establishing a reservoir of nutrients in local soils we can sustain ourselves, our children and grandchildren in a way that enable those who follow to build their bodies and extract joy from the wonders of this bountiful planet.
A vision of community
To make a peanut butter sandwich, one must first envision what one wants. The next step is to form a mental image of the elements needed to make such a sandwich: bread, peanut butter, a cutting board and knives to cut the bread and spread the peanut butter; and the actions one needs to take with those materials to achieve the desired result. Once these elements are clear, one need only gather the various components and take the actions and one will create what one wants.
To build a community rooted in the ecological flows of matter and energy, we must first envision what we want, the things we will need to manifest that vision and the steps that it will take to bring it into being.
What follows here is an initial spectrum of details around which we may bring such a community into being. It is an early draft, so feel free to join in its refinement.
The future is where the sun shines.
Imagine catching sunshine and wind, and employing their power to service present and future generations, without diminishing the lands ability to serve the needs of other living things.
The Lanark Eco-Village is an initiative searching for people who can imagine weaving their lives into such a tapestry. Together, focusing our knowledge, skills and creativity, we can manifest a life supporting system to provide physical and emotional sustenance for our community and provide a vision of hope for others seeking to get beyond the waste and degradation of consumer society.
This dream involves:
Ecology, Community, Construction and Equity
(From Chaos Comes Order)
To build our physical bodies we need only satisfy our urge to eat with nutritious food. The well seasoned design of our genetic heritage makes sure that the right materials go to the right places in order to construct a body/mind/spirit that can make it's way in life.
We have no such genetic design for our communities. There are customs and traditions that have served this purpose for much of humanities million years. While many of these cultural items remain viable, through industrially driven over production, many have evolved along a tangent that will be impossible to maintain in the generations ahead.
The project is being established to hold property and identify design criteria for guiding a community to develop in harmony with planetary limits and with the well-being of other living things.
Soil, Shelter and Tools are the physical essence of settlements within which people can live and form community.
Over the course of one's lifetime, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on food, shelter and other needs. If that money were invested in soil, solar heated dwellings and the facilities for maintaining domestic ecosystems, it could provide the same life services without the damaging side effects of conventional systems, and it could continue to provide those services for generations to come.
Building a new settlement to design criteria suitable for effective long-term maintenance will take a lot of materials and labour. The result will be a life supporting system that can serve our needs for as long as we, and those who follow, maintain them. It stands to reason that the people who will enjoy these services should provide the money for necessary materials and the labour to assemble and maintain the systems that will provide for their lives.
Cash and sweat equity can be pooled to develop a sustainable infrastructure that will enable a community to provide for present and future generations.
Of primary importance to long-term well-being, is the maintenance and improvement of soil fertility. Except as it relates to food growing, construction should not take place on arable soils. Water reservoirs, windmills capable of moving that water to gardens and possibly small garden tool storage facilities could be exceptions.
Full Cycle Nutrient Management:
The nutrients from which our bodies are made are only borrowed from the land. It is our responsibility to get them back to the soil when we are done with them. Therefore, all personal biological waste, kitchen waste and organic garden waste should be composted and returned to the soil from which the essential nutrients can be borrowed again and again by successive generations. During early stages, we will also want to bring in nutrients to increase the amount available for circulation.
During my days as a tropical fish enthusiast I knew people who put few or no plants in their aquariums. They wanted to see their fish. In these aquariums, the fish would frequently crowd into the only secluded places available - behind the heater or the few plants provided. I had lots of plants in my tanks offering abundant hiding places but the fish spent little time in hiding. Instead of cowering in the corners, my fish routinely displayed their grace and beauty in full confidence that hiding places were always available should the need arise.
Privacy is an attribute of undeniable benefit to individuals and families. It is as important as the ability to interact socially and to work together on tasks of mutual benefit. Privacy has to be a key consideration in the design of clustered dwellings.
Ideally every individual needs a space that is exclusively theirs. Childhood memories frequently include images, real or imagined, of a place where no one else can go. A room under the stairs, a secret cupboard, a clearing in the woods - there is something primal about a place where one can be alone with one's self. It doesn't have to be big, but it needs to be separated from the sight and hearing of others. It needs to be ours alone.
When people become adults, there is also the need for another space. A space where projects can be undertaken and left undisturbed, or where a person can set up their own style of space to hang out or interact in.
As a design criteria, we should endeavour for every person to have a personal sleeping space and for each adult to have a second space to use or share as they wish. Ideally, each individual's personal space would be accessible only through their second place.
