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This case study is presented in order to help educate the Intentional Community Research and Development group. The primary source of information is the Earthaven website itself.

Earthaven Community

Earthaven is an ecovillage outside Asheville in northwestern North Carolina. Earthaven considers itself a developing ecovillage and intentional community. In my research so far, however, it appears to me to be a fairly mature community in many ways.

"Our mission is to create a village which is a living laboratory and educational seed bank for a sustainable human future.

Our vision is: “In the midst of planetary change the Earthaven experiment helps inform and inspire a global flowering of bioregionally appropriate cultures.”

We hope to become empowered, responsible, and ecologically literate citizens, modeling bioregionally appropriate culture for our time and place.

We value sustainable ecological systems, permaculture design, elegant simplicity, right livelihood, and healthy social relations.

We are spiritually diverse.

We have both vegetarians and omnivores; some members raise livestock."

Founded in 1994, Earthaven consists of about 60 people (50 living on the land) and:

- 329 acres
- Roads, footpaths, bridges
- Ponds, constructed wetlands, forest, gardens
- Off-grid power systems
- Campgrounds
- About 30 buildings, passive solar & mostly natural materials, including
--- Council Hall
--- Kitchen-dining room
--- Many small dwellings & several homes in several "neighborhoods"
--- Natural building school
- Several small onsite businesses
- Training on starting and designing ecovillages and more

The plan is to have about 150 people living in 56 homesites.

Earthaven House 2


- Consensus decision-making process
- Council and committee structure

Earthaven Community 2


- A homeowners assocation (nonprofit) owns the land and assets. Thus, the community owns title to the land.


- Land purchased with private loans from members; almost paid off.
- Members pay share of the cost by leasing homesites from the community; 99-year, renewable, transferable leases.
- An independent-income community (each member is responsible for earning her or his own living.)
- Income and Expenses described separately below.


Interested in developing its own "village-scale economy", Earthaven encourages its members to:

- Make a living in the village (or by telecommuting to outside jobs)
- Hire each other when possible
- Invest in each others homesite projects and businesses

Earthaven plans to create a credit union someday "through which we could deposit funds and make loans to our members for homesites, home construction, on-site business development, and so on."

Earthaven Earthship


Current small ecologically sound businesses:

- Permaculture plant nursery
- Carpentry and home construction
- Fine woodworking
- Lumber sales and installation (harvested onsite)
- Earthmoving
- Tool-rental
- Laundromat
- Solar system installation
- Alternative Electric and water systems
- Energy efficient appliances
- Plumbing and electrical installation
- Promotional Design and Layout
- Candle-lanterns and other wooden craft items
- Bio-optic holography
- Chiropractic
- Hypnotherapy
- Massage, Reiki, Jin Shin Jyutsu
- Private earthaven tours
- (At least eight) Consultants provide courses (and consultation) in permaculuture design, natural building, creating new ecovillages, herbal medicine, and women’s health

Earthaven tour

Many members cobble together various part-time incomes from on- and off-site activities.

Some members also earn money by renting their properties.

Offsite member businesses include:
- Asheville Integrative Medicine
- Ecozoic Resources Book Sales
- The Learning Community School

Non-recurring income: Joining Fees and Site Fees
Recurring annual income:
- monthly dues and fees from non-member residents;
- annual dues and fees from members
- fees from special events
- agricultural lease fees
- electricity sales
- grants and donations.

The community also generates income from tours (public, private & group),  camping, and meals, as well as classes and "Live and Work" exchange programs, internships and apprenticeships. Some of the tour, class, intern- and apprenticeship fees go to the members providing them.

Earthaven Natural Building 2


Annual Operating Expenses: Property taxes; insurance; repair and maintenance of community buildings, roads, bridges, equipment; promotions; administrative costs of committees (such as office equipment and supplies, printing, photocopies, postage, food for workers in work parties, and any paid services); and services from independent contractors for administrative, bookkeeping, and legal, and accounting work.

One-time Expenses (Capital Expenditures): Clearing land; building new buildings, roads, bridges, power systems; improving/remodeling old ones; buying new equipment; repaying debts for infrastructure built by members on Earthaven's behalf


"We’re seeking emotionally mature, cooperative people of all kinds to join us in creating our ecovillage dream — including (but not limited to) entrepreneurs, organic growers and raisers of livestock, people with mechanical and engineering skills, healers, artists, and families with children."
Earthaven does a have a membership Covenant and Liability Waiver and offers several types of membership:

- Supporting: pay $10-$20/mo. Includes 1 wk camping per 6 mos., and discounted thereafter. Newsletter, Calendar of events, and Council and committee minutes. Can attend Council and committee meetings as an observer. They can live at Earthaven temporarily as a non-member resident.

