Peak Moment: Creating the Impossible - O.U.R. Ecovillage (transcript)

MediaPeak Moment: Creating the Impossible - O.U.R. Ecovillage (video)

Transcribed by April Scott

Brandy Gallagher MacPherson: And, when we came to this valley, we were told specifically, that this wasn't possible. That this - you've got far too grandiose a vision. And, these things just don't fit inside regulatory restraints. So, a couple of us came forward and said; well, if it's not legal, how about we help you make it legal?

Janaia Donaldson: Mmm, hmm.

BGM: And, it's bad to go and volunteer at your local government office. It doesn't happen too often.

JD: Yeah, that's for sure.

BGM: We've created a brand new zone, that's never - it's really, it creates a precedent for Canada. And, there's people that borrow it down to the United States, as well.

Male Announcer: This is "Peak Moment". We're living at a peak of human innovation, wealth and health. ("Peak Moment" theme plays) But, we're also at a peak of population and consumption. With rising temperatures. And, declining resources, fueled by cheap oil and gas. "Peak Moment" Television, bringing you examples of positive responses to energy decline and climate change. Through local community action.

JD: Hi, welcome to "Peak Moment". I'm Janaia Donaldson. I'm in lovely Vancouver Island in Canada, with the executive director of O.U.R. Ecovillage. Her name is Brandy Gallagher MacPherson. Thanks for joining me.

BGM: thank you.

JD: And, welcoming us here to your Ecovillage, which is just lovely. It's quite an amazing place. With lots going on. But, we'll get back to that in a minute. How did you get into founding, or co-founding an Ecovillage?

BGM: Well, this space is actually a whole environment. So, it contains many, many things. What would draw someone like me to that? Really, by my own background - is kind of an interesting experience. But, I grew up in a communal setting, in the old days of the commune in the 60's.

JD: There aren't too many people that have - I haven't talked with anybody yet, whose done that. Where was the commune?

BGM: In a place just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. Up in what is now the Whistler Mountain International Ski Resort area.

JD: Oh, my goodness.

BGM: So, things have changed alot. Because, in those days it was pioneering. Living very close to the land. A whole spirit of social justice. And, so that can of founding, understanding of being in relationship with a sense of place. And, really protecting and stewarding places. The family home I grew up in on the commune, actually was donated to the provincial government. To become a conservation park, in perpetuity. And, so the whole background's about conservation work. Then, onto a farm life and agricultural production. And, that's really fed forward. And, my professional life, has really involved a lot of time around community development. I worked as a therapist. I've also worked within government, quite a bit. So, there's many, many elements coming together. To create something for me, that would be of interest to draw me to a place like this.

JD: And, in a sense, you're extending and taking those threads from your early life. And, bringing them to a next level here, it would seem. And, using them.

BGM: I'd like to think about the opportunity that we all have. To sort of weave our life experience together. Really, that kind of enrichment of everything we've ever done. As best practices - or, best pieces in our life; really coming together, to serve on a whole another level. And, being here, for me - is that experience.

JD: So, how did you - how did this get started? In this particular experience? Let's do the beginnings. Finding land? Or, people? Where did you begin?

BGM: Well, I think this is always important for people to think about. Because, I talk about the years I spent sitting in circles, talking about this opportunity. And, many people of like-mindedness, would come and go. And, we'd have different visioning and different dialogues. But, it took a long time of talking about something. Before, the original five of us, sort of created a path to this particular space. And, we looked at land, all over.

JD: Wow. And, so you're talking about a dedicated vision for you. In a sense, you're talking about for many years. And, even five years to find this place.

BGM: And, I often think, people don't actually know the fullness of their vision. But, it's by talking to each other, that we come to realize more and more. I actually think that's a very important part of. Is this really what I want to do? Because, it's often easy to step in quickly to something. And, we're so drawn. And, our hearts yearn for community.

JD: I think that's so true. That's so true. But, I think - you're talking about - talking aloud about it. It sort of a sound check. But, it mirrors you back. It kind of listens to your own self. Like, do I really want it this way? And, the questions that people ask, I'm sure it helped hone that?

BGM: Yeah. Am I urban? Am I rural? Am I this? Am I that? These are all elements and how we're creating. People are talking about alternative lifestyles. But, we're creating a different path. And, this borrowing from everything's that ever been. The whole Ecovillage movement, intentional communities. All the kind of sustainable - sustainability movement, we're looking for what's new. But, we're also really founding it on all of the things that have worked for so long. I mean, there's generations that knew how to live sustainably.