My most pertinent experience with social problems built into distantly spaced housing comes from when I lived in the Killaloe area. The people on another property chose building sites far apart from each other. A few years later when the building phase neared completion, the people involved looked at the next stage of community building and found that any time they wanted to get together they had significant distances to travel.
A community space was designated in the old farm house. Some non-members were living there and not surprisingly, the larger spaces in the farm house were within their sphere and felt more like their living room than a common community space. The visitors were asked to leave so the space would clearly be a community centre. This worked fairly well in the warm weather with some shared meals and get-togethers when the demands of maintaining separate dwellings and gardens left them free to interact. In winter it was another matter. Plenty of time was available for interaction, but the common space was only usable if someone went ahead of a gathering to warm it up. The space could conceivably have been heated with an automated system to enable casual and impromptu get-togethers, but that would have wasted a considerable amount of fuel as members only occasionally traversed the distances to be there.
In the winter when there is the greatest need and opportunity for community activities, the distance between buildings is practically longer. Getting together required additional efforts to overcome the obstacles of winter clothing, snow drifts and darkness. It is not a wonder that the social space was seldom used.
A common space surrounded by dwellings separated by sound proof walls, could be heated with little of no energy beyond that which heats individual dwellings. Interaction could be more casual than a walk through a city mall. With dwellings in close proximity, people would still have the option of exiting directly from their space to the outside and walking away into a rural landscape that is not cluttered with private dwellings. Residents would also have the option of going directly into the social spaces for a planned or chance encounter with others.
Casual interaction in common territory provides an opportunity for social encounters of a quality seldom enjoyed in conventional developments. The closest example would be friends so close that unannounced arrival at each other's homes is accepted as normal. The opportunity for 'across the fence' chats of this nature is a great aid in building up the relationships from which community cohesion forms. This example is not quite representative in that even though close friends have free passage in each other’s living rooms, the scene of the interaction belongs to one or the other of them. Where the space is common by architectural design, the interaction is on totally equal ground. With such a common space in direct proximity to dwellings, casual interactions would be frequent occurrences. In a similar way, such common, easily accessible space would make collective tasks easier to accomplish. In combination, this arrangement would help nurture strong resilient community.
To coexist and cooperate effectively, it is necessary for participants to meet together regularly, to share their thoughts and feelings about circumstances in the community, current activities and any issues that need decisions. Meetings will be held in a circle and in the spirit of 'Consultation' as described in the last section of this document.
In all decision making, the interests of the 7th Generation shall be born in mind. The purpose of our decisions is not just to fulfill our personal needs and desires, or to provide for our children. The system put in place should, to the extent we can imagine, serve the needs of successive generations, farther into the future than we can hope to be remembered. Consideration for the future is a manifestation of respect and appreciation for the countless forgotten generations who, in the past, applied their efforts in ways that have made it possible for us to be here today enjoying the vast array of cultural amenities presently available.
In essence, decisions made in the interest of the 7th Generation are decisions made for sustainability. Accordingly, the criteria for sustainability will be considered in all decision-making processes.
Many Hands Make Light Work
Many tasks that are chores when they fall to one person, can be enjoyable when two or more people work on them together. This goes for cleaning, growing food, food preparation and storage, and the construction and maintenance of life-supporting facilities.
Throughout history and likely long before, people looked out for each other. Hazards to well-being were many, ranging from creatures that dine on humans, to bands of other humans looking to expand their territory or just to help themselves to the food and artifacts produced by others.
We have lived in a time of unprecedented security in Canada, but this will likely end with the chaos accompanying the decline of motor culture. With the vast majority of the food that Canadians eat being produced and transported by machines and most of our heating and motive energy coming from fossil sources, it doesn't take much to imagine people looking around for food and shelter when motor fuels become expensive and then scarce. If such unfortunate circumstances unfold, it will be good to know that people we can trust are close at hand.
Southern Exposure & Green Housing
With the Sun providing the most reliable source of energy, all construction would take into account it's solar exposure. This would be in the context of passive heating and also in the interest of starting and growing plants to extend the limited growing season of our climate.
The primary purpose of basic accommodation is to enable as many people as possible to live through the winter cold. Left to our own devices, wintertime is the greatest guaranteed challenge to our survival. Securing comfortable shelter is the greatest need a community has, after a nutritious food supply is at hand.
Being able to harness energy to do work is, and will increasingly become, a primary advantage for any community making it's way through time. Over the period of fossil fuel usage, other sources of energy have been neglected. Within a generation, the petroleum age will be fading and long before the 7th Generation, it will only exist as a topic in history books and mythology. It is therefore of critical importance to develop other energy sources to assist in the work cycles.
