Alexis Zeigler dries the mud on his boots by the bonfire. He and a dozen others have been busy all morning clearing a road on their newly purchased 127 acres just outside of Louisa, Virginia. Others rest a while and let hot tea warm their sore hands as they watch the sun burn off the early chill.
There are some locals. Some from Charlottesville, some from Richmond, and some from farther away.
Some are old friends and some came alone. But they all meet here most Saturdays to volunteer for a visionary purpose.
The New Dominion
This regular Saturday gathering is united in the goal of creating the Living Energy Farm, a zero-fossil fuel cooperative community, just beginning to establish itself in the mud and underbrush. Alexis Zeigler is a founding member and has for the past year collected 300 supporters and sponsors for the farm which will use alternative technologies to power a self sufficient agricultural community.
An eight year resident of another Louisa cooperative, Twin Oaks, Zeigler has published books and articles about sustainable solutions to global warming and a fossil fuel based economy. Living Energy Farm was purchased in October of 2010, and work parties have been organized by Alexis and his friends Debbie Piesen and Jon Hoover almost every Saturday, all winter long. With spring approaching, some Saturdays have even been good clear work days, with enough warm sunshine to break a good sweat.
Today they’re using two-man cross cut saws to clear fallen timber. In the last few months, they’ve cleared a space for a barn, a cabin, and an organic garden. They’ve built a bridge over the spring that is to be their main supply of water. A pole barn is being constructed for tools and livestock. It’s the community’s wish to have an organic garden growing and the barn and cabin completed by the end of spring.
Their long term goals are to have permanent residents, as well as interns, living on a working farm in the next few years.
By the sweat of their brow
There are myriad things to consider when taking on a project of this magnitude.
What in a typical American lifestyle does not involve fossil fuels? Heating, transportation, and farm equipment rely on it. Even plastic contains petroleum.
“This is not a lifestyle choice for everyone.” says Alexis, looking over the raw acreage. “
It is more of a model of what could be done and an example for years in the future. I look at the cooperative project as a venue to bring people together that are concerned about what our reliance on fossil fuels is doing to our global economy and society, and as a means to educate people about alternative solutions.
Alternative solutions at Living Energy Farm include plans to build using readily available materials, such as straw bale, with excellent insulating capabilities. Passive solar and cross ventilation will make future buildings more efficient to heat and cool. Solar panels will provide much of the heat and electricity, including the power to pump water. Refrigeration will be achieved by building a simple, but ingenious solar ammonia loop system sometimes used in third world countries. Farming tasks are to be performed using solar, steam, biogas, and draft animals.
Employing both old and new technologies, Alexis classifies this zero fossil fuel lifestyle as “Neo-Amish.”
Bustling village life
Living Energy Farm is planned foremost as a sustainable and vibrant community of like-minded people with a commitment to a culture of minimal environmental impact who are also willing to share resources. Alexis hopes to cultivate a sense of active modern village life that encourages local business and cultural events. He hopes to build a community center that educates others about the possibilities of living without fossil fuels. To that end, Living Energy Farm might one day serve as an East Coast example of the possibilities of living in diverse, vibrant, low-energy, sustainable communities.
A key element is the farm. Alexis envisions it as a place with people of all ages, similar to the “cradle to the grave” community of Twin Oaks.
All over the world, most of the world’s ordinary people live fairly sustainably because they are of modest income and have to live modestly. We want to find ways of doing so simply and gracefully.
He explained that though there would certainly be some more physically demanding farm labor involved, older people and children will also have important jobs, as well as providing a sense of generational continuity.
As the spring grass and lamb’s ear grows where there once just ice and raw earth Alexis adds,
There will soon be other jobs to do such as caring for children, animal, and orchards. A lot of jobs that will need to be done at the Living Energy Farm are not heavy or demanding work. We want to show that a community like this is realistic and sustainable, as well as accessible to anyone.
Sounds pretty good.
If you enjoyed this article, please follow us on Facebook, and sign our petition calling for President Obama to acknowledge peak oil on the anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill. Leslee Waggener worked as a contributing editor for this report.
–Suzan Moore, Transition Voice Magazine