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EcoReality Co-op Newsletter

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It's been a frustrating and gratifying month at EcoReality.

Fencing in the snow

The Fulford Valley lies in a heavy white blanket.
Question: What's harder than putting up 2,300 feet of deer fence?
Answer: Digging a trench through three feet of snow in order to do so.

It's been a challenge. First, the high winds and heavy rain, followed by heavy snow, that we reported in our previous newsletter. But the snow kept piling up! It was impossible to do much of anything outside, except bring hay to the goats and feed to the chickens, and even that was a challenge. Soon all the posts we had charred were beneath close to three feet of snow. It was impossible to find the holes we dug for the posts, and even if we had, hanging the fence at that point would have meant that it would be far off the ground when the snow melted.

So we tried to keep busy with other things, writing grant applications, researching non-profit tax status, figuring out how to stay warm when the power went off. (Our stove-like fireplace insert does a great job as long as its circulating fan is running, so we had to run it from a battery and inverter to stay warm.) This winter's experience will provide a lot of input to future design decisions, for sure!

Despite record low temperatures, our garlic crop remained above freezing under mulch and insulating snow.
But there is a bright side. Although we had record low temperatures (-15°C, or 5°F), the ground never froze underneath the thick, insulating snow. Our root crops were still intact and perfectly edible, so we had beets and carrots to spare — after the snow melted enough to find them! And our fall planting of garlic — our first market crop — seems to have survived just fine.

But the fencing just had to wait a bit. As soon as we could locate the post holes, we discovered that they were filled with water, which meant that back-filling resulted in a soup the colour and consistency of chocolate milkshake — not good for holding posts in the ground! We found rocks and bought gravel to add to the mix, but the situation still was not ideal.

When stretching the "page wire" fence, we had to strike a delicate balance between getting all the slumps and bumps out of the fence, and popping posts out. Positioned up and down a line of fence being stretched, one of us would often be yelling, "Just a little bit more," at the same time others were yelling, "STOP STOP STOP!" But we now have a large area behind deer fencing, which means we can now grow more than hay and a few vegetables.

I don't know who it was who first said, "Everything takes longer than planned," but I'm convinced that person was an optimist. Or as Woody Allen put it, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." But like the ant who keeps trying to crawl up the slippery slope of the porcelain bowl, we have no choice but to keep on planning, to keep on trying.

I think the next fencing project we'll do will be in the summer — what could possibly go wrong then?

New residents join the land

Jessie Hannah River Bartsch and Susie Anne Bartsch are the newest residents at EcoReality, who will be joined by father and partner Morris Lamrock in March.
The best news this month is the arrival of EcoReality's newest residents. Susie Anne Bartsch, Morris Lamrock and daughter Jessie Hannah River Bartsch drove up in the wee hours of 26 December — or at least, tried to drive up the freshly-ploughed-but-still-slick driveway in the motor home they rented to transport most of their possessions from Whitehorse, Yukon. A bit of back-and forth, mad flashlight-waving, shovelling, and chicken wire for traction finally got them up the drive of the white house, where they'll be joining James, Shannon, and Sienna.

Susie Anne comes to us with experience as a self-described "theatre artist, marriage commissioner, and Nia Technique instructor." Doesn't sound like a lot of useful ecovillage skills? Think again. She's much too modest to promote her well-developed inter-personal skills that have already proved to be needed and useful, she's a great and willing writer (see Getting involved, below), and she's currently serving a rotating term in the vitally important role as meeting recorder, responsible for creating and maintaining minutes of all meetings held through March. Susie Anne has recently earned the group's consent to be work party steward and child care steward. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and we may have to tape her hands to the chair for her own good when we call for volunteers to do this or that!

Morris has a degree in Geography/Environmental Studies from University of Victoria and certificates in counselling and massage. He's been working with conservation education of youth in the Yukon. But as with Susie Anne, what doesn't jump off the resumé is more important: he's worked in leading natural building projects and has thirteen years of commercial organic farming experience. He's also an accomplished musician and has a terminally cheery disposition that help the clouds part on the darkest mood. He and Susie Anne are toying with setting up a personal counselling practice on Salt Spring. Morris has recently earned the group's consent to be apprenticeship steward, in which he will take over the booking, care, and supervision of WWOOFers, work-exchangers, interns, and other temporary helpers we have around here.

