The built environment has always fascinated me, but so have the people who inhabit it. A born and lifelong resident of New York City, I worked at Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, NYU Medical Center, as Clinical Specialist in Barrier Free Design, where I helped newly physically disabled adults modify their homes for accessibility. I loved the challenges of helping people and their families problem-solve renovations that would lead them back into function and a new life. I also really enjoyed working with a revolving cast of contractors and architects. During this time my husband Bob and I were renovating and gardening in a brownstone in Brooklyn, and raising our only child, Ben. I became aware of cohousing some time during that period in tandem with learning about the communities being designed in Scandinavia to include the severely disabled.
After the untimely death of my husband and when my son was settled in college, I returned to my interest in cohousing, this time to explore living in a community somewhere on the East coast. Ideas about what I would want to see for myself as an older person came very much to the fore. I found myself hungry for, and passionate about, creating community. I feel strongly that the nuclear, isolated family in the increasingly large residence, increasingly far from the place of business or school, creating more dependency on the car, is both a social and ecological disaster waiting to happen for this country. I also wanted to be in the country, but not isolated.
When I found Champlain Valley Cohousing, just as it was breaking ground in 2005, the wonderful Vermont life style, beautiful countryside, and the usefulness of my background in construction all came together. Joining with others just as passionate about community, I was welcomed into the early building/decision making phase of our community. I moved into my townhouse with the first residents in 2006 and have never regretted the move. The larger community in Burlington is incredibly welcoming to newcomers, I have had a ball creating the gardens around my house, and I continue to feel enriched in so many ways by the wonderful people here who have joined in this adventure. In addition, our community enriches us each in unexpected ways. As an example from my own experience, it was no surprise that the quiet safe siting of our rural community, which exists so close to the cultural riches of Burlington, is a paradise for families with children, but I did not expect to be so tickled to see a whole new set of little ones interacting and having beautiful relationships just as some of the original kids did, who now are beginning to look like young adults.
I moved to CVC in the fall of 2014, after living in many different communities in the US, Sweden, Germany and Canada. I feel like I have finally found the place I have dreamed of – a community that strives to live and work together but also allows individuals their own private space.
I grew up in Palo Alto, California, with my Austrian father and German mother and four siblings. I always felt very connected in the wilderness enjoying the creek near our house, the hills around Palo Alto, and our summers in Lake Tahoe.
When I read Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in eighth grade, I was terrified that the natural world I loved so much was being destroyed by human activity. That was the beginning of my environmental activism, which has annoyed many a friend and politician over the years. One of the things that led me to look into co-housing communities is that living collectively reduces my carbon footprint. So when my son invited me to move closer to him in Burlington, I came to visit, discovered CVC on a Google search, and decided to buy a unit – half an hour after I visited on a -17 degree January day. No one believed I was serious.
After getting a BS in Biochemistry and finishing all the premed requisites, I never applied to med school because I got a job working on an environmental studies program in Sweden. I ended up getting married to a Swede and spending a total of 28 years living there. After working in a few preschools in Sweden, I began studying alternative medicine, which led me to spend a year in Hamburg, Germany, and then three years back in the US where I got my Naturopathic Doctors degree in 1980. I raised my three children and ran a naturopathic clinic in Sweden until March, 2010, when I returned to California to help care for my mother.
Moving to CVC, I was excited to begin farming with the community children right
away. After a few weeks, I was reminded that making unilateral decisions was not
encouraged in the community. There were meetings I needed to attend to get my plans approved. I couldn’t just build animal housing and get goats and chickens. I began wondering what I had gotten myself into by moving here.
Then I spent a few weeks drawing plans and gathering information for a goat project so I could write a proposal to the Land Use circle. At the meeting to discuss my goat proposal, I realized how helpful it was to get input from others allowing me to add things I had forgotten improving my proposal. It made me reflect on how many mistakes I could have avoided in my life if I would have had the opportunity to allow others to help me think through my projects before I got carried away by my enthusiasm.
Living in cohousing may be more complicated than living in a single-family house
with only casual relationships with neighbors but the richness and learning that comes from making decisions together and sharing the responsibility of our community is well worth the work. I feel like I’m living in a large family where everyone is either like a sibling, a child or a grandchild. Like all families, we have disagreements at times but in the end, we are able to work things out for the best.
