Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Earthaven Ecovillage

We just spent two incredible days at Earthaven Ecovillage, which is located in the lush mountains less than an hour east of Asheville, North Carolina.
In short, our visit to Earthaven Ecovillage was mind-blowing. Earthaven is a veritable model for sustainable living which was founded in 1994, and we could see from the outset of our visit that this is a community that truly walks it’s talk.
Combining earth-friendly, sustainable building techniques and a village design including small clustered neighborhoods, Earthaven demonstrates that people of good will and intention can live close to the land, create systems and buildings that have the lowest possible environmental impact on the earth, and provide a safe haven for those who wish to live out of the mainstream, but nestled in the heart of a thriving community on 320 acres of Blue Ridge mountain forest.
The folks at Earthaven seem to promote and foster earthy and intelligent ingenuity, and a number of cottage industries have achieved relative economic success, including the harvesting of local timber, an organic nursery, and an apprentice program.
This geographic area enjoys four distinct seasons, each of which generally conforms to the equinoxes and solstices, as compared to New England where the winters seem to last for four or five months and the summers are unnaturally brief.  There is generally adequate sun and rainfall, with only a small amount of snow that rarely remains on the ground for more than a few days.
The buildings at Earthaven are built using many sustainable and energy-efficient technologies, including cob construction and straw bale, and every building sports an array of solar panels to harness the sun. There is also one Earthship at Earthaven, a home constructed out of old tires that are filled with dirt and stacked one on top of the other. The spaces in between the tires are then filled with glass bottles and other recycled materials, all of which is then covered with a thick coating of natural stucco. Earthships are very energy efficient due to their thick walls, requiring little in the way of heating during colder weather.
The community has its own “stream-powered” hydro plant that converts the energy of a rushing stream into usable power that is stored in a bank of batteries, further supplemented by a nearby group of solar panels. The energy harnessed from the stream can provide power to several shared buildings, including the trading post/office and a nearby residence where a number of members live.
Relying largely on solar panels and passive solar, the sun plays an important part in Earthaven’s energy needs, although generators are used in extreme circumstances. Only one home at Earthaven has a flush toilet, whereas all of the others rely on composting toilets. On-demand hot water heaters, ultra-efficient washing machines and other state-of-the-art technology further add to Earthaven’s endeavor to have the lowest possible environmental impact.
The community grows a great deal of its own food, and several members raise chickens, goats and dairy cows. Grass-fed milk, medicinal plants, honey, eggs and biodynamic vegetables are available, and several root cellars assist in long-term food storage.
Our host, Arjuna, carries a wealth of knowledge about both the community itself and its environmental and building practices, and our two-hour private tour was thorough, thoughtful, personal, and very informative. We were consistently blown away by what we saw and heard, returning to our rig to digest it all over a cup of tea and a snack.
Earthaven considers itself “a living laboratory for the sustainable future”, serving as a model ecovillage, a center for education vis-à-vis communication, economy and ecology, a spiritual sanctuary, and a place to foster what they call a “regenerative culture”. The residents of Earthaven use a local currency, barter for goods and services when possible, and continue to build skills in governance, group process, and healing.
Towards the beginning of our tour, we realized that a beautiful (but small) apartment/condo is currently for sale for less than $25,000 in a gorgeous building near the center of the community, and it is very tempting to consider building a life here at Earthaven. If we were indeed interested, there is an understandably involved and lengthy application process for prospective members. We were also happy to learn that our application for membership could indeed include Tina since there is no quota for the number of dogs in the community, thus she would simply be a part of our family application for residence at Earthaven.
For anyone interested in community, sustainable building, ecological living, or models of living outside of the mainstream, a visit to Earthaven is something not to be missed. We know that there are other ecovillages out there, but Earthaven is the first one into whose orbit we have floated, and we definitely leave feeling entranced. 


  1. Thanks for the report. We are east of Asheville, rather than west. Also, don't forget our most sustainable building material: wood cleared from our land to create space for agriculture and homesites. As compared to a straw bale imported from South Dakota via Home Depot! :)
    --Martha at Earthaven

  2. Thanks for visiting, Keith and Mary. I'm so sorry I didn't get to meet you when you were here. Arjuna put out voice mails referring to "my friends Mary & Keith" but I assumed she was referring to long-time friends who'd come to visit her" and didn't realize she was referring to _you_, whom I remember from our emails. Thanks for all your positive comments about Earthaven. I only wish you'd be able to meet more people when you were here. Bbecause as cool as our off-grid systems and natural-built homes are, it's the Earthaven members who really make the place special. So please come back sometime, OK? Small tan house with green trim to the left as you first come in. All good wishes, Diana

  3. Best to both of you on your journey and hoping you come back to stay! Its really inspiring to see the value of a blog - wow, you all really gathered a wealth of information while you were with us!

    Peace and Prosperity!