Day 7 @EDE Class: Field Trip to Huadao Ecological Community

Sep 2, 2018. We made a field trip to Huadao Ecological Community, a two-year old community project managed by one of our classmates, Ms. Alice Wang. Among the typical three types of ecovillages: converted from an urban neighborhood, converted from a traditional rural village, built brand new based on consensus and commitment, Huadao falls in the third type.

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“Enable a fulfilling life” (让生命满载而归), is the commitment to, and of, community members. (photo by the author)
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Scale model of the planned project scope. The circle shape of 7 residential buildings was inspired by Hakka round house. It emphasizes community shared space and has advantage in heat control.  Currently only two buildings have been completed. The farm, not show much in the model but to the south of the buildings is doing organic farming on vegetable and rice. (Photo by the author)
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The two buildings completed. Each has 42 apartment unites. The building on the right side is next to a lower separate building which is used as community activity center. (Photo by the author)
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Inside one building. Each apartment unit is around 60-square-meters, with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1 living room and an open kitchen suitable for simple cooking at home. On each floor, there is a large community activity room and a separate common kitchen for more completed cooking.
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Inside the community center (photo by the author)
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The farm. The wooden walk path cross fields is named “Path of Philosophy”. At the entrance to it, we were asked to remain in silence when walking on the path. (photo by the author)
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Ducks are much loved members in the farm and a critical element to the ecosystem. (photo by the author)
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The rice field of Huadao (photo by the author)
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We participated in a ceremony in which we thanked the vegetable seeds (in the basket in the middle of the table).  This has been an important ritual of the community. We made sure to arrive in the morning before the soil becomes too warm for the seeds. In this ritual,  people feel connected to the seeds, soil, and nature. (photo by the author)
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We had a vegetarian lunch at the community kitchen. I haven’t talked about food since blogging the EDE class. But we have been having authentic delicious Sichuan spicy food everyday 🙂 Here except for mushrooms, all the vegetable ingredients came freshly from the farm. (photo by the author)
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In the evening, Kosha led us do a final exercise, also as a gift to Huadao. We used the Ecovillage cards to evaluate Huadao’s strength and weakness. The exercise was a perfect summary of our first week of class. Well done, team! (photo by ZHANG Pengbin)

Half farming, half X

Recently I read this book: “Half Farming, Half X” by a Japanese author 盐见直纪. The idea is that people can live a healthier, happier and self-sufficient life by spending half time growing most of their own food,  and the other half time working on things they truly like, i.e. the X. They find this X by what suits their unique talent, interest and skills. In the book , the author also shared his family’s experience of new lifestyle, stories of local people working together to revitalize the community.

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Half Farming Half X, by 盐见直纪 (Japan)

In Huadao, the biggest challenges right now is to get people to live here regularly, so there is a real community! About 40 apartments were bought by member families but no family actually live here. These are the people who have already established life and career elsewhere, mostly in big cities, but who also loved the beautiful idea of an ecological community and were willing to put down then the upfront payment of $58,500 for one apartment. (The price has gone up by 50%). They don’t own the property but has the right of usage for 40 years.

Could “half farming, half X” be a solution for Huadao to attract regular tenants? I have been thinking that such new lifestyle can possibly help ME achieve financial sustainability SOONER, and at the same time I can gain hands-on experience in one of the most critical areas for a sustainable ecosystem, farming. To me as an independent writer/journalist, the X can be many: writing, event organizing, consulting, training, public speaking,  and a newly added prospect, ecovillage design 🙂 . Huadao appears to be a promising location for the housing and farming part, assuming the rent is lower than that in a big city like Hangzhou and the nearby Chengdu. I like the comfortable inside of a modern apartment, the round building and quadyard that encourages interaction with community members, and the large organic farm (not yet certified). I could spend a couple hours a day working in the farm, then the rest of the time reading and writing.

But, imagine if I would move in in 3 months, I could be one of a handful, if not the only, warm bodies in the entire building (They have a few regular staff who also live here), in case they couldn’t attract more life-tinkerers by then. How will I handle that? Not good for long term for sure. But hey! I am an event organizer / community developer too! Will it not be possible for me to help with organizing cultural events to attract urban visitors, and gradually build a real community here?

That said, will half-farming-half-X here at Huadao work for other self-employed people like me? Before answering that, is Huadao really an ideal location to me? I will need to find out more. My return flight to Hangzhou is a few days after the end of the class. Originally I planned to spend those days in Dujiangyan or Chengdu just for vacation. Why not stay in Huadao and explore more? I immediately talked about this idea with Alice. She loved the idea and agreed to arrange a guest apartment for me. It happens that they will have a management team (founders) meeting on the same day when the EDE class ends. I may be able to meet their team members and learn more. Yay, I have a plan!

The eco-tourism resources nearby can be another attraction to prospective community members. A Party leader of the Qiquan town gave us a short speech to introduce the town and played a well-made introduction film. The area where Huadao is located is designated as an ecological reserve on the west side of the mega city Chengdu. It has good natural water and is big in rice production historically. From the film, it appears that local villages have developed good public facilities such as libraries, community activity centers, and remodeled bathrooms and kitchens to connect to sewage pipeline network, all aiming at bringing city-quality of life to rural residents. Many farmers now open their farmhouses, as bed-and-breakfast inns, to city tourists who seek vacation in idyllic villages. As the booming countryside tourism has created new income sources for farmers, they invest even more in their environment. This sounds a virtuous cycle.

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Halfway from Dujiangyan to Huadao, I was excited to see this nice, separate bike path along freeway. Though no public transportation stops at Huadao currently,  it’s only 12 minutes by bike to get to the nearest town where there is public transportation. (photo by the author)

People of the day

Alice WANG. Alice hosted us in Huadao Ecological Community today. Finally I got to see this ambitious project that she has been working on and shared with us a lot for case study. There is no better time than today to write about her but she stood out from the beginning. She speaks fluent and beautiful English and is a brilliant communicator. Whenever talking about Huadao, she shows a lot of passion and is open to ideas and questions.

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Alice Wang is introducing Huadao to the class (photo by the author)

Back in 2014, she joined the Commission of Sustainability Development of Beijing International Exchange Association of China, a Beijing NGO specialized in fostering high level exchange between its members and foreign cultural and business parties. She was the secretary of the community. It was through the connections there, she came to know Huadao. Deeply concerning that city children lack connection with nature, she hoped that Huadao can become a safe and beautiful natural playground for children, as well as a new type of community that embraces low-carbon lifestyle. The same year, she became one of the earliest members of the community, through buying an apartment and becoming a limited partner(shareholder) of the company that developed the property. While she was still working full time for her own company,  she gradually involved more and more in the development of Huadao, seeing it through hard times of stagnation, disagreement and fortunately re-alignment of vision. Now she is in charge of the entire operation, splitting her time between Beijing and Chengdu so that she can actually live in the community and grow it.

Life here

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In the afternoon, some team members visited nearby tourist sites. They saw cute giant pandas 🙂 (Photo by Kosha Joubert)

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