Wind can power woodworking tools, wash laundry, grind grain, saw lumber, cut fire wood and perform a variety of other tasks. If the lay of the land supports it, excess power, when the wind is strong, could be used to raise water to a reservoir from which it could later fall, releasing its kinetic energy when the wind is still.
Full Cycle Nutrient Management requires a soil based nutrient recovery system.
Cycling of gray water toward gardens would provide thorough use of that valuable resource.
A woodworking shop would increase our ability to build and accommodate community.
The ability to make boards would be an obvious asset.
Other Power Tools
It would be worthwhile to include space for a variety of other tools for working metals, fibers and cloth, grain grinding and other tasks.
In the proximity to tools, additional spaces could be useful for working with the items produced.
A large room, in which people can gather, protected from the elements, would have many purposes including meetings, celebrations and grain thrashing.
Room Where No Words Are Spoken
All things express themselves through their existence. A space where no words are spoken would be dedicated to inner quiet and a respectful attention to what the rest of creation has to say.
As long as we have winter, it will be possible to cut ice from water bodies and store it for food preservation during the heat of summer.
Equipment lasts longer if it is kept under a roof. Space for such storage is important. Such space could also provide an ‘envelope’ of air on the north side of buildings to aid in heat retention.
If we were to seek the assistance of animals to gather nutrients and/or work the property, accommodation could be made for them on the edge of clustered facilities.
By clustering dwellings, we can maximize energy efficiency, personal security and gain bonus indoor social space.
This vision discourages ex-urban type development. Many people picture moving to the country and building a family dwelling out of site of all others with independent energy, water and waste systems. This is not the vision here.
Advantages to Clustered Dwellings:
Common servicing for multiple families
Systems to provide heat, water nutrient recycling, waste water, and solar/wind electricity would not need to be reproduced for each dwelling and could therefore be of higher quality and efficiency.
Reduced heating needs
Walls between adjacent units, although impervious to sound, sight and fire, do not allow heat to escape. They do, however, provide thermal mass to help hold warmth in cold seasons and cool in hot seasons.
It would be possible to use the energy dissipating from energy intense activities like baking, ceramics firing, and metal forging to provide background heat for dwellings. This would make the energy expense of such activities a non-issue since it would only temporarily divert the energy from the essential task of heating living spaces. The opportunity to use heat twice in this manner will be a substantial structural asset when the age of cheap energy has passed.
When a number of families spread over the land, building in visually discontinuous places, it eventually gets to be that there are no places to walk that aren't in someone else's yard. Clustered dwellings preserve a greater variety of secluded places.
At some point after the basic set of life-supporting facilities have been developed, and distant fields are being used for growing food, it may be practical to build Garden Houses where people can live while tending the gardens away from the main quarters. These would be simple warm weather structures without the need for winter proofing.
Very simple small structures where 1 or 2 people could experience total solitude might be built intentionally distant from the main settlement. Uninterrupted meditation, contemplation, intense relating and vision quests could be aided by such facilities.
Determining what size of contribution is reasonable to attain full residential status will require a serious look at what is needed, equity, and the mechanics of commitment.
We can grow the food that makes labour possible, but money requires interaction with the larger economic system and is not always available at present and may be less accessible in the future. We may be able to maintain domestic ecosystems with local materials once they are established, but there is little chance of finding local sources for all the materials needed to set them up. It is therefore important to encourage monetary equity.
The High Priority of Energy Efficiency in Eco-Housing
Compared with other creatures, humans do not run fast, nor do we have strong teeth or sharp claws, but we can think, cooperate and create and so we secure our place on Earth.
Historically speaking, we have only recently discovered energy stored from the past. Coal and in particular oil, because of it's easy portability, have enabled the development of a cultural lifestyle in which people can live far from their places of work and enormous distances away from the source of their food, clothes and utensils.
Over the course of 200 years we have burned enough fossil fuels to alter global climate patterns and there is every reason to believe that we will continue burning them until they are practically gone.
Within the time frame of 7 Generations, this legacy of energy from the past will not be a part of our culture and we will again be dependent on those with whom we can cooperate directly to produce food, shelter and tools. Consequently, the current practice of people living long distances from each other and from their work will come to be a detriment to the cooperative activity that will increasingly become necessary.
