Your interest has been really peaked now by what turned out to be just the first half of the tour, but you don’t think you want to spend another two hours starting at 2:00 participating in another tour. You aren’t ready for lunch yet, even though it is noon, so you decide to check out the market. Seems like Jim said you could grab a bite to eat there, if you were so inclined. Jill had said earlier that you could get there through the lower level of any of the live/work spaces along Olive, the health spa on the east or the main entry on the south.
Jim had mentioned that they Eco-Innovation Center doubled or tripled as a live/work space for the couple of old timers that had been instrumental in getting this going, but you don’t remember seeing an entrance so you ask Dana, a shy college student who was on the tour and is exiting the Eco-Center courtyard onto he sidewalk along Olive with you at the moment, if she knows if there is a way to get to the market from the Eco-Center.
She says, “Yeah, it’s on the other side. You must look perplexed because she says, “Come on, Neil will show you,” referring to a tall, somewhat disheveled young man with glasses and an iPod in hand. You reach out your hand to introduce yourself and Neil reluctantly extends his, and Dana says, “We don’t get too many Australians.”
You snicker and say you are more or less a citizen of the world but that your accent, you suppose, comes from your earlier years in South Africa and a stint in Jolly Old England.
“That’s cool,” says Neil.
Dana says, “I like to think of myself as it is a citizen of the world too, but outside of the trip to Disneyland in LA when I was 10 and a brief visit to Canada with Neil last year, I haven’t been anywhere.
“What were you doing in Canada?” you ask.
“Same thing as here, WWOOFing. We’re taking a few days to get acquainted and then we will be working with the Green Beings on the gardens and utilities for a couple months.”
By now the three of you have walked through the open gate on the east side of the Eco-Center, past the planter that separates it from the lower level courtyard and up over a bridge the sloping surface of which rises in an ark up sharply and just as sharply back down to the path that flattens back out at the level of the lower courtyard and then more gradually starts back up.
We hook to the right between two more planters and find ourselves in the lower courtyard just outside the conference room where to the left we can see through the full light door that the discussions are still in full swing. To the right a curved stair drops down under the little arched bridge.
“This way,” Neil gestures to the right. You can’t help but be reminded of the little back alley places you would explore with your friends in Durban as a child or London in your early youth as you tramp down the stairs and out into a corner of the marketplace. On your left is the lower storefront display window of the Integral Design studio with more of the fantastical models and renderings of future communities and some smaller projects. There are two other studios of some kind in between and at the end you recognize the Blind Venetian logo on the glass and the same, though more dimly lit, café scene as on the sidewalk above.
To your right is a profusion of wire shelf stands did each fit neatly within the boundaries of parking spots on both sides of a wide aisle, coming from the back and a smaller aisle that comes through an arched opening a third of the way down the eastern wall. Plumes of light and fresh air puncture the grotto-appearing ceiling in several places and water trickles down a moss column and gurgles through grated rivulets underfoot in several places. You even think you may be catching the silvery reflection of little fish and other water creatures rushing up and down through this warren of canals.
A child with mother at his side is amusing himself at the side of a little pond where water emerges from a tunnel under the wall and merges with a cascade of rivulets running down a column next to a shaft of light. He can’t resist scooping up handfuls of gravel and tossing it into the pond, which first startles and then attracts the school of little silver fish. His mother tries to restrain him, but the woman at the adjacent stand says, “It’s alright.
“The mother says, “Are you sure?”
The woman at the stand, holding up a toy rake says, “Yes, we rake them back out every few days and sometimes the children do it themselves. Do you think your son would like to try?”
“Actually, he’s my grandson. I think he is a little young.”
The woman, observing his actions, says, “You might be surprised. May I?” holding up the rake and gesturing towards the child. “What’s his name?” she asks.
“Tyler,” she says. “My name is Sue.”
The woman says, “Hi,” as she shows Tyler how to rake the pebbles out of the stream. The boy grabs the rake and starts raking furiously, but then he starts slapping the water with it.
Sue now trying to retrieve it, apologetically says, “Maybe he is a little young.”
Tyler is reaching for the rake and fussing. “I know,” says Sue, deftly putting the rake behind her back and holding out what looks like grape nuts, she asks Tyler if he would like to feed the fish. Forgetting all about rake, Tyler reaches for the fish food and immediately starts to put it in his mouth.
“No, Tyler,” his grandmother says, reaching for his hand.
“It won’t hurt him, Sue says, “but I doubt that he would like the taste.”
“What is it?” you ask.