Carina Cartelli and Joe Lasek
We first visited Champlain Valley Cohousing late in 2004 and we knew right away that this was the place that we would firmly establish our family’s roots. We became partners on the summer solstice of 2005 and one year later we purchased our lot here in 2006. After many months of planning and more months of construction, we completed our single-family home here. We fulfilled our dream of building a timber frame home that is Energy Star 5-star-plus rated, powered by solar electric/solar hot water panels and heated/cooled by a geothermal system.
Over the past few years we have focused more on incorporating landscaping practices that allow us to derive as much food as possible from our land and attracting the wonderful birds, bees and critters needed to sustain a productive and vibrant landscape.
While we have cherished living out our deepest ecological values, we have found that the most important aspect of living in community is the deep and varied connections our family has made. We have enjoyed sharing time and personal gifts with our neighbors whether working, singing, dancing or playing games. Our children have flourished among friends, both young and old. They walk out the door all times of day to find ready play mates, mastering their own social lives with minimal management by mom and dad. This is something wonderful and rare in this day and age, and we are extremely grateful for it.
Of course, having the opportunity to live in a sublimely peaceful setting in rural Vermont, with ready access to a vibrant small urban center has also been influential in our decision to become members of this particular community.
Dan and Julia Cavanagh
Dan and Julia moved to Champlain Valley Cohousing with their two daughters from Rhode Island in April 2017. Coming from a dense suburb, we are delighted with our spacious community. We enjoy the spontaneous social interaction, the family-friendly lifestyle, and the real connection we have with our neighbors. Champlain Valley Cohousing seems like the best combination of country (space) and city (neighbors).
We are loving the fresh air, trails, and the peaceful environment and find ourselves spending much more time outside. Our children quickly acclimated to being able to walk out our front door and play on the green. They love having so many children available to play with and are developing strong social skills. For our young family, CVC is a sanctuary.
Per and Jenny Eisenman
Our family spent ten years living at Champlain Valley Cohousing. We found our way to CVC by way of Northern California, where we met, became parents, and started exploring cohousing for our family.
While we currently live in Shelburne, Vermont, we will always feel connected to the special place where our children experienced their early childhoods, and where we all four grew and thrived among caring neighbors, open spaces, and natural beauty.
We recognize that our children’s experiences growing up in cohousing were unique and nurturing in ways that are difficult for families to access in today’s world. Our children had playmates just outside our door, and many open, natural spaces in which to play, imagine, and explore. I am grateful for the ways in which the freedom, autonomy, safety, and caring our children experienced at CVC has contributed to a sense of confidence and trust in the world.
As adults, we were buoyed up by living in a community that supported us as a family and as individuals. We enjoyed running and walking on our trails, sharing meals and conversation with neighbors, game nights, sing-along evenings, and dance parties. Social opportunities were right at hand, but not obligatory—the balance between privacy and social connection worked well for us.
We are thrilled to see new families and individuals find their way to CVC—we imagine that the community will nourish and delight others for many years to come.
Dora Coates and Wolfger Schneider
Dora Coates: I had known about Champlain Valley Cohousing since its inception when I worked on drawings for the architect, though I knew nothing about how the community would develop. In early 2007-8 I lived nearby and got to know some of the members here, and then rented a room for a short time from Mary Van Vleck. Thus, I had a chance to know CVC and the people who lived here before moving in November of 2013 to live with Wolfger Schneider. By then the recession was helping me to retire my business of designing small homes.
I grew up in a large family on rural property in Maryland. I loved the woods and streams and had a carefree childhood. When I left home after high school it was to explore the Big World and to “find myself.” The big cities and the sixties’ alternative movements drew me in. From peace marches to macrobiotics, my years were spent in Philadelphia, Boston, Scotland and then California. My two children and I lived in the San Francisco Bay area for eight years until they graduated from high school.
My childhood summer vacations were often spent in New England, and for some reason I always thought of Vermont as home. So in 1994 I moved east, and within two years I was living and working in Vermont. It was as if I belonged. In Montpelier I studied environmental house design, worked with several architects, and in 2002 conceived my business, Dovecote Design. My idea was to be an alternative to the architect.
After nine years in Montpelier, I moved a bit to the west and eventually came to rest in Charlotte. Although I don’t use computer aided software anymore, I still dabble in home design for fun. I’m also in a writers group, like to discuss social issues, and at this point (2017) am pretty fed up with politics. Other things I enjoy: cooking with whole foods, knitting with natural yarns, watching movies of the independent variety, and reading historical fiction.
