Fresh Eyes, Open Heart and Mind – My First Days at O.U.R.
by Dana Jaunzemis
When one hears the word “ecovillage” it can cause quite a stir of curiosity, controversy and a whack-load of prejudices. Some of the inquiries can be positive and alternatively, some negative.
Even before being part of an ecovillage, I knew that some of the prejudices leaned towards thoughts of hippies with pipe dreams and idealistic life plans. Or, even worse – some automatically make the assumption that to be part of an ecovillage means to be part of a cult. Naturally, people are afraid of what they don’t know or understand. Yet at O.U.R Ecovillage the residents, staff and volunteers make it easy to break through these unknowns and are always more than welcoming. I can assure you that they are not cult members who are making animal sacrifices under the moonlight, nor is there a hidden grow-op at the back of the property in order to fund this project and make it possible…(another popular misconception.) But all jokes aside, the people here are extremely hard working, passionate, caring and will welcome any visitors with open arms. Moreover, some of the permanent residents are raising children here – all the more reason for us to avoid those negative stereotypes listed above. Watching them balance their sometimes extreme workload with their desire to shed love and knowledge upon their young children is quite inspiring. These are some of the smartest children I have ever encountered! Their mannerisms and vocabulary can be quite astounding. It really make you wonder what “normal” people have been distracting themselves with in an attempt to make as much money as possible to support a family.
For anyone who is unfamiliar, O.U.R. Ecovillage is a 25 acre sustainable living community, demonstration site and educational center in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. They have become known the world over for challenging the limits of building and zoning codes and have set a precedent in Canada which others may follow – minus the legal fees. By taking one of their summer internship programs, you can learn everything from green building (such as timber frame and cob structures) to permaculture principles and organic gardening. On top of enrolling in an internship, you are also signing on to living on-site for the duration of the course.
This in itself is a learning experience, since you will become fully immersed in what it is really like to be an integral part of a cooperative community. In a nutshell, there are a ton of amazing, innovative practices going on here and it their sole desire to share this valuable information with anyone interested in learning. Our future on this planet requires drastic changes and this is an ideal place to start.
I have only lived and worked at O.U.R for five days, yet the amount of knowledge I have taken in is insurmountable. In five days, I have helped with three visiting tour groups (two of which were post-secondary school groups.) I helped to trek all of our gear to Victoria to run an information booth/sponsorship campaign (twice) and from simply listening and talking with prospective interns or potential sponsors, I have taken in tons of practical knowledge. This includes everything about O.U.R principles including thinking outside the box in terms of building and zoning codes, green burial practices, syndicated mortgages, charitable tax receipts and sponsorships…and the list goes on. Furthermore, I have helped to build a cob floor, learned about grey water systems, aided in food preparation, watched the gardeners start to sew their seeds, gazed in wonder as a jersey calf required feeding assistance and watched twin lambs take their first steps. The vet has been here a few times already, adding stress to the situation (but don’t worry – everyone in the barn is happy and healthy.) On top of everything, as Brandy always says, “don’t forget, the dishes always need to get done!” Keep in mind that this is the slow season and many of our visitors are often fed when they are on site by our lovely and hard-working chef, Marisa. Geez, I am already exhausted and I am a newbie! How do they all do this, day in and day out?! Come May, I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of traffic that will be coming through and how much running around will be necessary. Last summer, there were over 10,000 visitors and we can only surmise that this year will be bigger.
Once you actually become a part of the O.U.R bubble, it is easy to look back and laugh at the former prejudices. To even imagine that these are hippie idealists dancing around in a field of daisies is absurd. In fact, if any of us actually had the time to stop and smell the daisies, it would be a nice little break. Yet before this can happen, the children need to go to bed, lending the parents a bit of time to tackle over a thousand unread emails (on top of trying their best to get in a good night’s sleep of their own!)
Another query which is often raised when the word “ecovillage” pops up is – how is it possible to live cooperatively in a community? This is a great question with a very simple answer, although most human beings tend to complicate things through their egocentric attitudes. The answer is respect and communication! All of the residents here have weekly (if not bi-weekly) meetings in order to express everyone’s wants, needs, tasks, goals, feelings and anything and everything in between. (This does not even include the business related meetings, which are too many to list.) Only by having an honest flow of communication is it possible to have a harmonious living space with so many people from different backgrounds.
So for anyone out there who still has preconceived notions about all of the strange things that happen here behind closed doors, we invite you to pop in. You can even come unannounced if you’re trying to surprise us or catch us off guard! I can personally assure you that you will be greeted with a smile, a cup of tea and possibly a tour – and you will most likely leave here with some new friends, an equally welcoming demeanor, a ton of hopeful ideas for the future and hopefully, a charitable tax receipt.