Earthaven Ecovillage Newsletter
Summer 2009

News notes

Ackim and InaWe had a wonderful forum workshop with Achim and Ina (in photo) from ZEGG community in Germany. We've been using the forum process for a few years and it was great to have some refresher training!

Suchi, Kimchi, and Gaspar have been facilitating forum at Earthaven for the past couple years.  Arjuna, Debbie, Mana, Steve, Clark, and Red Moon Song are joining them as a forum facilitation team with community forums scheduled twice a month.

Our abundant spring rains have turned into hot summer sun, and our gardens are growing! We harvested garlic, squash, beans, greens, and lots of berries, and even our first few tomatoes.

We celebrated the summer solstice with yoga, meditation, a ceremony at Hidden Valley, and a work day to deepen our swimming hole!

Wake Forest students working in Forest GardenEarthaven hosted our third group of college students over summer solstice weekend. This group, from Wake Forest University, was on days 19-21 of a 27-day field trip throughout the Southeast. During a break from their studies they built a grape trellis and mulched paths in the Forest Garden.

Our teachers have been busy preparing for their summer programs. Andrew Goodheart and friends are hosting a permaculture certification course at Earthaven in August (see article later in the newsletter), Corinna is preparing for her August Wise Women Immersion course, and the women at Red Moon Herbs are preparing for the fifth annual Southeast Women's Herbal Conference.

Diana has had a busy spring and summer traveling around the Diana with Ecovillage students in the Philippinesworld teaching and speaking about intentional communities and ecovillages. Her travels so far include teaching the Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) course of GEN's Gaia Education program in the Philippines (see photo), being a keynote presenter at Portland's Village Building Convergence, and participating in the International Cohousing Summit as one of the few Americans invited. Between speaking engagements she edits the Ecovillages Newsletter.

Council Hall Completion Campaign – Moving Ahead to Phase Three

We Need Your Help!

This fall we want to complete the Council Hall. We have a plan and most of the funding, but need to raise a little more money.

We are all into the wisdom of ecological sustainability and intentional community, and creating a partnership culture — but it takes a lot of hard work and cash to get there. Right now, it’s time to complete the Earthaven Council Hall, at the heart of our ecovillage, creating a fully functional meeting hall alongside our long-awaited, future “community building.” When both are complete, we will have our “community center.” And as we prepare to complete the Council Hall and design the community building, we hope you will pitch in a donation to help meet the goal of a completed Council Hall by winter.

Council Hall core posts and beamsCouncil Hall Design and Construction
The ten-year-old Council Hall is Earthaven’s true hearth space. It’s one of the most impressive buildings at Earthaven, with a central diameter of thirty-five feet and a rear “skirt” of twelve-foot-wide bays—a visual feast - featured in several natural building books.

Phase One: More than half the timber-framed Hall’s thirteen sides are made of straw bales. Designed by Paul Caron, the central posts and beams were put up in the summer of 1999. (All 500-and-some joints connecting them were chiseled by Earthaven members — everyone got to make at least a few.)

Strawbale walls before plasteringNext, the load-bearing straw bale walls were constructed, primarily by amateur, volunteer labor. Then the lower roof that covers the bays was installed. Before the central roof could be erected, however, the ring-beam that focuses the yurt-shaped ceiling had to be in place. The ring-beam is at the very top and provides the necessary compression to balance the tension borne by a ring of thirteen beams, reinforced by two steel cables in the outside ring. This system of rings supports the upper roof and half the lower roof.

Phase Two: We began using the much-needed facility as soon as the roof was up, and once the walls were built, mud in the front and straw in the back, we carried on as if we were already close to completion. It took some time to focus on the interior, while other, more pressing developments demanded our attention and available capital, but little by little we installed the floors, painted and trimmed, and developed a viable maintenance schedule.

Not to be Forestalled, the Intrepid Earthaven Pioneers Partied On!

