Looking for a real treat to lift the January blues, Positive Lifers? If so, check out Soul Centred Retreats’ ‘New Year, New You’ retreat, taking place in Aherlow House Hotel, Co. Tipperary, from January 14th to the 17th.
Living in an Eco Neighbourhood
By Davie Phillip
A peek inside the Cloughjordan Community
In this regular column, Davie Philip from ‘Cultivate’ explores how we make the transition to a more sustainable way of life, one that is community based, ethical, healthy and resilient.
For the last two years of this column, I have been exploring how we can make our communities better places to live and how we might develop the resilience to cope and adapt to the challenges ahead. I’ve looked at cooperative approaches to creating livelihoods and growing food, explored how we nurture healthier approaches to living together and introduced tools to make the transition to a better world.
Most of the things I have been talking about here in Positive Life are being applied and developed in the small village of Cloughjordan where I live and work. Although I often refer to the Ecovillage project in these articles, I have never really introduced what is actually going on in this little corner of North Tipperary.
Cloughjordan is a heritage village located less than two hours from Dublin and is reachable by train. In the past the village had suffered from population decline and some of its key services were under threat before the ecovillage project first arrived in 2003.
The project has now attracted over 65 families to move to Cloughjordan contributing to the flourishing of the whole village and is now seen as one of the healthiest communities in Ireland. In the last two years, it has won the National Green Community Award, in 2012 was voted runner up in an ‘Irish Times’ contest looking for the ‘Best Place to Live in Ireland’ and this year has been nominated for an Irish Pride of Place award and a UN award for liveable communities.
The term ecovillage is actually a little misleading, as we are very much a neighborhood that is experimenting with good practice in community regeneration. Our main pedestrian entrance is in the centre of Cloughjordan’s Main Street. The ecovillage is a mixed-use development and is being developed by Sustainable Projects Ireland, a registered educational charity and national NGO.
I was one of the first members of the project way back in 1999 a few years after I got into sustainability. The first meetings of the original members took place in the Dublin Food Coop where many of us were active, and the principles of cooperatives are core to our objectives. Our purpose is to develop a sustainable community that can serve as an education, enterprise and research resource for all.
We used a design system called ‘Permaculture’ to integrate the buildings, woodlands, agriculture and renewable energy elements within a living community on the 67 acre estate. Zoning for sustainable development and planning permission for 3 community buildings and 130 homes was granted in 2005, which included 16 live-work units to encourage livelihoods where people are living. Work began on the infrastructure in February 2007 and construction of the first homes began in March 2009. By March 2013 fifty households had moved into the eco-neighbourhood.
The energy performance of all the homes are well above the national average. Ireland’s only renewable energy district heating system has been installed, which includes the largest array of solar panels in Ireland. This has made significant savings of energy and a reduction in CO2 use.
Woodlands & Bio-Diversity
In one third of the estate 17,000 trees, mostly oak and ash were planted in 2011 and this will grow to become a community woodland. A Community orchard has been developed and an Apple Tree Walk with 78 different varieties of heritage apple trees from Irish Seed Savers included. Over 1000 heritage apple trees were also planted around the houses of the ecovillage as part of the edible landscape – this combines fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and herbs and will create privacy as well as producing a yield for residents. This is also essential for encouraging biodiversity.
A biodiversity loop walk through the ecovillage estate has recently been developed too. The route traverses the wildlife corridors, mature hedgerows, the woodlands and the orchards. These green areas provide space for research and education as well as providing recreational amenity for residents.
The Cloughjordan Community Farm is the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project based in the ecovillage and members engage in many aspects of running the farm. This empowering initiative ensures work for three food producers and secures a supply of healthy and locally grown food to 60 families – two-thirds from the ecovillage and one third from the rest of Cloughjordan. The Cloughjordan Wood Fired Bakery is located in the ecovillage and bakes over 1000 loaves a week. It is fuelled locally through harvesting from the adjacent Knockanacree woodlands and is available from Blazing Salads.
WeCreate is our the new co-working space for the eco-entrepreneur and gives small businesses, sole traders, artists and craftspeople access to a hot-desk environment to work from. WeCreate will also give the community access to open source software and prototyping technologies to create designs that can then be fabricated by computer controlled cutting, milling and 3D printing machines in the Community FabLab.