JD: Yes, yes. And, how to live more communally. I mean, it's simply been in what, our last hundred years say; that we've been mobile, because of gasoline. And, so on, to be separated and break that fabric. That social fabric, outside of the communities that we were in. So, you were in a sense, reweaving that.

BGM:And, I often talk to people about the idea that we have incredible opportunities in a space like this. I mean, we can get into a lot of technical, professional aspects of what does sustain. And, I believe that when you put people in a residential setting like this; our biggest work and our biggest learning, is how to live together. Very simply, that kind of element - that for the most part, especially in North America; we have unlearned.

JD:We have. We have. We don't have very good practical skills, on how do you live with each other. And, get along with each other. We're used to being able to - I'm out of there.


JD: When things get tough.

BGM: My next thesis. And, I hope my final one, is really going to focus on what I call 'recreating the village mind'. And, bringing back - I would suggest it's in our DNA. Many of us had our tribal history, much more recent than some other cultures.

JD: Yes, yes.

BGM:Yet, it's still within all of us. And, it's just relearning. How do you and I. And, the land and everything around us, kind of sense a relationship again.

JD: That's - it's interesting that you didn't stop at the human.


JD: When you talked about relearning. You included the land. And, therefore, all the other species. Everyone else.

BGM: We're in the Cowichan(find indian name) nation. The first people's nation here, traditional terrority; is the Cowichan peoples. And, within the life and times of the Cowichan and many aboriginal people, there's a statement that says; all my relations.

JD: Yes.

BGM:And, so we're speaking of everything. Every element of relationship. And, really if we're - the essence of that is whole-ism. Or, all this language we use.

JD: Mmm, hmm.

BGM:That's what sustainability is then about.

JD: I think it's also about in addition, that means if you're in relationship, you're also aware of your impact on everyone else. Everything else.

BGM: Yes. Because, relationship -

JD: Is like long term?

BGM:Right. And, relationships are two way. They're not just about inputs and inputs, and inputs. And, it's interesting, because technical theories behind sustainability are about equal inputs and outputs. What if we were beyond sustainability now? What if sustainability has become passe, in a sense? What if we actually need a different way of living in the world, that's about reparation?

JD: I was thinking aobut that. That we've already taken out more fish, more - many resources than is sustainable. We couldn't just level off.

BGM:No. So, at our ecovillage; in terms of conservation work that we do here, one of the focuses is to try to give back three times more than we take out

JD: Three times? Now, that's - how do you do that? Give me an example.

BGM: Well, in the easy sense, there's the obvious measurements. If we're measuring our footprint of how we live. And, the impact we have, there's ways to look at. Okay, these things I'm implicating or impacting. So, I'm actually receiving something through that. I need to give back in these ways. If you talk about soil building, it's very simple to see. These nutrients are drawn out. I need to rebuild nutrients this way.

JD: Right.

BGM:When you start to talk a bigger picture, you can start to talk about things like carbon offsets. Or, you can footprint things. And, maybe I can't have a direct relationship impact in this way. And, give and take in this particular part of a relationship. But, I could pay it back to a different relationship over here. So, if you're living in a whole system, and you're one of the elements in an eco-system; then you can payback to your environment in different ways.

JD: So, one of the ways you may need to be using carbon, because you take your vehicle to town to buy groceries -


JD: But, a way you can give back is your buying organically. Which means there's cleaning of the soil. Or, you're growing trees, which return - sequesters carbon.

BGM: Right.

JD: Which you are doing here.

BGM:Well -

JD: One little piece.

BGM:Hopefully, we're not driving our car on gas. Because, we filter our own vegetable oil. And, we have our own bio-diesel process

JD: Alright.

BGM: So, hopefully most of our fuel is offset already. And, then hopefully, we're not buying that much organics, out in the wider world.

JD: Because, you're growing it here?

BGM:We're raising our own.

JD: Right.

BGM:So, there's all these elements to look at what you can really do locally. Like in your backyard. What do you need to go to your next sphere of impact in relationship? And, how can you maybe trade with that, as well?

JD: Sure, sure.

BGM: So, if you're creating a whole different economy around it. It becomes an economy of give receive, versus an economic, money based economy.

JD: Right. And, you're going to be more connected in relationship to what you are giving and receiving. Even if it's - particularly, because it's local.

BGM:Correct, yeah.

JD: Not just money.


JD: So, here - let's go back. We didn't even cover, what is the O.U.R. stand for?