Using masks in the Council HallDespite its unfinished and imperfect condition, we’ve made extensive use of the Council Hall over the years. We’ve held Council meetings twice a month, our many committees use the space for meetings and special events, we celebrate birthdays, Equinoxes, Solstices and other important holidays here, serve fabulous Thanksgiving and exotic feasts, attend original plays by the Forest Children, put on costume parties and free spirit dances, concerts and fundraisers; hold permaculture trainings and other classes; have visioning retreats and community “threshings”; come together for meditation, qigong and yoga; show movies; experience visiting teachers and other talents; and, of course, host the home school enrichment program for our own and neighbors’ children. We’ve been able to host other progressive groups’ events as well.

Beautiful, but Incomplete

Everyone who worked on the building has stories to tell. The beautiful maple floor has walnut trim in metaphysical configurations with buried treasure below. The rear mosaic stone floor is one of the world’s wonders! But the building is not complete: it still needs a metal roof with new gutters. And it needs a small addition to house a standard low-water flush toilet, a sink with running hot water, and several staging functions for serving food and beverages when doubling as a ballroom or hosting an event.

Council HallThe roof was planned as a living roof of drought-tolerant plants over an EPDM membrane, but it has since become clear that repairing tears or split seams in the EPDM would be extremely difficult, so Council decided that a metal roof will be more practical. It will facilitate installing insulation and a more effective guttering system. (Right now, the gutters are stressed by the shape of the roof edge - a compromise between a circle and a thirteen-sided figure.) Because of the current gutters, water has been gushing to the ground, then splashing up on the mud-plastered walls, where the vapor barrier over the concrete foundation has not been able to keep all the moisture out of the straw bales. The damage seems to be incipient and reparable, but will mean taking off the exterior mud-plaster so we can inspect and repair the bales in a future project. Until then, installing the metal roof and improved gutters will avoid further damage to the walls.

A Stacked Solution

Phase Three: In addition to the metal roof and new gutters, Council has approved a neatly stacked project for the Council Hall addition that includes a flush toilet (with leach field), service kitchen, and hot water from the Taylor water stove to heat the floor and the addition, and for dishwashing. The addition will serve many functions:

  1. A toilet that meets the State code for visitors.

    This is a major step towards completing the Rutherford County Health Department requirements in order to conform to North Carolina regulations. It will enable us to serve visitors more fully and get rid of the Port-a-Potty.

  2. A service kitchen that will facilitate community events in the Council Hall.

    At the moment, we have no place to store plates or wash them when we’re having an event in the Council Hall. Minimal kitchen facilities will free up space in the reception area and free us up to spend more time socializing than carrying supplies back and forth.

  3. Floor heating that will make wintertime use more cozy and comfortable.

    The Council Hall floors have several zones of radiant heat pipe in them, just waiting to be hooked up. Connecting the Taylor stove will heat the floors, the kitchen, and the water, and bring us close to the finish line for “completing the Council Hall.”


Subscriber Support

Preparing for a potluck near the Council HallHere’s where you can help. Although membership continues to grow, siteholding lease purchases (our major source of capital funds) were slowest this past year and are likely to go slowly for a while longer. While Earthaven allocated what funds are available towards “completing the Council Hall,” we need a bit more than what we’ve earmarked. Of the $39,000 budgeted for the remainder of Phase Two and for Phase Three, we’ve been able to set aside $30,000. We are in search of the other nine thousand.
You are one of over four thousand subscribers who currently receive this newsletter. If you donate $10, we can complete this project before winter. If you’ve hesitated, if half of the subscribers hesitate, then we hope you will send $20!
How many of us made small donations to the recent Presidential campaign? Painless and rewarding, right? Now, here’s an opportunity to donate to something even more personal to you that will reward us all! We are looking forward to entertaining you in our completed and well-equipped Council Hall, so please plan to visit us as soon as you hear that it’s done. (Or, come sooner and join us in the doing.) Stay tuned for your invitation to a donor appreciation celebration just as soon as the paint is dry.

Please Take a Moment to Feel Your “Yes!”

Before you write the check (or go online and use your PayPal account), please take a moment to feel how good the “Yes, I can help” mantra feels in your bones! We hope that good feeling will carry you through a blessed and happy summer, and find you at Earthaven soon. (Check the Earthaven website - - for upcoming events.) Checks can be sent to Earthaven at 1025 Camp Elliott Road, Black Mountain, NC 28711.