Their toddler, Jessie, is a bundle of joy who has begun what I'm sure will be a life-long friendship with Sienna. Please join me in welcoming our newest residents!

2009 winter retreat a success!

Non-residents and new residents get to know each other better during our traditional and solemn "flocking" ceremony. (Who say's we're too serious!)
One of the biggest challenges EcoReality has faced through the years has been the necessary division between those who live and work on-site, and those who intend to live here someday, but who currently visit for short periods every month or so. As Shannon notes in her article below, bridging this gap was a major goal of the retreat. We felt that it was too difficult for the residents and non-residents to know each other during each month's whirlwind of activities stuffed into a few short days.

Our retreat began and ended with heart circles, a way for us to connect on an emotional level. Very early in our organizational development, we saw the need to separate meetings into several types, so that people who relate to each other in different ways would feel their needs were met. In my experience, the single biggest cause of unsatisfactory meetings is not addressing this need. "Oh, no. Amy's going to make a long speech," or "Why does Fred always get everyone so upset?" — these are not problems with these people; these people are giving us a gift by telling us that the meeting is not meeting their needs. If "Amy" is allowed to explore things in a brainstorming forum, or if Fred is allowed to raise emotional issues at heart-based meetings, the business meetings will run smoother. Other communities have independently developed similar meeting types.

James and "Magic Mouli," an unexpected, uninvited guest, perform in the talent show.
The retreat proceeded with an orientation and our regular monthly meeting, where a number of business items were covered quickly and efficiently. People (myself included) sometimes complain that consensus is too slow and inefficient. But that seems to be true only when it is forced into the modern "event oriented" mind set. Consensus is a process, not an event. Gaining consent is a long process, but when done properly, it all happens before the actual meeting, via the "swirling conversations" that take place around raising fences, caring for animals, working the land, and just being together. Ideally, people fully understand things before the meeting requesting consent, and the rest is easy.

We then had a spirited discussion and exercise about our shared group values. I feel that careful values work is the single most important thing to do when forming an intentional community. What if one person wants to "hole up" with guns (to be ready for the zombie hoards), and another wants to embrace violent people with love; one person wants to eat meat three times a day, and another won't tolerate the killing of any living thing? There will always be conflicting values, so we arranged ours in a priority order. Having a sound, well-discussed, organized set of shared group values has been tremendously helpful in our agreement making process, and with minor changes, we agreed in the retreat to ratify and abide by our original values.

The talent show ended with a consensus improv performance of "giggle belly." What would the world be like if all international meetings ended like this?
Susie Anne then organized a series of "Show & Tell" sessions, in which each person had 15 minutes (more or less) to tell the rest of us something about themselves. Some chose to tell their life-story, condensed into a quarter-hour, while others focused on a particular aspect of their life that was perhaps little-known to others. It was a great hit, and we plan to repeat this fun exercise periodically.

Perhaps the highlight of the week was the First Annual Talent Show. James and Susie Anne worked tirelessly to organize this, and members of the greater community joined in, with guest solo appearances by Elizabeth Buchannan and Larry Woods, and a dozen or so non-residents joining in on the final, impromptu "giggle belly" performance art piece. Acts ranged from beginner to accomplished, serious through slapstick, solo through ensemble, tightly rehearsed and scripted to totally improvisational.

My favourite act of the evening was Jessie singing the "ABC" song with the help of Susie Anne. It started out with some discomfort, as Jessie kept protesting, "I have to go to the bathroom," while Susie Anne kept insisting, "No dear, can't it wait? We're on stage right now." The crowd was beginning to wonder just what sort of an ogre mom Susie Anne must be, when the act commenced. "ABCDEFG," Jessie sang sweetly, "HIJKLMNO..." then stopped. "Jessie, what happened to the 'P?" Susie Anne asked. "It's running down my leg!" answered Jessie, with obvious delight at having pulled it off in front of a crowd. There is certainly acting blood in this family!

