Whole Village, April 2018

After returning home from our first visit to Whole Village in September of 2017(link), our interest was piqued. There were many things about this community that we liked and met our own checklist. We liked the organizational structure, the farm, the people and their vision. The vibe was great. The community had mature roots and was capable of weathering storms. Julia felt great in their space, and Arthur and I did too.

We upped our interest level and committed to a two week visit. In April, 2018 we flew out to Hamilton, Ontario, rented a car and stayed in a suite in the spectacular Greenhaven. What a great trip! The community was hospitable, open and accommodating. Staying for two weeks was a great way to experience life at the community. It gave us an intense, live-in experience of what it would be like.

The two weeks gave us an idea of what the routines in the community are like. That sort of thing is hard to figure out if one is coming for a work bee or a day or two here and there. Mondays are check ins, community meals are two to three times a week, whenever someone signs up to cook. Farm routines vary and take a little getting used to.

Being there for two weeks also gave the community a better sense of who we are. It showed the community what our baseline attitudes are and how our family interacts together. Think of it as the ‘seeing each other’ phase in getting to know a potential partner. In my reading, this is an important part of the exploration phase.

It also was a two-week vacation for the family. We visited Alton Mills, an old mill converted into an art space which is barely ten minutes away. In the opposite direction, Orangeville had everything we would need. The Orangeville culture is very artsy, open and chill. I think of it as a blend between Kenora, ON and two communities in Virginia, Gordonsville and Harrisonburg. It feels like cottage country. At about 31,000 people, Orangeville is a nice size. (Just a little more than half the size of Brandon, MB.)

The very first morning on the farm Arthur discovered something he would enjoy doing every day. His exuberance collecting chicken eggs made us wonder if he wasn’t born to be a country boy.

The farm is something that the entire family can really appreciate. Both Julia and I grew up in rural settings, and we really want Arthur to experience a rural life in early childhood. We want him to grow up around animals, getting dirty and playing outside. This environment is important to us. This said, we are also keen to keep him socialized. The studies and pediatric recommendations show that our wants align with their conclusions. The structure of an ecovillage fits this brilliantly.

As well, neither of us want to run a farm on our own. It’s a lot of work, and we know it is way too much for only two people. Doing it together with others makes more sense. Once again, an ecovillage fits this.

Having other kids to play with was something the family enjoyed too. Arthur had a good time with the children. Julia and I got more time together. I found it also had an effect where we appreciated our family time more. There’s a lot of win-win with this situation.

Arthur also enjoyed playing in the rec room between Greenhaven suites. A trunk filled with costumes was an exciting discovery. At one point I pretended to be a dragon that Arthur and the other kids were trying to train. They learned it isn’t easy to train dragons, and that calming influences are better than whacking with swords.

The pond was a great draw for Arthur too. All sorts of aquatic creatures were there, from frogs to fish, bugs and salamanders. This environment to play in was great to see him enjoying.

Arthur also took to the people in the community very well. He was polite and remembered people’s names better than myself. We received many comments on how good-natured he is.

The established community environment has calming effect for Julia and me. Like most ecovillages, Whole Village is a group of people actively working together in community, doing their best to communicate and get along. When conflict and challenges arise, like they inevitably do with human community, there is the desire to work it out. Non-violent communication is one tool in their toolbox.

This attitude and orientation to mutual relationships is like a beacon. I grew up in a family where there was no displayed conflict between the adults, and these memories of quietude magnetize the values from early childhood into my later life. High conflict doesn’t move our family forwards. Both Julia and I are weary of the inundation of the dog-eat-dog message both served by the media and exampled in mainstream culture. It is only that, a message that we both feel doesn’t serve us or our family.

We want a low to no-conflict environment, and that is difficult to maintain in mainstream culture. The conflicting messages and values in the cultural melting pot does not make it easy to raise kind kids or encourage them to stay authentic.

The message we want to communicate through our choices and example through our life is one of cooperation and harmony. Ecovillages afford us that. That is a component of why we have been on this journey.

We found it deeply therapeutic to be practicing a lifestyle with others in a neighborhood who are similarly committed to living in harmony with the earth. To be living in right relationship with the planet takes a surprisingly large amount of weight off the shoulders we didn’t know was there.

There is only so much that can be accomplished as a family living in a city. The degree of garbage is overwhelming and heartbreaking. The pollution, awful.

The difference I feel going from my day job where I am always around a high degree of debris and garbage to a well-cared for piece of land is profound. It particularly bothers me seeing garbage get pushed under the ground through earthworks and landscaping at the jobsites I visit. Being in an ecovillage setting where the landscape is tended to, kept clean and receives a lot of intention creates an ease that is particularly distressing when I return to the job. This garbage creates stress that I notice more and more. It’s human laziness symbolically expressed in the environment. Unfortunately, it’s not something one person can change.

The people of Whole Village were warm and welcoming. We were the outsiders, but they opened their home to our family, treated us well and let Arthur play with their pets. We made new friends, ate meals together and felt accepted.

Journeying to different ecovillages and seeing how others live is a great way of exploring the self as well. It helped us to figure out what is comfortable to us. What works and what doesn’t. And at the end of our visit, we felt that Whole Village worked for us.

We took a few more steps in the Whole Village membership process. They had two different interviews, that we sat in for. It was intense, I got a little nervous, but it came out well. They talked for a while after we left, and then came back to us asking for character references, which was a positive sign. It is now up to the community to determine if we work for them.

Until next time!

The Bullers

More photos on ecovillages.ca.

Whole Village – September 2017

In September of 2017, the Buller family visited Whole Village near Caledon, Ontario.  I had originally read about it in Finding Community, but hadn’t looked too closely.  It came up again when we started googling for other communities in Canada.