- Exploring: pays all non-member resident fees & community service obligations (4 hrs/wk) plus $100 month (applicable to full membership). After a year: (1) apply for provisional membership, (2) seek a different status, (3) request an extension (for extenuating circumstances), or (4) leave.

- Provisional: "a six-month or longer period during which a Supporting Member can better understand what Full Membership in Earthaven means, and community members can get to know and assess the Provisional Member better." Provisional members pay:
----- the one-time joining fee of $4,200 (periodically adjusted); may pay in installments.
----- Annual Dues and Fees of $774

- Full: you can live at Earthaven (or can live elsewhere); you can hold a homesite; and you can build a home on your homesite or a small hut in the Hut Hamlet. If you’re an active member, you have full decision-making rights in Council and committees. Full members  must:
----- Contribute 1,500 hours (or their monetary equivalent) in the first ten years of membership, with fifty hours a year minimum.
----- Annual Dues and Fees of $774
----- Facilities Use Fees: $100-$200, depending on use.
----- Vehicle Fee: $100 ($50 for small vehicles—ATVs, motorcycles, golf carts).
----- Upon becoming a full member, a person must either join another member's site or pay the site fee for their own site. In the latter case, the new member may take several years to choose their specific site. (periodically adjusted)
----- Site Fee: (several timing options)
---------- $21,000 for a Full Site, for up to four adults, plus any children, or
---------- $12,600 for a Compact Site or a Double Common-wall Site, for up to two adults, plus any children, or
---------- $10,500 for a Single Common-wall Site, for up to two adults plus any children.

This part can get a little complicated, because many members go through phases in living arrangements, from renting, to buying to building, etc. And there are neighborhood factors, as well. The construction costs are borne by the member, and there may be expenses to tie into neighborhood infrastructure.

earthaven house 1

- Associate: "same as Full Members except that (1) they cannot hold a homesite or own any buildings at Earthaven; (2) they can choose to pay their joining fee in installments of $100 a month; (3) they cannot block or stand aside from community decisions; and (4) they do not have rights to distribution of assets in case of dissolution."

Note: Dues, fees and community service requirements begin to apply at age 18. Children living with a member do not have these obligations.


"The Land Use and Common Rights Agreement (LUCRA) of Earthaven Association requires that if we disbanded as a community and sold the property we’d set aside 1% of the proceeds to go to a new ecovillage effort. The portion of the sale income derived from the land value would be divided among all site holders according to fractional ratios of their site holdings (full, compact, or common-wall sites) and the amount they originally paid as Site Fees. All the rest of the proceeds, from the value of common buildings, bridges, equipment, and other assets, would be divided equally among the members."

The Earthaven website also has a blog.

Originally posted to Words In Action on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 10:39 AM PDT.

Also republished by Intentional Community Research and Development and ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

    by Words In Action on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 10:39:09 AM PDT

  •  Oooh! (5+ / 0-)
    people with mechanical and engineering skills

    "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 10:49:33 AM PDT

  •  This is so interesting. (6+ / 0-)

    They seem to have worked and thought things through very carefully. I think many more ppl may live this way in the future.

    Thanks for the report WIA.

  •  I think the way that Earthaven has worked (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6ZONite, cynndara, raines

    out the finances, economy, income, membership levels and expenses is really useful.

    No doubt the market for "full income sharing", i.e., the commune model, is much smaller.

    Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

    by Words In Action on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 11:39:45 AM PDT

  •  One thing I don't see, and I may just have missed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    it, is a level where someone can stay in the campground or rent out a hut full-time and pay most or all of their way through work exchange to the community. The work exchange they mention is applicable to a neighborhood...

    I would think the model I mention would work from time to time, given the community has a certain project and is willing to "pay" for it in this manner.

    I have seen this kind of broad work exchange arrangement at a number of other intentional community websites.

    Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

    by Words In Action on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 11:41:53 AM PDT

  •  As for a community economy, it would (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    be useful to have one rather sizable business in which a lot of members could participate, especially newcomers just getting on their feet in the village.

    If the site is rural, then that would probably mean something online, a manufacturing business, a farm or something like a campground or inn.

    Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

    by Words In Action on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 11:54:06 AM PDT

    •  I'd think the opposite for a few reasons (6+ / 0-)

      One reason is just for diversification, the same as building a stock portfolio. If the community depends on a single business (even on the scale of Flint or Detroit), if that business goes bad, or even just has a bad stretch, the community will be seriously in danger.

      On the other hand, a successful large enterprise can threaten the community too - the Amana Colonies kind of went that way (and Whirlpool owns the appliance brand now, the most recent of several owners), and I'd wonder about the Shakers (furniture and other crafts) and Oneida (flatware) communities too. I don't know if Walden Two is still making rope hammocks. One of the most successful (Mondragon in Spain) is pretty diversified.