There is a large area that contains the resident’s allotments, a community chicken coop and a community garden in a polytunnel. The Research Education and Development (RED) Gardens are also located here. This is made up of five vegetable gardens exploring the answers to a simple question: What is the best way to grow food?
Cloughjordan really provides an excellent destination for ecological and place-based learning, offering a unique opportunity for people to come and learn by immersing themselves in community and the systems of sustainability. An EcoLearn programme of courses, workshops and fieldtrips is already popular and Django’s eco hostel on site allows for residential courses. Two national NGOs, FEASTA: The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, and Cultivate Living and Learning, the cooperative I do most of my work through, have relocated to the ecovillage and both contribute to the programme of educational events held throughout the year.
Neighbours come together for a ‘meitheal’ most weekends in the ecovillage. This is an Irish word for a work party and conveys the sense of community spirit in which people get things done together. The initiative is also groundbreaking in that it uses a combination of shared-out responsibilities and consensus decision-making in its organisational structures. Much of the work of running the project is shared out amongst members on a voluntary basis.
Sharing facilitates community relations, we share tools, land and every week there is an option of a shared community meal. There is a lot of intergenerational activity and it is common to see a large group practicing tai chi or riding their unicycles on the market square at the centre of the ecovillage.
I love being in the ecovillage. I sometimes say it is the longest and most expensive self-development course I have ever taken. There is a rich learning when a community of people comes together to pioneer a different way of doing things. Through the interaction and working with others I am learning so much about myself and the environment of this eco-neighborhood is healthy for our own and our families’ development. This small Irish community is developing its resilience to adversity as well as being a great place to live.
See www.thevillage.ie for details on tours, organising a group visit or opportunities for living here.
Davie Philip is a facilitator and trainer who manages the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate Living and Learning. He is based at the Cloughjordan Ecovillage and is a board member of GIY Ireland. email@example.com
There’s no place like home in a supportive community
“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” ~ Gary Snyder
In this column, I have been enquiring into how our communities might cope and adapt to the challenges we face. I believe that being more civic minded and engaged in community life could be healthier, and is also the basis for a much needed economic localisation. But how do we go about nurturing a stronger sense of place and playing our part in improving our world, one neighbourhood at a time?
Feeling connected to those around you and taking pride in your village, town or city, actually contributes massively to our own well-being and is an essential attribute for the flourishing of our families and the places we live. In times like these, we need to cultivate our skills in placemaking.
Reflecting on the place we live is not something we do much these days. There is no real need to know our neighbours, or the annual rainfall. Where the water sources are and what the soil is like is local knowledge that is just not needed by most of us today. It is now common to be physically resident in a locality without knowing much about the place, the people, or participating in any way with the community’s development.
To buffer places against the impacts of a challenging economy, we need to explore different ways to improve the economic prospects of our local places. Margaret Wheatly, who writes about the complexities of communities through the lens of living systems, believes that places are interconnected systems of relationships, and that “whatever the problem, community is the answer.”
We will be better able to deal with adversity, and be far more resilient, by linking the positive qualities of our places, as well as the assets and people. Doing this will give us the ability to adapt and to respond to change positively, which will play a critical role in the viability of our communities in the future. But how do we go about developing the sort of communities we’d like to live, work and grow old in? For the last decade, I have been on a journey to do this, to find a place to walk my talk and put down my roots.
Seeking to develop roots in a place is, in many ways, a desire to become more integrated. It’s about forging connections to an area and building healthy relationships. Rootedness does not have to mean a return to territoriality or tribalism. Connecting and linking with other people in other places is also absolutely vital to a community’s ability to adapt and thrive.
Until recently, I have lived quite a nomadic lifestyle. Unlike my peers, I didn’t invest in property, and therefore, have not been tied to any place. For years, I lived in Dublin where I shared a large, rented house in Dartmouth Square, which was a hotbed for creativity, and was a great way to live. There was an extraordinary feeling of community, and although we were only renting, we had a great sense of place and a real pride in the area. Our household played a major role in securing and revitalizing the park opposite the house, which is now owned by the community. Outdoor yoga, talks, films and all sorts of public events are now held there.
Three years ago, my journey to find a place ended in Cloughjordan, North Tipperary. It wasn’t such a long way from Dublin. Since then, I have lived and worked in the new eco-neighbourhood there. The village of Cloughjordan is a very liveable place and is an Irish nominee for the UN LivCom awards taking place in China later this year. These awards have the aim of improving the quality of life of citizens through the creation of more liveable communities.
