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.
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.
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.
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.
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.