Monday, April 26, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 002

KMO talks with Ecovillage Training Center staff and visitors about the Ecosoaker program whereby people can participate in the Permaculture Apprenticeship without a two month commitment. Site manager, Jason Deptula talks about advances in battery technology and about much deeper topics, and Apprentice Garrison calls out for a contact in Ashville, NC.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Power Down - Trade Up

The daughter of one of the Ecovillage Training Center staff arrived home from the Farm school last week and exclaimed, “I HATE Nonviolent Communication!”

According to Wikipedia:

Nonviolent Communication is a process developed by Marshall Rosenberg. It is a way to communicate with greater compassion and clarity. It focuses on two things: honest self-expression— exposing what matters to oneself in a way that's likely to inspire compassion in others, and empathy — listening with deep compassion.

The girl had been studying honest self-expression and empathy at school, and apparently it's tedious stuff. Even so, if you plan on living with other people, and if you imagine that the day may come when you cannot or choose not to rely on authoritarian institutions to resolve disputes and ensure domestic tranquility, then expanding your communicative repertoire might be just the thing.

I see myself as living a little ways into the future here at the ETC. Compared to how I was living just a short time ago, I use far less energy and engage in far fewer economically quantifiable activities on most days. Yesterday, I broke that pattern and spent a couple of hours driving to and from the town of Spring Hill where I lingered in a bookstore, ate in a restaurant, and got my hair cut. That's a lot more travel and commerce than I engage in most days here at the ETC, but yesterday would have seemed like a normal day for me as recently as last December when I worked nearly an hour's drive from where I was living. Now, I live on a reduced energy budget that might soon be the North American norm. It turns out that a seemingly modest amount of energy can power a rich and fulfilling existence, particularly compared to the quality of life of a corporate debt-serf.

Here in the ecovillage pseudo-future, I use cars, computers, and the internet. I'm recording podcasts and writing for blogs. I'm also packing shipments at a mail-order business and doing household and outdoor chores, but more than anything, or so it seems to me, I'm living and interacting with people far more than I'm accustomed to doing.

When I arrived here, I was accustomed to eating alone while reading a book or listening to a podcast. Now, I eat at a table with other people where we have a formalized arrangement concerning who was to prepare the meal and who will clean up afterward. I'm coordinating with people to get chores done and to pick up the mail in town.

In the past, when I kept chickens, if I didn't put them up at night, they didn't get put up. Not so at the ETC. Here, several people share the chicken-care duties, and that requires communication. Some of that communication has become routine and is accomplished with logs and sign-up sheets, so it's not a matter of constantly having to be tuned into someone else's pyschological needs, quirks, and tics, but being here shows me the degree to which mainstream life enables and encourages us to run on emotional autopilot.

Having to marshal my psychic energy to deal with the people around me can be a drain, but in the absence of the normal standardized roles and scripted exchanges of life in the mainstream mode, there's no getting around it. Working stuff out with people can be a pretty complicated affair, and most of us are out of practice. Formalized techniques like Nonviolent Communication would have us say things that we would feel more comfortable leaving unsaid, at least in the short term. It might have us talking about feelings and judgments when really the other person just needs to get some facts straight. It can seem absurdly touchy-feely or new agey, but it beats Mad Maxy, and it beats getting your doctor to write you a prescription for a pharmaceutical aid to get you through one more cycle of scripted interaction with other alienated debt-serfs.

When I interact with a person as a person, I have to summon up more psychic energy than I do for an automatic exchange with an anonymous stranger playing a standardized role. Who deserves the benefit of my full emotional engagement and consideration? Are there times when it is morally permissible to deal with some people according to a role they play?

When I think of the people I deal with on any given day here at the ETC, I understand that some of them, like the ETC staff, will be here indefinitely. The apprentices have been here a month and will be here for a month longer. Then there are the eco-hostel guests who stay overnight or a few days at most.