The Energy Challenge - Peak Oil
Peak Oil is the point where demand for oil exceeds our ability to produce it. A lot of oil will remain, but because it will be harder to access and won’t be available in as great of quantities that people will want, the price will rise significantly. After the peak, the amount of oil that can be produced will decline causing further price turbulence and the disruption to systems that are dependant on abundant, cheap energy.
The inevitability of a peak in oil production was stated clearly in 1999 by Dr. Colin Campbell. After a lifetime of work as a oil prospecting geologist, Dr. Campbell reported to the British Parliament that:
“Oil discovery peaked 30 years ago and therefore it is absolutely inevitable that the amount we produce will peak and then decline.” The logic is that, to be produced, oil must first be discovered. While discovery of new oil reserves are being made, they do not match our consumption. The “huge” discoveries made recently off the coast of Brazil are thought to hold several billion barrels of oil. This sounds like a lot until we realize that, globally, we consume over a billion barrels of oil every two weeks.
On average, we are consuming four barrels of oil for each new barrel discovered.
More detail on peak oil can be found at:
Nutrient Management Plans
Central to sustaining ourselves as fossil energy dwindles, will be the quality of our soils.
In many municipalities Nutrient Management Plans are required from producers who might have large quantities of manure on site. The problems of nutrients from feed lots getting into streams and rivers is well known and it is commendable that it is now required that this problem be attended to from the design stage onward.
Nutrient management, however, implies more than just avoiding harmful concentrations of nutrients. The nutrients that are a problem in feed lots came from the soil somewhere else. If nutrients are removed on a regular basis and not returned, soil loses its fertility. Without long distance transport of fertilizers and other energy-intense agriculture production processes, we are only as strong as our soil. The ruins of a number of civilizations suggest that their "long bodies"* washed down the river with the nutrients from their soils.
Modern agriculture practices routinely mine and export soil nutrients. The consequences of this practice are potentially more severe to the long-term well-being than the nutrient loading of waterways.
* One’s long body is the sum total of all the nutrients, water and atmospheric gasses that flow through one’s body from the moment of conception to the time of death. While only a small portion of one’s long body is inside one’s skin at any one time, the large amounts of material that make up an individual’s long body are all intimately related to that individual over time.
When transportation becomes expensive, it will be necessary for people to live in closer proximity to soil. Nutrient recovery systems will be necessary to maintain nutrient cycles in an area. Conventional septic systems in comparison, besides being notorious for malfunctioning, at best, direct critical nutrients 'safely' out of the local system. As one bio-philosopher put it: "It was one of civilization's greatest mistakes to take something which is essential for the soil and put it in water where it is a problem."
A thorough look at cycling nutrient elements can be found in “The Humanure Handbook.”
Eco-housing would be designed to accommodate human settlement with a maximum of ecological responsibility.
Key considerations include:
- Full cycle nutrient management.
- Maximization of energy efficiency.
- Minimization of waste.
- Minimal dependency on distant sources of food, energy and materials.
- Maximum opportunities for human interaction.
An Eco-housing settlement would include a number of dwellings owned and managed by an eco-development Land Trust. The Land Trust agreement would include in its covenants the management of arable soils, the minimization of waste production and adherence to the tenants of sustainability:
1 - use materials in continuous cycles.
2 - use continuously reliable sources of energy.
3 - come mainly from the qualities of being human (i.e. creativity, communication, movement, appreciation, and spiritual and intellectual development).
Non sustainable activities:
4 - require continual inputs of non-renewable resources.
5 - use renewable resources faster than their rate of renewal.
6 - cause cumulative degradation of the environment.
7 - require resources in quantities that undermine other people's well-being.
8 - lead to the extinction of other life forms.
More on these points at: http://www.SustainWellBeing.net/sustain.html
From the perspective of zoning, it would be practical for the management of an Eco-housing property to take responsibility for the maintenance of roads on the jointly held property, and for the upkeep of the nutrient recovery waste management systems upon which the long-term well-being of the community depends.
Other areas of consideration
Schooling: It would be the responsibility of the settlement to designate a single pick-up point on a public road for children being transported to area schools. (This would be in addition to on site schooling in cases where members or their children choose to use the public system.)
Mail: The community would be responsible to designate of a single mail pick up and delivery location on a public road.
Semi-commercial activities: A variety of productive systems will be necessary for an Eco-housing settlement. While these would be geared to providing things for internal needs, such products could also be traded further afield; particularly while the present transportation system is functional and development of the settlement is in the early stages and in need of outside resources.
The Sun gives without expectation,
neither does it judge.
Whether or not human beings,
make use of its gifts
is of no concern.
Cultures and species come and go,
it's all the same
to the Sun.