Learning to “Live Lightly” on The Farm in Summertown

Story by Julie Johnson

Home building can be one of the most challenging aspects of a carbon-neutral lifestyle. At the The Farm Ecovillage Training Center in Summertown, Tenn., participants learn how to build and maintain their dwellings in an environmentally friendly way.

Traditional stick-frame construction is a cheap and fast way to build, but it is often resource intensive. Lumber is often unsustainably timbered, insulation contains pollutants, and drywall can be made from toxic byproducts like coal combustion wastes.

The Ecovillage, located on an intentional community known as “The Farm,” boasts many examples of natural alternatives and seeks to teach a style of building that leaves the smallest environmental footprint possible.

The main building, called the “Eco-Hostle,” is a partial remnant of the first dwellings on The Farm. When 300 hippies relocated from San Francisco to rural Tennessee in 1971, seeking a place to start an intentional community, they constructed temporary housing from tent scraps and recycled construction material.

A tent remains the center of the Eco- Hostle, but is now bolstered by an Earth Bag foundation, a building method where long bags are stuffed with soil and gravel and stacked on top of one another. Solar panels power the compact flourescent lighting and an attached green house heats the space.

Those who come to train at the Ecovillage receive instruction in natural building, community food production and permaculture design. Apprentices live in one-room “Hippi-tats” often made of cob, a building material, similar to adobe, composed of clay, mud and straw. Other structures are made of straw bales, and their interiors decorated with natural plasters and paints.

“As an apprentice, the Ecovillage was a great, supportive environment for learning,” said Merry Moore, current Ecovillage Innkeeper.

While apprenticing, Moore helped build the Shout House, a bathhouse containing a solar shower and composting toilet. The Shout House is made with daub and wattle construction, an ancient technique that fixes a woven lattice of wooden or fibrous strips with a sticky daub material.

“For the wattle we used bamboo grown on our land,” said Moore. The water for the shower is pumped from a nearby stream and is heated by two solar panels.

The Ecovillage is landscaped with edible and medicinal plants. The tops of many structures support ‘’living roofs,” where sun-loving herbs and vegetables thrive. On the village’s unique Herb Spirals, rows of plants swirl around mounds of earth. Herbs that prefer more shade are planted on the lower, backside of the spiral, and those needing the most sun go right on top.

To train at the Ecovillage, participants pay $600 per month, which includes instruction, housing and staple foods. To learn more about the Ecovillage, or the farm, and to apply for the program visit TheFarm.org.

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