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September 22, 2007

Individual Space


We recently had an intriguing conversation about the (un)sustainability of communal living. Paul, who has lived at Lofstedt Farm in Kaslo, B.C., for the past 5 years, said that he doesn't think living communally is sustainable. From his perspective, "it's tiring."

His opinion comes both from his own experience and from watching other people's attempts at communal living.

Lofstedt Farm was started about 23 years ago, based on Rudolf Steiner's theory of biodynamic agriculture. Put simply, this means looking at the farm as a single closed system, where everything needed for agricultural production originates from the farm itself. It was intended as an educational and experimental farm -- a place where any curious person could come and explore or enhance their skills in just about anything.

Past community members have experimented with things like weaving natural fabrics, creating herbal tinctures, and building an outdoor cob oven; and, of course, everyone helps out on the farm, and absorbs some organic farming and gardening techniques.

The farm has had a long, successful life, with many people coming and going throughout the years. But there was a pervasive sense of end when we were there. The farm will soon be sold, and it was obvious that everyone there is preparing to move on.

According to Paul, people need their own space, to develop as individuals.

"I think we need to re-create villages," he said, "I don’t think people are meant to live communally."

His thoughts resounded profoundly with many of our experiences throughout this journey.

I shared with him the story of the Northen Sun Farm in south-eastern Manitoba. The community began in the early 1980s, with everyone living in the same building and sharing a communal garden. Slowly, as the community evolved over the past 25 years, people began to build their own houses, and plant their own gardens.

They still share some resources, still enjoy one another's company, seek each other's advice, and share potluck meals from time to time. In fact, they are in the process of constructing a large community building (pictured at right), to make communal activities such as potlucks more feasible as the community grows. However, for the most part, they function as individual units, with their own families, their own animals, and their own space.


Some of the younger communities we visited seem to be following similar paths. At Prairie's Edge, in existence now for about 10 years, members are building individual houses. They do, however, still maintain a communal garden and eat all their meals together, at least in the summer.

Until recently, the people at the Waldegrave Farm, in Nova Scotia, squeezed 9 people (7 adults and 2 kids) into one house. With another child on the way, the couple with the 2 children recently moved into a separate house, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others in the household began to likewise move into their own spaces.

I am brought back to a familiar question. It is this perpetual balancing act between the individual and the community: how can you foster a sense of community that nurtures and encourages the development of unique individuals, rather than squashing individual development in the interest of community cohesion. It is a difficult and obscure line to draw.

Perhaps Paul is right. Maybe we should focus on re-creating small villages -- something like what the Northern Sun Farm has become. In this way, individuals can have the space to grow and develop on their own, while still enjoying the personal and environmental benefits of sharing resources and a general care for one another.

As Dom and I were packing up our things to leave Lofstedt Farm, I thought of the people there, and the general atmosphere of combined weariness and excitement -- communally tired from a long growing season, and each member eagerly looking forward to their own individual futures. I knew that both Dom and I could fully identify with the feelings of fatigue that accompany the end of a journey, no matter how wonderfully enriching that journey may have been. I also knew we had both been distracted recently, with considerations of our own individual futures.

Posted by shayna at 06:59 PM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2007

Paul and Loralee's Garden


I have written a lot about people who are creating community somewhat outside of greater society -- often rural or, if urban, generally restricted to one household or so. Some of these communities do reach out to greater society through education programs such as the Free School offered by the Waldegrave Farm in Nova Scotia; however, I saw something recently that has got me thinking about fostering a sense of community in pre-existing neighbourhoods, in our cities and towns.

A few weeks ago, we got a comment on our blog. It read:

I am in Lethbridge, if you come through please stop by. My summer art project was a community guerrilla gardening project – you can see the blog here

This project has created a wonderful sense of community. my view is we have to bring people back to the front of their houses rather than front garages and back yards, because if we never meet our community how can we cultivate a sense of community and caring... anyway love what you are doing

keep on keeping on

in solidarity,


As it turned out, we did stop in Lethbridge for a day. So, while Dom slept in the van (tired from driving the night before), I ventured out in search of this gardening project.

I took down the precise address from Loralee's blog, but it would have been sufficient to know the general area, because I could see the garden from about a block away. Surrounded by flat monotonous green for blocks and blocks, this garden is like a vivid oasis of vitality in the residential neighbourhood.

