My brother, Sam, recently went on a trip to his friends' place up near Ithaca, New York. This is the third year he's gone to visit and every time he gets back I have endless questions because it isn't any old house or apartment, it is the Dacha Project. Below he writes of his experience because it is oh-so unique and wonderful!
Vast green hills and valleys line the winding roads with the bright sun shining through a cloudy blue sky. A few barns scatter along the sides with the occasional group of cows or horses; a clear indicator that I'm close. Pulling up to the driveway about a mile down North Wood Road, a friendly little sign reading "Dacha" painted in purple greets you. Up the bumpy, curvy gravel, you see some baby trees that were planted the first year the Dacha was started. After a slight bend, you arrive at the house. It is a sustainable home that runs on veggie oil and one solar panel (eventually they plan to run fully on solar energy). It gets its running water from a well. This house is entirely off-the-grid; the power goes out in Freeville, NY, and my friends have no idea. This house was built by 6 of my friends who got an idea to create a space for creativity, love, and environmentally friendly endeavors in the beautiful area right outside of Ithaca, New York. The word "dacha" is a Russian word (2/3 of the crew are Russian) roughly meaning a retreat home within nature.
Along with powering their own home, they also grow fuel for themselves. An abundant garden filled with kale, peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, and other veggies supply them with staples for cooking. Every morning I was there, we had potatoes and veggies cut up and cooked with eggs that were from the hens who live around the corner. I don't consume dairy, but if I wanted to, there was fresh milk--that had been squeezed by my friend early that morning, I might add--from the cow who lives down the path in the neighbor's yard. My friends don't buy these products from their neighbors, they trade. They'll give the neighbors veggies, a helping hand, or they volunteer to herd and take care of their animals in exchange for eggs and milk (and whatever else they might need). That's how it works up there: The barter system is in full affect in Ithaca and the surrounding areas. "You need some help with your car? Perfect. I know a guy who is a mechanic and could use some extra hands moving into his new home." It's pretty incredible. Of course, the most incredible part of it all is being able to live on a completely sustainable system, right down to the food you cook for dinner.
Every piece of the Dacha is a product of hard labor from these 6 people and their loving, devoted friends and family whom they welcome to come visit year-round. Whenever I go, I always bring my tools and make it a point to help them with whatever project they happen to be working on. I receive so much love, energy, and enlightenment from the Dacha and the people who inhabit it that I want to give back; it's a peaceful give-and-take. That's what makes the system work so well.
- Sam Forney