BGM: O-U-R, is actually an acronym. And, it stands for One United Resource. And, it's really a whole fun name. Because, it's philosophy is meant to speak of the notion that you and I, and everybody else here come as a contribution. We all are a resource. We all have something to bring. 2, 102 - whatever the goings on in your life is; you're bringing something -

JD: Sure, sure.

BGM:To this enterprise. And, so when people start to see themselves that way. And, actually see each other that way. That changes relationship, as well.

JD: Oh, oh.

BGM:And, then if you further that, the whole idea of our name, the ecovillage. As soon as you leave here. And, "Peak Moment" says; oh, at our ecovillage. You've actually implicated yourself -

JD: That's right.

BGM: As being part of the experience.

JD: That's right, that's right. I'm one of you (laughs)

BGM:(laughs) Except you become one of us.

JD: That's right.

BGM: And, so the us and them starts to disappear. Which is our fundamental point of the name. Because, it's really trying to dig in to another level of our social constructs. Of our ideas of ownership. And, the whole idea that it is our community. These are our kids. This is our neighborhood. This is our planet.

JD: Sounds like a real contrast to the me and mine, sort of hyper-individualism that's so strong. Especially in America - North Americans, whatever. It's like me and mine, and my property rights. And, so on. It's just a real wonderful counterbalance to that.

BGM: Well, in this whole space, it's really created by that philosphy. So, the whole space is by, for, and through community. And, that's just doesn't mean who's living here.

JD: Alright.

BGM:It means the neighbors. It means the town. It means government. It means people in Europe, that are in relationship with their NGO and our NGO.

JD: Uh-huh.

BGM:Communities in the very broadest sense. If somebody or something doesn't want this next step to happen, it will not. Just recently -

JD: For your - for O.U.R. Ecovillage? It won't happen?

BGM: The work won't be done. The groups won't be facilitated. The people only show up, because they're drawn to do it. The donations only show up, because people are interested in contributing. The space is only created, because people care to make it happen.

JD: Yes.

BGM:So, it's not driven by money. It's not driven by some higher mission, that has a power base behind it. It can only happen, because the world wants it to happen.

JD: That's a nice philosphy. And, a sense of support, actually. And, a sense of guidance. Like if it wants to happen, it will indeed happen here.

BGM:And, that makes it sound very light. But, imagine the challenge of you put in all your post for a couple acre garden expansion and no fencing gets donated. But, it's not beyond us to pick up the phone and start the emails and say; which company wants to partner with the village project, and donate the fencing.

JD: Yeah, yes. I mean, so you step out and you initiate.

BGM: So, the relationship takes on layers and layers and layers.

JD: What, um - tell us a little bit about how many people are involved? Some of the practical, on the ground stuff, if somebody were to come in and walk along, and visit O.U.R. Ecovillage. What would they see? Who would they be meeting, and so on?

BGM:So, you'd be coming into O.U.R. 25 acre, model demonstration sustainable community. So, in that context, we have permanent residential folk. We have people that come for short term stays. And, they intern. Or, maybe they just want to learn about what is community life like. What would be in an ecovillage as a lifestyle be for me? So, we create those opportunities. Then we have whole summer programs, where people can stay. They're in a community building process. But, they might actually concentrate their learning focus into things like natural building, permaculture design, sustainable food production. So, there's areas of focus that people have, that bring them here. And, then we have things like short term guests. We have an eco bed and breakfast.

JD: Oh, fun.

BGM:We have tenting. We have dorm space. So, we try to make it accessible to as wide a range of folks, as possible. And, then there's also tours. People can come on site. There's a two hour, educational tour with an educational presentation and a walk about. So, these things are all happening simultaneously, in terms of people. And, then you have incredible other activities. And, we can talk a little bit about that

JD: Some of your educational things. What about some of what I know, I see here is - let's go back to what you were saying; natural building. You've got several cob structures, that are built or being built.

BGM: Right. We've got four buildings on the go right now, that are natural buildings. That do come in the form of cob construction. Which is earthen construction. We also have hybrids, which are cob and straw bail. Um, we do very unique kind of roof settings, so that the buildings look really hobbit home like.

JD: I noticed that. I love the curving shapes. I mean, it's just - and, the curving shapes indoors. It's like a sort of embrace quality. It's just very organic.

BGM:Yeah. Well, it's one thing about natural building, is it's really about an artistry of life.

JD: It's very visible and enjoy about this. The colors you've used to paint some of the structures, is really lovely, lovely.

BGM:I think it like brings out the artist within. There's people that step on site, and they say no, no, I could never do a mosaic. And, they're the first ones in with smashed tile. And, there's something that comes alive for people. Because, the buildings are alive.