A piece of paper facing the sidewalk invites passers-by to help themselves, informing them that the garden was created with the intention of sharing it with the community. On small flat rocks that decorate the garden, someone has spelled out the names of the various plants in white paint: echinacea, basil, tomato, zucchini, strawberries, and a lot more.

garden sign.JPG

I knocked on the door and met Paul, Loralee's husband and co-gardener, who walked me through the garden and shared its stories.

He told me about one woman who had come by to thank them for the garden. She was a single mother of four, and was grateful for the free produce.

He also said the garden has brought them out of their backyard, where they used to spend a lot of their time, and onto their front porch, where they are more able to meet their neighbours.

Looking up and down the street, I imagined a neighbourhood full of gardens. The boulevard could become one huge community garden, each household responsible for their little piece, but allowed to harvest from anywhere. You could do your grocery shopping on the way home from work, while socializing with your neighbours!

Perhaps it is just the idealist in me, running away from the restrictive ties of reality. But I believe that this garden has started something. Already, Paul and Loralee's next door neighbours are preparing to turn their boulevard into a garden. Loralee has also done quite a bit of networking through her blog. Paul said they have even had interest from people in Europe.

When we were doing research for this project before we left, we had an interesting conversation with a woman who is opposed to intentional communities. In her experience, intentional communities are isolated from greater society, and therefore do not represent a viable means to a more peaceful society.

I think there is a place for the isolated intentional communities to which she referred. But I do agree with her that there must also be initiatives to build peaceful communities within pre-existing neighbourhoods.

It amazes me to think of the potential that something as simple as a garden has to transform neighbourhoods and bring people together. Building community does not have to mean giving up everything and moving to a farm. It can happen right where you are; it just needs someone to plant a few seeds, and a few people to help weed along the way.

I left Paul and Loralee's garden with a couple zucchinis, a tomato, a bunch of basil, and some plums from a tree in the backyard. The following evening, in Nelson, British Columbia, Dom and I enjoyed a stir fry that sang with guerrilla garden goodness.

Posted by shayna at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2007

Prairie's Edge

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There is one community I had been postponing writing about. This group of people so embodies what we have been seeking on this trip that to put their story into a single posting seemed a daunting task.

Prairie's Edge Eco Village, in rural Manitoba, aims to live simply and co-operatively, in harmony with the natural world. They harness energy from the sun and wind to provide their electricity, grow most of their own food, and build their own homes out of mainly natural or recycled materials.

2nd sm.JPG

This might sound like a lot of work, and it is. But as we learned during our stay there, it can also be a lot of fun, not to mention incredibly fulfilling, to literally build your own life, in tandem with your closest friends.

Of course, they are forced to earn a small income to cover the taxes on their land, whatever food they don't grow, and other supplies. Most community members work outside of the farm just one to two months a year, usually doing odd-jobs, or finding some short-term work in Winnipeg. They charge themselves $50/month in rent, which covers all their food, taxes, and some communal supplies.

(Note: After some quick addition, in a shocking epiphany just moments ago, I realized that these people enjoy a full year of shelter and good wholesome food for the same amount of money I was paying per month for just one room in Toronto!!)

Because they live simply, and mostly outside of our society's capitalist economic system, the people at Prairie's Edge are able to focus most of their time and energy on the survival and well-being of themselves and their community.

2nd lg.JPG

In the summer, community members are busy almost from sunrise to sunset. Their energy goes towards feeding themselves, and building and maintaining their shelters.

When we were there, there were two straw bale houses that had recently been erected. We helped to plaster both of them, with an earth plaster (mixture of sand, clay and water), and then with a lime plaster, which is more weather proof.

One of the community members was also just finishing a solar dehydrator, and we saw the first batch of apple leather, dill, and mullen go in to be dried. The design came from another, older, Manitoba eco village, the Northern Sun Farm. About 15 years older than Prairie’s Edge, the Northern Sun Farm, has acted as mentors to the younger group in a lot of ways.

1st sm.JPG

Next to the dehydrator, stands the impressively large solar oven, in which some of our food was cooked -- another design borrowed from the Northern Sun Farm.

In winter, apparently, most of their energy is spent collecting and chopping firewood for heating and cooking, from the woods on their land. They also take the opportunity to rest, read, dream, and plan for the upcoming growing/building season.

It is so difficult to express our experience at Prairie's Edge in writing, that I hesitated to do so. No words I share with you can express the sense of wholeness and self-assurance that these people exude, which seems to come from literally building their own life and community, with their own hands, from the ground up.

For a slightly larger fraction of an idea of who they are and what they do, you can visit their website:

Posted by shayna at 04:21 PM | Comments (0)

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