“Dried worm bits,” Sue says as she drops a few crumbs into the shallow water. A bevy of silvery minnows quickly respond, filling the pool with light but just as quickly out of the shadows a larger fish chases the minnows away while sucking up most of the worm bits and then returns to the shadows.
“That’s Lanker,” Sue says to Tyler, who has forgotten all about dining on worms bits by now and is vigorously throwing the pieces into the pond and following up with handfuls of gravel as the minnows and then Lanker return.
You decide to move on although you could watch this scene all day. Sue’s stand is called UpCycle and contains all kinds of useful used items with art and other features added, like coat hanger planters and cardboard barrels that have been converted into a chest of drawers. Next door is a stand with ceramic items, called simply, Wood Fired. You stop to look at the array of earth-toned, thin-walled pieces. Derek, the proprietor, explains that the unique colors come from wood gasses that are used to fire the kiln in the crafts room.
“Where is that?” you ask.
“Oh, it’s on the second floor of the Art Craft Common House. I thought maybe you had taken the tour.”
You say that you did the first half this morning and plan on doing the rest tomorrow.
“Well, then you saw the frog fireplace in the Eco Center.”
“Yeah,” you say.
“Well, that was the prototype, but this is much bigger. It’s one of the closed loop systems at Culver Way Ecovillage.”
“How’s that?” you ask.
“Well, I don’t want to steal all of Dick’s thunder when he does the tour, but we only run the kiln during cold, cloudy days so that we can utilize the spike in heat production fully, but the clay also sequesters what would otherwise be air pollutants and turns them into these beautiful glazed surfaces on the pots.”
You marvel at the array of colors as you hold up a delicate pot to a nearby column of light.
“I’ll leave the rest of the explanation to Dick.”
“Okay,” you say, as you turn the pot to reveal the incandescent highlights in the otherwise dull looking earth tones.
“Where does the clay come from?”
“All over,” Derek says, “but these pieces over here come from excavations on the site.”
“What kind of excavations?” you ask.
“Tree planting, new ponds, even a couple of graves.”
“Graves?” you ask, surprised.
“Yeah, Ethel and Elmer passed away just a couple months after the dedication last year, so we honored their request to start the natural cemetery in the tree line to the west of here in the Metro Community. They are planted over there for now.”
Even more surprised, you repeat, “For now?”
Laughing, “Oh, Dick is really going to be mad at me now. That’s his favorite part of the tour. He likes to tell everyone he’s going in there for a decade or two, then he’s going to be the skeleton in the closet in the school science lab.”
“Are you serious?” you ask.
“Well, you’ll have to ask Dick, but he says ten years in the grave is enough and then after that he wants his bones recycled to make room for the next occupant. He was one of the Occupiers that joined us in 2011 and works in the reference whenever he gets a chance. Says he wants to be a permanent Occupier of this community. Even is reported to have said that we can turn him into bone meal and feed him to the chickens if we end up with too many skeletons in the closet over at the school.”
“I can’t wait to meet this guy,” you say as you bid Derek, the potter, adieu and move on to the next stand. This one is primarily willow furniture with a few bamboo pieces thrown in. When you ask about the combination the proprietor, Tom, says that he prefers to work with the willow but that the bike guys can only use the larger canes.
“Oh, the cargo bikes?” you ask.
“Yeah, that’s mostly what they are known for, but they make touring and off-road bikes as well. We have a lot of synergies. We make some cargo baskets for them that use bamboo for the staves and willow for the weave. They are a little lighter but still durable enough to take the abuse that they give them. That’s their store right over there,” pointing across the aisle. “You just walk down next to the Blind.”
I’ll have to check them out, you say as you move on to Quilters Way, a stand adorned with a variety of quilted items. You notice that some of these same items are adorning the willow and bamboo furniture in Tom’s stand as well.
Carol, the proprietor of the stand, notices your observations and says, “He wouldn’t sell any of that rough, dreary stuff if I didn’t lighten it up and brighten it up with my finery.”
“Do you two know each other?” you ask, looking back at Tom.
“Some twenty years now, I reckon,” says Carol with a smile.
“Yup, twenty years of marital bliss come May,” quips Tom.
Several of the quilts have center panels with familiar Culver Way Ecovillage scenes printed on cloth.
Carol, again seeing your observations, says, “Yes, we cater to the whims of the eco-tourist.”
“Also saves a lot of stitching when one panel makes half or more of the quilt,” says Tome from next door.
“You had your chance,” Carol shoots back. “Now you leave him to me,” she says, smiling to you.
