Photos from Life Off the Grid in a Sustainable Commune

In this week's installment of First-Person Shooter, a member of an Oregon-based sustainable community photographed a dozen or so residents who live off-the-grid and survive together using only materials readily available to them on their 40-acre land...

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May 7 2016, 1:20pm

In this week's edition of First-Person Shooter we gave two cameras to Eve, a member of an Oregon-based sustainable community whose dozen or so residents exist off-the-grid and survive using only materials readily available to them on their 40-acre land trust.

An architect who used to live in the city, Eve designs fully-sustainable structures, repurposes microwaves for protecting food against raccoons, and makes "humanure"—fertilizer made from human waste. On top of shooting a weekend on the commune, she talked to VICE about what it's like to live life without electricity, and gave us some hot tips on how to keep vermin from sneaking into your cabin.

VICE: What happened during your day? What'd you get up to?
Eve: The day started atop a plywood pallet bed within my little cabin. I had some coffee and tea on the back porch with a lovely view of various composting toilet options. At 9 AM, we had a meet up and group check in with current students and our instructor where we learned about natural plasters and paints.

Then, we ate lunch, a re-vamp of the previous night's lentils with this afternoon's eggs. I fed the chickens and collected the eggs. I cut a tree down for some raw materials, and then headed to a nearby river springing from national forest land for the first dip of the summer. Finally, I concluded the day with a neighborhood bonfire.

What brought you to the commune?
I came here as a way to further my education and to evolve my skills and knowledge in the realm of designing and building. Construction is one of the industries with the largest embedded energy and ecological footprints. I want to explore how this field can be economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. I can do that out here.

What kind of stuff do you design?
I'm working on an independent project out on the far north side of the property, down near the seasonal creek. It's a structure created from fir poles, site-milled wood, and reused metal fasteners. It's supposed to serve as a place to retreat to in the woods and recharge. I designed the structure using the materials I had available to me. You have to be resourceful and we have a glorious boneyard/junkyard out here so it works out well and little is wasted.

What type of people live and work with you?
At the moment about fifteen folks live here: residents, students, and work-traders. Some people stay for a week and some stay longer depending on their intended purpose—be it a course, a workshop, or to stay as a work-trader [meaning you work in exchange for housing and meals]. Many seem to be at some sort of crossroads in life. There is the 50-year old tech dude from some undisclosed city who desired to be a student again and understand projects beyond screens.

There is also somewhat of a satellite community of people. The area is scattered with people and families affiliated with the learning center who are engaging with the land and community. You can walk down the road and see the neighbors using the masonry cabin stove we built to cook food and warm their house, folks experimenting with innovative garden and buildings systems, as well as witness the solar array students set up that the commune director uses to jumpstart his vegetable oil-powered truck.

Is it hard to go to the bathroom out there?
Not really. As intuitive as it is anywhere else. There are options and variations of composting in a bucket. The compost is carefully watched and tended, and eventually the luscious "humanure" is used on bamboo and other non-edible plants. Side note, it doesn't smell like Porta-Potties do. Also, as waste and energy consumption goes, using composting toilets is such an easy way to conserve energy and not waste potable water while also putting nutrients back into the soil.

What do you eat?
We eat all sorts of bulk grains and whatever local vegetables we can harvest or purchase locally. With each new wave of work-traders and students, we are assigned a small morning and evening cook group. It's a good opportunity to learn from others' eating, cooking, and communication styles in the kitchen.

You're cutting down a tree in one of your photos, this doesn't seem sustainable. Why are you doing it?
Heh, this is the reaction I would have had before moving and engaging here. A major component of the education that happens here revolves around self-sufficiency and empowerment while still being connected to the land. Tree felling is about proper tree management, and understanding the systems and demands of the campus and forest. Less dominant trees are selected for harvesting to encourage forest diversity.

What do you miss most about living in a more regular setting?
Life here is pretty good. I mainly have what I need. Well, okay, I miss and appreciate not having mouse poop on my plywood pallet bed.

Do you intend to move?
Yes. Generally, time here is pretty limited. You are only here if you are doing something—filling a need, purpose, function, etc. I don't intend to move yet, but who knows. I moved here with the intention of only staying a few months, but soon it'll be one year since I arrived.

Follow Julian on Instagram and visit his website for more of his photo work.