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Permaculture community in Appalachian Mountains

 
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Hello,

My name is Justin Traylor (I'm new here), and I finished my PDC from Oregon State University last year. I’m interested starting a land share permaculture community in the Appalachian Mountains between southern West Virginia and western North Carolina. I'm a bit biased towards southern WV however, since I spent much of my childhood there and I have a good deal of experience with the favorable climate and good soils there.

The community is focused more on independence rather than on social aspects. Many of the other ecovillages that I've looked into tend to be a bit heavy on the social aspects of a community. This is fine for some and I certainly value good, strong community, but I don’t believe it is the right approach for everyone. This should be a place that simply values taking care of the Earth and our own  living environment, while maintaining a member’s independence.

Members form an LLC, which purchases a large mountain/forest property. Members each own a share of the company and the cost is divided among members. Each member gets a permanent site (say around 1/4-1/2 acre or more depending on the size of the overall property) to build a cabin or small house on, keep an RV, or whatever they want. They would be free to sell their share at any time. The community would be simple with a small number of rules, such as “no using someone else's site" or "quiet night hours", and there would be little maintenance as most of the property is left wild and forested. The costs associated with purchasing large properties start to seem somewhat reasonable once divided by 50-200 members.

Would something like this be possible? I wonder what I am missing from this concept. Any input will be appreciated.

Thanks,

Justin
 
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Location: FEMA District III - Appalachia
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Hey, I've been talking about this with folks for awhile now, I live in Southern WV ( Flat Top).

By the letter of the law, what you are talking about it a private community, or a HOA. Example in SWV are Glade Spring, the Greenbrier or Flat Top Lake.  While it's completely possible to build a community like those in these parts and I really wish we could get folks together to do it, you have to have a clear set of rules, ownership and lots of legal pretty words. (again which all can be done) The problem in these parts, is that the folks that want a private community, don't always have the permaculture mindset. The folks that want the ecovillage mindset, don't have the independence mindset.

Here is the compromise I'm thinking might work in the Appalachia. Think Mount Airy, a small town where folks own their own stuff, but have a unifying ideal of what they want their small town to be like. I think SWV has some good bone sitting around in some of the old coal town, or forgotten farm communities. They key would be a community meeting point.

Another option is to recreate something like Colonial Williamsburg,(The working display town, not the time era) where it all setup as a Non Profit, folks live and work in the community, and folks from away come and take class or tour.

Eitherway, I'm good at paperwork for LLC and 501(3)c. DM me and i'll share my contact info and anyway I can help.  Look up The Mavis Institute if you want to see what I'm building right now.

Cheers
-Justyn
 
Justin Traylor
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Thank you very much, that is very helpful. That is interesting about Colonial Williamsburg, I didn’t know that’s how it works there. I went there a very long time ago and I can remember that I liked the small community feel. I’ll definitely look into it more. I also like the nonprofit aspect since I’m not interested in profiting from something like this.
 
Justin Traylor
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Here is an update on this idea. This is a concept sketch I made over a map of a large property in SW West Virginia that I don't believe is for sale any more. But it illustrates the general concept.

It's a 775 Acre old farm that was selling for $2M or so, but the sketch shows (200) 100'x100' Sites which each member would essentially own after buy-in to the LLC. Buy-in would be around $15k or so for each member, which includes a permanent site and overall design and construction costs (bathhouse, road clearing, crop planting, pond etc.)

The sites are primitive and up to the member to clear or build a cabin on (or park an RV). This concept could be applied to another property, which would need a detailed survey and design first.


AldersonConceptSK.jpg
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Justin Traylor
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This is a concept sketch of a possible layout on an available farm in Alderson, WV. The map sketch shows 200 individual sites distributed along existing roads on the 956 acre property. The property is for sale at $2.2M, divided by 200 members is $11k. Each member essentially owns an individual site.

The second sketch shows a close up of the individual 100'x100' sites, which are surrounded by perennial edible and medicinal plants. Eventually, these pathways in between sites will grow into an established food forest.

Additional uses of existing clear areas can include water retention ponds, additional crops, community restrooms, etc. Forested areas will be left  wild with only hiking trails.

