By Jay Salton
About 50 minutes southeast of Asheville, in the Taylor Creek Watershed, lives a community of people focused on living a highly sustainable lifestyle, one that includes building their own homes made of mostly natural material, raising and growing their own food and maintaining a healthy surrounding forest. There is no cell phone service and only a weak internet connection. Residents are responsible for their own electricity, water supplies, heating and waste processing. This place is called Earthaven, and its residents humbly label it as an aspiring ecovillage.
Earthaven was founded in 1994 with a goal to care for the people that live there, as well as the Earth that they depend on, all through creating a sustainable future made to last generations. Community members own their own businesses that benefit the community and families are started and raised. Others are welcome, yet the lifestyle is community based, with its own council and a consensus decision-making process. On almost 330 acres, 56 sites are home to 80 people—people who are willing to spread their knowledge of off-the-grid lifestyles to people living in mainstream society.
One of the main ways many Earthaven community members make a living and spread their knowledge is through the School of Integrated Living (SOIL). Through themed classes, participants become a part of the village, witnessing and participating in day-to-day activities.
SOIL’s popular four-day natural building course, done in partnership with MudStrawLove and the Fellowship for Intentional Community, has attracted residents not only to the village itself, but also to long-term sustainable living practices that can be carried out wherever one decides to settle down.
“Many SOIL instructors live and practice what they teach at Earthaven,” says Helen Zuman, a part-time resident who participated in the natural building class, felt the connection and could not stay away. “SOIL students absorb skills and concepts in context, exploring the village and interacting with residents—human, plant or animal. They see what their new knowledge can yield in a consciously, collaboratively designed version of real life.”
SOIL also recently offered a course on home funerals in partnership with the Center for End of Life Transitions and the Fellowship for Intentional Community. “Earthaven recently experienced two deaths, including that of SOIL advisory board member and friend Kimchi Rylander,” says Daniel Walton, SOIL communications coordinator. “This course was a way for us to honor her legacy and help others develop a culture of conscious dying. For a culture to be truly sustainable, it must process its grief for the dead in ways that celebrate the cycle of life to bring joy and healing.”
On Tuesdays beginning this month and running through June 2018, SOIL will debut a long-term program entitled Wild Leaders Immersion. This class is meant to apply lessons learned in nature to working with human communities. Earthaven practices such as mentorship, village building and nonviolent communication are imparted with an end goal of students leading others in the development of sustainable culture.
“It’s currently easier, and less relationally demanding, to hook into the grid and use money to meet our every need, but that leaves us socially malnourished and our life-support systems drastically overtaxed,” says Zuman. “SOIL embeds its students in a web of relationships and offers skills and concepts in the context of connection—how we treat each other, how we see each other, the magic (and strife) that can happen in the space between us.”
Register for SOIL classes at schoolofintegratedliving.org and learn more about Earthaven at earthaven.org.