Community Oilseed

Death of Oilseed

What we thought would happen

This may be the last time I write about Oilseed Community. For years we thought Oilseed would die when the bulldozers came but that isn’t what happened.

In 2001, when the original lease was negotiated, it opened up much-needed affordable housing and provided a revenue stream to support the broader community we call the Bubble. Since then, Oilseed Community has been home to college students, farm and fuel interns, and people who worked at The Abundance Foundation, Piedmont Biofuels and Chatham Marketplace. Oilseed provided a soft landing portal into the Bubble.

Abandoned houses on land awaiting development became community housing and revenue. It was a triple win. The developer was happy. The tenants were happy. And the Bubble flourished.

Bob and I moved to Oilseed in November of 2007 after approval by the community. Because Oilseed was more about community than cheap rooms, we were screened like everyone else. We were very grateful to move into the trailer, which we cleaned up and renamed “Camelina.” On many an afternoon, it wasn’t unusual to open our door to find see either Matt or Greg and the fresh, new face of a prospective tenant.

During the two years we lived in Camelina, we formed lasting friendships with many wonderful people including Simon and Jessica, Link, Matt, Dana, Greg, Kathryn, Jack and Adah. Revenue from Oilseed rents fueled the bubble, helping pay for Biofuels Coop remediation projects and helping Lyle and Tami keep their many philanthropic projects afloat.

None of the original tenants live at Oilseed today. We bought Trouts Farm. Greg moved to Michigan. Simon and Jessica bought a home in Durham, Link in Siler City, Matt in Bynum. We all fledged.

Although we know many of the new Oilseeders, I have yet to meet them all. Most of them are snugly plugged into the bubble. But sadly, the Oilseed revenue stream that used to benefit the bubble is over, dammed up by the tenants themselves. In a bold move, the new crop of Oilseeders re-negotiated their lease with the developers.

When I first heard about this, I assumed they had discussed their intentions with the current lease holders. Given that assumption, I accepted that they were taking their destiny into their own hands. Empowering themselves.

It sounded like a positive move except for the part about removing all financial support from the bubble. Making payments instead to the developer when they weren’t asking for money seemed like a waste. But hey, if this was the new direction of Oilseed, who was I to protest?

Come to find out, no one knew except for the tenants themselves. It was a surprise to everyone else. The bold move began looking more like a mutiny.

We all assumed Oilseed would die at the hands of the bulldozers one day. None of us could have guessed it would have come at the hands of the community itself.

Here’s a story I wrote about Oilseed in January, 2008:

Cultivating Oilseed Community

Community is in short supply in our industrialized world. This loss of connection to our neighbors has grown in direct proportion to our abuse of cheap oil. Regardless of whether you believe we have reached peak oil and are facing dwindling supplies, neither condition is sustainable. The first is detrimental to our mental health and the second to the health of the planet.

Oilseed HouseThe answer to both these problems is being played out at Oilseed Community in Moncure, North Carolina. The community represents an experiment in communal living in conjunction with the cultivation of an oilseed crop, in this case canola.

My husband Bob and I moved into one of the houses at Oilseed last November, not quite realizing what we were getting into. Two months later, we are astounded at our good fortune.

First of all, we were immediately accepted as members in full standing by the eight other people currently living at Oilseed. Benefits include shared resources, a brain trust and good will from other organizations to which our fellow Oilseeders are affiliated.

We have yet to see a television on in any of the houses except when we are watching movies or documentaries on our own set. Not surprisingly great conversation flourishes here. It is common for us to drop by each other’s houses share ideas, produce, tools, beers and dreams.

Every Sunday evening we share a meal. Everybody cooks. It isn’t unusual for four or five guests to show up with 1.5 the amount of food they would ordinarily eat. Amazingly, I have yet to see a Sunday Potluck turn into fifteen macaroni and cheese casseroles although the local produce does have some sway. There were at least five versions of sweet potatoes one Sunday and on another cabbage was prominently featured.

Out of town guests always bring a fresh perspective. Last month, a man who had just returned from a few months in Tibet treated us to a slide show from his travels. His impromptu presentation sparked an insightful discussion of the differences between our cultures, notably our lack of community and over-dependence on oil.

In addition to great people, the security of community, and wonderful food, we all live on a very pretty piece of property. Oilseed is located on acres of meadows and woods, which translates to abundant wildlife. We’ve seen fifteen different species of birds since arriving. It is not unusual to look out the window and see a deer or some fellow Oilseeders out for a stroll. One great excuse for a walk is a trip up the lane to the mail box.

RobesonAnother great aspect of Oilseed Community is the location. We are located between the Piedmont Biofuels Coop and downtown Pittsboro. Many of us work at the Ecoindustrial Park four miles away by car or a forty-five minute walk west through the woods.

By now you must be wondering how Oilseed Community come into being. Last April, Piedmont Biofuels signed a lease with a developer for use of this 83-acre property. This arrangement provides rental homes for interns, employees and others, revenue for the Coop and fodder for a long term vision. The vision being that of a sustainable alternative to Golf Course Communities. Huh? you say. Check out Building an Oilseed Community where Lyle did a great job of explaining the concept.

Basically, developers use golf courses to dispose of household wastewater. Given that we have already reached peak oil, an Oilseed Community is a brilliant alternative to a Golf Course Community in that wastewater is used to irrigate a fuel crop rather than water a golf course. And, in fact, a test plot of canola has been planted at Oilseed as an example of how this can be done.

We are looking forward to enjoying several more years of our good fortune. We expect people to come and go with new ideas and wonderful energy while the seasons change and the oilseed crop moves through its growing cycles. We promise to keep you posted as this experiment unfolds.


By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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