      I think too that diversity makes the community attractive to a wider range of skills and at the same time attracts people more committed to the community than to its specialty.

      Lastly, from personal observation, not all supposed intentional communities are actually that. They can be a vehicle for an individual who presents a community-oriented front to exploit people in his business and make a nice profit selling and developing land he owns.

      Earthhaven seems to have protected itself against that kind of scam really well, but there are a few schemes around calling themselves intentional communities that are less ethical and more oriented to enriching a few people than some MLM schemes I've seen.

      Modern revolutions have succeeded because of solidarity, not force.

      by badger on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 01:07:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I can see the diversity argument, and I (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        6ZONite, UTvoter, marina, cynndara, badger

        wasn't suggesting not to have the smaller businesses such as Earthaven does. It's also not a bad thing to have some people work offsite for the extension of the community network.

        With a community the size of Earthaven , however, I  think a business that employed 10-15 people and could be used to absorb newcomers while they settle in could be useful economic variable in the community.

        On the other point, I have really come across the kind of community you describe -- those captive to an individual who is milking the community -- and would like to hear more.

        Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

        by Words In Action on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 01:21:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  ITYM '*haven't* come across' (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Words In Action, raines

          and hopefully that's the case. As far as I know, the guy I'm thinking of has given up on the intentional community stuff. My neighbors got involved as far as going to some meetings.

          We stayed away because we've had business dealings with the guy, know some people who worked for him, and know a little about his family connections.

          I can't document much more than that - not enough to name names or even be too specific, as I know some people here have had related dealings too.

          I guess I wanted to toss that in because in any kind of movement, some people can end up getting seriously hurt, even if the intentions of the promoters are just different than someone's expectations. And as a number of religious cults demonstrate, there are some serious con-men around too.

          I'm not suggesting intentional communities are a cult - again, the one you've described here seems very good about protecting individuals and its community, and I'd hope most are that way. But people with strong ideals and beliefs need to be careful as well as passionate IMO.

          Modern revolutions have succeeded because of solidarity, not force.

          by badger on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 05:07:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  bookmarked for a later read... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Words In Action

    non stop conference calls today. my beloved!

    "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps" Thurgood Marshall

    by UTvoter on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 11:59:24 AM PDT

  •  oh, definitely helpful, have to come back (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Words In Action

    later to read in full. And read the other diaries too. Can't be too long, because the devil is always in the detail, especially in experiments like these.

  •  Funny thing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Words In Action

    but since these folks are within driving distance of my own shack in the woods, I already had them bookmarked to look into and perhaps visit.  I was impressed with how well they seemed to have organized and managed the issues of individual versus community rights and property.

  •  Consensus decision making. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Words In Action, raines
    For 18 years we used consensus-with-unanimity, which requires 100% agreement (not counting stand-asides) to pass a proposal. We also had no recourse if someone blocked — no criteria for what constituted a valid block, against which blocks could be tested, nor a requirement that blockers meet with proposal advocates to draft a new proposal.
    For all other proposals we added criteria for a valid block and a way to test blocks against that criteria (i.e., a block is declared invalid if 85% of Council members present say it’s invalid).

    For any remaining blocks that have been declared valid, we use an adaptation of the N St. Consensus Method, in which blockers and several proposal advocates participate in up to three solution-oriented meetings to co-create a new proposal that addresses the same issues as the first proposal. If they cannot, the original proposal comes back to the next Council for a decision using consensus-minus-one (meaning it takes two blocks, not one, to stop the proposal).

    Am I simply misreading this, or does this seem like it would necessarily be a very slow process?

    How do situations that require immediate decisions to be made get resolved?

    Do they simply never put contentious proposals on the table?

    I cannot imagine that this process serves them well.

    -7.75 -4.67

    "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

    There are no Christians in foxholes.

    by Odysseus on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 06:00:34 PM PDT

    •  Full, unadulturated, uncompromising consensus (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raines, Odysseus

      decision-making can be painful. I don't know how else to put it. Especially as the group gets larger. Especially if you insist upon a one-size-fits-all solution. If you have 100 people, even just plain cheese won't satisfy everyone for pizza.

      Typically, these processes are modified and, in fact, there are modes in which they use delegation (committees whose conclusion is presented by a represented) and some use hierarchy (a council) for example. And most groups are willing to delegate small decisions in any given area to the people active in that area. (Though there always some sticklers who feel everything should be publicly debated and decided by the entire group).

      The important points are that

      1) we make an effort to truly hear, understand, respect and account for all points of view, to the best of our ability, to recognize that when we do so we are much more likely to make a decision that is likely to be more thoughtful, just and lasting.
      2) we recognize the tragic history of atrocious decision-making
      3) we identify its causes
      4) we strive to improve for the benefit of all

      Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

      by Words In Action on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 09:11:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Here's David Graeber on the subject, just last (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raines, Odysseus


      Posted on

      Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

      by Words In Action on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 09:53:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Americans are generally not acculterated (0+ / 0-)

      to consensus. That doesn't mean it isn't a better approach, or that it isn't workable.

