Living Energy Farm

4/25/22

Wow. What an experience, to stay in this place for two nights.

From their website: “Living Energy Farm is an intentional community, education center, and farm that demonstrates that a fulfilling life is possible without the use of fossil fuel. Our mission is to serve as an example and actively promote lifestyles and technologies that are truly sustainable, and to make these sustainable technologies accessible to all persons regardless of their income or social position.”

The farm was created between 2010 (beginning planning) and 2012 (move-in of community members) by people who had previously lived at Twin Oaks. The two communities are about ten miles apart, in Louisa County, Virginia, and are two of about six or seven intentional communities in that county. From my understanding, there is goodwill and regular socializing amongst these communities.

LEF definitely felt different to me from Twin Oaks, although of course I was only at Twin Oaks for a couple of hours. LEF is much smaller, with seven adult and two child members at present. They have room for three or four more residents, so there were extra guest rooms for me and Leslie, who stayed the first night I was there.

I don’t understand, so can’t explain, all the technologies they use, but please take a look at their website to learn more. (You can also follow them on Instagram, for regular updates.) I was very impressed with everything I saw and heard about.

Leslie and I arrived from Twin Oaks in her Prius. I unpacked my rig, and then we walked the long driveway together. I found it easier to walk than ride, mostly, since there was only gravel on parts of it, and rains had rutted the dirt over the years. There were uphills and downhills as well; I would estimate the driveway was nearly half a mile, so it took us at least ten minutes to walk it.

Once we arrived, I was warmly greeted by my Warmshowers host Eric, who showed me my room in the pink straw-bale house pictured. This house has a large common/living area, a sink for hand washing and tooth brushing, a separate room with a tub and shower, and two short hallways on either end of the common area with bedrooms. This is where most community members—and guests—live and sleep.

On the other side of this building is a separate kitchen building, with dining tables inside and out, and an attached area containing the composting toilets. On the other side of that building is the solar-powered washing machine (can only be used on sunny days, which fortunately tend to be plentiful in this region) made out of an old cement mixer!

I noticed many bicycles all around the place, including several made by Bike Friday, a Eugene, Oregon company that makes primarily folding bikes, but also various other specialty bikes, including the pictured 3-person tandem!

There were animals on the property as well, both tame and wild. I met the two resident dogs Ruby (pictured) and Mittens, both of whom were adorable. I also met two pet bunnies, one of whom was named Pinto Bean. There were ducks roaming all around the buildings.

I also saw two black rat snakes while I was there, including—sadly for the birds—one availing itself of the eggs (? Hatchlings?) of the birds in the tree directly above the hammock I was reading in. The birds were chirping wildly, but could not do anything to stop the snake. (On my second night at the farm, I was awakened at about 4 am by different birds—farther away, and with a different but urgent call—who may have also been receiving a late-night visit from a serpentine intruder.)

There were also plentiful ticks in the area. First I saw one crawling across Mittens’ fur, and soon I found some on myself as well. In the course of my two days there, I had to pluck out of my flesh at least five dog ticks and one deer tick. I also found two other dog ticks crawling on my clothes or skin, and managed to remove them before they chomped me.

All of this—the snakes, the ticks, the fowl—brought back my childhood memories from my rustic rural upbringing, just about a hundred miles north of here in western Loudoun County, Virginia. (I’ll be visiting that “homestead,” and my parents, in about a week!)

Another thing that reminded me of my childhood was all the amazing home-grown and home-cooked food. Not all of the community’s meals and snacks are grown on-site. (I saw—and made use of—a tub of Earth Balance vegan butter, as well as a jar of roasted peanuts a resident told me she had found while dumpster diving nearby.) But a lot of it is, and it was all amazing. Among the delicious food they generously shared with me was blue-corn grits; fresh sourdough bread made from wheat they had grown and processed themselves; peanuts that they did grow and roast on-site; lima beans (which I love!! And miss since they don’t really exist in the West); ground-cherry jam(!); blackberry jam; winter squash; pear sauce; and tofu made at Twin Oaks. I also saw—and heard about—many other delicious things, like dried persimmons, jars full of salsa and pasta sauce, and more.

Speaking of Twin Oaks tofu (which was delicious) one day several community members took the okara from a recent batch of tofu made at Twin Oaks, and spread it on their fields to help the crops.

I enjoyed the relaxed pace of life that people seemed to follow. I did understand that certain times of year are more busy than others, in terms of agricultural needs, working on the seed business that Twin Oaks runs, etc.

This is an off-grid/fossil-fuel-free community. Water comes from wells. (In the bathroom sink and shower it is a bit rusty, but the taps in the kitchen had clearer water that was good for drinking.) Electricity comes from the sun. Some solar-powered machines, like the washer, could only be used with sunshine; others, like the overhead lights in the buildings, were usable at all times, although those lights were dimmer than traditional bulbs. People mostly read during the day, I expect; the electric lights seemed mostly useful for not stumbling in the dark on the way to or from bed. It was an adjustment for me: no WiFi nor charging station for my laptop (hence the posting backlog) and the charging station for phones was in the common room, so I couldn’t have my phone sitting right next to me, charging while I sleep, as I am accustomed to. Of course these are all reasonable—and undoubtedly healthier—tradeoffs.

People seemed happy and content with their lives at the farm. I got to chat a bit with Alexis, the founder, and he talked about their particular off-grid technologies—many of which he developed, and finds to be superior to more readily available commercial alternatives—and his intention to get them into the hands of more people, including in places outside the mainland US, such as Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and other places where people are accustomed to a more communal way of living and less lavish energy and material consumption.

On my second day, I wandered the paths around the 120-acre farm, and sat a while beside a babbling brook next to a field.

I’m so glad I got to visit this place. If you’re interested in intentional communities, off-grid living, and/or sustainable technology, I definitely recommend visiting both Twin Oaks and Living Energy Farm.

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