The people who will be gone in a month seem like members of my community; people with whom I really need to stay tight, but not so people who will only be here a few days at most. I don't want to say that I ignore or tune out the itinerants, but at the same time, I make no effort to remember their names. I know that some other congenial but equally temporary face will occupy that same role shortly.

I wonder if this mix of practically permanent, short but significant, and largely ephemeral relationships will prove typical in an energy-descent future. I can imagine a scenario in which some people have found their workable, long-term living arrangement, and a lot of other people are still looking for their own long-term gigs and are traveling around checking out the various arrangements on offer.

This scenario comes in two distinct flavors. One is the “just how it all shakes out” flavor in which the old way of life becomes increasingly unworkable for more and more people who do what they have to in order to survive while corporate and governmental entities continue the program to sustain the unsustainable and continue doing everything in their power to deny the need for new modi operandorum. This makes for an exciting period of historic transition, but its the sort of excitement that is the acquired taste of the war correspondent or disaster first-responder.

The other, more quixotic flavor is the “let's see what we can do if we decide to do it right” flavor. In this possible future, corporations and governments recognize that a spontaneous, bottom-up, phase change is inevitable and decide to help people explore the space of possible alternative living arrangements without desperation driving people to accept whatever marginally livable situation presents itself first. It may smell a bit like hobbit holes and unicorn horns, but I can see a future in which people have the leeway to sample a variety of post-petroleum lifestyles before committing themselves.

This second flavor is definitely within our technical means, but it's not anything you can vote for. It's not a message that a politician can use to get elected, but it is a message that people can nurture and share and use to inspire each other. There are different ways of living both sustainably and within our means. Seeing a diversity of living examples, hearing about them, trying them on to see how they fit, all help to erode the facade of conditioned expectations that keeps us going through the stressful and alienated motions. The transition is upon us. What's needed is the understanding that in powering down we can trade up.

Monday, April 19, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast 001

KMO talks with the other folks who live, learn, and work at the Ecovillage Training Center in Summertown, Tennessee. This week, KMO talks with Merry Moore, the ETC innkeeper about the kitchen co-op she conceived and continues to refine, then comes a walk and talk with Cliff Davis, ETC Head Gardener, about collecting and using local micro-organisms to make compost tea, and finally Garrison, an ETC permaculture apprentice, shares some surfer lingo.

I've set up an ETC Journal Pix group on Flickr:

If you have photos of the ETC to share, let me know via email and I'll add you to the group.

If you are looking for images of the Hippitat, check out this video:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Short Happy Life of Bobby McGee

Last week, I wrote of buying four hens and a rooster at a local Mennonite store and bringing them back here to the Ecovillage Training Center to inhabit the cob henhouse that has stood vacent since my arrival here in late February. Chickens generally don't like a change of scene and require an adjustment period before settling in and going about their regular barnyard business. Not this group. They hit the ground happy and instantly started acting as if they felt at home. The rooster in particular seemed quite pleased with his change in circumstances.  I closed that blog post with, “I'm typing these words on my ancient laptop computer at the kitchen table, and every couple of minutes as I've typed the rooster has crowed, voicing his approval and enthusiasm for his new situation. I concur.”

That rooster, named Booby McGee by one of the apprentices, died that very day. He spent one night and two glorious days at the ETC after spending a month in a small wire cage by the side of the road and before meeting a violent death. We found a scattering of feathers about a hundred yards from the henhouse near the edge of the woods. The modus operandi of snatching the prey and carrying it swiftly away to make the kill indicates a fox, according to Albert Bates. In all likelihood, death descended upon Bobby McGee around dusk but before the chickens put themselves to bed (or roost) in the henhouse.

