Joel Salatin on the Netherlands, Bicycles, Living Roofs and Earthship Village

Young, old, rich, and poor all ride bicycles everywhere. With no hills, it’s a bicycler’s dream. Five miles is a gentle 15-minute ride. I haven’t seen any fat people yet. None.” –Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin’s stuff is too good not to repost, so here goes … again, hoping Polyface doesn’t mind … I’m particularly fascinated with the “Earthship Village” consisting of 20 households who pooled their money and bought 5 acres … living roofs, composting toilets, grey water recycling, etc. I have for a long time wanted to live on a piece of land with a perennial polyculture food forest and rotationally grazed animals, but to make it work well, several families are needed. I’m getting closer to this goal! Here’s Joel’s message …

I arrived in The Netherlands (Amsterdam) yesterday … This is a flat country. Everything is flat. In fact, when we landed the altitude on the runway was 22 feet below sea level. Does that give you the shivers? Water is everywhere and
canals drain it off. The soil is dark without rocks and the fields are flat–did I mention it’s flat here?

Yes, I’ve already seen some classic windmills. The tulips have already bloomed and are gone–spring was a month early here. At home, spring was a month late. They’ve already harvested their first cutting of hay. At a farm where I was yesterday the timothy was already in full bloom. At Polyface, it’ll be another month before we see timothy heading out.

The most amazing thing to me is the bicycles. They are everywhere. Of course, trains criss-cross the country, running smoothly and on time, so many people do not have cars. At the train stations, massive bicycle parking lots–I mean thousands of bicycles–adjoin the station. Young, old, rich, and poor all ride bicycles everywhere. With no hills, it’s a bicycler’s dream. Five miles is a gentle 15-minute ride. I haven’t seen any fat people yet. None.

To see gray-haired grandmas and grandpas cycling not for fun, but in the course of their day, is truly amazing and wonderful. All the roads, which are half as wide as American roads, have wide bike paths marked. This is perhaps the most bicycle friendly country in the world. Gas sells for $8 a gallon (US)–don’t worry, I already did the conversions. How do you think America would look if gas was $8 a gallon? Would we ride public transportation more, and bicycles more?

The village concept is real here. Clusters of houses and then farmland. Clusters of houses and then farmland. Many of the houses still have neat thatched roofs, and the skill to maintain them is widespread in the country. Very steep roofs. I don’t know what the ratio of bicycles to cars is, but judging by our travels yesterday, I’d say it must be 4:1–actually on the roads. Bicycles are everywhere–did I say that already?

Yesterday I visited an Earthship village. This is a group of 20 households who pooled their money and bought about 5 acres. They’re building their houses primarily out of discarded materials but they are sharp looking. Built in clusters of 2 or 3, with firewalls in between, this maximizes open space, which is held in common. Only 3 households are left after the initial project started, but a waiting list exists of people wanting in. When people discontinue, others quickly step in. The first
construction began about 18 months ago and is due to finish in another 18 months.

They are primarily professionals between the ages of 35 and 45 and are working on each others’ houses with coaching from construction experts along the way. All the houses have composting toilets and run their gray water to a common reed-recycling area. It’s a 3 foot deep bed lined with plastic and filled with pebbles and other medium to grow hydrologic plants. It’s about 30 feet wide and 40 feet long. The grey water comes in one corner and exits the other, clean enough to drink.

All the roofs are living roofs, with about 8 inches deep and then 2 or 3 inches of sandy clay soil on top. They’re all green and growing–it’s fantastic. The insulation value is hard to measure, but it’s huge. Each house has a tiny wood heater. Some have rammed earth tires as a wall, some are straw bale, but all use things that are available locally–some nice local fir adorns several– or would otherwise go to a landfill.

I’ll be touring a couple of farms today, speaking to numerous folks and enjoying this wonderful country.


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