Another Life is Possible – Life in The Shire

Sometimes three days are enough to change a life, sometimes you long for things and places you have seen and experienced only once.

O.U.R. Ecovillage is a piece of The Shire where hobbits live and share in peace and harmony with other species and Nature. It is also, as described in their website: “a sustainable learning community and demonstration site located in the beautiful Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We base our work on Permaculture principles and offer learning opportunities for Natural Building, Sustainable Food Production and Leadership


We stayed in the Healing Sanctuary, the place’s first cob house and also a beautiful building: One of the first things I noticed was the smell of Earth: it was a sensual and involving smell that brought peace and a sense of being finally home. All the rooms had skylights on their ceilings, allowing natural light to pass through…the second night, with clear skies I was given the gift of sleeping under the stars: 3:30 am and I was awaken with the sight of Orion right above my eyes…


The first day, we were welcomed by a wonderful woman (I’ll keep her name private, thank you S.) who showed us the farm, all the buildings and activities. We learned about the main “principle” of living this way (including visitors): taking responsibility. You are encouraged from the beginning to join the activities and learn by doing, to wash your dishes, close gates after passing through and clean the place you are staying, among other things. I wonder how different the world would be if everyone just took responsibility for what they use and do…

I felt, again, at home…

We also learned how animals here are not scared  and have names and 20130804_100855[1]personalities (my son noticed how all the sheep have different “faces”; he fell in love with Eva, a sweet  and friendly goat who would come to us as dogs and cats do, asking to be pet). We learned about composting toilets and vegetable guilds, the use of passive solar and wind and natural building: we saw a group of people (interns, residents and visitors) helping build a new cob house for a couple of interns who fell in love with the place (and with each other) and will now be living in the Ecovillage…

Sebas y yo en la cob house

The first evening, we joined dinner: everybody came to a circle and held hands; each said their name and something they are grateful for. Nobody was pressed to do this, but it seemed so natural and welcoming, so positive, that even a shy one like me jumped in.

I probably don’t have to say it, but the food is great, healthy and mostly vegetarian…

I just felt grateful for the opportunity to be there, alive that day…

The routine was simple and encouraging: breakfast was self-served from their open kitchen and a gong would announce lunch and dinner. Washing the dishes was fun and reminded me of my years in places where water was scarce: three sinks: one to rinse, one to soap them in and another to rinse them again. Zero waste is also encouraged: all scraps are re-used for animal feed or composting.


One morning, we notice an announcement that made my son laugh: on the main, public board it said “illegal substance” and an arrow showed a commercial toothpaste tube. An explanation about what the toxins contained in these products followed. Our family took care of bringing only organic and biodegradable personal hygiene products, something that has also been part of our “transition” to a new lifestyle: more sustainable, simpler and healthier.

Most visitors stay in tents, yurts, tipis or at the dorm and use compost toilets. Most stay for longer periods of time and engage in farming or natural building activities. Some are students of university programs ranging from sustainability and environmental studies to anthropology, some plan to become farmers and some, to start or join intentional communities, co-ops or co-housing. I also met families coming from Europe and Asia and university professors. They all come for a reason: they suspect, as I do, that living in The Shire is a much more sustainable, natural and resilient way of living. Something we used to know but have forgotten, dizzy and dumbed down as we are by the artificial (and superficial) sparkles of consumerism, techno-toys and “entertainment”.

In our last morning there we were greatly surprised by a doe and her son; they were inside the labyrinth just in front of our cob house.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this visit so much is because I have been reading and preparing myself for this: I could feel, recognize and take notice of every bit of Permaculture (something I had been reading and exploring for some time now) reflected in this way of life and design. For the untrained eye, the Ecovillage may seem messy: plants and buildings are not situated in grids but randomly scattered throughout the landscape. Plants in the vegetable garden are all mixed together; you wouldn’t find lettuce in one plot and tomato in the next:


There is a reason for this: principles of Permaculture such as increasing diversity encourage guilds where plants “help” each other and attract beneficial insects. You could also notice the “mulchy” plants such as Nasturtium, squashes and zucchinis, saving water for their companions as well as creating shadow for their roots. Flowers were everywhere and most of them (or all?) were edibles and perennials.

I have to confess that coming back was somewhat traumatic, I wanted to stay longer and have a more hands-on experience. But then I saw my own garden, a garden started a bit as a guerrilla, I felt a bit better (I still don’t understand why we are not allowed to garden our own yards and, when “allowed” we need to sign a commitment to put all back as it was before if we ever sell the house…)


In two weeks, I’ll be back there again, this time, learning Permaculture Design from UBC-Farm instructors. Visit this link if you would like to join us or learn more about the content of this course:

Some people (including myself) have asked: Where is this taking me? The truth is that I still don’t know: I may use it to start or support local initiatives, community and school gardens or it may spread further to all aspects of my life: I may also use it as part of my involvement with food security, green-sustainable jobs/careers and social services…after all, Permaculture is not only about gardening, but about how to live life while leaving enough for future generations and other species.

While visiting, one song from one of my favourite bands stayed with me:

“Find The River” (R.E.M.)

Hey now, little speedyhead
The read on the speedmeter says
You have to go to task in the city

Where people drown and people serve
Don’t be shy, your just deserve
Is only just light years to go

Me, my thoughts are flower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon
I have got to leave to find my way

Watch the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

The ocean is the river’s goal
A need to leave the water knows
We’re closer now than light years to go

I have got to find the river
Bergamot and vetiver
Run through my head and fall away

Leave the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

There’s no one left to take the lead
But I tell you and you can see
We’re closer now than light years to go

Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
Fall into the ocean

The river to the ocean goes
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way

There is nothing left to throw
Of Ginger, lemon, indigo
Coriander stem and rose of hay

Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naiveté

Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way

Do you want to know more about Permaculture?

Permaculture is a design system that reconciles human communities with the ecological imperatives of a living planet. Permaculture design may be used to restore ecosystems, create sustainable farms & healthy towns, & promote economic systems that support Earth care.

Permaculture provides an ethical & holistic foundation for sustainable culture. The principles are derived from three basic ethics: Care for the Earth; Care for people; Limit needs & reinvest in the future.” (for more Permaculture definitions, click here)

I also talk about permaculture in other blog-posts such as here and here and here

If you want to visit, learn more or support O.U.R. Ecovillage, check their website and become part of this Blessed Unrest that is happening around the world:

Becoming a supporter:

Visiting or learning:

Staying at the Ecovillage:

One Comment on “Another Life is Possible – Life in The Shire

  1. Pingback: Another Life is Possible – Life in The Shire | Village Surrey In Transition

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