Bobby McGee was a different breed from the four hens he came with. He was the same size as the hens themselves, and he had tufts of feathers on his feet. I took many pictures of those hens that first day, but Bobby shows up only as tail feathers or as a red blur in amongst the hens. Cliff, the ETC gardener brought us a replacement. The new rooster has lived on site before, and while these hens are new to him, the gig is one that he performs with authority and aplomb. His name is Gordon Lightfoot, and he is about one and half times the size of the hens. According to Cliff, Gordon is an Americana. He looks a lot like the Aracana rooster I used to own and whose crow you can still hear at the end of each episode of the C-Realm Podcast. He has long silver feathers that stream down his neck and back, and he has formidable spurs on his ankles. Gordon the rooster is no joke.

Click photo to enlarge

During Gordon's first night in the henhouse a raccoon pried open the henhouse door and got inside. The sounds of chicken panic woke Merry, the innkeeper, who lives on a school bus quite close to the henhouse. She got there in time to prevent any casualties and send the raccoon packing, but not before he had taken a chunk out of the thigh of one of the hens. That hen stayed close to the henhouse for the next couple of days, but now she follows Gordon and her sister wives around the ETC site. She can't keep up and must take frequent rests, but then she will get up and hobble in the direction of Gordon's continuous crowing to rendezvous with the group.

What lessons come from these experiences? The obvious and practical lesson is 1) to count the chickens in the hen house before securing it for the night, and 2) to remember that EVERYBODY loves the taste of chicken.

The fate of Bobby, who spent long weeks in unpleasant confinement, was placed into chicken paradise and shortly thereafter died a violent death raises (but does not beg) the question of whether it is better to live safely in drab confinement or to live dangerously in a paradise that answers to your every natural inclination, including the inclination to beware of predators.

I may dwell on that question in future posts, but for now I'd like to return to the question of the Changeover; the process by which the Farm re-organized and transformed itself from an idealistic religious movement under the charismatic leadership of a spiritual teacher into an economically viable community which accommodates the sink-or-swim moral assumptions of modern capitalism.

A lot of the people who come through here have visited other intentional communities, some of which operate as collectives. The one that comes up most often in conversational contrast to the Farm's Changeover is Twin Oaks, an intentional community in Virginia founded in 1967. Twin Oaks started out as, and remains, an economic collective. The example of Twin Oaks leads some folks to question the official Farm narrative of the Changeover which casts it as an unavoidable realignment needed to keep the community viable in the larger context of a money economy. In a previous post, I shared a portion of a conversation with Frank Michael in which Frank provided an alternative take on that official narrative, and I'll close out this entry with a transcript of part of a conversation that I recorded with Albert Bates and Joe of the Occult Sentinel Podcast. I used a different portion of this same conversation in episode 201 of the C-Realm Podcast. The transcript starts in mid-sentence because that's when I turned on the recorder.