Later that week, we enjoyed our traditional Saturday potluck followed by a presentation, rather than a movie. Alec Ellsworth and Shannon Mcintyre are crossing the US by bicycle, giving presentations along the way about climate disruption and US climate change policy. We — along with a number of Salt Spring progressive cognoscenti who came to show their support — got to see their premier presentation, and to give feedback and suggestions afterwards. You can learn more about Alec's and Shannon's mission via their website, The Urgency of Now.

Everyone thought the retreat was successful on many levels, and we'll be doing it again in March — perhaps you'll want to take part then?

Welcome, Yun Kang!

Yun Kang demonstrates Rudy's special "screwdriver technique" for attaching fencing clips to T-posts.
Our last intern, who had committed to staying with us through mid-March, left us in the lurch when, as agreed, he departed (with some borrowed rain gear) to be with family over the holidays — then never came back. He did not let us know that he would not be returning until three days after he was supposed to come back. I guess if you're only giving someone a warm room, organic meals, and all your knowledge, you shouldn't be disappointed when they leave without notice, but this did put us in a difficult position, as we had been counting on him to help with fencing.

(The vast majority of our apprentice workers are courteous and thoughtful about keeping their commitments and giving us adequate notice of changing plans.)

One door closes, and another opens. If our previous intern had kept his word, we would not have considered the letter we got from Ku Yun Kang, a Taiwanese citizen who was born in Ottawa. Yun Kang comes with an impressive resumé of working on farms and social activism. He finds "it important to rebuild the sense of community and conserve the knowledge of our traditional culture through supporting and acting locally in order to be prepared for the end of cheap oil and unknown future." He comes to us to "accumulate experiences in the organic agriculture, permaculture, ecovillage and community building fields." He recently spent two months as an intern at Lost Valley, an ecovillage near Eugene, Oregon.

He's a tireless worker, who often needs to be reminded of "quitting time," and who has developed a special relationship with Maya and Shakti. He's been extremely helpful in fencing work, and is looking forward to helping get our biodiesel production system working again.

Yun Kang is certainly among the most pleasant workers we've had here, always cheerful, always willing to pitch in, always observant and looking around for things that need doing. We'll miss him when he heads back to Taiwan next month!

Thank you for all your hard work and easy enthusiasm, Yun Kang!

Jan Steinman

Getting involved

A note from a new resident and work party steward

Hi Everyone! Jessie and I have been living at EcoReality for almost a month now while Morris is wrapping up work and details of our life up in the Yukon. We are sharing the White House (the beautiful heritage farm house, not the presidential estate) with Shannon, James and Sienna.

The reality of being here is still setting in for me. At the same time I can say that Jessie and I are pretty incorporated into daily life in the community. Being here is a lot like I envisioned it would be with lots of communication, contact, meetings, details, laughter, play, tears, walks, dishes, typing, brainstorms, heart circles, knock-knock jokes. The two feet of snow is about the biggest surprise I can think of. But that’s gone now and it’s on to the mud and fencing!

Jessie and Sienna are discovering "sisterhood" in a way they could not without community living.
Jessie (3.5) and Sienna (2.5) are doing amazingly well together considering that they spend most of every day in each other’s company and are incorporating new parenting styles and the necessity of sharing with another kid in ways neither have had to before. Three parents (soon to be four) and caring kid-supporters in the Yellow House do make it all flow really well.

As for me, I have learned things in the last few weeks that I could only learn by coming and getting involved at EcoReality. I am beginning to learn what it takes to make this place operate in a daily way, about the finances, the time commitments, the amount of groundwork already done, what still needs lots of attention. I have learned that there is a lot to do and it is imperative to balance the doing with time just to be. But that is another article entirely. This one is about getting involved.

I am a believer in the premise that “many hands make light work”, especially when combined with good organization and direction. There is much we can do together that we could not do alone.

