By Jerry McIntyre
True story: for three years my wife and I looked for a small town to call home. People thought we were crazy to leave Portland, Oregon where we had met, married, and gave birth to our precious son. The ever-growing popularity, the crowds, the traffic, the ever-escalating prices, the pace in Portland all motivated us.
A small town and a Waldorf school to continue our son’s well-rounded education (“head, heart, hands”) was all we asked. What we found were resort towns with ever-growing popularity, ever-escalating prices, … same old! Then we came to the last little town on our list: Viroqua, Wisconsin. We’d never heard of it. The Waldorf school there was approaching its 30th anniversary. We headed to the Midwest to look.
Viroqua is a quiet, family town. More-than-reasonable prices. Not a resort, not too popular—though we’ve discovered the mountain biking, hunting, and nationally known fly fishing draw some vacationers. There is a solid mix of conservatives and liberals, solid because they actually listen to and appreciate one another with just a modicum of grumbling.
We learned that America’s largest organic farmers’ cooperative has its headquarters here, and the county has the highest concentration of organic farms in the nation.
We learned that those famously liberal back-to-the-landers came here in the 70’s to build cabins and start those organic farms. And the Amish moved here for the same reason as their communities expanded: inexpensive land. And they are all good neighbors. Between the “English” and the Amish farmers, every year we get more of our food directly from the farms surrounding us: honey, maple syrup, milk, eggs, berries, apples, nuts, vegetables… even our new kitchen cabinets, baskets of all sorts, lumber, the list goes on and on, all produced locally.
One of the only things missing was cohousing, so we started talking about that possibility with new friends. We met. We split in two: countryside and town groups. We read Diana Christian’s “Creating a Life Together” and followed the blueprint there for building a group first, establishing our vision, and then looking for property.
Last year we bought land, twelve acres just a “stone’s throw” from the schools, workplaces, and city amenities that our town group used frequently. Though we’re outside the city limits (so we have no minimum house size nor escalating water and sewer costs to cramp our desire to be “green”) we are no more than a fifteen minute bike ride from any corner of Viroqua.
Our spring-fed stream, long south-facing slope ideal for passive solar construction, wildlife and dark sky add up to an ideal location—as ideal as any single piece of land can be. We are committed to creating our master site plan with the help of a permaculture designer so that we can steward the land as well as build a close-knit neighborhood. We have room for extensive gardens, fruit and nut trees, even a CSA.
What I’ve tried to capture here are the pluses of rural cohousing. From Yarrow Ecovillage in the West (British Columbia) to Hundredfold Farm in the Northeast (Pennsylvania) to Hart’s Mill in the South (North Carolina)—and many others I don’t have room to name—cohousing is growing, albeit more slowly, in small towns and farming areas. The safety and neighborliness and good local food make these communities stand out. The relative ease of development and freedom from municipal water and sewer systems add to the attractiveness.
If you’d like to visit our little corner of the world, we may be able to pick you up at the airport—which isn’t very close. For virtual visits, search for Stone’s Throw Ecovillage in Viroqua, Wisconsin. We aren’t on everyone’s map, but we find it comfortable here.
Jerry McIntire is the Project Manager for Stone’s Throw Ecovillage and a serial cohouser. Contact: jerry [dot] mcintire [at] gmail [dot] com or 608-606-1156