Albert: ...fourth generation family here on the Farm. My mother died in 2003. She had been living here for 15 years. I'm now 63 years old. My son has 80 acres just outside the Farm where he's doing an edible landscaping nursery, and my granddaughter is just turning three. So, that's like four generations of family right here, and there are several families on the Farm that are that way.  
So, you know, you can't, on the budget that we're talking about, turn every house into this kind of utopian landscape, but you can start, and you can get the ideas passed down through our alternative school to the next generation, and they can pick up and run with it for themselves. 
Joe: So the goal, probably, if you had too much funding, would be to just become totally off-grid, self-sufficient solar...
Albert: I don't think there's any such thing as too much funding for a project of this type. If we had too much funding we would probably spend a lot more time on activism. And we're kind of Buddhist in the sense that we're not feathering our own nest. We're looking at the big picture. Insofar as we can make ourselves more harmless than we are right now, that would be great. 
The other thing is to try to create a scene where people can come through and have the hospitality and a sense of what it is we're trying to do, so maybe it spreads that way too. 
Back in 1980, or there'bouts, eighty, eighty four, somewhere in that region, The World Bank gave a grant to [the village of] Gaviotis in Columbia of $8 million, and he [Paolo Lugari] was able to use that to create this meme  of sustainable living and sustainable production in a very rough and rural area, in the middle of a civil war, out in the middle of nowhere, [with] very poor soils, [and a] wicked hydrological cycle, and he created a forest system and an industry for making pine tar where eventually it was able to pay for itself and generate its own income, but in the interim, it began as this grant that enabled him to build community facilities: this kitchen, housing for his scientists, a shop for making windmills, [and] different kinds of things like that. 
Well, if the Farm had gotten an $8 million grant in 1984, this would be a much different place today, because in 1984 we were just starting a solar car manufacturing company. We had ambitions to have a sailing fleet that would go through the Caribbean on a fair trade circuit. We had two thousand acres, and about a third of that was under cultivation, and, you know, it was a beautiful vision, and what happened instead, because we didn't have that external input was that we came up against bank loans, the Regan recession in building trades—the things we made our money from—and we ended up going into a different system. We de-collectivized. We had to say, “You know, okay, well, no longer can we just have an economy of love; a gift economy, where somebody does this job and they can go to the store and get everything for free.” Instead we had to exchange pictures of dead presidents between people, and that was the economy, and if you wanted to send your kid to the Farm school, you had to come up with the tuition. 
Well, that changed the way everybody started doing things, and a lot of people actually left at that point. Some left because we didn't change fast enough, and some left because they thought we were selling out the Revolution, and the Farm population went from over a thousand to down  250 or so, and leveled off at that point, and it's been like that for 15 or 20 years now. 
Those that stayed, curiously enough, were a lot of the people that had been in the original caravan that arrived here. So rather than selling out the Revolution, they were sort of like the people who stayed and washed the dishes after the party, and paid off a million dollars in debt to the banks, [and thus] bought the land a second time, and have been risk-averse ever since, and [they have grown] conservative in progressing the thing very slowly, in stages, so as not to become vulnerable again. 
In future posts I will return to the question of creating community within the confines of a capitalist society that would rather see ersatz community sold as a commodity than real community arise spontaneously and organically as people work collaboratively to fulfill their own needs.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Picking Up Speed

Last week I closed by saying that the first of the apprentices would be arriving the next day, and now they are here. Nilsa arrived on Sunday night, and Rich and Garrison both made their appearance the next morning. They've been here less than a full week, and already the group is tight.

Living here at the Inn is a very different experience now than it was when I sat down to write last week's entry. Things are a lot more formal now than they were a week ago. The refrigerator has a chore schedule attached to it, and at every meal one person is responsible for cooking and another for clean up. Out of courtesy for my fellow ETC residents, I have assigned myself clean-up slots exclusively.

Meals now begin with a series of ceremonies. When the food is ready someone steps out onto the deck and blows a note on a conch shell to summon the diners. When everyone has gathered around the table we join hands. The first time we did this, it seemed as though the hand-holding went on for an inordinately long time, but after nearly a week of this, the extended time spent in the circle around the table seems normal, and I'm starting to enjoy it whereas at first I got fidgety after a couple of minutes.

Once the circle has formed, Merry, the innkeeper, asks the group how their day went and invites people to share whatever details they like about it. After that comes the food tour in which the person who prepared the meal describes its various components. This usually comes with accompanying gestures, and the person doing the gesturing points to each dish without releasing the hand of the person next to them.

After the meal, each person washes his or her own plate, and the person assigned to clean-up takes care of the pots, pitchers and pans, common dishes, and assorted kitchen utensils. That person wipes down the counters and the table, and generally re-sets the kitchen for the start of the next cycle.

There are two bathrooms here in the Inn, and they need to be accessible during peak traffic periods, so we have notices posted specifying when it's okay to shower and when the bathrooms need to be left free. Readers outside of the United States may find amusement in the fact that American's will ask about the location of the 'bathroom' when what they really need is a toilet. Toilet is not an acceptable word for polite conversation in the US.