This time upon looking closer, the family was very interested.  We visited during the community’s September 2017 orientation.  We arrived a day beforehand, staying in one of their AirBnBs.  In the meantime, before the orientation, we checked out Orangeville and St. Jacobs.  We find this area of Ontario just gorgeous.  It’s so very different from the Great Plains that both Julia and I have grown up on.

Whole Village is a community with well over a decade of establishment.  Their intake process is graduated, and membership has a number of different tiers.  For ten dollars a month we became Supporting Members, and are subscribed to their meeting minutes so we can start getting an idea of what is talked about in their meetings.

A lot of thought had been given to this, and I am a fan of intake procedures.  A great reason why intake procedures are a good thing is when potential members ask weird questions and current members get a feeling of this person being clingy and high maintenance.  An intake procedure screens people and doesn’t destabilize a carefully cultivated equilibrium in a community.

John Gagnon conducted the orientation, giving us a good idea of the community policies, why they do what they do, and their plans for the future.  The fact there was an orientation was a plus for me.  Seeing the community take steps to bring ecovillage aspirants up to speed is important to me, as it gets people onto the same page as the community quicker, staving off potential conflict.  This is particularly helpful if people are visiting and want to get an idea of what the community is all about.

Another feature my family really appreciates is the residential building, also known as ‘Greenhaven’.  With about 20,000 square feet subdivided into eleven different suites with anywhere from one to five bedrooms per suite, it affords a great balance between having our own space and shared space.  Suites are spread out in multiple wings, and because it’s horizontal development, it doesn’t feel like an apartment either.  Laundry is shared, and we don’t have to go outside for it.  There is a playroom for kids right next to the kitchen, as well as a play area outside.  There is also an office near the kitchen.  The dining space is the size of a double-sized yoga room, and there is a separate library.  This sort of arrangement changes the carbon footprint of multiple families, severely negating the expenditure.  It’s a great blend of the dormitory-style housing found in Twin Oaks and the individual housing of say, Northern Sun Farm.

The big thing about the suites is that there are no ranges for a full stove, rather each has a kitchenette.  The builders had to keep it to just one shared kitchen due to zoning restrictions.  Already Julia is working out ways of cooking and baking without a full stove and oven.  Electric induction elements are one option, and are about $80 at Costco.  Tabletop convection ovens are also available for about $150 at Costco.  The community runs a CSA farm, and residents buy shares, so there is always organic vegetables to eat.

There are shared meals during the week, giving community members the opportunity to get to know each other.  The community asks for 5 to 8 hours of work a week, which is unpaid but includes things like building maintenance, gardening or other responsibilities of home ownership.  As a current homeowner, this is exactly the kind of arrangement that I like, as it lets me do work that is appreciated by my neighborhood and benefits more than just me and my family.  I’m at a place in my life where I’d rather my work go directly towards my community.  Win-win, right?

In addition to Greenhaven is the original farm house where more people stay, as well as campers where people have their own space too.

The property was designed in the beginning by a Masters of Landscape Architecture with permaculture in mind, which is also pretty cool.  It gives the layout a very organic feel. The community runs permaculture design courses on their land, which is not only a great method of living their ecological values in the world, but a potential revenue stream for them.  A swimming hole can also be found on the property, as well as a fire pit.  The land was beautiful and felt spacious, despite having a large facility like Greenhaven on it.

The September visit was a great time for the family, and we are headed there again on April 22, 2018.   We will be there for a two week immersion, discovering more about Whole Village, the people that live there, and what life is like for them.  I will post another write-up after we get back.

(Edited 4/19/2018 10:43 PM)

View the photo gallery on ecovillages.ca here:



Visiting Virginia

Arthur and Grandpa make cookies!
Arthur and Grandpa made cookies!

For Christmas of 2015, Julia, Arthur and myself visited Grandma and Grandpa Buller in Virginia.  We were there for about 10 days, covering both Christmas and New Years.  We stayed in a suite in their basement that has been rented out in the past.

With a stairway up to the main floor, we all lived together for almost two weeks, and it was wonderful.  Grandma and Grandpa took great care of us, nourishing our bodies, hearts and souls.  Chef Grandpa made duck for Christmas dinner!   Arthur played a lot in the kitchen, even helping Grandpa make cookies.  Grandpa also took Arthur for a few rides on the lawn mower and Arthur loved it!

A hot water heater cardboard box had been saved to be used for a fort or house.  Boy did Arthur enjoy the house that Uncle John and I cut into it.  Arthur would take his stuffed animals in with him to keep him company.

The weather itself was very welcoming!  Warm weather greater than 10 degrees Celsius kept us comfortable.  We enjoyed driving around in the convertible with the top down a lot of the time.

Julia and I visited Twin Oaks again, an ecovillage that has been around for more than 50 years.  The tour guide showed us a new ecovillage just starting up that Twin Oaks is helping to get off the ground.  Cambia is suited specifically for families, supporting individual residences.  A blog post is forthcoming about Cambia and what we experienced there.

Arthur in a suit
Arthur all dressed up in the studio.

On New Year’s Eve the whole family enjoyed Harrisonburg’s First Night.  It was a train night for Arthur!  At the Children’s Museum he rode a Thomas the Train ride and also played with other wooden trains that were the same as at his daycare.  We walked around the square and Grandma bought donuts.  A DJ started playing some music and that set the stage for a dance party.  With all ages present, it was awesome to see kids and teenagers getting into the groove.  Arthur saw the dancing, and couldn’t wait to get out of his stroller.  Together, Arthur and I danced to Macklemore.  (Stay tuned, I will be updating this post with video of Arthur dancing.)

Leaving the family afterwards was difficult for everyone.  Grandma and Grandpa were terrific hosts, and tears were shed.  There’s definitely something about Virginia that is very poignant.

From my family to yours, Happy New Year!