Living in community comes naturally. Although we are born to live together, in many ways, society today forces us to live apart. Already, I feel a strong sense of place in Cloughjordan. I have really gotten to know and work with a very diverse group of people. About 65 households have located to Cloughjordan over the last five years. Most live in the new ecovillage neighbourhood, and many have located here because it is a great place to live. There is a desire to create a place where our lives are simplified, diversity is welcomed, livelihoods are maintained, children play together in safety, and the environment is protected.
My journey is now about playing a part in building a sustainable community in rural Ireland and helping make Cloughjordan a destination for learning. However, in the process of doing this, I’m learning so much myself. Not just about placemaking and community approaches to growing and distributing local food or generating energy, but about empathy, clear communication, understanding the point of view of others, and working collaboratively to make a difference together.
So, how can placemaking help build healthier and more liveable communities? To nurture a stronger sense of place and to be effective catalysts for building our communities’ resilience, I think the following are useful first steps:
1. Step Up – Don’t step back, participate. To have a good life and ensure a healthier place to live, we need to engage with those around us. There is so much to do, so get involved in your community.
2. Celebrate What We Have – By appreciating the resources, assets and strengths of individuals around us, we can help our communities to realise opportunities and better address local problems.
3. Be Creative – More than anything, we need to work differently in the world. Supporting creativity can help maximise collaboration and problem solving in our communities.
4. Encourage Diversity – A resilient community values the perspectives and knowledge that different people bring. Involve all ages and people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
5. Lead From Within – Leadership is not always about being in charge. Placemakers need to have the ability to inspire initiative and new thinking within those around them. To make a collective difference in our places, mobilise, encourage, connect and support initiative.
6. Connect – Build relations; not only with those around you, but also with those in other places and communities that are further afield. We need a new “glocalisation” where the health and governance of our local places is seen as critical to achieving global well-being.
7. Cooperate – Collectively, we can achieve a lot more than by trying to make changes on our own.
8. Share – Valuing access and the sharing of assets over private ownership has the potential to foster increased social connections, create local livelihoods and strengthen the resilience of our communities.
Fantastic things can happen when communities have the power, resources and capability to determine their own development. Place is about land, place is about people, and place is about the shared stories that hold our communities together. A stronger sense of place and stepping up to participate in the life of our community will help ensure a good life in these changing times.
Davie Philip manages the Community Resilience programme at Cultivate Living and Learning and is a board member of GIY Ireland. firstname.lastname@example.org
A one-day workshop on Liveable Communities and a course on Place Making are offered by Cultivate. Visit www.cultivate.ie
The Apple Farm in Tipperary was set up in 1968 when William and Ali Traas moved from Holland to grow apples. At that time a lot of Dutch farmers left Holland, as there was not enough land to farm.
In the early years in Ireland, the family grew many crops, including fields of flowering tulips and vegetables such as peas and brassicas. However, the flavour of the apples here was spectacular, and the farm came to specialise in fruits such as apples, pears, plums, strawberries, raspberries and cherries, most of which are sold directly from a shop on the farm.
When Con Traas took over the farm in the 1990’s, he began making apple juice, which became an instant success, thanks to the unusual collection of apple varieties from around the World that were grown on the farm. The juice won awards on a regular basis, including the Bridgestone Award, which has recently been received again for 2009, the best European juice in the UK National Fruit Show competition, and a Blas na hEireann silver medal just last October.
Con has for a long time been interested in traditional and natural medicines, and he had often been asked by farm shop customers why he did not make a cider vinegar from his apple juice. So about ten years ago he began on the slow process. Cider vinegar takes a long time to make and mature, and Con’s oldest stocks have been ageing in oak barrels for the last eight years. “It’s worth the wait” says Con, “when you see the quality of the end product.”
“Cider vinegar has been recommended since Hippocrates used it, and probably for much longer” continues Con, “It has antibiotic properties and is also said to ease arthritic pains, along with many other beneficial properties. I have horse trainers and dairy farmers who come to buy it in bulk as they really find it beneficial for the health of their animals.”
The good news about the health-promoting effects of Con’s produce does not stop with the cider vinegar however. According to a study published in the latest January 2009 edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, two glasses of apple juice each day can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Thomas B. Shea, PhD, of the Center for Cellular Neurobiology & Neurodegeneration Research, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, and his research team carried out a number of laboratory studies demonstrating that drinking apple juice helped mice perform better than normal in maze trials, and prevented the decline in performance that was otherwise observed as these mice aged.
