Close your eyes for a moment, and let your mind drift back to the opening scenes from Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, wherein we are first introduced to the amicable hobbits and their experiment in communal living on the Shire. Now, remember how you thought, wouldn’t it be cool, if you too could live like Frodo and Bilbo [only two to three feet taller], well I am happy to tell you that this dream is now a reality.
The O.U.R. Ecovillage community, is a long running experiment in alternative living located on a 25 acre parcel north of Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. With an estimated global network of 300 ecovillages, the solution to overcoming urban sprawl might be at hand. This is due to the tireless efforts of eco-living pioneers like Brandy Gallagher.
With a background in alternative development and government, Gallagher was able to push the envelope and challenge the existing zoning bylaws in the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) which initially held back the actualization of the OUR collective. For Gallagher, this initial reluctance on the part of municipal government is reflective of a larger endemic problem, “zoning is an issue for everyone in North America. One of the major barriers to sustainable design is actually land use planning and zoning.” This trepidation, has been overcome as the local government authority has become one of the Ecovillage’s stalwart supporters, working collaboratively to create seven other non-traditional zonings within the Cowichan Valley.
OUR, an acronym that stands for one united resource had humble origins as a housing cooperative and youth empowerment program located in Victoria. Seeking ways to increase experiential learning opportunities in sustainable living within a rural setting, the OUR Ecovillage was the outcome of their brainstorming prowess. After navigating the challenges of acquiring the land and meeting municipal zoning requirements, a few notable milestones have been made since the first homesteaders arrived on site in 1999 to break ground.
In 2000, official non-profit status was garned which was followed by an evolution into a co-operative in 2006, this allowed the organization to branch out into pursuing an entrepreneurial business model. Presently classes are offered in organic farming and natural building as a source of revenue generation. At present their are two external businesses that operate out of OUR, Houses That Love You Back and the Mountain Shiatsu Studio.
With over 7700 vistors each year, Gallagher believes that the Ecovillage represents the tip of the iceberg for social and environmental change in Canada, ” I would say that before people were called but now they are propelled, because they are not running from something they are being called towards something.” This calling might be an outcome of the sense of community and kinship that is fostered by living and working in such an uplifting environment.
The community at OUR Ecovillage prides itself on fostering respect and empathy for each other and the land that they share, “to educate, inspire and transform by co-creating a thriving learning community and permaculture demonstration site” reads the organization’s mission statement. Overcoming 21st century hyper-individualism and restoring a DIY work ethic is what drives Gallagher and her colleagues strive to offer to visitors, “for a lot of people being in this environment is a full featured experience, so if you are sleeping out on the ground your camping and your actually with the heart beat of the land and you feel this connection with the physical land.”
This metaphysical connection has been lost and is most worriest some in children according to Gallagher, “many kids come here and we have had them actually ask the question why do you store your carrots in dirt? Children have no concept of where the milk came from that is inside of the carton.”But through initiatives like an annual youth convergence summit and hosting student tour groups, the OUR Ecovillage team is breaking down this barrier and offering up hearty soul food for program participants to enjoy.
Looking towards the future, their is much work to still be accomplished. In collaboration with the Land Conservancy of British Columbia, current efforts are being devoted to placing a covenant on the land to guard against unwanted development into the future. Additionally much work has been accomplished on the ethical investment front.
For more information on the OUR Ecovillage and their program offerings please visit them at their website.