CVC is to me a community in progress, and it’s been exciting taking part in all the changes and improvements we’ve made. We are always thinking of what next to do and how to build on to what we have. There is so much potential here as the world and the climate spin their course.
Wolfger Schneider: Born at the beginning of World War II into a self-sufficient, nearly late medieval farming village in Germany, surprisingly formed my current view of human settlements 70 years later. Helping create that view was living in the mid-Atlantic region of the US with its rapid, unplanned growth of car-centric human settlements while getting an education and raising three lovely children.
Seven years of electrical engineering studies at Drexel University were an excellent foundation for my 40 years of work at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in the Baltimore-Washington area. I designed specialized electronic systems for submarines to spacecraft to biomedical instrumentation. The one aspect of my jobs that was most meaningful was the required systems thinking. This view of evaluating and creating solutions for problems started with my reading of Donella Meadow’s Limits to Growth (1972) which explains The Club of Rome Report on the future of human life on this finite world.
After having practiced human created engineering, I now believe that the best engineering on the planet has already been done and evidence of its products are all around us in nature for us to learn from, appreciate, and respect. We need to learn to live within that marvelous system design and implementation without ruining or destroying it, as we are currently doing with our unsustainable numbers, our hubris, and our capitalist economic system ever dependent on growth in a limited world.
After retirement, my wife’s vision of her future did not match mine and she left, freeing me to search a new path in my life. I embarked upon a 13,000 mile trip across the US and parts of Canada to find a desirable new location for my envisioned lifestyle. Surprisingly, Vermont was my final choice, in part because it was cold, wet, and had not yet experienced the crazy growth madness of other previously desirable places.
I arrived at CVC while bicycling along Lake Champlain looking for a place to live and was enamored by the design of the community and the friendliness of those greeting me. I almost immediately decided to buy a lot and build a small net-zero energy house surrounded by gardens for beauty and kitchen. As fortune would have it, one of the residents was a house designer and together we designed a somewhat unique house for Vermont. Three years later the designer, Dora, became my life partner and we now enjoy living here even though she misses the bathtub she recommended for the house which I found to be a waste of energy originally.
Co-housing, I believe, is about as close as I will be able to come to that medieval farming village yearning. It attracts people who have decided that living in a rural community is a more natural way than living on isolated individual lots in the suburbs or apartments in the city. Sharing 125 acres of forests and agricultural land offers many opportunities for a community to be more self-reliant and thus more resilient to any impending societal upheaval.
Marlee Ford and Rick Cusick
Rick and I moved from Brooklyn, NY, to an attached home at CVC in January of 2007. We met in Philadelphia in the 90’s, moved together to San Francisco, and then lived in NY for about eight years. We loved loved loved our life in Brooklyn – the fabulous friends, food, creative energy, diversity, intensity – until Nina was born. And then nothing felt more important to us than having grass she could roll in, mud to muck around in, clean air to breathe, a place to play with friends where she was safe and free, and the ability to play without it being scheduled for her.
Now we don’t think we could ever live in a city again. To be surrounded by such natural beauty makes every day feel like the sacred gift that it is. We often go for walks or bike rides with Nina in the early morning and again at dusk, bringing us a deep sense of well-being as we learn about the joys of living in rhythm with nature.
Our second child, Massimo, was born at our home here at cohousing. The support from our neighbors during and after the birth was storybook perfect.
We suspect that we would not be happy living in the country without cohousing, as we are both very social and so would feel too isolated. We are enjoying the opportunities that exist here for building deep connection with others, for learning about ourselves, and growing through this connection.
Rick and I agree that we are most proud of the fact that we have learned to be loving, joyful, respectful partners and parents, as well as trustworthy and supportive friends to others. Love, work, and knowledge are the foundations of our happiness.
Cohousing allows us to live more fully the deeply held values that we talk about. As soon as we learned about cohousing, we knew we had found the way we wanted to live; we just needed to pick the right place. We and our friends have always talked about living together in a village, a place where we could build deep connection, gathering at the end of the day to feast on food and conversation, to play music and dance, and to share our children. After visiting CVC, we felt like we had found that village, and it was already full of wonderful folks we would be happy to build friendships and community with.