In getting involved I have put my name forward to be the work party steward. I can now confirm from my month of experience that there is, indeed, work to be done here and that some of the work would benefit from extra hands and minds now and again and, specifically, on Friday, January 30th, which is our next scheduled work party.

James and Yun Kang secure a heavy roll of "page wire" fencing while Rudy and Jan prepare to staple it to charred cedar posts.
There has been a great deal of fencing activity around here and there is still more to do. Garden prep is starting, compost, kids’ playground assembly and a host of other things. If you have the time and willingness to join us for several hours and help move projects forward we will be very pleased to have you here and feed you lunch. To get involved or to ask questions you can email me or call me at 250-653-4663. Please read the work party page for details.

I look forward to meeting more people interested in living sustainably and cooperatively. I hope you will come and get your gumboots muddy with me and the folks here at EcoReality on the last Friday of the month.

Susie Anne Bartsch

Planning the kitchen

More than just an eatery!

EcoReality is excitedly beginning the planning for the community outdoor kitchen. In anticipation of this facility, we contacted other communities to talk about how it is their own outdoor kitchens have had a positive effect on their community activities.

The outdoor kitchen at O.U.R. Ecovillage is an open, inviting gathering space.
We’ve come to the conclusion that communities benefit greatly from outdoor kitchens and not just because it provides a place to cook! One person with whom we talked was Kyle Ryan, resident since 2006 at the Aprovecho education center, in Cottage Grove, Oregon. His enthusiasm radiated through the phone, saying “It's the heart of the community in the summer time. It's the center of where the gathering is. It's where it all comes together and everybody meets up. It's outdoors, so the whole landscape gets filled with whatever soup, or whatever is cooking. I've never had a better experience than being in an outdoor kitchen.” This was a great affirmation, since it’s the exact sentiment that comes to mind when we envision the soon-to-be outdoor kitchen at EcoReality.

As a community that performs extensive outreach, hosting education events, workshops, and the like, it’ll be especially beneficial to have an outdoor kitchen available. The facility provides the capacity to both satisfy the basic needs of a group and inspire a graceful connection to a “green” space – perhaps the community garden or simply the natural surroundings that reconnect us to the Earth.

Some amenities for the kitchen we envision, and that other communities recognized as important in their own construction, include: running water, electricity, brick-fired oven, cob oven, available traditional oven/stovetop (at least as a backup device), and a nearby draft box and root cellar.

With kitchen construction nearing in the next few months, we are looking forward to pitching in our ideas and our handiwork to make this facility a fantastic addition to life at EcoReality.

Mark Stiffler & Penny Pobiecke

EcoReality group process

A celebration of where we’ve come…..and an intention for where we are headed!

Missing Jetta.jpg
Snowy landscapes beg stillness within their dazzling white, spacious and multifaceted cloaks. These downy vistas at EcoReality in December and January of this year set the stage for EcoReality’s first ever “retreat”. It was a time for collecting, coming together, turning inwards as individuals and as a group to strengthen bonds.

So, how exactly did EcoReality’s Winter Retreat offer up a space for growth in our individual and group process?


Our program steward developed a seven day agenda which emphasized slowing to a common cycle of eating, sleeping and being together for 8-12 hours each day. By agreement with the program steward, we scheduled mornings for heart circles, meetings and group workshops, afternoons for free time or work together, evenings for show and tell, talent shows, games, music, sharing/heart circles and even public potlucks.

There were few departures to the “outside world” during our seven-day retreat. EcoReality turned over a new leaf in leadership: we created support and opportunity for members other than the founding four — to be facilitators, recorders, timekeepers, hearthkeepers and to generate activities all on their own. Finally, our retreat concluded with a final heart circle and the “moving in” of a new resident family (the Bartsch-Lamrock clan), which continues to lend significant energy and fresh perspective to the group process at this particular time.


Process work.jpg
Many sessions and activities were about understanding each individual’s values and coming to a common present-day synthesis of our “group values”. Together we playfully revised EcoReality’s values agreement, and also the vision and mission statements for EcoReality. We also calmly clarified for one another the agreed financial structure in the co-op, the yearly budget, and other current topics such as the hosting process for a Permaculture design course and the building of infrastructure.

