Michigan Ecovillage

Kaufman and Geisler
Geisler (left ) & Kaufman

BANGOR, Mich. (AP) – Maynard Kaufman is looking for a dozen or more families who want to go off-grid in Michigan. He has launched an eco-village on his own land and is seeking investor/partners.

Kaufman always has been a step ahead of the environmental movement. In 1970 he helped start the Environmental Studies Program at Western Michigan University, and in 1976 developed the program’s homesteading curriculum.

Today he’s still leading the way.

Kaufman and his wife, Barbara Geisler, are trying to start an off-grid residential development a mile north of Bangor on family farmland.

The houses will be built on the model of Kaufman and Geisler’s own solar and wind-powered house erected in 2001. They are marketing 30 sites on 120 acres of farmland, calling the project Sunflower Ecovillage. This is the same name as Kaufman’s existing home which is described in detail on the Michigan land trust web site.

“This is for people serious about a sustainable future in the countryside,” Kaufman said.

Sustainability is the key. Kaufman and Geisler said the project responds to global warming and the end of cheap oil, the two forces they say are the major threats to Americans’ unsustainable way of life.

By using clean energy sources, they are minimizing their role in global warming. Instead of burning natural gas, they keep warm over the winter by burning firewood in a stove built in a central part of the house. Kaufman chops the wood from fallen trees around the 120-acre property.

He said they only use about two cords of wood each year. The house uses “passive solar input” from large windows facing south. A hydronic system in the foundation keeps the two-story house warm from the bottom floor up through a kind of “reverse refrigeration” using water circulated through pipes. The house, which is insulated by an earthen berm north wall, retains heat well.

Burning wood is a carbon-neutral act. Gas heating takes a fuel from the ground, burns it and releases a carbon byproduct. Although burning wood does create carbon, it’s carbon that would form anyway when the downed trees rot on the ground.

But it’s not just about reducing carbon emissions. Kaufman and Geisler’s way of living also cuts costs.

Powering the house with solar panels, wind turbines and a wood stove means there are no electric and heating bills. The savings will pay off the cost of the solar and wind technology in 30 years, Kaufman said. They also say they eat for much less.

Skyrocketing oil prices are making food bought in stores more expensive, in part because of higher shipping costs.

“The whole global supermarket system will have to be rolled back,” Geisler predicts.

Kaufman and Geisler have already left it behind. They grow almost all of their own produce in a garden of about a quarter acre. They can and store fruit and vegetables for the winter. What little food they purchase comes from local farmers’ markets. Almost nothing they eat originates from outside of about a 15-mile radius, they said.

Because Sunflower Ecovillage would be developed on what was previously organically managed farmland, the soil is farm-ready, so every home in the development could grow its own food. That will help Sunflower be self-sustaining, Kaufman said.

Kaufman and Geisler said they believe more Americans will turn to eco-friendly agrarian living. That will happen sooner if people choose it, or later when economic forces demand it, they say. Climate change, increased energy demands, food scarcity, worldwide population increases and urban overcrowding will work together to create a frightening future that only a wide-scale back-to-the-land movement can reverse, they say.

“I think the scariest thing is to discover how much these things are all interrelated,” Kaufman said.

“It’s seems like now people are ready to listen,” Geisler said, “but a lot of time has been lost.”

She said the growing demand for “green” products is proof that people are examining their environmental impact. But “going green,” she said, takes a lot more than being a conscientious consumer. It means consuming less.

“Some of it’s OK,” she said, “but still much of it is about `go out and buy this’ … People are going to have to make compromises.”

13 Responses

  1. I am looking for a job in an off-grid community. I am interested in a full-time live position. I am great with maintenance. I am very hard working. My greatest skills are problem solving and planning. I could make your facility very efficient. I’m capable of rough construction, creating water canals/irrigation. I have many great ideas. All I require is an off-grid place to live.

  2. Afternoon, Maynard. I was looking to check into the status of your sustainable community. I saw that the article was dated for 2008 and didn’t seem to be updated since that time. I am located in Houston, TX. I would like to get involved with a sustainable community to either join it myself or visit in order to hopefully begin an establishment myself. Please let me know of your availability to discuss a visit or a correspondence regarding any information on sustainable living.

  3. Interested…just need to ck into location in terms of where my family is. Can you give me an address of some kind to gps it. How much is needed to start process and long term?

  4. I am interested in seeing your land,also broke SSD but would take every penny I receive to live offgrid w like minded people. I lost 2 pieces of land because of greedy land brokers taking advantage of the bad economy. My prayers always take me intothewoods….I will be back.

  5. Are you still looking for families? My wife and I are currently looking for a piece of land, or possibly being part of a community. Definitely looking forward to hearing for you.

  6. My only concern with going off-grid, is how to do it with children. Not that I don’t think I could, I don’t want to loose my babies because the government is a bunch of creeps who don’t understand you don’t need all that to be a healthy happy person, or to grow one for that matter. I live in Hale, Michigan.

  7. I am so encouraged to see someone doing this right here in Michigan. I wish I could invest, this sounds beautiful, but I’m a broke graduate student working full time and going to school part time. I think that is one of the biggest things keeping people from joining the off-grid movement. If you are very poor than it can become a necessity and if you are very rich the transition is eased with technology like solar panels and the ability to build specialized homes. But people stuck in the middle income bracket who want to break away are stuck devoting years and years into small investments that may not always pay off. Anyway, I’d love to see the land and would love any comments, tips, or encouragement anyone could give.

  8. I found the recent article in the Muskegon Chronicle interesting and a bit amazing – you must have a lot of aquired knowledge on the subject. The web site link is a first major documentary my husband and his brother accomplished with their film company of just 2 years. I wish this story was something that could reach more of an audience that way……do you give tours?

  9. It is very encouraging to see that you have set up this system in western Michigan. I began some research on solar energy and most of it was geared toward CA or CO. Do you allow visitors to come and learn from your present design?

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