Have you ever been dissatisfied with the way your life was going but unable to put your finger on the problem? That was my experience until I went to summer camp for the first time with a new batch of permie wannabees. I am not sure what possessed me to sign up on the spur of the moment, but that feeling of wanting to find my own niche to heal humanity had been pursued fruitlessly for many years.
Suffice it to say that sometime during the second half of the course I realized what my type one error was: I was trying to have a meaningful life in a suburb where I was surrounded by people who chose merely to sleep in it…or so it seemed from my perspective. I had no idea what they did with their time except BBQ and cut lawns in fair weather and furiously shovel sidewalks the other seven months of the year. I would watch them leave in the morning and come home in the evening, but I seldom saw anyone out of a car. I acknowledge I was just as disconnected as they were, and this was before we even had cell phones!
At camp we tossed our needs and yields around to one another in the form of a ball of string. That simple exercise had a profound and unexpected resonance with core values I had never really articulated, demonstrating like nothing before that I needed to be a necessary part of a real community. This revelation may sound strange or even a bit sad coming from someone who has emotionally invested 25 years in the same house. They called it a “starter” home and that meant every single one of my neighbours only stayed until they could afford something bigger and newer, so I didn’t make lasting ties. My daughter and I kept saying goodbye to every ebbing wave of growing families headed for the sprawling new suburbs on the edge of Calgary. As someone who likes to form deep roots, I stubbornly stayed and heavily invested in a low maintenance and ornamental property design, thinking it would pay off in my old age, when I was most vulnerable to my surroundings. As soon as I came home with my PDC certificate, I took a look around with newly filtered eyes and decided it was too expensive and late in the game to put in a food forest. I had done my best to connect to the land and my sleeping neighbours but regrettably it was time to plant new roots. As often happens when one announces a new intention to the universe, news of a forming ecovillage in the Okanagan Valley crossed my cyber consciousness. My husband and I participated in two community building workshops that got us to the point where a plot plan was agreed upon for inclusion in our application, which requires rezoning 5 acres of clay rich soil from Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to a newly designated classification called “Ecovillage”. It seems the North Okanagan Regional District (NORD) wants our 30 units of co-housing, recreational/tropical greenhouse and commercial development as part of their economic revitalization strategy and since the remaining 25 or so acres will be organically farmed for the first time since the old pig barn was decommissioned decades ago, we are confident our planned mix of intensive market gardening, small livestock and perennial food foresty will be favourably received. Everyone asks us “when?” and this is hard to answer. Other applications to rezone farmland have taken up to two years to be approved. Our proposal is quite unconventional but are hopeful it will be granted this year and promptly sent on to the Agricultural Land Commission, at which time a public hearing will be scheduled. As I am aging, I feel a greater and more urgent need to surround myself with a diverse and resourceful group of like minded folk. Many of our villagers may still be opening their car doors to go to their workplaces in Vernon or Kelowna, but they will be walking down a pathway by my window on their way to the parking lot at the road’s edge, and everywhere between our homes will be safe for children’s play. I may have a chance to catch up with my neighbours in the central laundry room later that day. I want to be involved in many enjoyable tasks as well as tedious chores, all for the greater good of our villagers, both now and yet to be born. I see myself taking my turn cleaning and cooking for a hundred people at common house dinners. I want to re-upholster and drape for new homes, read stories to young children and teach them how to respect all the forms of life that share our village with us. My husband wants to raise chickens the Salatin way and make yummy things to drink while I go for a daily swim in the indoor pool and recycle plastic waste into usable 3D items. Someday I hope someone will run supper over to me when I am too old to prepare it and will miss my special recipes and hugs when I cross over. Although the ultimate demographic composition and collective values will necessarily alter our utopic fantasy, we are both certain it will be a vast improvement over the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. It is often teasingly assumed we are moving to a “commune” and will be the oldest hippies there. My response is if this how one defines a commune, I am ready to move in! We live in times where change is not only inevitable but sometimes sudden and cruel, like the unforseen amount of rain and snowpack of June 2013. I have followed with great interest the flood mitigation plans and policy in the media and have noted their apparent lack of understanding of the role a community of healthy plants and soil microbiology play in protecting us all. I wrote the several letters concerned citizens do to the agents of change in media and government, only to watch them announce plans to pore concrete instead of plow key lines. This has made our decision to move away a no-brainer. I know Calgary’s future is in the hands of many people with divergent visions, but among them are the competent hands and caring hearts of many amazing young permaculturists. I hope you will visit us in our new home and assist us through your ability to teach by example. Throughout the world we permies know it is possible to build a more sustainable template of human development that others can emulate. I can’t wait to get to back the dirt with you!