“Well, this would be a little easier to pack than one of those tables or chairs,” you say, fingering a small quilt with a panel of the building façade in a sepia tone, bordered by Autumn reds, oranges, yellows, greens and browns in subtle prints, velvets and corduroys. You comment on how soft it is.
Tom says, “That’s the rabbit wool.”
“I told you,” Carol says, shaking her finger playfully at Tom.
“Okay. I’ll butt out,” he says, turning to another customer.
Carol then explains that the quilts are all filled with either angora wool from Tom’s rabbits, thistle down or recycled cotton or polypropylene wool from recycled soda bottles. “This one happens to be filled with rabbit wool. You wouldn’t be able to stand in this weather, but it will keep you nice and toasty if you are doing any winter camping, and you can stuff it in a small bag just like goose down and it won’t mat down.”
You look at the price: $35 US or $30 Ecovillage Ingots.
“I’m all out of Ecovillage Ingots,” you say.
“We still take the coin of the large realm, at least for now and if you want to pay with a fifty, I can give you a little extra in Ecovillage Ingots in change.”
“Why would you do that?” you ask.
“Well,” says Carol, “you look like a nice enough fellow. Besides, you’ll probably take some home as a souvenir and you are going to spend all your change here at the Culver Way Ecovillage. Once the other villages are up and running, you can spend it there and, of course, if you decide you want to settle down in these parts, Ecovillage Ingots are good towards purchase of a home or share of a business in any of the forming Integral Urban Ecovillage communities here or across the country.”
You pull out a $50 bill and Carol ties the blanket into a little bundle with some string and hand you $25 in Ecovillage Ingots in change.
You thank her and move on to the next stand that has an assortment of canned goods and packages of dried fruits and vegetables. The canned goods are all in mason jars, including six-packs of Art Craft beer. It looks tempting but you settle on a package of vegetable soup mix and dried fruit and nuts, all with the familiar, Culver Way Ecovillage, All-In Fusion Enterprise label.
Next is Art Craft Recycled Lighting, which consists of every imaginable shape and size of tin can, ranging in size from a barrel, fashioned from a 55 gallon drum to a string of LED lights with tuna fish shades inscribed with melted away Christmas themes. The proprietor, Tim, is working behind tinted glass windows under an exhaust hood with a jeweler’s torch that vaporizes steel like red hot butter, leaving a glowing outline of the scenes that he is creating to the delight of a number of children and adults, assembled in his booth.
You walk on to the glass man’s booth next door, who is performing similar feats with an assortment of discarded jars and bottles. Next to that at the beadery people are stocking up on beads of glass, wood, stone and shell. The main feature here is the machine the punches round disks out of mussel shells with a big sign that says, “All proceeds from shell bead sales go to the nonprofit, Freshwater Mussels Restoration Project.
Next to that is LED Lights and More. Among the lamps are ones featuring Art Light shades and fixtures that include perforated mussel shells from the bead maker next door. This time half of the profits from these items go to the Mussel Restoration Project.
Moving on down the line, you come to a doublewide stand featuring small furniture and simple cabinet items. Directly behind the stand are two sets of full light patio doors that separate the market from the woodshop and you learn from the proprietor, Tony, it turns out the custom cabinet lines you see displayed during the day and is available for production of custom furniture items by the Culver Way Ecovillage residents evenings and weekends. You are told that the waste wood, after being picked over by the bead maker and other arts and crafts people, becomes the feedstock for the biochar, kiln and pizza ovens.
Next to the Wood Works is the Laundry Works. People are picking up and dropping off laundry, including pressed shirts, pants and blouses in reusable garment bags with the familiar All-In Fusion Enterprise logo. An elderly woman is ironing cloth napkins with the same logo at a low ironing board from her wheelchair when she is not waiting on customers. She directs customers who are using smart phones for their purchases to a young man at a desk who is taking in wheeled duffel bags full of laundry, empty garment bags and reusable hangers.
He doesn’t look too busy right now so you decide to ask about the operation.
You see by his name tag that he is Alex can you introduce yourself and comment on the efficiency of the operation. He replies by saying, “We have to keep things moving because people are willing to pay a little extra to improve their hypocrisy quotient but not a lot more than they would at a cleaners or laundromat.
What is a hypocrisy quotient?” you ask.
“It’s your carbon footprint, as measured against your own stated personal sustainability goal. Doing laundry, especially drying, adds to the quotient, especially if you use hot water and electric or gas fueled dryers. We use all biodegradable cleaning agents, cold or solar heated water that is recycled after use, solar heated dryers and reusable bags, so bringing clothes here when you are coming to market for the most part improves your quotient. If you make a special trip by car to drop off or pick up your laundry, you basically break even compared to doing it at home.
