In that true twilight dusk, the kind that makes the forest come alive with the impossible, Earthaven becomes the world of my childhood dreams. Winding trails and bridges made of stone, trunks, branches, clay, and everything the forest offers spiderweb the town. “We’re losing light!” NikkiAnne exclaims as she hurries us down a small path into someones yard and off on another path hidden in the shadows.
“It’s a speed tour of Earthaven,” Farmer laughs behind us, stopping briefly to point out the original Earthaven community kitchen. We continue on our tour, trying not to trip on roots in the dim light of the coming evening. We pass lot after lot of the most beautiful and artistic houses, built from scratch, the local land, defiance, community, and a whole lot of love. Our two hosts describe a community of like-minded individuals, coming together to create a small town that they believe in.
Earthaven was created in 1995 in the mountains near Asheville, NC as an ecovillage dedicated to sustainability (in both the environmental and social senses), education, and holistic living. When we visited they had around 60 members living in 14 neighborhoods. These neighborhoods work together to improve their sustainability and access water and power. To join a member must apply and be accepted. They then pay an entrance fee, purchase a house lot, and must purchase, build, or improve upon the lot’s housing structures. All participants are required to support themselves financially.
David’s uncle rephrased our description of Earthaven as a comparison to a retirement community: they pay dues, they have a community center, they have clubs, and town meetings. The only difference is that they are formed around sustainability, not retirement.
These requirements attract a diversity of members. Some are computer whizzes who work from home, some are parents with young children looking for a safe place, some are retirees looking for a quiet and sustainable place to live, many are also young people looking to learn about sustainable living from those who have years of experience.
The whole “town” is off the grid, they have no means of even giving power back to Asheville – they are on their own. Solar, wind, passive heating, and gravity are all methods used in Earthaven to acquire almost all the comforts of the average home. The people in Earthaven are only sacrificing what they see as wasteful to live lives in an extremely sustainable, and comfortable, way.
Chris Farmer, one of our hosts, has actually designed a solar powered system that can run a welder on a sunny day! He designed and built a lot of the houses in Earthaven and is currently working on a solar power system that will power one of the neighborhoods. NikkiAnne, his partner, works on Earthaven’s outreach and education through an awesome program called the School of Integrated Living (SOIL).
Before we arrived at Earthaven we had no idea what to expect. Some friends and family were intrigued, and also concerned, by the label “ecovillage” – but we decided to check it out anyways. I’m eternally grateful we did. Farmer and NikkiAnne hosted us based on the word of a friend of a friend of family. They had no idea who we were and yet they took time out of their busy lives to be beyond hospitable throughout our entire stay. The whole community of Earthaven welcomed us with open arms and true intrigue – they wanted to know who we were and know that we were comfortable.
I would recommend that anyone interested in sustainability who finds themselves in Asheville make a stop by Earthaven for a tour. The towns brings out a part of humanity that is often forgotten – true community. The kind of community that you can lean on, believe in, trust completely. The exact sort of community that inspired the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” And if Earthaven is doing nothing else, it’s raising smart, creative, and truly loved children.