Groundbreaking group process

The Retreat was the culmination of nearly twelve months of shifting changes in relationships to self and others within our co-operative group. From inception in 2005, EcoReality has had a history of “coming together” in a flurry of 2-5 days monthly, sometimes incorporating multiple other “work” demands of individuals during that time period. Crossing this “gap” between resident and non-resident members is only bound to become more important as we wade into the waters of building our future together.

However short, all member gatherings yield fruits of physical labours and not-so-obvious, subtle “fruits” of developing personal relationships. Explicit group conflicts and interpersonal conflicts arise from the very fact that we are apart far more than we are together. Since our move to EcoReality “Huge,” we have experienced healing of past wounds from such conflicts, and we have seen individuals taking greater responsibility for their thoughts and choices (including their own feelings), and we have witnessed compassionate communication in practice (and in theory!).

The “process” of this retreat gave us space to interact in a multitude of ways. I learned to be willing to “see” each member (including myself) as unique and as capable of bringing gifts to the group that may be unexpected or subtle. I learned that each of us needs to “be seen” for who we are, in many different moments and moods. I also learned to trust that the group was not so fragile that its delicate web would be fractured by individual moods – rather the opposite! I learned that prolonged retreats, where much of “regular” life was stilled, are exceptional for facilitating this “team-building” process of listening and “being seen” together. I learned that slowing down serves our group well; that the next best action for a group requires listening first.

At EcoReality, this listening appears to be awakened through the process of a ritual: the heart circle format. It permeates other activities from there. Thus, we learn to communicate more smoothly as a single organism with unique parts that each have their own needs and value to the whole. We also learned along the way that the group is acutely sensitive to “missing” members in activities when the communication is not clear why that part of the whole is absent. We experienced how the format of heart circle may not always be optimal for “processing” interpersonal conflict in the group; sometimes a buddy or “process team” approach may be effective and lessen group expenditure of energy. This is supported by authors of Collective Book who wrote “Public conflict resolution, … puts the parties in the embarrassing position of having to explain private choices (of which they may not be particularly proud) in front of everybody. This tactic is likely only to lead to defensiveness, refusal to yield one's ground for fear of losing face, and further hurt feelings.”

Where are we headed?

At EcoReality’s snowy, cozy, insulated piece of paradise, the energy built over our retreat continues to resonate in our daily interactions, shared meals and work-play time. A new winter ritual, some deeper understandings of each other as individuals with different styles, thoughts, needs and pasts are all elements of building a team that will sustain the group through valuing relationships. We may just have successfully birthed a spacious capacity for being patient listeners and doers, being willing and real with one another into our indefinite, yet possible, future!

I end with another gem quote from Collective Book that highlights the learning that members of EcoReality are pursuing together: “No one can presume to know how someone’s life has shaped him or her. Group dynamics fail to respect differences whenever assumptions are made about another person….Tolerance begins with the acknowledgement that people other than ourselves may see things differently than we do, and by suspending judgment [until all parties are] given an active listening forum to explain their perspective.”

Shannon Cowan

Winter Enchiladas

The vegetarian recipes you find here feature local seasonal ingredients. Organic ingredients are encouraged, they taste better! Wherever possible, local to Salt Spring sources will be listed, just to demonstrate the abundance on this little island. You will also find that many ingredients can be easily substituted with what you may already have in your pantry. These recipes are guidelines meant to encourage kitchen creativity. (Suggested substitutions in parentheses.)

This is a very basic enchilada recipe that you can change in a hundred different ways. Use whatever winter greens are available in your garden or at the farmers' market. Kale, cabbage, you name it, you can use it. For tougher greens you may want to steam or sauté them before adding them to the tortillas. The beans can be from a can if you don't have time to cook dried beans. You can also sub steamed winter squash for the beans. Use dairy cheese or vegan cheese, use a green salsa or red taco sauce instead of enchilada sauce. Add sauteed mushrooms or a can of green chiles for a little kick. Have fun, whatever you do, it will be delicious!


