Thursday, May 20, 2010

Waldo County Green — Arielle Bywater

Part of the reason my family is currently living in Belfast, Maine (on sabbatical from my job as a professor in Chicago) is because the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is just one example of the way this region is committed to green living. We are so in love with the many ways in which Waldo County is green, in fact, that we're writing a book about it!

Many people may not know that Waldo County (of which Belfast is the seat) has been a hotbed of back-to-the-land activity for at least two generations. Counterculture folks flocked here in the late 60s and 70s in search of inexpensive, fertile land — and found it! Many of these hippies and homesteaders stayed and helped create some of the wonderful eco-friendly infrastructure Belfast now enjoys: Belfast is the home to Maine's longest-running health food co-op, a general "Green Store" in the heart of downtown, a robust farmer's market, and more. Waldo County is also home to a major solar energy company and the Maine Organic Farmers & Growers Association, which is itself the longest-running such organization in the country, and puts on the wildly popular, nationally-known Common Ground Fair (a must-attend event and the highlight of Waldo County's social calendar) every year.

Recently, Waldo County has seen another influx of eco-minded, farm-oriented folks: young adults and young families who, like the generation before them, have moved here for a simpler, more sustainable way of life. Happily, this movement is happening all over America right now, but Waldo County is particularly vibrant with new, small farms that practice organic and biodynamic techniques, use permaculture, and are otherwise making high-quality, low-impact food for all of their neighbors.

As someone with both a scholarly and a personal interest in subcultures and environmental issues, I've been studying back-to-the-land movements for years, and have a collection of oral histories of hippie communes from the 60s and 70s. So I was dismayed to discover that there is no book that covers Waldo County's involvement in that era. My husband (also a writer) and I were determined to document this current wave of back-to-the-land activity here in Maine, for which Belfast is certainly a major hub.

Our manuscript, which is also my sabbatical project, will contain first-person stories culled from interviews with more than twenty local households, each with very different and exciting stories about how they made the choices they have made. The manuscript will open with a chapter on the previous generation back-to-the-land movement as an homage to and celebration of all the ground they broke for the new folks. Then there are chapters on younger people who are making lives in Waldo County as homesteaders, market and CSA farmers, as well as those making the choice of intentional community (a cohousing family will be featured in our book!). We also hope the book will include photographs of the farms and farmers by Waldo County native and professional photographer Sharyn Peavey. While we are nowhere close to being done yet, we hope the book will eventually be published and widely available, and serve as a testament to the amazing things happening on the land and in community here in Belfast and Waldo County.

An excerpt from one of our stories, of Maia and Jacob at After the Fall farm in Montville (20 minutes from Belfast), which offers winter CSA shares appears in the new issue of the online journal Connotation Press.

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