WholeVillage, an Ecovillage in Caledon Hills
Waking up with the sunshine, working with animals in a farm, discovering, experimenting and learning other ways of living, producing and consuming. This was my way of living for about a month and a half when I was volunteering in WholeVillage. Let me take you out with me for a little journey.
WholeVillage is a 191 acres farm and ecovillage established in 2002 in Caledon Hills, Ontario, Canada. It’s a little community in which the population varies throughout the seasons and years (about 15 residents when I came to volunteer). They usually host volunteers, B&B customers, during summer and guests.
They envision to reach “a transformed world in which humanity lives in right relation within the web of life“. To do so, they have created on the land a “cooperative farming ecovillage that aspires to model and support resilient, fair and generative systems“.
Here is a map I made of the village to get to know the place better:
In the Ecovillage people have been experimenting innovations and practices in order to attain this ideal of life. We will go through few aspects of it: property & structures, resilient lifestyle, waste management, production methods and living as a community.
PROPERTY & STRUCTURES
The farm is composed of a hardwood forest (14 acres / 5 ha), a provincially significant wetland (27 acres / 10 ha), pastureland and fertile cropland. The diverse and beautiful property is protected by a conservation easement with the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy.
Wildlife includes wild turkeys, white-tailed deers, a wide variety of birds, coyotes, snapping turtles and salamanders.
There are 2 main living building in WholeVillage: GreenHaven and the Farmhouse. For guest and volunteers, there are also 2 cabins next to the pond, called the TreeHouse and the Bluebird Cabin.
The farmhouse was in renovation during my stay, so we were all being lodged in GreenHaven (GH). It is a 16.000 ft² (1.486 m²) living building built in 2006, composed of both common spaces and private ones.
In the common space, there is a kitchen, a dining and living room, a children room, a playroom, a library and a mechanical room.
The private spaces are composed of 11 suites with their own kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedrooms (19 bedrooms in total). The building has a capacity of 30 live-in members.
The balance between private and public space feels a little unusual at first, but after a while, it starts feeling like living in a huge flat with lots of flatmates or even like living with a big recomposed family.
RESILIENT LIFESTYLE: FOOD
First of all, residents eat mainly locally produced products (veggies, eggs, honey, maple syrup) provided by the land and near-by local farmers (cereals mainly). Anyway, for goods that cannot be produced in place – like sugar, quinoa or rice – a food plan is drawn up to buy them from an organic bulk grocery store.
Meanwhile, to keep the harvested food for wintertime, preserves are made by canning (jam, sauces and syrup), drying, freezing and lactic fermenting.
When it comes to energy, the Whole Village is 100% not self-reliant yet, but it’s on its way! However, a lot of effort is put into reducing energy bills.
First of all, lighting. The whole building is covered by 59 skylight windows, which permit using the space through the whole day without electric lights. During the night, little LED night lights allow them to move throughout the building without turning all the lights on.
Secondly, heating. The village is equipped with a masonry heater (advanced chimney) which is used to heat up the common areas, and a heat recovery system which is used to balance heat in the building. Geothermal energy is used to heat the floor and solar water panels are used to heat the water for showers, cleaning dishes and cleaning clothes.
Finally, to reduce energy consumption, there are also 2 solar showers on the lands and only 1 washing machine for everyone (with a schedule where people can mark when they want to use it).
There are drying lines inside and outside to avoid using the electric dryer. You can also find a solar dehydrator to dry food without using any electricity.
“Waste is all the outputs a system is not using”. A big percentage of the waste is avoided or reused:
- Organic waste? It feeds the chickens or it gets composted.
- Paper and Cardboard? Reused on the farm for mulching.
- Metal and glass? Reused as containers or recycled.
- Plastic? Avoided, reused or recycled.
With all this, the 20L trash bin for non-recyclable waste present in the common kitchen is not even full after a week!
The farm is a central part of community life. It includes veggies and fruits in the community garden, the orchards, the food forests, the grain and hayfields, the sugar bush, and the greenhouses.
As livestock animals, the farm has about 40 chickens and 12 cows. Animals are considered as a key component of the ecosystem as their manure is a useful fertilizer and their actions help in pest control. The cows have access to large pastures. To improve soil fertility and land production, the residents produce a large amount of compost, biochar and use techniques like:
- Regenerative agriculture;
- Intercropping (companion planting);
- Multistrata-agroforestry (food forest);
“Living together means being able to solve conflictual and tense situations even before they emerge, in order to sustain balance and harmony in the community.”
LIVING IN COMMUNITY
This may be the hardest part of living in an intentional community. As Brenda, the volunteers’ coordinator, told me: “To start an ecovillage, in the first place you need to find the right people who share your same vision in order to turn a dream into reality. Then you need to learn how to live together.
Living together means being able to solve conflictual and tense situations even before they emerge, in order to sustain balance and harmony in the community.
So first of all, there are some rules of living together that all the residents, volunteers and guests have to respect to ensure a safe and respectful life together.
Here are some of them:
- No physical or verbal violence against someone accepted in the property;
- No loud activities allowed in common areas between 23:00 and 6:00;
- No animals allowed in the inside common areas (to avoid mess and for people allergic);
- No smoking allowed in the buildings or within 10 meters of the surrounding area;
- Take part in the farm life;
- Don’t think at first that someone did or didn’t do something with bad intention;
- Be true and avoid gossiping as much as you can;
- Respect people’s privacy and property;
- Clean and keep common areas tidied;
- Don’t use electricity or water if you don’t need it.
Finally, every Monday at 19:30 a meeting is organized with all the residents, guests and volunteers to share how they feel, share announcements and concerns and fix problems by finding a consensual solution, review the calendar of the week, share appreciations (about things done by others)
All big decisions are taken by consensus based on the principles of Sociocracy.
Living with WholeVillage residents was a rich experience! It was a great occasion to meet incredible people with rich experiences, learn about sustainability and regenerative agricultural practices.
I realized that making changes in our lifestyle to switch to a more sustainable one isn’t out of reach. It simply requires questioning our lifestyle, meeting people that already made a change, exchanging skills, learning from them and spreading the wealth of knowledge around us.