Tinker's Bubble is a great example of a simple living community. In contrast to their upper-class neighbors with their huge houses and manicured gardens, the community uses just the resources they need. Formed in 1994 by a group of people with similar ideas of living off the land, there are now twelve adults and four children living under the trees on top of the hill. Owned by a cooperative the land consists 40 acres of woodland, pastures, and apple orchards. We learned of them by word of mouth, as they don't have their own website and they are not listed in the usual community directories.
Low-impact living is the major idea of this community. This is easily seen when visiting. For one, they have strict principals of not using fossil fuels. They cook on a wood stove or over an open fire, use wind and solar energy for light, and have a huge steam-powered locomotive engine, which operates in a straw-bale barn (for noise insulation), where they mill trees from their land. For their farm work and any heavy moving, they have a Shire horse, named Samson, who when not working grazes in the apple orchards.
A second aspect of their low-impact living is their dwellings. Like at Steward Wood most live in self-built benders, though the longer they stay the more strawbale and cob walls replace the cloth. The main communal building houses the kitchen (though the pots and dishes and sink are outside to save space) and a communal sitting area and loft. It is a beautiful building built with their own milled timber and thatched with recycled reeds (from a local house). Their one other communal building is the bathhouse that houses a bathtub and a wood-fired water tank where many also do their laundry. Only one member had built a permanent house, also with their own timber and thatched with self-grown wheat.
A third aspect of their low-impact living is what they eat. Almost all of their produce is grown organically in their gardens, with the remaining grains and nuts coming from a bulk organic distributor. There is also one cow from who's milk they make yoghurt and cheese. They buy their bread daily from a local store.
Though the land is cooperatively owned, they do not share income, so everyone has to figure out their own means. They have to contribute around 20 pounds ($30) a week for the communal expenses, which include food. In addition to these expenses everyone commits to one and a half days of communal work per week (gardening, woodland work, building management, etc.) and one rotational "domestic" day when they wash dishes, do communal house cleaning, and cook (vegetarian) dinner for everyone. Because their weekly living expenses are so low they can easily earn this in one day's work. Many of them spend one day a week working on an organic market farm/store that a former member has started. Others work in offices of local non-profits. Others grow veggies or make crafts to sell at the weekly Farmer's Market in Glastonbury. In the winter there is often enough paid work for everyone on their own land. There is apple harvesting and juice pressing and woodland management including coppicing work and timber milling year-round. During our visit we worked mostly in the gardens, weeding and planting, even through the driving rain.
One of their biggest challenges over the years has been fighting for planning permission. They had to take their case to the High Court of Appeals and in the end they won with a five-year permission to erect their low-impact dwellings out-of-sight under the trees. One of the members, Simon Fairie, started an organization called Chapter 7 which was set up to help others in the fight for sustainable development.
We had some good talks, but in our short one week visit we didn't end up getting very 'close' to more than a couple of people. Aside from the communal work day, the rain and the fact that people were busy doing their own thing, made it a bit difficult to make ourselves useful and we ended up with a bit of cabin fever - but we did enjoy our stay and it was great to meet the Tinkers a few weeks later in the Big Green Gathering.
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