There are multiple composting toilets in outbuildings here at the ETC, and there are also outbuildings containing solar showers, so regardless of your need, ample facilities await you, but because of their single-functionality you won't be able to pretend that you were bathing or resting when in fact you were pooping. I think of my experience here as a scouting mission into one possible energy-descent future; one in which people live in closer proximity than they did in energy-rich 20th Century suburbia. In such a future, the fact that humans excrete both liquids and solids will not endure as a taboo subject.

Sex is not the taboo subject that it used to be. In fact, due to it's utility in selling products, anyone plugged into the corporate media will be reminded every few seconds that humans have sex with one another and that those who use the advertised products will have more frequent and better sex with nubile young partners. I hear tell that folks who spend time here at the ETC tend to hook up for durations both short and long, and as the sun shines and the trees turn green and more bodies move through the space I think I can feel an established hook-up energy stirring on site. There are detailed protocols posted for low-friction communal living, but the sex protocols remain un-posted. None of the outbuildings seem sufficiently isolated or sound-proof for total privacy, and I'm wondering if stealth sex is the norm or if the unwritten protocol is for everyone else to turn a deaf ear when ardor overcomes discretion.

On Thursday I made my first airport run. It's a good 90-minute drive to the Nashville airport, and as I left myself no buffer for contingencies I put my brain on idle and let my GPS device do the navigating. On the drive from Summertown to Nashville I listened to episode #52 of the Diet Soap Podcast, on which I appeared as a guest. (If you're of a mind to give it a listen, I would recommend that you first listen to the previous three episodes which feature interviews with James Howard Kunstler, Dmitry Orlov, and Robert Jensen. You might also take in episode 200 of the C-Realm Podcast, which features the first part of the conversation that continues between Doug Lain and me in Diet Soap #52.) I arrived at the baggage claim a minute or two before my passenger, and all went well. When I arrived back here at the Inn, I dropped off my passenger and then parked my truck up at the top of the hill. I got back here on foot just as Cliff, the gardener and the person most responsible for structuring the time and experience of the permaculture apprentices, was loading a wire cage into the back of the ETC car. He was planning to take Nilsa, Rich, and Garrison out to his farm to show them his nascent permaculture operation, and then they were going to go to Yoder's, a local Mennonite-run grocery store to buy some laying hens.

The trip to Cliff's farm was rewarding, and even a cursory summation of the information he imparted would require a blog post unto itself. In short, his ambitions inspired me.

When we arrived at Yoder's, we saw the chickens in a wire cage out by the road. They cost ten dollars each according to the hand-written sign attached to the cage. Cliff announced his intention to talk old man Yoder into parting with 5 for $40. That cage held four Rhode Island Red hens, two turkens (chickens with featherless necks that make them look like turkies, and a small rooster with tufts of feathers on his feet.) We all agreed, without specifying why, that we didn't want the turkens, and Cliff did manage to get Mr. Yoder to sell us the four hens and the rooster for $40. Later Nilsa and I both expressed a bit of nagging guilt at having left the turkins behind.

Cliff and I went out to collect the chickens. He moved the car over to their cage, popped the hatch and opened the ETC cage. Just as I was opening the road-side cage Garrison appeared and said that he'd never held a live chicken before. He seemed a bit uncertain about the prospect of reaching into that cage and grabbing hold of an uncooperative chicken. I have handled many a live and unwilling chicken, and after Garrison saw me stoop down and step inside that cage and lay hands on the first of the hens, he was gung-ho for the job, and we took turns extracting the four red hens and the silky rooster with the tufted feet and putting them in the cage in the back of the ETC Saturn.

As we drove back toward Summertown, Cliff pointed out a nondescript country gas station and explained that it is the closest place to the Farm to buy beer, and while Jim, the proprietor stocks the usual assortment of American macro-brews (“Like making love in a canoe,” as the Monty Python crew famously quipped at the Hollywood Bowl,) you can also find Red Stripe and a selection of seasonal offerings from Sam Adams and the New Belgium Brewing company (eco-friendly and employee-owned) at Jim's place. Alcohol was not allowed on the old Farm. These days Jim sells quite a bit of those high-end brews out of his little gray, concrete block building on that unremarkable stretch of rural Tennessee highway.