2 cans enchilada sauce or make your own, here's a great recipe

1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed and thinly sliced - EcoReality Co-op

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or cheddar, mozzarella, soy, etc) - Avalon Dairy, Vancouver Island

1 (10 ounce) package corn tortillas

2 cups refried pinto beans (or black beans, winter squash, etc)

1 onion, diced and sauteed - EcoReality Co-op

2 cloves garlic, diced and sauteed - EcoReality Co-op

1 tbsp vegetable oil (or olive, canola, etc)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

The corn tortillas need to be lightly sauteed in oil before they are filled so that they don't tear or crack. Place a heavy pan over medium heat and add oil. Cook each tortilla for 30 seconds on each side and remove from heat. Stack them up to be filled.

Stir the onion and garlic into the beans and place on your work space, along with your shredded cheese, chopped spinach and tortillas, all in a line and ready to assemble.

Pour one half of the enchilada sauce into a 9x13 inch baking dish. On each tortilla, spread about 1 tablespoon of the bean mixture in the center. Lay a small handful of spinach over that, and sprinkle with Monterey Jack cheese. Roll up and place into the baking dish with the seam down. When all of the tortillas are in the pan, pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until the enchiladas are browned and heated through and cheese is melted and bubbly.

Top with green onions, cilantro, sour cream, or whatever your heart desires.

Osha Roller

Recent happenings

Here are some highlights of recent meetings and events. Click any entry for details.
Frigid temperatures and heavy snow encouraged us to stay indoors during our first annual winter retreat.
Winter Retreat 
much discussion, strategizing, and fun was had by all!
Residents' Meeting 
timeline for new members, car sharing, WWOOF inquiries, garden planning, more.
Members' Teleconference 
budget discussion, changing monthly meeting date/time, new stewardships, more.
Residents' Meeting 
fence status, ING meeting hosting, classroom insurance, site recycling plan, farm profit center budget ideas, more.
Residents' Meeting 
farm management planning categories, 2009 garden plan, co-op animals, approve Chris & Kate as long-term guests, more.

Upcoming events

Here are some highlights. For details, please go to the meetings page on our website. All activities are at EcoReality, 2152 Fulford-Ganges Road, Salt Spring Island (directions), unless otherwise noted.

Regular events

every Tuesday 
9AM: Residents' meeting, business and work around the farm. Please ask to attend; no drop-ins, please!
every Saturday
4PM farm tour: please bring footwear appropriate for soggy fields!
every Saturday
6PM potluck: Please let us know you're coming, so we have enough seating.
every Saturday
7:30PM movie or program: Call or check meetings to see what's playing. If nothing is planned, bring your favourite movie! (No gratuitous violence, please.)
two Fridays before the last Saturday of each month 
7 PM, Members' teleconference. Please ask to participate; no drop-ins, please!
Friday before the last Saturday of each month 
9:30 AM through 4:30 PM: Work party! Lunch provided if you work all day. Please plan to arrive at either 9:30 or 1PM, as we can't stop in the middle of something to orient late-comers. Drop-ins at 9:30 or 1:00 are welcome! Please let us know in advance if you'll be having lunch, so we have enough food.
last Saturday of each month 
members' meeting and other monthly group activities.
Friday after the last Saturday of each month 
7 PM, Members' teleconference. Please ask to participate; no drop-ins, please!

Specific events

Sunday, 25 January 
Weekly residents' meeting: firewood usage, more.
Friday, 30 January 
Monthly work party: clean-up fencing, build compost bins, more.
Saturday, 31 January 
Monthly members' meeting: theme: outdoor kitchens, request EcoReality fund apprentices, garden planning, more.
Saturday, 28 January 
Monthly members' meeting: theme: campground design.

Thank you for supporting EcoReality with your interest, ideas, and good thoughts!

Want to write for this newsletter? Or want to see something written about? Contact the Communication Steward with your story ideas!

EcoReality Coop (directions)
2152 Fulford-Ganges Road
Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1Z7, Canada
+1 250.653.2024
Info AT EcoReality DOT org

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