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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

More than a Healthy Home and Planet

Oct 03, 2022 10:18AM ● By Sharon Bruckman

When it came time to plan this month’s feature story with writer Sandra Yeyati on ways to make our living spaces more sustainable, I realized how deeply influenced I was by a recent stay at the Earthaven Ecovillage, an off-grid, 329-acre, permaculture community outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Although I’ve known about this self-sustaining community since it was founded in the mid-1990s and have made short day trips over the years, my partner Bill and I were privileged to spend a three-day holiday weekend in one of their earthy, hand-built homes this summer. 

We were eager to immerse ourselves in this lifestyle, yet I admit having quite a bit of trepidation that first night as I climbed down the tight, winding stairway onto the front porch and around the back to the outdoor compost toilet. At that moment, I missed my water-depleting conveniences! But when I looked up at the star-studded sky, caught a glimpse of flickering fireflies and listened to the sounds of crickets and other wildlife, my modern trappings rapidly paled in comparison.

Earthaven Ecovillage was full of quietly content, humble, yet world-changing innovators meeting their deepest human needs at a fraction of the cost and ecological footprint compared to average Americans. But perhaps the most important thing Earthaveners have cultivated is a culture that explores the fundamentals of human happiness.

During our short stay, the days were interwoven with delicious, locally grown omnivorous meals, group presentations, meditations and heart-opening exercises designed to connect us with the other participants. We got plenty of exercise hiking through the woods, ambling through neighborhoods and gardens, and viewing many of the homesites of the 75+ residents built by Earthaven’s Natural Building School, ranging from rustic Earthships to modern structures with indoor bathrooms and air conditioning. 

Along the way, we identified wild edibles, explored the variety of off-grid power systems in use and watched barefoot children play in the streams and fields. Evenings were spent lingering in intimate conversations around outdoor dinner tables, along with dancing, performing or storytelling around the fire. 

I found the people that lived there to be incredibly grounded, despite their audacious pursuit of a new kind of human settlement. Their reverence for free time, connection with nature and respectful communication was inspiring. During our closing circle, I felt grateful for the opportunity to step into this living laboratory, witness regenerative systems in practice and bring new insights about food production and community-building back to our corner of the world. I expressed my intention to work toward installing solar panels on my home and grow more native plants in my yard while treading as lightly as possible. 

Here's to lightening up, 

Sharon Bruckman