In the most recent study, Shea and his team demonstrated that mice receiving the human equivalent of 2 glasses of apple juice per day for 1 month produced less of a small protein fragment, called “beta-amyloid” that is responsible for forming the “senile plaques” that are commonly found in brains of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Shea commented that “These findings suggest that regular consumption of apple juice can not only help to keep one’s mind functioning at its best, but may also be able to delay key aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and augment therapeutic approaches.”
Since this study was publicised on Sky News, Con says the response has been unbelievable, and that his juice sales have almost doubled. He says he is delighted as it will enable him to expand and provide more secure local employment, both in growing the apples and making the juice.
The shop at The Apple Farm is open all year round 7 days a week from 8am to 6pm. The farm is located on the main N24 (Limerick/Waterford road) between Cahir (6km) and Clonmel (9km). Juices, jams and cider vinegar are available to buy online at www.theapplefarm.com and in selected retail outlets.
Phone 052 744 1459
by Davie Philip.
Web 2.0 is the term that has come to signify the new upgraded internet, which is community based, interactive and user-driven. What I want to explore in this article is a ‘Good Life 2.0’ – an upgrade for the 21st century of the ideas of the 1970’s self-sufficiency movement.
Do you remember The Good Life, the TV show that ran from 1975 to 78? It was one of Britain’s favourite sit-coms, which popularised the notion of getting out of the rat race and being self-sufficient. In some ways, it probably did more to put people off even trying. Tom and Barbara, Richard Briers’ and Felicity Kendal’s characters converted their suburban garden into a farm, kept pigs and chickens, and grew their own food. On one memorable occasion they even converted their car to run on methane, which kept on breaking down. In a light-hearted way, they showed how hard it was, and is, to be different to those around you, and the kind of courage it takes to be so.
The first series was launched just after the first oil shock and amid one of the UK’s worst economic downturns. It was based on the writings of John Seymour, the father of self-sufficiency. His books give a comprehensive introduction to the ‘Good Life’, covering everything from growing your own crops, animal husbandry, wine making, bee keeping, building, renewable energy, and much more. Seymour gained considerable experience living a self-sufficient life, first in Suffolk, then Pembrokeshire, and then in Ireland, where he established the School of Self-Sufficiency in Co. Wexford. He also travelled around the world and wrote and made films exposing the unsustainability of the global industrial food system. Sadly, on the 14th of September 2004, John Seymour passed away at the ripe old age of 90.
Over the last five years of his life, I had an opportunity to spend time with John. We campaigned together to stop the planting of genetically engineered sugar beet, which culminated with seven of us in a New Ross court-house. But that’s another story.
Surprisingly, John once told me that he actually was wrong about self-sufficiency. He explained that it is too hard for one family to try to provide everything for themselves. Co-sufficiency, or community-sufficiency, is what he said we needed. Seymour predicted that we would need self-reliant, local communities, that can share the work and provide the social relationships essential for facing an uncertain future.
If Tom and Margo of The Good Life were striving to be self-sufficient in these times, they would probably join their local Transition Town group and build food and energy resilience with their neighbours. They might, if they were more ambitious, move to an Eco-Village. That’s ‘The Good Life 2.0’, and that’s what I plan to do.
This year, I am moving to ‘The Village’, the sustainable community extending the town of Cloughjordan in North Tipperary. The 132 houses will be ecologically built with community facilities set amid an edible landscape in which we will soon be harvesting fruit, nuts, berries, herbs and vegetables.
The village will provide an unprecedented focal point for ecological and sustainable education both nationally and internationally. As a living community it will use renewable energy, increase local food production and provide local jobs. Recently, we started Ireland’s first community-owned farm and received funding for a green-enterprise centre.
The Village will be a vital resource for those seeking to build sustainable communities and make the transition to local resilience. The Good Life 2.0.
The Village www.thevillage.ie
Davie Philip is the Education Manager at the Cultivate Centre for sustainable living and learning in Dublin. He was a founding member of Sustainable Projects Ireland LTD, the company behind the sustainable community project in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary. He coordinates the Transition Town Network in Ireland and has just completed ten short TV shows on the importance of community. Email: email@example.com