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Kaufman and Geisler
Geisler (left ) & Kaufman

BANGOR, Mich. (AP) – Maynard Kaufman is looking for a dozen or more families who want to go off-grid in Michigan. He has launched an eco-village on his own land and is seeking investor/partners.

Kaufman always has been a step ahead of the environmental movement. In 1970 he helped start the Environmental Studies Program at Western Michigan University, and in 1976 developed the program’s homesteading curriculum.

Today he’s still leading the way.

Kaufman and his wife, Barbara Geisler, are trying to start an off-grid residential development a mile north of Bangor on family farmland.

The houses will be built on the model of Kaufman and Geisler’s own solar and wind-powered house erected in 2001. They are marketing 30 sites on 120 acres of farmland, calling the project Sunflower Ecovillage. This is the same name as Kaufman’s existing home which is described in detail on the Michigan land trust web site.

“This is for people serious about a sustainable future in the countryside,” Kaufman said.

Sustainability is the key. Kaufman and Geisler said the project responds to global warming and the end of cheap oil, the two forces they say are the major threats to Americans’ unsustainable way of life.

By using clean energy sources, they are minimizing their role in global warming. Instead of burning natural gas, they keep warm over the winter by burning firewood in a stove built in a central part of the house. Kaufman chops the wood from fallen trees around the 120-acre property.

He said they only use about two cords of wood each year. The house uses “passive solar input” from large windows facing south. A hydronic system in the foundation keeps the two-story house warm from the bottom floor up through a kind of “reverse refrigeration” using water circulated through pipes. The house, which is insulated by an earthen berm north wall, retains heat well.

Burning wood is a carbon-neutral act. Gas heating takes a fuel from the ground, burns it and releases a carbon byproduct. Although burning wood does create carbon, it’s carbon that would form anyway when the downed trees rot on the ground.

But it’s not just about reducing carbon emissions. Kaufman and Geisler’s way of living also cuts costs.

Powering the house with solar panels, wind turbines and a wood stove means there are no electric and heating bills. The savings will pay off the cost of the solar and wind technology in 30 years, Kaufman said. They also say they eat for much less.

Skyrocketing oil prices are making food bought in stores more expensive, in part because of higher shipping costs.

“The whole global supermarket system will have to be rolled back,” Geisler predicts.

Kaufman and Geisler have already left it behind. They grow almost all of their own produce in a garden of about a quarter acre. They can and store fruit and vegetables for the winter. What little food they purchase comes from local farmers’ markets. Almost nothing they eat originates from outside of about a 15-mile radius, they said.

Because Sunflower Ecovillage would be developed on what was previously organically managed farmland, the soil is farm-ready, so every home in the development could grow its own food. That will help Sunflower be self-sustaining, Kaufman said.

Kaufman and Geisler said they believe more Americans will turn to eco-friendly agrarian living. That will happen sooner if people choose it, or later when economic forces demand it, they say. Climate change, increased energy demands, food scarcity, worldwide population increases and urban overcrowding will work together to create a frightening future that only a wide-scale back-to-the-land movement can reverse, they say.

“I think the scariest thing is to discover how much these things are all interrelated,” Kaufman said.

“It’s seems like now people are ready to listen,” Geisler said, “but a lot of time has been lost.”

She said the growing demand for “green” products is proof that people are examining their environmental impact. But “going green,” she said, takes a lot more than being a conscientious consumer. It means consuming less.

“Some of it’s OK,” she said, “but still much of it is about `go out and buy this’ … People are going to have to make compromises.”

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