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Jul 01, 2009 11:21AM

Abundance EcoVillage: Residents say life off the grid is good

By Amy Greenfield
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Freelance writer Amy Greenfield approaches Abundance EcoVillage in Fairfield, Iowa. The village is an off-the-grid development powered by solar and wind.
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Gillian Brown lives at Abundance EcoVillage in Fairfield, Iowa.

Nestled amid the sunny cornfields of southeast Iowa is Abundance EcoVillage, one of the most cutting-edge sustainable developments in the United States. Residents of the off-the-grid development pay no water or electricity bills; they eat what grows outside their front doors; and they enjoy a rare connection with the cosmos, thanks to the unique orientation of their homes.

Located just outside the Fairfield city limits, Abundance EcoVillage is situated on 22 acres and truly is a living example of the term "beyond sustainability."

"We moved from our lovely 4,000-plus square-foot home to our 850-square-foot, off-the-grid EcoVillage home. One might call it drastic 'empty-nesting' but I would have to say it was the best change we could have made. Our quality of life increased tenfold. Living at the EcoVillage allows us to understand and learn to live more in tune with our environment, making use of the climate instead of bracing ourselves against the elements," says Stacey Hurlin, who moved to Abundance EcoVillage four years ago.

Hurlin and her husband, Bill, enjoy the EcoVillage so much that they opened a guest house right next to their home. Nightly and weekly rates are available, and guests have commented that they"ve had their best night's sleep at the Sweetwater Luxury Bunkhouse (sweetwaterfairfield.com).

In early 2000, Abundance EcoVillage was conceived of and created by engineer and sustainable living professor Lawrence Gamble, along with biologist Micheal Havelka. The creator's goal was to provide a neighborhood where energy, water, waste recycling and landscaping would work in tune with nature rather than against it. The homes were to reflect a level of sophistication and comfort that would appeal to people of all walks of life.

The development features a holistic, twofold approach to living, which the developers feel set it apart from other sustainable communities. The EcoVillage cares for the individual physiology through the use of Maharishi Vedic Architecture, and for the greater environment through the use of eco-architectural design.

Maharishi Vedic Architecture, or Vastu, is a building system with roots in ancient India. Vastu is the science of building in harmony with nature, in respect to the human physiology. Three key principles -- direction, placement of rooms and proportion -- are emphasized. These principles largely are based on the energy of the sun and the effect it has on the human physiology. For example, as the sun moves across the sky, it radiates different qualities of energy at different times of the day, which trigger specific responses in the body.

"Regarding both the Vastu orientation and the green building, we love the relationship of the house to the sun. At the equinox dawn, we saw the sun coming directly through the front door and know this will always be followed by six months of the sunrise arcing to the north or south. The house becomes an observatory, heightening our perceptions and making us more aware of both the annual and daily course of the sun and also of the night sky, which, for example, situates the North Star directly opposite our other entrance. It attaches us to the cosmos," says villager Jill Brown.

EcoVillage also provides the necessities for modern-day living in ways that are environmentally and socially responsible through eco-architectural. For example, water is harvested from the roofs of the homes, collected in cisterns, purified and then redistributed to each home. Waste matter is recycled through a vertical-flow wetland system. The development is powered by a combination of wind and solar energy, but it's connected to the city power grid in case of a system failure. Residents like that they don't pay water or energy bills -- a perk that's especially appreciated in these challenging economic times.

The landscape of the EcoVillage is carefully crafted from indigenous plant species, in addition to medicinal and edible species. A walk through the EcoVillage trail system is gastronomic experience in itself.

"Eating fresh food straight from the gardens and fruit-bearing trees is a delight. We have vegetables and fruit within 5 to 10 paces of our front door. In the summer, there is hardly a day that some fruit or other strawberries, grapes, raspberries, currants is not begging for grazing as I pass," says villager Ken Walton.

In addition, the south half of the development features the Abundance Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA), which is currently being run by sustainable-living students from the Maharishi University of Management. The gardens provide fresh, organic produce for approximately 80 individuals during the growing season while serving as an educational ground for students.

Abundance EcoVillage homes themselves represent a variety of architectural styles, according to each homeowner"s taste. Each home is carefully designed to use a minimal amount of energy, and the challenges of the Midwest climate are met through carefully chosen materials and planning for seasonal weather. For example, all homes are constructed with a minimum 10-inch exterior wall for better insulation. Where windows are placed and how far roofs overhang are determined through the principles of passive solar design. Some homes even feature solar hot water systems.

Every EcoVillage home incorporates the Earth Air Tube system into the heating and cooling design. The system utilizes the earth"s stable temperature of 56 degrees to either heat or cool air before it enters the home. In summer months, the system acts as a natural air conditioning system, and in the winter, air is preheated before entering into the furnace system. Earth Air Tube systems runs continually on a low velocity, providing a high indoor air quality year round.

Currently there are 14 homes at Abundance EcoVillage, with lots for 9 more. The residents represent all walks of life, from artists, to professors and financial advisers -- all of whom say that their quality of life has increased greatly since moving off the grid. Who knew it felt so good to be green?

For more information about Abundance EcoVillage, call Michael Havelka at (641) 919-6853 or visit abundance-ecovillage.com.

Amy Greenfield is an eco-developer, freelance writer and sustainable designer living in Fairfield, Iowa. This is her first contribution to Radish.

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