The Ideal Life

Written by Trevor Culhane, Media Co-Coordinator, Team Maine

On Saturday, our team visited the JED Collective, where our community partner in Lewiston, Bridgett, lives. We had worked with Bridgett earlier in the week at Lots to Gardens, where we helped grow food in urban gardens with local people from the city. However, I was excited to see how someone who was so involved in local food chose to live. I had never been to a “sustainable” living arrangement before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the recommendation of my team, I was pretty sure they would be growing most of their own food. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure how exactly they would live; how they would balance living sustainably with the ability to pay for outside-world expenses.

After biking 10 miles and traversing a dirt road, we arrived at the commune. There were a few houses surrounded by a large clearing of assorted plants. Beyond that, the forest surrounded the commune, pushing up against the crops, trying to take back the soil it had lost. We were a bit early, so Bridgett wasn’t there when we got inside. Instead, we met Storm, who seemed friendly and relatively normal at first, until he started talking about his background. Originally a meteorologist, he was a storm-chaser for a while (I’m assuming that’s where he got the nickname Storm) before traveling to Africa and learning from native peoples how their land was being affected by changing weather patterns because of clear-cut forests. So naturally he got involved in “radical environmentalism”, working with Earth First! for the next 20 years doing tree-sits and other acts of civil disobedience to protect forests.

Gooseberry plants at the collective

I learned that Storm’s story, while maybe more “sexy”, as Craig would say, than the others’ stories, was not unusual for the Collective; everyone was dedicated to activism of one sort or another. After talking to Storm, Bridgett came and we spent some time walking through the garden. We picked blackcurrants, gooseberries, little blue flowers that tasted like cucumbers and bright red flowers that could be eaten alone or made into tea. It was a great experience to walk through all the different plants, eating berries and flowers I had never tried before. They weren’t the best tasting foods; I think I prefer grapes and mulberries over the berries we tasted, but it was surprising to me how lacking in variety my diet has been. There are thousands of edible fruits, flowers, and other crops, and yet I doubt I’ve tasted anything more than a small percentage of them.

As we worked in the garden, I thought about whether or not I would want to live in the collective. Although I knew I would at least wait until after graduating college, the people here seemed to be able to be very involved in community and social activism work, while still living sustainably and working to improve their living space. This balance of living sustainably while promoting social justice seemed like a great way to live, and part of me longed to sign up to live there. However, the members of the Collective were all older, and had been in the collective for at least a significant portion of the last 11 years. While I think the experience would be a very rewarding way to live, I doubt I would be able to explore the world, to try things like storm chasing and working with Earth First!, if I was dedicated to living in the Collective. But it did seem like a great place to raise a child, with a supportive and caring community around and a diet free from pesticides and television, and I will definitely keep the concept in mind for when (or if) I want to settle down.

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