JD:They are. You can feel that. And, that approach is not intimidating. You know, packing clay is like we all - the child in everybody sort of knows what that feels like. And, can get into it. You also have very huge greenhouses and growing space.

BGM: Mmm, hmm.

JD: That's pretty intensive.

BGM:That's a real big focus in the next steps of our ecovillage. Because, as we embark on having our ten residences on site; and, this is for long term stewardship. And, folks who can actually live here on a more permanent basis. We've poured all of our time and energy into design and infrastructure setup, and wider community legal work. Now, we're finally getting to have permanent homes, which is amazing. If you've been staying the course that long. Um, and that means we need more food. And, really what we're also about, is educating that we all need to have more food.

JD: Yes. I'm certainly noticing, as we meet with folks dealing with, thinking with peak oil and being ready; it's the first thing that I notice in many communities. The water and the food.


JD: For the broader community.

BGM:And, in an area like this, 'cause we're on an island; food security takes on a whole, new meaning. Vancouver Island has approximately or less, three days of food supply. If things - if we're shut down for some reason; the whole idea of the millennium changed in the year 2000. And, Y2K could suddenly stop. People started to recognize a little bit about there's a beginning of what people are starting to recognize now. With issues around oil.

JD: Sure.

BGM:And, people that never spoke sustainability in language before, are suddenly now waking up to a conversation that goes something like; three days of food supply on Vancouver Island? We have no food security solutions here yet. So, - and, this is an agricultural belt. So, what do we need to do as communitarians. And, I"m not just talking on a project like this. But, as the whole area.

JD: The whole region. Yes.

BGM:To start to map our food sources. And, to start to rebuild possibilities around food production.

JD: Right. Actually, I want to go back to somethng else here. Stepping aside from the place here. Which is wonderful. What did it take for you to be able to deal with zoning? I mean, that's a big issue everywhere. And, you've made some history on that. Tell us about it?

BGM: Well, we have a lot of connection in North America. And, actually even prior to coming here, I and other people who are involved here; had worked and or researched in Europe and South America. And, different places. And, to come back here, what was very noticeable in North America, is some of the best work and some of most incredible people doing work; ended up with the biggest roadblock being around land use.

JD: Yes.

BGM:And, recently, a couple of years ago on a tour, there was one aspect after another with projects where you couldn't have a number of people living residentially on site. You certainly couldn't have temporary structures. You definitely couldn't have natural building, being used as residential space. That kind of. There wasn't any laws to make it possible.

JD: And, probably - and, therefore, the regulatory agencies would just say you can't do this.


JD: Rezone and build, and so on.

BGM: When we came to this valley, we were told specifically, that this wasn't possible. This can't - you've got far too grandiose a vision. And, these things just don't fit within inside regulatory restraints.

JD: What did you do? Because, obviously you're here.

BGM:We have a llittle cliche that we coined when we were first coming into this process. And, we were actually asked government. 11 aspects of regulatory authority, are involved in land use in this area. So, we said we would love to do thus and such. And, we brought them in all of our homework. We did years of base maps, and overlays. And, mapped everything. Teams of biologists doing species mapping.

JD: Wow.

BGM: And, a gorologist doing soil analysis. So, we - it

JD: Did your homework

BGM: It was impeccable. And, bringing it in, albeit some of it was in crayons and pencil crayons. But, very beautiful. To give sort of the feel, for all of the technical. And, we brought it into the local government. And, they kindly explained to us, that we really had no knowledge of development. And, folks just can't go and do these kind of things. And, we said; well, what do you mean if it's not legal? Are you saying that it's not legal to live sustainably? And, so a couple of us came forward and said; well, if it's not legal, how about if we help you make it legal? And, it's apropos to go and volunteer in your local government office. It doesn't happen too often.

JD: Yeah. That's for sure.

BGM: So, think about taking the risk to build relationships, that are completely different than the us and them.

JD: Yes.

BGM: We usually posture with - well, you're into your with authority.

JD: You're with the bad guy. Right.

BGM: With a bank manager. You're the head of government office of this. So, we've created these relationships and projections, that keep us apart, in trying to accomplish our possibilities. What about if you flip that around and actually notice that we could be on the same team? Creating a solution? And, if people were willing to volunteer to do that; I think it sort of took folks aback.

JD: I bet it did. (both laugh) I bet it did. You're willing to do that work?

BGM: And, we have a lot of interviews and conversations. And, they actually - some of the regulatory folks will come and talk about their experience, working with grass roots community. And, how inspiring, infuriating, confusing, challenging, all the things that were involved in trying to do something where there was no path.