All feedback on this concept will be appreciated.

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Justin Traylor
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I added some more detail to this design concept, let me know how it looks so far.
alderson2MapSK2.jpg
[Thumbnail for alderson2MapSK2.jpg]
 
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Hi Justin and Justyn,
I am also in Southeastern WV and thinking along the same lines. I would be interested in exploring these ideas too.
Some feedback on your idea Justin:
If you are allowing RVs or any type of construction, you will run into sewage and water and electricity issues. How are you planning to deal with that?
In addition, as Justyn was saying, while plots could be allocated, you will need some sort of membership association to deal with shared costs and setting rules for the community.
Justyn,
Is Mavis open on the weekends?? Would like to come visit.
Best,
Candace
 
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Hey Justin,

My mom was born in Alderson in 1936. I’ve seen an old photo taken on “Bennett Mountain” though I’m not sure exactly where it is. It’s funny to think that her ancestors were living there in open shelters before later generations actually built houses. Good luck with your endeavor. That area certainly has a special spirit.
 
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Location: rural West Virginia
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Hello. I live on a land trust on a ridge in kinda central western WV. My reaction is that your plan is too many households too close together and very little garden land. I would like more community than we have here--this place is 76 acres with four leaseholds. As it's a land trust, we can't own the land but accepted members get a lifetime lease. If they leave they can sell their improvements to new owners who must be approved by the board. I think our arrangement gives us the independence you mention; we do share a few things (we use another member's washing machine and freezer, he borrows our truck, we went in together on a log splitter) but each household makes its own decisions--we have one meeting a year. I think provision for a time when we can';t depend on the global economy or money would be wise (fewer households, more cleared land, and if it's in southern WV, even more than here you need flattish land--the ridge is better than the bottom because of flooding, but you might have both on a big piece like that. Also, you can really save on building a house if you don't have to mess with building codes and all--likely you wouldn't have to there (we didn't) but with that many houses clustered you likely would.
 
pollinator
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Location: Massachusetts, 5a, flat 4 acres; 40" year-round fairly even
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My suggestion for anyone starting a community is to read Creating a Life Together by Diana Leafe Christian.  I don't agree with absolutely everything it says, but it raises all the problems you're gonna run into ahead of time so you go in prepared, and maybe you sidestep some and maybe you don't but at least have the awareness that the wheel has been invented (or misinvented) many times before.  

Also Paul's podcasts on community and Permaculture Thorns booklet.

The HOA idea is great.  Maybe put in that people don't get to have any sewer or septic systems--must do willow feeder or better.  Water could be a shared well but then you're required to pay up front for maintenance fund or put aside materials to maintain or something.  Let he HOA code be as radical as you need it to be and trust people t meet you where you're at--where the earth's needs are at.

Dancing Rabbit ecovillage is another good example of a decentralized ecovillage that has strict covenants for sustainability and has measured a 1/10th impact of USA average resource.  There's also Alan Booker's community he's designed in Alabama for contract.  

It might be a project to approach as a developer even...raise the capital, do a kickstarter, I don't know.  Individualism has its place.

Lastly you say you're not emphasizing community, but you can create a space for it to emerge through smart design.  It isn't forced function, but it's encouraged.  Cohousings have shared space, put the mail room as far as possible from the parking lot so people are compelled to pass by more other people and pass by the common area and see people sitting there having fun--that builds community in an organic way.  Neighbors out in the countryside, in my experience, are very much eager for connection, and will put in the effort more than city folk, but it would help if the layout didn't require driving to get to your nextdoor neighbor.  I think you've addressed this basically in your clustering of houses, but there's another level of detail in this that, if you really get it right, can add some more spark to your design.  Think of it as slowing, sinking, and spreading flows of people energy like you do with water.  

(Also I think there are a few intentional communities already in West Virginia, which may be a a helpful resource for info and even people helping out, I don't know).

