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Interview with the Eco-House founder

I got the chance to connect with Katie Epstein, who was a member of the EcoHouse when it was first opened in 2007. She and a group of Davidson students wanted more sustainable living, and that was how the EcoHouse was formed. I got to ask a few questions to get a better understanding of its initial intentions and how those goals have been carried out until now.

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1. Why was the EcoHouse created?
The EcoHouse idea largely grew out of lunchtime conversations at commons were a few folks (Michael Spangler, Peggy McKay, Amber Townsend, Sarah Deloach, etc) started looking at the food and living options at Davidson and realized there was a substantial need for new options. We wanted a place where we could make intentional food purchases, support local farmers and engage with food sustainability from the kitchen outwards. We were also interested in trying to create a supportive student community where we could house environmental dialogue and discourse on campus. This was before we had an environmental major/minor and what environmental movements there were on campus were diffuse and unaffiliated. There were also many ideas about how the EcoHouse could serve as a “Living Lab” where Physical Plant professionals and students could work together to create energy efficient and energy saving strategies. The EcoHouse also offered the first non-dorm living experience which I personally thought was an essential role. 

2. What challenges did you face when trying to create the house?
To create the EcoHouse was a multi-step process where we first met with relevant campus leadership and pitched our ideas. We wrote a lengthy proposal as a team and then collaborated with the Residence Life Office and Physical Plant for over a semester to discuss house logistics and physical remodeling of the house. It took quite some time to organize the first residents. Michael Spangler and I created an independent study with Annie Ingram, a professor, during our first semester in house where we wrote up house goals and codes of conduct. 
3. What were the goals of the EcoHouse when it was created? Did those goal change through out the years?
The goals of the EcoHouse were to first and foremost provide an alternative living situation for students on campus where they could work collaboratively as a community.
There was also a goal to support local and sustainable agriculture through our food purchases and use shared meals as a means to integrate with the greater community.
We wanted to a place where environmental discussion was encouraged and where residents thought very intentionally about the effect that they have on others, in the small shared space of the EcoHouse and also the greater community of Davidson and the global community.

4. How many members lived in the EcoHouse?
For as long as I was involved in the EcoHouse there were 10 members. I think the years following made a good effort to continually bring in older members as well. 

5. What challenges have past members faced?
The first year the balance of Eco-House living requirements and Davidson life was challenging. It was sometimes hard to rally everyone to clean together, make weekly meeting a priority, sign up for dinner shifts…There were frustrating and stressful weeks where the last thing you wanted to do was make stir fry for 20 people…BUT there were amazing moments of friendship and insight. I particularly remember our first Thanksgiving where several faculty members and friends came to what felt like a true feast. It was a major accomplishment to bring everyone together and it felt like the beginning of something powerful. 

6. What features made EcoHouse unique to other living options?
The EcoHouse has many requirements beyond that of normal dorm living. Folks had to sign up for cooking and cleaning shifts, attend weekly meetings, engage in environmental projects outside of the house and generally work together more than other living situations. 

As someone who currently lives in the 8th year since the EcoHouse's opening, I'm glad to hear that many of the goals from the first house have carried out to the current year. Katie mentioned the importance of drafting codes of conduct, collaborating with others in the Davidson campus and community, and being able to work through the challenges of living.

For others who many not live in a similar housing model or are involved with a group in the community, I encourage everyone to think about how do the discussions become action. Now that we have built a foundation for these open, honest conversations, how might we ensure that each individual leaves with their own project or idea to pursue?

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Photo of Jes Simson

Thank you so much for the share DiemTien and Katie, such an inspirational program.