      The idea is that things will be discussed, everyone is equal, and everyone is invited to be part of the process, which for many people can be wonderfully liberating and cathartic.

      A quick vote with decision making by majority rule can lead to disaster if anyone feels as if they didn't get to weigh in, and have his/her views truly considered. Consensus avoids that.

      Read Graebers piece. It explains much.

      I, for one, would definitely not join any group which has some leader who controls everything, even if only by charismatic influence. If majority rule was instituted, I'd still want careful weighing of all views, letting everyone have a say, with no leader or faction having undue influence. I simply would not tolerate anything less than mutual equality in decision making.

      "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

      by ZhenRen on Thu Mar 21, 2013 at 07:24:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Having said this (0+ / 0-)

        delegates can be selected/rotated to administer activities and they can often be allowed to make small, everyday decisions without consensus, but these delegates would answer to the group and be mandated and recallable.

        "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

        by ZhenRen on Thu Mar 21, 2013 at 07:28:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The best take away quote from Graeber's piece: (0+ / 0-)
        In fact, I'm not aware of any example of an activist group that abandoned consensus and then went on to settle on some different, but equally horizontal approach to decision-making. The end result is invariably abandoning direct democracy entirely Sometimes that's because, as here, that is explicitly what those challenging consensus want. But even when it's not, the same thing happens, because moving from consensus sets off a dynamic that inevitably leads in a vertical direction. When consensus is abandoned, some are likely to quit in protest. These are likely to be the most dedicated to horizontal principles. Factions form. Minority factions that consistently lose key votes, and don't have their concerns incorporated in resulting proposals, will often split off. Since they too are likely to consist of more horizontally oriented participants, the group becomes ever more vertical. Before long, those who never liked direct democracy to begin with start saying it's what's really to blame for all these problems, it's inefficient, things would run far more smoothly with clearly defined leadership roles—and it only takes a vote of 51% of the remaining, much more vertical group, to ditch direct democracy entirely.

        "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

        by ZhenRen on Thu Mar 21, 2013 at 07:37:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The problem as I see it is "pollution" (0+ / 0-)

          People often want a lot of ineffective and inefficient things, and do not understand the current state of affairs, the intellectual basis of proposals, or the already known solutions to specific problems.

          As a specific example, last year I sat in on a wind energy meeting where we wasted 20 minutes when someone started bitching about wind bird kills.  That's a tiny problem, relatively well known in the field, and largely solved by now.  Yet we still wasted time on it.

          My participation in Occupy regularly demonstrated that people do not have the understanding of how the system works now to change it in the ways that they claim to want.

          Hell, much of my bitching on this site is about the fact that literally nothing is stopping people from achieving the goals that they claim to want.  Want to lower the cost of student loan interest?  Step the fuck up.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Start a Treasury+1 fund that refinances student loans outright.

          -7.75 -4.67

          "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

          There are no Christians in foxholes.

          by Odysseus on Fri Mar 22, 2013 at 09:46:52 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That happens with any approach (0+ / 0-)

            Look at the democratic party hierarchy and ask yourself how focused and effective it is in terms of what gets accomplished. The elite echelons more or less ignore the rank and file, treating them as if mindless automatons, while making the agenda up as they please.

            Groups forced by the real world circumstances to focus on everyday issues of managing an intentional community will find that the needs are far more clearly defined than other types of groups, because reality tends to wake people up to what's essential. As people get experience, they will settle down to business.

            There are examples of populations of millions taking an approach of direct democracy who managed quite well.

            So... if people have questions about birds being killed, they need to be answered. Don't answer them, and people will drift away feeling as if dismissed and ignored. Yes, it takes time to allow people to voice their concerns in any group, but the alternative is to create an elite whose function is to dictate terms to the now separated, subservient underlings whose support will be lost since they're being treated as if less valued and less important.

            I would not join any group with a willingness to give all my energy and support if I'm not an equal member in a horizontal organization. If I'm left with no choice, my full support would be diminished substantially.

            "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

            by ZhenRen on Fri Mar 22, 2013 at 10:49:35 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You're not left with no choice. (0+ / 0-)

              You're left with choices templated on best practices, and you need to explain why variations are valuable.

              There's an old internet saying that "the Internet sees restriction as damage, and routes around it".

              What people don't seem to realize is that "uniqueness" is also often damage.

              -7.75 -4.67

              "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

              There are no Christians in foxholes.

              by Odysseus on Fri Mar 22, 2013 at 12:04:20 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

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