They come from across the country. States like Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan. Some make their way from neighboring cities like Charlotte, even Raleigh. They are college students, those escaping dense cities, those who have abandoned careers and those seeking a simpler living. Mostly, they all journey here for the same overarching reason: to find a way to live in harmony with the earth in a fully sustainable, hands-on, green community. This means growing the food they eat. Relying on alternative energy. And understanding how to become an integral part of a collective. About half a dozen interns live and work at Pickards Mountain Eco Intistute from Spring to Fall. They come here in search of a more amicable life with nature, oftentimes a response to issues like overpopulation, water toxicity, air pollution, industrialization and deforestation. In line with permaculture principles, they -- along with volunteers and residents -- till land, tend the fenced-in community gardens, keep bees, harvest nuts, cook seasonal fresh greens and raise farm animals, all in exchange for room and board. While in residence, they live in yomes (imagine yurt-dome hybrids) tucked into the adjacent forest. Some folks bomerang year after year.
The institute was founded in 2002 by Meg and Tim Toben to help heal the human-earth relationship through earth education and local economy. It sits on 70 acres down the dirt road from the Honeysuckle Tea House, which the Tobens opened earlier this year. Along with a wholly community sustainable internship program, the institute offers volunteer opportunities, herbalist programs, summer camps for kids, lunar eclipse potlucks, and Qigong in the red-roof gazebo overlooking a pond.
The institute is quite the sanctuary...some interns call it magical.
(photographs taken at Pickards Mountain Eco Institute in Chapel Hill)