Cohousing also resonates deeply with our ecological values. We are happy to be moving into a lifestyle where we will be recognizing and respecting the interdependence of all life through sustainable living. In conjunction with this, we are so happy to be moving into the country, where going for a walk in beautiful nature means a walk out our front door, rather than a train ride or car ride out of the city!
We are also very excited about the benefits of cohousing for children. We believe strongly in child-centered societies as we regard caring for children as among our most sacred duties. The first time we visited a cohousing community, we were so struck by the freedom and safety the children have. We love that our kids can choose their activities and play without needing to schedule play dates or sign up for classes.
As a child I roamed the hills, woods and shoreline of Long Island, New York. The natural world was my playground and eating fresh foods from our garden was a baseline assumption. Now, after college, marriage, career and two delightful children, I am fortunate to be privileged to craft a lifestyle that matches my values and proclivities.
After discovering the cohousing option (where small is better and sharing is the expectation), I moved to Vermont to participate in creating a new cohousing venture. Three years later I was challenged by the invitation to be Project Coordinator during the construction phase of creating Champlain Valley Cohousing on these splendid 125 acres close to Lake Champlain, Mt Philo, and Burlington, Vermont (where my husband, daughter, and grandchildren reside). In 2006, I became the first occupant on site!
A full decade later, I still feel privileged to share this multigenerational venture of living sustainably, close to nature, with others who choose to pursue a similar vision.
In a life of many adventures, my new role of Granny is one of my favorites so far. I recently moved to Vermont from Martha’s Vineyard to be near my granddaughter and her beloved parents. In the process I found a community /family, as well as my delightful new home, at CVC.
I’ve been a special ed teacher, nursery school teacher, puppeteer, storyteller, spiritual seeker, student of Plant communication and herbalism, practitioner of reflexology and Plant Spirit healing. I have three magnificent children and a darling, brilliant grandchild.
I’m on the visioning council of the Organization of Nature Evolutionaries and edit its online newsletter.
I love participating in ceremony for the earth and have been searching out ways to support and protect the rights of Nature to thrive. I love storytelling, especially fairy tales, and enjoy many kinds of crafting. I like to share herbal knowledge and healing ritual. I treasure the trees and fields around CVC community and the possibilities for mutual support and friendship that abound here.
Mary Van Vleck
This cohousing community (CVC) broke ground early in 2005; I was there to witness this amazing process, while initially commuting from Massachusetts. I watched as the road was built, (so many huge bulldozers!) electric lines and water and sewer pipes were laid, and the buildings put up, one and then another. At the time, I felt like a newcomer: others had done all the planning and jumped through seemingly endless hoops to gain the necessary permits. They had to convince the townspeople of rural Charlotte that our “development” was going to be environmentally friendly and energy-efficient! But I hung in there, and was one of the first to move in, in August, 2006. Now I am one of the “old-timers,” amazed to think that we’ve been here now for eleven or more years!
Why did I move to this Champlain Valley Cohousing community? I wanted to return to Vermont, where I’d lived in my 20s and 30s, land that I love, and to be near my daughter’s growing family. I had grown fond of the people who started CVC; plus I loved the idea of living in a community of like-minded people!
I have thrived while living here, first in one of the attached units and then for ten years in a timber-frame home I had built. Now, in my 70s, I have returned to one of the smaller attached units, which, though close to others, is all mine and very private when I wish. I have helped to plant trees along Common Way as well as in my own little yard and have tackled with others the invasive buckthorn, honeysuckle, bittersweet that grow so well in our woods. I’ve helped raise turkeys and chickens, and have watched closely as other cohousing friends have tended a few cows, an alpaca, a flock of sheep, pigs, and most recently 3-5 goats. Along the way, I’ve learned the nutritional and environmental values of organic and locally raised foods.
Daily I am surrounded by an amazing group of people of all ages, all leading active lives as doctors, teachers, engineers, students; and I’ve had the pleasure of watching our youngsters grow from small children into delightful young adults. Those who came as one and two-year olds are now in middle school, and a few have gone on to the local high schools. We have grown together as one extended family, daily reaching out to offer friendship, companionship and often much needed help to each other. Many are also instant companions for hikes, bicycle jaunts, movies and concerts, and of course dinners together, either “on campus” or in the surrounding towns. Each year is different from the next as people come and go; the animal populations change. We still have three lots to sell and someday we’ll build our Common House. We never know what’s ahead, but we do know one thing: more changes are coming, and most will be good ones!