The Evolution of an Experiment in Grounded Community by Ann "Freya" Kreilkamp
For nearly two decades I have “known,” both intuitively and via mystic literature, that whatever is going on Above is also going on Below; and more, that whatever is happening on the Outside is reflected on the Inside — and vice versa. But not until my dear husband Jeff — whom I’ll never forget dancing in his Sufi skirt at a December Lava Hot Springs DUP gathering in Idaho — suddenly died, in January 2003, did I realize an opportunity to put into practice, in a much more grounded manner, this anguished understanding.
Jeff had bequeathed me his entire legacy.
It all started in the summer of 2002 when he flew to Bloomington, Indiana to buy a house. He had only three days to find what we needed. His choice? A little ranch house in a core suburban neighborhood.
He said I would love it, and showed me pictures. Yuck. I hated it, just as I had always hated suburban life. In any case, our intention was to live there for the three years it would take him to go through law school at Indiana University and then relocate.
Two years earlier, while cohabiting a tiny yurt in a yurt community in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I had promised him that it was his turn now. For twelve years he had helped me with the magazine Crone Chronicles: A Journal of Conscious Aging. Now I would follow him, wherever that might lead.
Many times he said to me, in that growly voice, “I’m worth much more to you dead than alive.” Both his intonation and the meaning of his message made me cringe, of course; and I would quickly attempt to lift his foul mood.
But then, he was right. At least in the sense that when he died, I — who had lived in the Above much more than in the Below; who had indeed, felt like a bird perching on various branches for all those 46 years of living before meeting his vast being — found myself suddenly dealing with banks, stocks, property — all the “stuff” that comes with a significant monetary inheritance.
Now, 14 years have gone by. I am 74 years old, and sit here as the founder and co-director of a three-home intergenerational permaculture community, Green Acres Village and Urban Farm — in suburbia.
This project grew up gradually, organically, almost imperceptibly, starting about three years after Jeff died. An outgrowth of our Green Acres Neighborhood Association, we view our village pod as an enclosure within our neighborhood, and envision attracting others to establish village pods of their own (each as two or more houses sharing tools, service, grounds, growing food and other home-based businesses), with the threads among them eventually weaving together a functioning village atmosphere for the entire neighborhood of 440 homes. Possible? Who knows? It’s a beyond-my-lifetime project.
Moreover, since Green Acres borders Indiana University, we also envisage an eventual partnership with that enormous institution, running programs in not only agriculture, but planning, sociology, culture studies, art and design — what else? — inside Green Acres as an IU laboratory, one regenerative, resilient template for education relevant to the 21st century. We have already enjoyed a number of IU interns here during the growing seasons, and a few years ago two IU courses in “Sustainability” ran their projects out of the Green Acres garden.
Our overall goals are to care deeply for the Earth and the Cosmos in which she is embedded, to live and work in place with awareness, and to build and enhance community solidarity and affection. Looking back now, I’d say the inception of Green Acres Village occurred inexorably, beginning in 2006 when I took the permaculture design course on the recommendation of Nathan, a young neighbor who lived behind me. “It will teach you how to think in a new way,” he said. Well, that got my attention!
Decades earlier, after a contentious departmental battle, I had received a doctorate in philosophy from Boston University. Next, after one year teaching in an experimental college in northern California, 1972-73, I was summarily fired as “too experimental.”
There went that career!
Though my early herstory was both dramatic and disruptive, my philosophical training had taught me how to think. That, plus an innate capacity to investigate my own inner life, helped me to realize, in my bones, that the problem with the way we think in the western world is that our minds are divorced from our bodies as well as from the Earth underneath our feet. I knew that, I had even successfully submitted a revolutionary dissertation on that very topic, but, Nathan was right, I didn’t really know that. I still didn’t know how to think in a way that would actually ground me into both my body and the living Earth.
So I took Nathan’s advice, and signed up for a course in Permaculture Design.
Not surprisingly, within one hour of hearing eloquent teacher Peter Bane talk about the principles, practice, and promise of permaculture, I was hooked; indeed, I knew that if anything could save our world from the destructive forces we have loosed upon her in our ignorance of both our own bodily pain and the suffering of our Mother Earth, it would be permaculture.
Within a year I had bought the rental house next to mine, again on young Nathan’s advice. “It has a large sunny lawn! You could start a permaculture garden!”
So that’s exactly what I did. Not by myself, because, though the permaculture design course taught me that everything in the world is related to everything else, that all waste is food, that the edges are where the action is — permaculture did not give me instant seasoning as a gardener. For that I knew I needed help. And furthermore, I knew from the beginning, that a neighborhood garden would be a new magnet for my lifelong interest in creating community, and would thus, at the very least, serve as one more interesting experiment.
I can say now, that of all the experiments I have instigated in the past 40 years, this one has taken hold. So grateful!
So, to “break ground” for the neighborhood garden I hired a permaculture teacher, Keith Johnson (partner of Peter Bane), to teach six workshops that first summer. I would start the garden that way, and announce it in our local Bloomingfoods Coop newsletter.
