O.U.R. Ecovillage is a demonstration eco-community located in Shawnigan Lake on Southern Vancouver Island. O.U.R. stands for One United Resource, which refl ects their mandate to consult with a wide range of people and professions to develop a sustainable community.
by Julia Watson
Planning began in 1990 with a group of friends intent on living lightly on the land. Many years of visioning,planning and consulting passed before the 25 acre farm was purchased in 1999. However, the land was zoned for Agricultural use, which didn’t meet all the goals of the group.
They needed to create a new zone to fi t their multi-purpose plan, an ar- duous process that involved the plans passing through 11 levels of bureauc- racy! This is when they realized that a ‘No’ was just an uneducated ‘Yes.’ They realized that if they were going to get anywhere they would have to educate people and government about what they were attempting to do.
Along the way they were continu- ally asked to compromise, but they held their vision, articulated it clearly, and in the end everyone won. The Cowichan Valley Regional District learned an immense amount by taking on this project. One high level planner was so inspired that he commented, “This is what we were talking about 30 years ago, and here it is fi nally coming to pass.” Their tenacity paid off and, in 2002, the Rural Residential Comprehensive Development Zone was created.
They spent an entire year watch- ing the land, as advocated by Bill Mollison’s Permaculture techniques, which proved invaluable.
The entire property has now be- come an environmental “classroom,” with four sectors:
Woodlands/Wetlands Conserva- tion – sensitive ecosystems, woodlot management areas, and nature trails.
Agricultural – organic agriculture and animal husbandry.
Ecological Education and Infra- structure – community educational activities.
Residential – clustered housing.
This budding ecovillage uses cob as its primary building material. Cob is a mixture of sand, clay and straw. It is wet enough to mould, yet dry enough to build up without forms. This means that walls can be curved enabling you to create exactly the living space you desire. A beautiful slide show revealed many inspiring examples of structures built using this natural building material. See www.cobworks.com for more infor- mation and some great pictures. O.U.R. Ecovillage has devised an ingenious way to simultaneously build homes, build community and educate others, while on a budget. They offer a natural building work- shop each summer, which focuses on building a carefully chosen structure. Students come from far and wide to gain experience in cob building and to learn about creating an ecovillage.
O.U.R. Ecovillage hires experienced instructors to teach the courses. The students’ tuitions cover the fees; O.U.R. Ecovillage pays for the build- ing materials, provides meals and campsites, and the students provide the labour.
At the end of each summer an- other building has been created and ten students go home inspired and able to teach their own workshops on cob building. A simple and brilliant solution to budgetary shortfalls.
O.U.R. Ecovillage is in its infancy and yet already it is an inspiration to those of us who have begun to realize that living in community, and in har- mony with nature, is one of the most viable ways each of us can make a real difference to the health of our planet. As more and more ecovillages pop up around the world, we see that it is not just some hippy dippy idea but a vi- able way to live a rich and rewarding life within the natural fl ow of nature. Demonstration villages do just that, demonstrate to us all how to think outside of the box. I hope we can all agree that the Earth deeply needs to knock down the walls of our current box. Thank you to O.U.R. Ecovillage, and all others like it, for leading the way.
For more information go to www.ourecovillage.org