Now, I won't say that old hippies who have made their peace with capitalism drink more beer than idealistic young hippies working night and day to keep their commune afloat, but I will say that in the days when alcohol was forbidden on the Farm television was similarly proscribed. The ETC has a TV as does every residence that I have entered here on the Farm. The guidelines for living at the ECT posted on the fridge specify that neither drugs nor alcohol are allowed, and while I won't say that the Farm residents are making up for lost beer-drinking time, neither will I say that innkeepers, apprentices, and resident podcasters drink beer by candle light on school buses and cob cabins. I will say, however, that a good deal of bonding occurred on Thursday night and that I'm really starting to dig this community living thing.

At this point, the word-count tool tells me that I'm done, but long-time listeners to the C-Realm Podcast will understand that I can't leave off without saying something more about the chickens. When we got the chickens back here to the ETC and released them into the waiting enclosure with the cob henhouse, they knew in an instant that they had arrived in the Promised Land. Chickens often don't like to be moved to unfamiliar locations, and it's normal for hens to stop laying until they have adjusted to the change in scenery. As soon as these chickens hit the ground they were scratching and pecking, and within minutes the rooster had mounted one of the hens. They were home, and they knew it. We got our first egg the next morning.

I'm typing these words on my ancient laptop computer at the kitchen table, and every couple of minutes as I've typed the rooster has crowed, voicing his approval and enthusiasm for his new situation. I concur.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Growing Up

In last week's post I shared the first part of a conversation that I recorded with Frank Michael. He is the proprietor of a mail order business here on the Farm, and he lived on the Farm in it's glory days prior to the Changeover in 1983, when the Farm switched from operating as an economic collective into a something more in tune with the economic realities of the larger culture. Before the Changeover, those who worked outside the Farm surrendered their paycheck to the collective. Now, people make and keep their own money and pay membership dues to support the community. Even non-members visiting the Farm pay a per-night bed tax, even if they are staying with friends.

Though the land is still held in common, a fundamental determinant of whether Farm residence is even a viable consideration is one's ability to generate an income in rural Tennessee. Some people make the 140 mile round-trip commute to Nashville. This option works best for Farm residents who can earn sufficient income working in town a couple of days a week. There are a handful of profitable businesses operating on the Farm which create employment for some residents, but not enough to offer ready-made economic niches for prospective new residents who come without a grubstake.

The official story of the Farm presented to visitors holds that the Changeover was a necessary economic adjustment to mounting debts and that it allowed the Farm to avoid the loss of the land to foreclosure and prevent the dissolution of the community. This narrative makes sense to me, and I hadn't questioned its fundamentals when I asked Frank for his perspective on the Changeover. I listened as he gave his answers, but each time I asked Frank a question, I tried to get him to address the Changeover in the economic terms in which it had been presented to me. While I still suspect that there's a meaningful story along those lines to be explored, Frank has convinced me that the official story omits a very real dynamic; one that doesn't fit comfortably with the communitarian narrative of the Old Farm.

KMO: What caused such a dramatic depopulation of the Farm after the Changeover? 

Frank: Okay. A little background. We were extremely different individuals to begin with. You know, there were people from all walks of life here, and what brought us together and kept us together for ten years or so was the strong glue provided by the philosophy of the Farm and by Stephen Gaskin and Ina Mae's real charisma, and good sense, intelligence, and loving personalities. You know, they're some of the most loving people I ever met. And also some of the smartest and funniest people I ever talked to. 

So, I think the philosophy; non-violence and vegetarianism, and the practical idealism that we practiced on the Farm was the glue that held such a disparate group of people together when we were living in tents and buses and in impoverished situations. But we had fun. We enjoyed it. We had rock-n-roll; we had great parties; the food was fantastic. We were healthy because we got a lot of exercise. You had to really work here to make it.

