Couple sets up ecovillage in an Ozark forest to foster sustainability

Thursday, September 3, 2009 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:21 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 14, 2009
Tao Weilundemo constructs a window frame at the Plan B Ecovillage. Weilundemo, who founded the ecovillage with Elizabeth Stanfill, is building it on land that his family owns near Fulton.

FULTON — Four months ago, Elizabeth Stanfill and Tao Weilundemo began to establish a settlement in an Ozark forest. They called it Plan B Ecovillage.

Living in a temporary series of tents and tarps that Weilundemo named “Tarpopolis,” the couple planted a garden, built a solar shower and a composting toilet and set up an open-air kitchen. They have chickens and guinea hens. 

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Tao Weilundemo

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That's just the first stage of what it will eventually become: a functioning, low-impact community with housing, electricity and running water.  This summer, they laid load-bearing walls of straw bales for a 650-square-foot home that can also be used by visitors camping on the property.

Plan B Ecovillage is their homage to a completely sustainable way of life, an alternative to the “Plan A” lifestyle found in mainstream consumer culture.

Located on 310 acres just outside of Fulton, Plan B Ecovillage is well on its way to becoming a reality. Stanfill and Weilundemo see it as an intentional community to help educate and change society through environmentally conscious living.

“Many people are either uneducated or are in denial about what’s happening to our environment and to the people we exploit around the world to maintain our way of life,” Stanfill said.

“Since it’s going on out of sight, people seem very capable of pushing it out of mind," she said. "We’re hoping we can form a new way of existing on this planet that people can feel good about.”

Weilundemo and Stanfill were influenced by the book "Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble" by Lester Brown, a global initiative he proposed in 2003 to foster sustainability. They adopted his vision as an "accurate vision of the problems the world faces."

Ecovillages became popular mainly in the 1960s and '70s as a type of utopian back-to-the-land movement.  People of diverse ages and nationalities set out to form intentional communities where they could practice purer lives in rural settings.  

The term “ecovillage,” however, was introduced  in 1991 by Robert Gilman, editor of the journal "In Context: A Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture."

He defined the term as a settlement where activities are integrated into the natural world in a way that supports healthy human development.

Today, the Fellowship for Intentional Communities, a type of governing body for ecovillages and other intentional communities, lists 1674 intentional communities in the U.S. , up from 350 in North America in 1992. Forty-six are found in Missouri.

The basis for these groups varies; they include vegans, anti-capitalists and religious groups, all sharing environmentally conscious views.

Plan B Ecovillage got its start in much the same way as earlier ecovillage movements. Originally, the land was known in the 1970s as the Calwood-Fairview Farm, an intentional community that resided there until the 1980s when the group disbanded. 

Wielundemo's father was a member of the group; in fact, Tao was born on the land.  After the group disbanded when he was four and his family moved away, he said he always dreamed of returning.

“I was both pushed and pulled to come back here," he said. "I felt pushed by the artificial, unhealthy and short-sighted selfishness I saw in mainstream culture, and pulled by my love of the natural world and desire to create a better life for myself with my own two hands.”

His plan to return became a reality after he met Stanfill on the Web site in spring of 2008.  Stanfill, originally from Asheville, N.C., had been raised in a similar way and also dreamed of reliving and recreating a homesteading lifestyle.

After sharing their common views and dreams, the couple met later that spring and started to plot the move.  From August through October 2008, they cleared land and organized their needs for food (organic gardens and root cellars), shelter (cob and straw bale buildings), power (solar and wind), and transportation (bikes, biodiesel and ride-sharing).  

They made the move official in April of this year, and by June they were engaged.

The couple is hoping their work will result in a sustainable community of friends and visitors who will understand that theirs is not primitive living or a regression in standard of life. 

They want their ecovillage to not only fulfill their ideals and views, but serve as an educational tool for others as well by producing how-to-videos and scheduling sustainability workshops.

“We don’t have to give up common luxuries, like running water or electricity, to remain sustainable," Stanfill said. "The consumerism lifestyle that our culture is living is doomed to failure, at a high cost to people and the environment we must have in order to survive.” 

They intend to shape the settlement into a true community with an edible forest garden, community center visitor lodge, disc golf course, hiking trails, solar panels, and natural wetlands, along with the housing for all members.

Eventually, they hope to have 30 to 40 members with different skill sets who share their values and whose company they truly enjoy.  

“Today people are spending 40-plus hours a week, usually at jobs that are unsatisfying," Stanfill said. "They find themselves stuck in a cycle of buying and maintaining stuff that simply doesn’t make them happy."

“We find that working to satisfy our needs with items we can readily produce or reuse is much more gratifying.”

Most of their time has been spent building their first structure, the straw bale house that will eventually become a communal lodge.  

After work on the foundation, the straw bales were stacked for the walls in the last weeks of August.  Eventually, the house will include a metal roof and earthen floor with earthen clay plaster covering the walls. It will have a kitchen, bathroom, laundry facilities and a large living space.  Once completed, the couple plans to live there until their own house can be built.

“Once it’s finished, it will last indefinitely, as long as it stays dry," Weilundemo said.  Straw bale structures have been known to survive earthquakes and are pest and fire resistant.  They have the same fire safety ratings that protective building stairwells are required to have and more-than-sufficient insulating qualities.

Excited for their dreams finally looking like a reality, the couple has great hopes for their future plans and prospects.  They intend to spend the winter fundraising and planning an educational center.

“For as long as I’ve been thinking and planning, it’s great to be out here finally doing it,” Weilundemo said.

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susan weill September 16, 2009 | 8:08 a.m.

Thanks for putting together a well- research and well-written article on the ecovillage being established by Tao and Liz near Fulton. I hope your report will encourage students from MU to think of this type of lifestyle as an alternative to cramped, expensive student housing while going to college. Also, as a professor of journalism at Texas State University, I'm impressed with your work. Keep it up and good luck with your career.

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