Alice, Arjuna, and Mana

*Financial information about Culture's Edge and a copy of its license are available from the NC State Solicitation Licensing Branch at 1-888-830-4989 or The license is not an endorsement by the State.

Permaculture Education at its Finest!
Group circleThis August 14 – 22, Culture’s Edge is sponsoring a residential Permaculture Fundamentals intensive featuring international permaculturist Andrew Goodheart Brown, assisted by local talents Zev Friedman, Monica Williams, Winn Mallard, and Bill Whipple. The intensive comprises the first half of the Permaculture Design Course and is required for design certification, but even more significantly it traditionally serves as a life-changing and direction-enhancing episode in people’s lives.
From ethics and principles that motivate this design system for healthy integration of the human community into the whole natural world, to the picks and shovels of sheet mulch gardening and water management, to the evening programs that focus on story and song and more personal sharing, the experience of a permaculture course is unforgettable.
Investigating creatures in the streamAnd what makes this course at Earthaven so special is that it’s happening right in the middle of a dynamic ecovillage where most of the principles under discussion are being enacted right in front of students’ eyes. While one side of the brain is taking in information intellectually, the other side is being fed through live participation in the lifestyle practices that make sustainable community possible.
Registration is going on right now, so we encourage you to consider signing up today. There’ll be great food, nourishing time in nature, and the educational adventure of a lifetime. Please share this announcement with friends and family who might also want to know about this opportunity, and if you’re part of a group that’s in a position to sponsor someone who can bring back the course highlights to you, please consider rallying that support as well.