I would say that there were two main reasons for the Changeover and the sudden population drop. One of them is psychological, and that is that, willy nilly... I mean, I don't think I ever did this. I was one of the older people on the Farm. I was 32 when I first came to the Farm, and I've been here ever since, but a lot of young people took Stephen and Ina Mae to be like their parents. They would actually call them up in the middle of the night, and say things like, “My old lady's not giving me any. What's wrong? Why can't we work it out?” Or, “The kids are crying, and I don't know what to do for them.” Or, you know, “My grandmother sent me some money, but she doesn't want me to spend it on anybody else.” All kinds of crazy things.

Well, not crazy things, but they were using Stephen and Ina Mae as their gurus, or parents, or councilors, instead of trying to figure things out for themselves. They were in a parent/child relationship with those people, and then what happened was they all grew up at about the same time. And why do teenagers rebel and dis their parents before they split? Well, some psychologists say that it makes it less painful to leave that way. Others say it's because they've been so dependent and so de facto slavish towards their parents all these years, and now they want freedom, and they just explode with it.

Whatever the theoretical explanation is, that happened on the Farm, and some of the people leaving held strong animosities against Stephen. They called him a guru or a cult leader, and in many cases they made up a long list of wrong-doings for Stephen, and they were not true at all. Not that Stephen was a perfect person at all. He screwed up enough, but a lot of the charges were ridiculous.

In my opinion, the philosophy we had [on the Farm before the Changeover] was the best ever. I mean, I cannot fault anything [about it]. We did make a few technical mistakes. For example, we used to say that anger is optional and that you should take that energy and do something useful like wash the dishes or chop wood with it. You were not supposed to express it. That's a hard one to follow, but it was well-intentioned. It was all inspired by the acid vision of a bunch of idealistic young people.

I would say that the second large reason is that we were getting older. Not only was there rebellion of the teenagers against the [surrogate] parents, but also, as we got older... To me, this is probably the most important thing, and this is just my opinion. I've never heard anybody else express this, but I feel like young people are full of energy and curiosity about all kinds of things, and they will dedicate long hours in the daytime to working on whatever it is, and then long hours at night to partying or having meetings and discussions and just hanging out with each other. And as you get older and start getting attached to a certain person – your girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever – some of the energy you spend in the group shunts over to your own personal affairs. And then if you get married, well, even more so. Now you have to manifest a house or a tent or whatever. Now your old lady gets pregnant and you have children. Wow. Now, even more or your energy has to be dedicated to your family.

Maybe at some point later on, you'll decide, “Well, you know, this is a great place, but I'd like to become a doctor, or I'd like to learn printing or something. Learn Japanese or whatever.” So that takes even more energy away from all the interminable meetings and community affairs.

So, that time and energy question, to me, is probably the most important one that caused the Changeover. It's surprising how little people realize that time and energy are strong determinants in your lifestyle and in your attitudes. The Changeover happened because people got older, and they didn't have the time and energy to be as communitarian as they were before.

I can imagine a proponent of an anti-immigration narrative holding Frank's story up as an illustration of why any community has to control it borders and favor the material well-being of existing residents over the needs of prospective newcomers. With fewer than 200 adult residents, the character of the Farm could easily be lost in a rapid influx of new people. And after a few weeks here, I'm just starting to get a feel for what a loss that would be.

Most of the young people I've met since my arrival – and at age 41 I'm a young face around here – either grew up on the Farm or came to it via the Ecovillage Training Center. Some of the folks in that second category made connections with non-ETC Farm residents, found an economic toehold and have started on the road to full Farm membership, but it's a long road, and the Farm thus far has struck me as a cross between a laid-back retirement community and an understaffed re-enactment of the Old Farm; like a Renaissance Festival in the days before the actual start of the fair, and as it gets warmer and as more people start to arrive or emerge from their winter dens, I'm starting to feel the festival atmosphere taking hold. The first of this season's ETC apprentices will arrive tomorrow, and it feels like the show is just about to begin.