Sunflower in bloom in Maine

Belfast EcovillageThe range that most children are allowed to roam has steadily shrunk in the last few generations. While our grandparents or great grandparents may have been allowed to walk miles to schools or to go fishing by age 8, few children are allowed that freedom today.

Many parents now worry about injury, bullying, or even abduction. As a result, spontaneous interactions, relationships with neighbors, and unstructured outdoor play are all hindered.

My family recently joined Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a multigenerational 36-unit community on 42-acres, partially because we wanted our two young children to have the opportunity to roam and explore outdoors, often with other neighbors. Cohousing is collaborative housing where residents actively and intentionally participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhood.

In our ecovillage neighborhood, a pedestrian path not a road connects the homes, and automobile access is limited to the periphery.  Homes are clustered to preserve open space for agriculture, wildlife, and recreation. Our neighborhood was designed to increase social contact among neighbors and encourage sharing.

Little River Community Farm, a 3-acre worker share farm operates at Belfast Ecovillage. During the growing season, neighbors gather weekly to harvest vegetables and trade recipes.

“To me, a really important part of being a member of Belfast Ecovillage is the farm where we raise food and work together,” says Jeffrey Mabee, a member Belfast Ecovillage and an avid gardener. “The CSA has really answered my prayers about that. Having young farmers using the land in such a responsible way feels right. The farm feels like the heart of any intentional community. It has a much greater significance than merely producing food.”

A ‘common house’, roughly 5,000 square feet, is currently under construction which will host optional weekly meals and have a large kitchen, dining room, living room, guest bedroom, and children’s playroom. This enables homes to be smaller because everyone has access to additional shared spaces.

Belfast Ecovillage homes are built to the Passive House standard meaning homes use 90% less energy for heating than a typical home. A solar orientation, added insulation, triple-pane windows and doors, nearly airtight construction, and a heat recovery ventilation system make these some of the most efficient homes in the Maine.

Currently 22 of the 34 homes have solar systems (as two homes are still under construction and remain unsold). Of these systems, 11 were installed last summer through a community solar purchase, lowering the cost of the systems through this collective initiative. Despite the homes being all electric (hot water, heat, and cooking fuel), a relatively modest solar system can power the entire home. For example, a 1,500 square foot ecovillage home can be net zero with a 4.5 kilowatt solar system, thus the system produces as much power as the home uses over the course of a year.

“Residents of Belfast Ecovillage already share and barter many things, and we even collectively operate a 3-acre worker-share farm through our collective efforts,” says Kiril Lozanov, a member of Belfast Ecovillage.

“A community solar purchase was natural fit for us, because we often use community-minded thinking to save money, make life easier, or lessen our environmental impact.”

Although many people comment that Belfast Ecovillage is a wonderful place to raise children, living in a multigenerational community has its benefits for people of all ages. “One of the reasons we chose cohousing and this community in particular is the age spread,” says Sarah GregorySmith, a member of the ecovillage in her mid sixties. “We don’t have children ourselves, but we love being around them. The energy of youth is like sunshine.”

Have you ever considered living in an ecovillage or cohousing community?  We’d love to hear from you.  Please share your thoughts and/or experiences in the comment section below.

Belfast ecovillage solar

Images courtesy of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage; Feature image courtesy of Steve 

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.