rustic cooking

RUSTIC COOKING Cedar Moon’s outdoor stoves and oven are made of a combination of mud and straw called cob. The kitchen’s recently finished roof protects the natural appliances from the rain.

Cedar Moon’s story began in 2004. Until then, property that now makes up TLC Farm had been managed by various families since the 1930s. The most recent owners, however, had little interest in working the land, so they rented the parcel to a group of earth-loving farmers who’d taken to calling themselves Cedar Moon. When a developer looking for a place to build a new group of luxury homes offered the owner a large sum of money for the land, the tenants balked. After a two-year battle with the landlord—and after coming up with $750,000 in donations and taking on another $700,000 in loans—the farmers of Cedar Moon snatched the land from the jaws of the bulldozers. They turned the farm into a nonprofit, and the Cedar Moon community became its official caretaker.

“When we were at our eviction hearings, our landlord’s attorney said we were a ‘bunch of delusional optimists,’” Bell recalls. “We actually sort of latched onto that phrase. Delusional optimists change the world. Realistic pessimists? They don’t get much done.”

Now, instead of a small fiefdom of McMansions, Cedar Moon is a living, breathing example of sustainability in action. Not counting the large tepee (the part-time home of resident Bernhard Bach) and the pitched tents of summer interns dotting the edges of the property, the living quarters are confined to two large houses that form the geographical, social, and spiritual center of Cedar Moon. The main abode is a 2,000-square-foot, three-story wooden home whose defining trait is a large communal dining room where bay windows give a widescreen view of the property. Inside, shelves are lined with bulk ingredients in plastic bins, and a dry-erase board lays out the kitchen duties. (Everyone is required to either cook or clean once a week.) In the other house, four private apartment residences are usually inhabited by families or more senior members of the community.

At the southern end of the property, a large barn badly in need of some structural love (sunlight and rain pour through in equal measure) is stuffed with all sorts of farming equipment and row upon row of bicycles, while three Nubian goats munch on blackberry leaves around the perimeter. Their milk and manure are obviously useful, but it’s the goats’ willingness to beat back the creeping vines with their indomitable mouths that makes them truly indispensable. Down a small hill, about 40 chickens peck and scratch at the ground. Their eggs are a daily staple, their flesh a “sometimes food,” and when the flock has razed a plot of grass down to the soil, the henhouse on wheels is moved to another piece of sod. The old ground, now rich with chicken manure, is ready for planting.

Back toward the north end of Cedar Moon is another social hub: an outdoor kitchen equipped with rocket stoves and heated benches, a gazebolike structure called the T-Whale, a raised stage for yoga and outdoor performances, and a sauna. All these things are constructed from cob, an inexpensive mixture of mud and straw, or other biodegradable materials. If left in the rain long enough, everything will melt back into the earth from where it came.