A 20-minute drive along an undulating dirt road brought us to the green gate of The Emerald Earth Sanctuary outside of Boonville, CA. It was 10 p.m., a bit later then we had intended to arrive due to getting lost and managing a few u-turns on the high mountain roads. Still, we were greeted by a 4-person (and 3-pig) welcome party, hugs and introductions all around. Garnet, the youngest member of our welcoming committee, placed a piglet in Sera’s arms: “This is Piglet,” he stated. He quietly explained how him and his dad had caught two wild pigs to be raised and eaten by the 9 community members. Through wild-foraging and land cultivation, it is clear they provide for their intimate community first, the children being a central role. The children are constantly stimulated here, whether helping in the garden or learning about the land, and are truly some of the most aware and articulate children we have met. And thus we were welcomed into our home for the next two nights, wild-pigs-and-all.
Emerald Earth instantly felt like home. We were to sleep in the “Old Common House,” the only conventionally built structure on the property. You see, Emerald Earth isn’t only an intentional community; it also boasts some of the most beautiful naturally built architecture we have seen thus far. These structures house the community members, as well as providing a hut for their solar electrical facility, a wood-powered sauna, and the “New Common House”, a massive collective kitchen, meeting, dancing, and eating space. Primarily made out of sand, hay bales and mud sourced as locally as possible, round Madrone trunks and colorful bottles adorn the structures. Aesthetics are surely not sacrificed here, rather considered a necessary contribution to the collective mood.
The next morning in the common house we were joined by people specifically interested in natural building, we explored the community’s infrastructure first. Abeja brought us in to each home and described, “When you’re building for a community, you really want the focus to be on adaptable buildings. Incorporating built-in furniture becomes difficult in this case, because each space needs to be able to be used in many ways over the years. For example,” she gestures to the roof of a small one-bedroom home, “this house was built to be able to have a second floor added to it.” Predicting fluctuation, she explains, is key when building for the future of a shifting community.
One of the most interesting dynamics of communal living is that of decision making, and each community has its own approach. Due to the small size of Emerald Earth, unanimous consensus becomes a more realistic option. After asking about the effectiveness of consensus within collective decision-making, Abeja made some pointed statements. “Consensus is a commitment to a relationship,” she remarked, and went on to explain how their extensive membership process is largely due to the fact that “you know that one day you’re going to be sitting in a room with that person, looking them in the eye, and trying to make a decision. You need to be able to trust your community members with those choices.”
So what about forming your own community, as each one of the ladies on this trip hopes to do in some form or another? “Join another one!” Abeja encourages: “There’s so many out there [like ours] that have space for more members. And there’s a lot of benefit to joining a community that has a lot of the basic kinks worked out. Forming a successful community is some work, some mistakes, and mostly magic.” Networking and outreach is difficult for a group so off-grid. Abeja explains the visitor screening process, and how “you can really tell a person’s intentions by those first few communications.” As far as membership goes, she articulates how “this isn’t a renting situation” and that they “are really trying to attract people who want to be directly involved in the improvement of the land.” Money is tight and keeping things going can be difficult at times. “It’s hard to move here without savings,” Abeja acknowledges, “and it’s not something we’re proud of but it’s something we have to work with at the moment.” The community is host to temporary visitors and work-traders, usually involved in food processing, farm work, or natural building projects. They ask for a 2-month commitment, something that would assuredly fly by in this peaceful oasis. One of the current work traders, Maya, laughs: “I’m consistently amused here!”
Our experience at Emerald Earth was blissful, recharging, and reassuring. Although every community has their difficulties, the folks at Emerald Earth are working towards the collective goal of connecting people with people and people with food. They provide for, and support, one another and are all there with intention. It was so lovely to witness such an oasis representing exactly what we are standing for. A small but vivid group of individuals have come together, and are — quite literally — building the future. There is comfort in just knowing this place exists.
We can all help with building our communities. Tag! You’re it!