That's my two and a half cents.  Good luck.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
pollinator
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Took another look at your sketch--you wanna consider population density as a plus (up to a point), and having a nice view of some kind of open space (annual cropland, lake/water retention area).  Serenbe has made an amazing configuration value-wise, creating a lot of social capital and aesthetic, while preserving a lot of farmland.  In your case you're not starting with farmland, but give people a reason to never want to leave.  Jobs? who needs a job if your home is so affordable and we can all telecommute--but we want social interaction.  So, common spaces, maker space, coworking space.  It needn't all be built by you alone, but the design should have a space for that built in.  And maybe shared meals will be a thing too.  Common gathering spaces is a big value-add even in the for-profit housing market now.  

Just sprawling the houses haphazardly throughout the land is really going to be a drag.  I wasted so much energy at Twin Oaks just getting from one place to another or trying to find someone I needed to talk to (granted, that was exacerbated by the no-cell-phone-outside-the-parking-lot rule, but still there had been no fore-planning to the layout, each building got added ad-hoc and it is a constant drain on people's energy every day).  Think walkable, not just bikeable.  

A smart urban planner ought to be able to help with this (even if their job description is "urban" instead of what we actually need).  Maybe chatgpt can help, or that image AI thingy even, to spur some thinking.  But there is a LOT of knowledge of what doesn't work or of what people want more of from past cities and towns that have been frustrating or have missed opportunities.  Additionally, the over-individualism and nuclear-family-suburban blight sprawl phenomena have shaped our awareness of design in ways that blind us to a lot of what used to be common sense too.  I think it's important to have some more clear ideas going in, even if not fully fleshed out.  Yes, you're right to respect privacy and decentralization, but people also want to get together and socialize.  The have declared loneliness an epidemic in England, and it's even more so here in the US.  

Another thing to be aware of is that the "integrate jobs with housing" thing has backfired when people have just ended up getting a job outside of the residential community.  The jobs need to be better jobs--or the relationships worth people staying close.  I know you don't want to make it a really community-ish-community, but you still have to handle people's human drives somehow.  You want retention, turnover costs a lot.  Capture, store, soak, slow, make it a so awesome a place to raise your kid that people just can't leave.
 
Mary Cook
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Another community to consult is Earthhaven in North Carolina. I believe they ran into trouble with doing that composting toilet thing, with the local government hassling them about health codes or something. And also had issues using consensus to make decisions. Clustering houses closely together is ecologically sensible if you're assuming that people's food is brought in from elsewhere--not very permie, though. Or if the gardening is done communally, which might be more communal than the OP has in mind.  And for enhancing neighborliness and community, I think at least one central meeting place should be included where music and dancing and storytelling and trading meets and...lots of other stuff go on. How about a hot tub or sauna? Also, not everyone has telecommuting type skills, and such depend on the civilization in its present form, which might not last much longer. Ideally you have some local businesses producing for each other as well as the nearby towns--bakers, blacksmith, herbalist/masseur/masseuse, bike repair, crafters, winemaker...
 
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Hey Justin! Interested to learn more. My partner and I are living in Southern WV currently (in Ronceverte) not sure if we are staying because lack of community. But would love to see where you're at in the planning.
 
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Hello Justin, I like the idea of the community you are mapping out . I am not familiar with the WV area . I have lived in  Ct/ NJ areas  much of my life . I did some construction and farming in my earlier days before going into corporate. The last two years I left the rat race and have been traveling and living in an RV around the USA. Most of the time was in the south west. It is beautiful but I think it’s too dry for me. I am looking to be a part of something like you are planning . The Area of southern WV is of interest to me because of the climate , soil and cost of living.  Definitely would love to get involved, let me know how I can help.
 
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Hi Justin, I love the idea and I want to check in on your progress.

We have been looking at similar setups as what you are proposing. We've found them all over including Costa Rica and more recently the ACTS program that is in TN and TX right now. This is definitely becoming a more mainstream idea.

Have you heard of Game B? I think looking at what that movement has come up with and synthesizing it with what others have said should help in the planning phase. It's along the lines of ecovillages and intentional communities.

So how is the planning going so far? Is there anything you could use help with? I would love to chat in more detail about your specifics because my wife and I are trying to move to our homestead soon and WV is one of the places we are looking. Also, I'm generally interested in the planning of communities with permaculture principles. michael.l.savage@gmail.com

 
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