The members of the Yarrow Ecovillage see themselves as “ordinary people” building an “extraordinary” neighbourhood on the western fringe of Chilliwack.
Ecovillage members Nevin Gavigan, Vivian Vaillant and Linda Jones took the Progress news team on a recent tour of the site, located just off Yarrow Central Road.
Resident Vivian Vaillant said moving in was the “best thing” her family of five has ever done.
“I’ve never felt more at home,” she said. “There’s always someone around with what you need, whether it’s an onion or the time to watch your kids for a minute while you dash out to get something.”
Phase 3 of the co-housing construction is now underway, with two- to four-bedroom units on offer.
The community is about half full now, with 50 residents in the ecovillage so far, of which 17 are children.
It’s not a commune or a housing co-op, they hasten to add, nor are they affiliated with any particular religion.
The Yarrow Ecovillage is an intentional community, and its members do share a desire to live in a more sustainable way, and one that’s more connected and engaged.
The Vaillant family arrived in November, with plans to rent one of the units until theirs is built and their other house is sold. Vivian immediately took over the ecovillage blog at www.yarrowecovillage.ca to give the world an online window into their lives, and share some of the enthusiasm she feels for the project.
“We didn’t want to move into a normal, vinyl-sided neighbourhood,” she said. “I had that back in Edmonton. It took me five years to get to know any of my neighbours.”
They started attending workshops and got to know some of the ecovillage members before they even moved in.
“What we found were some of the nicest, coolest, most sound-minded people you’d want to anywhere.
“And they all want to know their neighbours,” she said.
The co-housing project has been underway in Yarrow since 2006, when Chilliwack city council approved an “ecovillage” rezoning designation for the 22-acre site, one of the first of its kind in Canada.
Several components make up the ecovillage from the Groundswell co-housing units, to certified organic farming operations, and future plans for mixed commercial/residential development on the two acres closest to the road.
Ecovillagers use consensus decision-making to get things done, and have built their homes in such a way that they bump into their neighbours frequently, to catch up and share what’s going on.
Nevin Gavigan and his wife, Shauna, moved to Yarrow specifically to join the organic farming movement in the Fraser Valley, and to help it thrive.
This summer they’ll be running a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Harvest box program again, supplying fresh organic produce to fellow ecovillagers, and the surrounding communities of Chilliwack and Abbotsford.
The couple had been researching intentional communities for several years before settling on the ecovillage, in part because it was still in its infancy, seeking new energies to help it grow.
“What I wanted to do was to come here and farm and supply produce to the village,” Gavigan said.
“It’s seen as a cherished resource, and it’s been great for us.”
He figures it would have been otherwise impossible for someone his age to purchase farmable land, and is thrilled with the opportunity.
“There’s been so much support and it’s unlike farming anywhere else. Just look at the beautiful backdrop we have,” he said, gesturing toward Vedder Mountain.
The co-housing research and planning has been intense.
“This project is based on some very successful co-housing models from around the world,” he said.
Many of the ecovillage residents are also foodies, who deeply appreciate having fresh, organic produce grown right outside their doors, said ecovillage member Linda Jones.
They often share and rotate the chores of cooking, and cleanup.
“Having the garden and farmers on-site gives us both sustenance and security,” Jones said.
She also appreciates the environmentally friendly aspects incorporated into the design of the ecovillage.
“We built our housing in a way that leaves the smallest footprint possible,” she said.
There are plans to build a new common house in 2012, where community meals can be shared and other activities.
“What we’re building here is so cutting-edge and yet old-fashioned at the same time,” said Vaillant.
She appreciates the farm “being right there” and the proximity to the little creek, the local library and Yarrow community school.
“It’s cutting-edge because we’re actually in control of the design of it, but it’s also old-fashioned in the sense of what we have let get away on us, which is the sense of people first. Here it is people first.
“It’s not utopia, and we’re still going to have to work on things when we have conflicts, but we’re armed for that.”
To learn more about cohousing, there is a talk by co-housing expert and architect Chuck Durrett, Jan. 20, 7 p.m. at Central Heights Church, 1661 McCallum Road in Abbotsford, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The original UFV location was changed due to weather issues.