Local residents maintain a self-sustaining lifestyle 

By Erin Flynn | Photos by Stephanie Harris

     DSC_1358Five houses of various sizes and styles sit snugly in the shape of a square at 715 North Main Street.

     It’s the quad version of downtown Harrisonburg. But unlike the JMU’s familiar hot spot, the Spring Village — as its residents fondly call it — aims to reduce any harmful environmental  effect it could have on the world.

      “We kind of ask ourselves what are our personal and collective actions are and how do they affect the world around us,” Tom Benevento, one of the community’s representatives says. “How does, you know, what we buy, use and consume, how does that affect someone who’s in a war zone? Or someone that’s in a sledge shop? Or how does that cause climate change?”

     The Spring Village oasis was created about a year ago when the director of the New Community Project brought the idea of creating an eco-friendly, violence-free community to Benevento’s attention. The New Community Project is a small, non-profit organization that hopes to change the world by providing opportunities that connect with their passions, resources that challenge them, experiences that impact them and a community that provides them with hope. 

     And the village’s 12 to 15 workers and volunteers are drawn to this kind of lifestyle.

      “I just thought that community life is what I needed for my life,” Preston Amorest, a prospective partner who lives in one of the on-site houses, says.

     Amorest is on the protoculture team, which is charge of the site’s upkeep and works on the house coordinating team, which does house-related tasks, such as collecting firewood and building shelves. He also assists with the refugee houses that are located in the Spring Village.

     But personally, his favorite project so far has been helping his friend rebuild the run-down house that he had bought in the village.

     “It was just a really cool experience to go in there and just start working and see that you can make something out of nothing, really,” Amorest says. “It was just really cool to see something so ugly turn into something beautiful.”

     Like the other village workers, Amorest is also mindful of his impact on the world and attempts to reduce his negative influence on it. According to Amorest, doing little things like watering the gardens with the leftover dishwater, being mindful of the electricity he uses and occasionally going dumpster diving helps to prevent food from being wasted as well as provides for the house’s needs.

     The projects going on at the village emphasize their goal of nonviolence and healthy living.

      On such project is a subterranean greenhouse that collects the earth’s heat, which helps cut down on electric heat used during the winter months.
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     Their living fuel fence, which is made up of Black Locust trees, has multiple uses by providing fuel for their gas stove, heating their house and. The tree leaves are also edible and provide mulch for the village’s various gardens. DSC_1333

     According to Amorest, most of the Spring Village employees are volunteers, with the money they earn going toward a “common cause” fund that covers the workers’ basic needs, including food, toilet trees and gas money, for those who have family members that live far away.DSC_1333

     The living fuel fence isn’t the only way they try to remain eco-friendly.

     The “Edible Gray Water System,” another Spring Village project, collects the bicycle powered washing machine’s greywater — or wastewater. Plants from their garden not only take in the gray water, but clean the water and produce food.

     Some of the village members aren’t just reducing the amount electricity they use but are attempting to go completely without it.

     Rachel Sarah and Nick Melaf, a married couple and two JMU alumni, live in the nonelectric house in the village and use homemade candles and a wood stove to cook and heat the house.

     “It’s kind of experimental to see ‘Can we live without electricity and be happy?’” Benevento says. “You know, ultimately, it’s about the quality of our lives and are we really feeling fulfilled and energized and coming alive? Right? And is electricity an ingredient necessary for that? Because we know electricity is very damaging [to] the world around us the way it’s produced right now with coal.”

     These projects aren’t just for the Spring Village, but for the Harrisonburg community as well. 

     “We’re in a noisy street, we’re in a flooded plain, so it’s kind of a broken place and we’re about transforming that,” Benevento says.

     However, this community isn’t just focused on work. They also hope to build each other up through their weekly potluck dinners, which they call “Chabot.”

     Several JMU students have gotten involved as volunteers. While others, including senior integrated science and technology major Jonathan Vaughan, have done their capstone projects with the Spring Village.     

     Vaughan came to the Spring Village after Benevento made a visit to ISAT looking for volunteers.

     He now leads the three-member aeroponics team, which consists of his twin brother, along with senior integrated science and technology (ISAT) major Christopher and fellow senior ISAT classmate Sarah Guthrie.

     Aeroponics is a technique where a plant’s roots are hung mid-air while they are sprayed with nutrient filled mist.

     One idea Vaughan supports is the bike trail the new community project is creating. The multi-use trail would connect the JMU campus to downtown Harrisonburg and, according to Benevento, would encourage healthy living.

     Besides trying to better the community, Vaughan was also attracted to the Village’s welcoming atmosphere.

     “It’s just a great community of people,” he says. “You can really engage with the local community that way … They have lunch at 12 everyday … they have a lot of decent franchise members from the public, and it’s just a great way to give back to the community, really.”

     But while many JMU students and Harrisonburg residents show their support, they can never have too many helpers.

     “They’re always looking for volunteers, they always need people to come out and help,” Vaughan says.

     As they continue their efforts to have a positive impact on the community, members of the Spring Village aren’t afraid to expand their influence throughout the rest of the world.

     “We’re really about joining hands for efforts of people around the world who really want to transform themselves and the world around them,” Benevento says. “Really to create a platform for each of us to become vessels of love … and hope, to become fully alive.”

     To get involved as a worker or volunteer, Tom Benevento can be contacted at (540) 432-3696 or through email at beneventoncp@gmail.com.