“Some people use their smart phones to track how many wearings they get between washes, using our free ap and do other things like taking them home by bicycle to hang on the line. Of course, we ecovillagers have the lowest quotients unless we drive or fly a lot, because we do our own laundry after hours and cut the capital cost of providing this service to the public almost in half through shared use of this facility.”
“I assume a lot of the washing happens overnight. Is that true?”
“About half,” Alex says.
“So, how do you are dry clothes at night?”
“We store enough heat in the broken brick-filled planters on the other side of this wall under the greenhouse to last most of the night. During the winter months, that is supplement by the heat from the biochar makers and the onsite produced methane used to start the process.”
“I took the first half of the tour this morning, so I actually know what you’re talking about,” you say.
“Yeah,” Alex says, “the plans for the Eco-Innovation Center scale systems are on our website and people can lower their quotient even more if they install or have our team install systems at their homes. They will never be able to achieve the efficiency of the community scale systems,” he adds, “ but every effort in that direction moves us closer to a sustainable culture, economy and environment overall.”
You still haven’t surveyed the stands on the other side of the aisle, but you have come to the main entrance to the market, so you decide to head up the ramp to the outdoor section that someone told you was strung out along Culver Way all the way over to the back of Metro High School which they said had been rated as the best public high school in the state and one of the best in the country for years.
As you emerge at the alley level, you can see quite a crowd of people moving up and down the Way in front of and assortment of booths. The first one you come to is selling reusable shopping bags with that All-In logo again. You have a bag in your pack, but decide you could use another one, so you shell out the $3 in Ecovillage Ingots, and out of curiosity ask about a smart phone account.
Patty, the young woman managing the stand, says, “Oh, that’s easy. You can stop by the credit union a couple blocks from here and they can hook you up or they can do a temporary account at the Blind.”
“How does that work?” you ask.
“Oh, it’s easy,” Patty says. “They sell you the app if you don’t already have one for a dollar. You deposit with them whatever amount with you think you might need while you are here, just like a prepaid debit card but it’s only for use at the Way and a few other places around town that display the All-In logo in their windows. When you go to check out, if you have any money left in your account, they take that to cover your bill at the hostel and refund the remainder, if any.”
“Sweet,” you say.
The next few stands are all fruits, vegetables and some prepared foods, but the back walls and fences also display paintings and other works of art. You are drawn to a print depicting the market itself. The young man, Drew, who is selling mostly tomatoes, peppers and some fresh herbs, says, “An old guy, Ned, who lives in Westminster Commons, the senior cohousing community right behind us did the original in acrylic on canvas. Took him most of last summer. He said he wasn’t in any hurry.”
“How much are they?”
“Three dollars in Ecovillage Ingots,” he says, handing you a cardboard tube.
“Oh good,” you say, “I was wondering how I was going to transport it. How about a couple of those tomatoes, a banana pepper, is that what you call the yellow ones?”
“Yes,” he says.
“And a couple sprigs of that purple basil. Thought I would buy a few things to have on hand at the hostel.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” he says.
The next stand has several different kinds of goat cheeses, fresh eggs, a few loaves of bread and an assortment of jams and jellies. You settle with Sally, the proprietor, on a small round of rosemary goat cheese, a half dozens tiny brown eggs (that she explains are pullet eggs, laid by young chickens), some gooseberry jam and a loaf of Black Bear swirl.
“They have more of a variety,” Sally says, “at the Green Beings, but people see the cheese and want something to put it on and maybe something a little sweet because some people think goat cheese tastes a little sour.”
“My thoughts exactly,” you say. Looking down the aisle towards Metro, you can see lots of other interesting things and you can hear some live music wafting your way, but you are starting to experience scenery overload so you decide to take your ‘scourings’ and go back to the Blind.
When you get there, Jill says that they usually don’t let guests put food in the fridge until they officially check in, but since she has your pack, she figures you are not going to run off and leave her with moldy cheese or raw eggs to clean up.
“I swear,” you say. “You people are psychic!”
“No, Sally called,” she starts to say.
“I got the picture,” you say. Sally called to say I was on my way.”
“She knows I skip out to make a deposit at the credit union about this time of day and didn’t want me to miss you.”
“Communication greases the wheels of community,” you say, and Jill says, “You are a quick learner. Ever think about settling down in St Louis?”
“Is that an invitation?” you ask.
Blushing, Jill says, “No, I mean, yes,” recovering her composure, “New Ecovillages are forming all the time. We occasionally have some turnover.”
Please continue to Chapter 6
Yours in Community,