JD: So, you carved a path. And, so there are new policies? Is that true?

BGM: We've created a brand, new zone that's never - it's really, it creates a precedent in Canada. And, there's people that borrow it down into the United States, as well. And, I think - you know, because we're a smaller organization, relatively speaking; there's some larger groups out there, that have been lobbying politically. And, professionally, for a long time. We were contacted by a University in California that said; who are you guys? Like you just came in out of nowhere. And, how did you do that? We've been working on it for a decade.

JD: And, you just went and did it

BGM: And, we just went and did it.

JD: Wow.

BGM: And, conversely, they had a lot of resources and fund resources. And, so it is quite magical, that this has come to pass. And, yet again, if you really focused on how did that manage to happen. I would suggest that it was about risking, having a different way of dissolving that us and them. And, it has to be genuine. This isn't a political move, where you kind of saddle up to somebody.

JD: Yeah.

BGM: Um, I don't think it works that way. I think this has to be - we're all in this together. If you want to talk about solutions, it takes about every person to start to jump in.

JD: That's a big thing to notice here, in an increasingly polarized world.

BGM: Yeah.

JD: Particularly around the authorities. As we are going to have to pioneer new living arrangements, new fuels. Things like composting toilets. You know, you're going to get regulations everywhere.

BGM: Well, and I've been amazed -

JD: We've got about four minutes. So, I just want to tell you - so, we make sure we cover everything that we wanted to.

BGM: Yeah. Well, I think some of the things that are really important to notice, is that this whole idea of changing relationships; I do believe that are changing. As much as there's polarization, I think this place is an example. I think it's an outstanding example of people coming from all walks and talks of life. And, that creates a ton of challenge. Again, I'm not making this a light process. But, people coming together to create solutions, together in relationship; is the hard part for us. But, I think the biggest learning and the biggest opportunity for solutions.

JD: And, it looks to me, that your model is big gains coming from that.

BGM:And, there is ecovillages all over the world. This isn't completely unique. There's over 600 ecovillages and intentional communities all over the world. We're just borrowing from what other people know. What we've known, since time and memorial; is that sustainability and best practices from cultures and generations before.

JD: But, you're also bringing it into this time. And, what you've talked about working together with the regulatory agencies. Because, I realize that's a big hurdle that many intentional communities hit against.

BGM:It's kind of where angels fear to tread. (both laugh) Most people, that's the scariest thing we've never taken on. We don't want to work with that. And, a lot of people doing good work would rather do it way out in the back forty. Like in the situations that I grew up in. But, maybe now, it's time to come out of the closet and say; you know what, this is logical, practical thinking. This is urban solution. This is rural. This is looking at it within building codes. Because, we've taken on a lot of the building code issues, as well. Waste water treatment issues. Instead of trying to factor around what policies and bylaws specify. How about trying to build new aspects in. And, it takes time. And, it takes work. And, it creates amazing outcomes.

JD: You village is a statement to that, really. Because, when you think about the increasing pressure we have for good water, for land resources. And, so on. To try and live sustainably, we are going to have to do that kind of conserving and finding new solutions. I mean, we can't all be flushing our good water down the toilet.

BGM: And, we can't imagine that somebody else is going to solve this. We have a school on site, by the name of Topia. And, Topia, literally translated means place. Versus utopia, which means no place. So, it's kind of harkening towards the idea of this idea of nirvana or paradise beyond. Than rather than going on with the imaginary plan, that we need the get real plan. We need things that apply for today. And, for now. With the resources we have. And, get started. Because, if we wait for the grand picture to land; no one is going to hand that to us. We've gotta make it happen.

JD: You've done it . You've done it. So, in your last minute. What do you find the most inspiring about all that you have set into motion, and what you are doing now?

BGM: I think - I personally feel inspired by people that have the courage to risk stepping forward, when there is no path. That into a space where the world looks like it has a lot of challenges. And, that's no fooling. That to go forward with heart, and passion, is all we have.

JD: Thank you for your part.

BGM: Thanks.

JD: And, your passion. ("Peak Moment" them plays) You're watching "Peak Moment", community responses for a changing energy future. I'm Janaia Donaldson. Join us next time. ("Peak Moment" theme plays)

Male announcer: ("Peak Moment" them plays) "Peak Moment Television". Presented by Yuba Gals Independent Media. Produced by Janaia Donaldson. Directed by Robyn Malgren. ("Peak Moment" them plays)

MediaPeak Moment: Creating the Impossible - O.U.R. Ecovillage (video)