A Visit With Useful Plants Nursery
Bruce Johnston, UPN Nursery ManagerAlice Henry and Matt Kolosky (Southern Connecticut State University) interviewed Useful Plants Nursery Manager Bruce Johnston. Bruce took us on a tour of the nursery, pointing out plants and answering questions as we went.
We began our tour by visiting some of the medicinal and edible shrubs that are the specialty of Useful Plants Nursery. For example, there is Vitex, an attractive shrub with purple flowers which has berries useful for hormonal regulation, particularly for menopausal or menstruating women. Crampbark is another shrub used medicinally. People steep the bark to make tea which can serve as a muscle relaxant. It too is a viburnum, a highbush cranberry native to Europe and Africa. We went on to look at service berry, apples, Nanking cherries – all edible, and handsome. They raise seven varieties of figs, all equally cold resistant. They also stock Flying Dragon, a hardy citrus with spines, good for hedges. It was stressed that this was just a small selection of what was available. Bruce says “there is immense diversity here – at least 200 varieties and 150 species on less than half an acre of growing space.” The nursery’s web site,, features a complete stock listing.
The benefits of complexity
The diversity helps ward off both disease and financial catastrophe. For example phytophthora infestans (the root rot mold that caused the Irish potato famine) thrives in a monoculture and is a perennial bane of plant nurseries and many root crop farmers, but UPN had only 8 deaths this year from this mold. Considering that all phytophthoras thrive in wet conditions and how rainy this spring has been, that’s not too bad at all. However, even if the molds had killed a group of plants or two, the nursery would have absorbed the shock and continued to thrive, because it doesn’t specialize in any one set of plants. The diversity also works wonders for pest management. The nursery doesn’t use any chemical sprays on its plants and will as often as not tolerate the presence of pests like aphids because they do little permanent harm and sometimes indicate soil problems.
Staying in business
UPN faces the same challenges that all businesses in our neck of the woods face – they’re far from their markets, have little access to formal financial institutions, and are technologically unsophisticated relative to their larger competition, putting limits on their speed of production and ease of marketing. Bruce has a lot to say about these issues “Four people work at this nursery; nothing is mechanized. This is simultaneously wonderful and economically backward. I love the people who work here and wouldn’t trade them for the nicest greenhouses in the world. However, the fact is that if we had the equipment, a nursery this size could easily be run by one or two people with seasonal help, improving the per-person returns immensely.”
“We do hope to mechanize to some degree, for example bringing in a soil mixer and some small vehicles to haul larger quantities of plants around our new field. Mixing sixty gallons of soil by hand every time you want to pot something gets pretty tiring, as does hauling them around, and it’s an inefficient use of time to boot. That said we have no aspirations to become a huge, totally tractor-driven operation. It’s not who we are. We don’t do the ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ approach, but we’ve got to find a way to lower our prices all the same, at least in some areas. You can’t do anything in McDowell County selling a $16 goji plant in a 2 gallon pot. People laugh you out of the store, if they’ve even heard of a goji berry in the first place. To say nothing of lower-income folks in Asheville or Statesville, of whom there are more and more these days. Partial mechanization and increased propagation space will help with a lot of that, and that’s why we’re going to pursue it in some form.”
As for advertising and marketing, the internet is UPN’s way of getting around the fact that they are far from most of their customers. They publish a monthly newsletter online which has over 600 subscribers, and the number increases each month. Many people who have never bought a plant from them sign up on their website, and they have readers from California, Eastern Europe, and Singapore. Recognizing this potential, UPN is investing in this medium by hiring a part-time writer to handle the newsletter in a more professional manner and tie it more directly to sales. Even so, it may be difficult to capitalize on this new development, because mail order at the present time is an unattractive option. Their pots are large and cost a lot to ship. They depend on farmers’ markets, conferences such as the Organic Growers’ School, and big events for a great deal of their income. However, a promising development for more intensive exports has UPN’s growing connections with projects with similar views such as Bountiful Backyards in Durham and the Philadelphia Orchard Project.
Environmental issues and challenges
Being who they are, the folks who run UPN care a lot about environmental issues in general, and two large ones they face as nurserypeople are the encouragement of genetic diversity and preserving native species. Most nursery production is done vegetatively, meaning that a particular plant is ‘cloned’ many times for sale purposes. On top of that, most popular edible and medicinal plants in this day and age aren’t native to the Americas. However, the nursery’s essential mission is providing a “hedge” against likely food insecurity in the coming years, and climate change is pretty much a given in their calculations. Therefore, it’s sometimes anybody’s guess whether a particular species, native or not, will be well suited for food production in this region in twenty years. There are of course large ecological issues that may come with replacement of native food-producing vegetation with other sorts – inability of native insect populations to digest them, consequent drops in the populations of insectivorous birds, loss of genetic stock, et cetera – but Bruce thinks that the situation we’re in demands using genetic resources from elsewhere if they work. ‘People desperate for food are a lot more dangerous to everyone – including nonhumans – than ones who aren’t. The real test for us, therefore, is whether we think a plant can meet people’s demand for food effectively now and in the future, unless it poses a clear danger to an endangered species in the region.’ All the same, a conscious effort is made to stock hardy, adaptable native species like American hazelnuts, plums, groundnuts, blackberries, and elderberries, and UPN also carries relatively unknown native trees like paw paws and blackheart cherries.  
The Expansion
Bruce survey's UPN's new fieldThis year UPN cleared a field, slightly under an acre, by Taylor Creek. They have been leveling the field gradually and currently have about 500 or so fruit and nut trees on it. They will have four or five greenhouses on the field eventually and almost 2/3 of an acre of growing space. Other structures to be built include a shed for pest control solutions, and one for vehicles, such as pushcarts and a small ATV or truck.
Levelling and controlling runoff down newly created steep slopes has been a challenge. They have put in ditches, seeded the banks with grasses. The silty run-off is not entirely controlled, but they are working hard on solving the problems. Bruce stresses that things are moving along. “This spring’s weather has made grading very difficult and erosion plentiful. Given that, we’re doing quite well. I know that a lot of folks wanted to see a beautiful, finished field by June – I know I did. Well, it hasn’t worked out that way. That beautiful, finished field is coming. Once the grading is done it can come pretty quickly. But that’s the essential logjam. We do have many plans for beautification, et cetera. We are planning on bringing customers here, after all! But the first priority is making sure that the grading is done and done right, irrigation is in, and our plants are resting on that field comfortably.”
For further information on Useful Plants Nursery, call Bruce Johnston (828-669-6517) or Chuck Marsh (828-669-1759). The nursery’s website is

Earthaven Ecovillage • 1025 Camp Elliott Road • Black Mountain • NC • 28711

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