The Green Acres Neighborhood Garden (GANG) soon became well known in this college town, and almost from the beginning, drew in individuals and groups from near and far, who wondered what we were about.
For the second year, I hired two teachers who had been students of Keith, for five workshops. By this time the garden was up and running, and a revolving group was cycling in and out of the project.
In the third year, after two more workshops, we hit a wall. Or as I prefer to call it now, “the shadow.”
It’s a long story. Everything had been going swimmingly. Decidedly uphill and swelling. Looking back now, I’d say that I grew cocky; my old arrogance, long the bane of my life, returned, with a vengeance. The descent, in that sense, was also inevitable.
It’s also a story that I won’t tell here, except to say that it involved a neighbor who didn’t appreciate the new way of life generating right across the street from her house. She got the city gov involved. From then on we were on the map in a whole new way. The result — of our being directed to take down a cob oven and a ferrocement fence, and to restrict the number of workshops per year, and other smaller restrictions, ultimately felt good. In the process, we cultivated relationships with individuals within the city government, and we refined our act.
However, the process was traumatic: it included about six months of personal paralysis, and then a revelation, which led to a Ceremony of Impermanence (where we formally hacked the cob oven to pieces).
And the process took its toll in other ways. The garden itself was affected, and for the next two years was only barely productive.
Meanwhile, we were cultivating community. In 2013 Rebecca moved into a vacant room in the rental house next door. I offered her a deal: live here free, get $300/month, and become the director of the grounds and garden. (I had intuitively recognized her as my partner immediately upon meeting her.)
Rebecca, now 63, has been an organic market gardener for 40 years. She has also lived in community most of her life and has started and run community gardens for inner city citizens. So she has exactly the qualities needed for the person who would be truly on-the-ground overseer and mentor. As a lifelong organic gardener, her deep knowledge of soil and water, plants, their relationship to each other and to the Sun and Moon enabled her to easily absorb and value the principles of permaculture via conversations, videos, and books.
Just this past year, we now realize that land-based permaculture here, rather than being the principal focus, is now a subset of community. Our descent into the cultural shadow taught us that that social and cultural permaculture are utterly essential for full regeneration of both the land and those who live upon her.
We are now in the second year of holding weekly Community Dinners during the school year. One of the six people who live in this two-house compound takes the lead and decides the theme, and anywhere from a dozen to two dozen people show up to not only eat and converse together, but often play music as well.
In addition we celebrate and do ceremony on both Equinoxes and Solstices, inviting people from far and wide to celebrate with us. These seasonal events now draw between 30 and 60 people.
This past year for the first time we had a three-member CSA. Next year we plan to do the same, and perhaps add one more member. Plus, we now have a new greenhouse, having remodeled the old garage according to the vision we first had when Rebecca arrived.
And now, not even a month ago, after visioning for at least three years, we were able to purchase the house that abuts the yards of the original two houses. Seven years separated the purchase of the original house and the second house; and now seven years went by again before the third house was purchased.
We began to permaculture the front lawn of that house (the house that neighbor Nathan, by the way, used to live in!) even before we bought it. And we have been using the chicken house of that property as well. So in one sense, the takeover has been gradual.
The house is not currently occupied. After repairs are complete, we envisage attracting either a young family or three more adults to join our budding village.
Rents are low, with the expectation that everyone living here helps out in ways that inspire them personally. For example, Dan, who lives in this original house is becoming a master of fermentation. Brie, my other young housemate, is an artist and writer and co-directs the CSA.
This fall we sheet mulched part of the back yard of a neighbor’s property across the street, at their suggestion. In the spring we will plant a garden there, utilizing it for our CSA and sharing the produce with the owners.
Across the street the other way a young family has moved in. They said they bought their house because of what we are doing here. We also sheet mulched part of their front yard this fall.
So the template, this new template for suburbia, for creating land-based permacultural community inside the built environment, is taking hold.
I had always hated suburbia. That’s because I never felt a sense of community, connection, real living in place. Though I didn’t know that back then. All I knew was that life there felt flat, boring, lonely, and predictable.
That which we most despise, we must regenerate? Is this a new permaculture principle? Or is that a subset of the more general injunction to work with and integrate Shadow material, both as a community and individually? I cannot stress this aspect of community living enough!
Meanwhile, just last year, sometime in the spring, I was standing by the pond in our original garden when, all of a sudden, with the sensation of an enormous whoosh of energy, I felt the soul of the Earth rise up, envelop, and nourish my entire being. The feeling was so strong I almost fainted.
Ann “Freya” Kreilkamp, a mureed of Darvesha MacDonald who bestowed Ann’s Sufi name, has been a practitioner with the DUP since 2000. She told the story of consciously grieving her husband’s loss in the award-winning book, This Vast Being: A Voyage of Grief and Exaltation (www.tendrepress.com). Ann is an active blogger at www.exopermaculture.com, and very willing to travel with the slide presentation of the Evolution of Green Acres Village and Urban Farm that she first gave at last year’s National Permaculture Convergence in California. Also note another experiment, this one still in germination phase: www.babypictureproject.com, as well as the village website, www.greenacresvillage.org and facebook page.