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Archive for the ‘Ecology’ Category

“I don’t know whether you’ve ever walked over a piece of ground that could almost cry out to you and say, ‘Heal me, heal me!’ I don’t know whether you feel the closeness to the soil that I do. But when you fill in those old gullies and terrace the fields and you begin to feel the springiness of the sod beneath your feet and you see that old land come to life, and when you walk through a little old pine forest that you set out in little seedlings and now you see them reaching for the sky and hear the wind through them; when you walk a little further over a bit of ground where your child is buried, and you go on over to a hill where your children and all the many visitors have held picnics. When you walk across a creek where you’ve bathed in the heat of the summer. Men say to you “Why don’t you sell it and move away?” They might as well ask you, “Why don’t you sell your mother?” Somehow God has made us out of this old soil and we go back to it and we never lose its claim on us. It isn’t a simple matter to leave it.”

—Koinonia Farm co-founder Clarence Jordan

Yet another sign of rebirth and renewal at Koinonia Farm. Shortly after Brendan Prendergast’s arrival at Koinonia with his wife Sarah and their daughter Ida in 2006 (a second daughter, Kellan, would be born within the year), the community heard and blessed his passion for the land and entrusted him with the management of their 575 acres of farmland. A significant portion of that land had for years been committed to pecan production, and Brendan envisioned how to integrate their staple crop within a broader design plan through application of the principles of permaculture.

Permaculture design was first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s in Tasmania, Australia, and has since evolved into a flexible set of practical principles built around the core ethics of earth care, people care, and fair distribution. The aim of these principles is to design regenerative landscapes that also take into consideration the social and economic aspects of any human settlement, in all climates and contexts, including urban environments. In fact, in our discussion, Brendan expresses his surprise when permaculture teacher and Earthaven Ecovillage member Chuck Marsh devoted most of his initial consultation with the community on matters of business structures and interpersonal dynamics.

Pineywoods Cattle under the Pecan Trees

Since their initial consultation with Chuck, Koinonia Farm has hosted permaculture and natural building courses with Patricia Allison (also of Earthaven Ecovillage), Cliff Davis of Spiral Ridge Permaculture, and Wayne Weiseman of the Permaculture Project LLC, among other instructors. These workshops have provided opportunities for community members and others to receive hands-on training in the application of permaculture principles, while also inviting the input of a diverse range of people in tackling various design possibilities on the land.

Pecan Orchards at Koinonia Farm

In our conversation, Brendan speaks of how he first encountered permaculture through friends while living and working in Cincinnati, how permaculture design has taken root at Koinonia, and how connecting with God through God’s creation and through being a steward of the land is central to his Christian faith. He also offers specific examples of applied permaculture design at Koinonia, especially the introduction of livestock and the soil-enhancing and other benefits of their grazing among the pecan orchards.

Other resources mentioned in this interview: Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, by Bill Mollison

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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In this second half of my conversation with Lois Arkin, having introduced the general landscape of ecovillages and the Los Angeles Eco-Village in Part I, we now hone in on lessons she’s learned along the way. Specifically, Lois addresses the issue of structural conflict, reflecting on her own experience in light of the insights of ecovillage and intentional communities author, consultant, workshop leader, and conference presenter, Diana Leafe Christian. The concept of structural conflict points to the fact that, if a community or organization doesn’t adequately address fundamental issues of identity, values, and vision, and how these are to be implemented over time, conflict will most likely ensue, regardless of who’s involved. Given that communities are often founded with an exuberant mixture of idealism and naiveté, drawing on this very practical wisdom from those who have weathered first fervors, successes and failures, can be lifesaving.

In this vein, we spend time talking about membership processes and how these have evolved for the Los Angeles Eco-Village, becoming more narrow and restrictive over time. Earlier, Lois spoke of ecovillages as having porous boundaries, neither closed nor wide-open to the world of which they’re a part. Membership requirements, discernment, formation, education, etc., play an essential role in ensuring that these boundaries, and the integrity of a community’s identity, purpose, and common life, remain healthy. Membership is also an area sure to become highly contentious and problematic for all if these criteria and processes aren’t clear from the beginning.

How does a community clearly impart to new members and communicate to the world its own ethos, while integrating new energies and ideas from without and within? How does this fluid communal organism remain open while retaining its distinctiveness? For a start, through building on solid footing by alleviating structural conflict as soon as possible.

Other resources mentioned in this interview: Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community and Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities by Diana Leafe Christian, and Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making by Tim Hartnett

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Lois Arkin is the founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit CRSP (the Cooperative Resources & Services Project) Institute for Urban Ecovillages. In 1993, she co-founded the Los Angeles Eco-Village as a project of CRSP. Other organizations that she’s co-founded or have grown out of CRSP include the Eco-Home Network, the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing, the Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust, and the Urban Soil Tierra Urbana Limited Equity Housing Co-op (LEHC). She is co-author and co-editor ofSustainable Cities: Concepts and Strategies for Eco-City Development andCooperative Housing Compendium: Resources for Collaborative Living. In the late 1980s, Lois received an award from the American Planning Association-L.A. Section for Advocacy Planning for, in her own words, “having a big mouth.” She is also a founding member of the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and a board member of the Global Village Institute.

In this episode, the first of two with Lois on the subject of ecovillages and the Los Angeles Eco-Village in particular, we explore what constitutes an ecovillage, the history of the ecovillage movement, and Lois’ own experience as an ecovillage founder. From her suburban childhood romping unfettered amid her close-knit neighborhood, to working with troubled youth in inner city Los Angeles in the 1960’s, Lois was passionately drawn to explore the question of how to reinvent urban living to enhance quality of life and address the underlying causes of social ills. This aspiration took a decisive turn in the wake of the L.A. riots in 1992. In light of the glaring, urgent needs this tragedy exposed, a plan to build a demonstration ecological neighborhood on an unpopulated site outside the downtown area was scrapped in favor of revitalizing and retrofitting Lois’ own 2-block Koreatown neighborhood. Beginning January 1st, 1993, Lois and fellow volunteers hit the streets, talking to neighbors, spreading “positive gossip, ” planting trees and garden plots with children, hosting social events, all intended to build a sense of safety and community. Thus were laid the foundations of the Los Angeles Eco-Village.

What inspires me most about Lois’ story and ecovillages generally is their truly integrative approach to re-envisioning how human beings inhabit the planet. Taking into account the social, economic, environmental, and technological dimensions of shared living, ecovillages function as research and development centers, evaluating new possibilities and critically reevaluating processes and practices that the dominant culture takes for granted. In the case of Los Angeles Eco-Village, this includes integrating human-scale, ecological technologies, growing food and running a food cooperative, establishing an affordable housing co-op and community revolving loan fund, implementing inclusive, participatory decision-making and conflict resolution processes, all within the heart of a preexisting urban neighborhood.

Links to other resources mentioned in this interview: Global Ecovillage Network, Ecovillages Newsletter, Los Angeles Eco-Village blog, Los Angeles Ecovillage Wiki.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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