Raven Rocks community cooperates

BEALLSVILLE ­ – Raven Rocks is an ecological-minded cooperative community on 1,268 acres of wooded farmland near the village of Beallsville, started by 19 people in 1970.

It began as a way to preserve some of the rolling hills in Appalachian Ohio, and as a testing ground for ideas of human nature. Residents focus on the benefits of cooperative living and voluntary sharing of skills and resources for mutual benefit. All of the members share Quaker roots, and have used that common understanding to promote social justice, environmental causes, better farming practices and community peace.

“Raven Rocks today is a community of people dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural and social environment where they live and sharing our knowledge and concern with the broader society. We are 10 official members plus family and friends that join in our efforts,” the raven-rocks.org website states.

All residents use ecologically friendly systems of generating power, including solar panels and wind, although they are still “on the grid.” There are different home designs, but all utilize the latest in eco-friendly techniques.

Don Hartley, a Raven Rocks resident and original member, is working with fellow resident Joel Rockwell on the Locust Hill house project, which began in 1975. Locust Hill is an approximately 8,000-square-foot ecologically friendly building built into a hill, made mostly of concrete and glass, that will eventually be covered over the top with earth and planted.

The Raven Rocks group solicited the help of renowned architect Malcolm Wells to do a design for the house. Wells only charged the group $400 for the first drawings, and after that gave his time and talent to the project over a span of 30 years as the project slowly progressed.

Wells and several original members of the group have since died, but Hartley and Rockwell continue with the help of other residents and volunteers.

“The future use of the building is uncertain, but what is certain is that it will be a handsome, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly building — an asset to the property. Perhaps it will be a residence, perhaps a visitors center, or both,” states the website.

A gofundme.com account has been set up for the Locust Hill building, as much more work needs to be done and materials are costly. Hartley said the building had been funded with money from Raven Rocks Concrete Co., which Hartley and others ran for 30 years.

“We’ve pretty much used up those funds, so we have been appealing for funds on Go Fund Me. My feeling is that if we’re supposed to build it, we will get the funds that are needed. … Joel and I work as efficiently as possible,” Hartley said.

Hartley said the Raven Rocks community is not a “commune.” Each family has its own independent life, but all residents help one another and share with one another when they have a surplus of organically grown food.

“We are there to help one another. We share our skills freely. If I want to do a project and it involves welding and I don’t know how to weld, someone else that knows how to weld would be glad to help. … It makes a huge difference to have a group of people with different skills that support each other yet are independent. … One of the reasons that humans have survived on this planet so long is that they cooperate to an extent that no other animals do. Even though we don’t have long teeth, sharp fangs and huge muscles, with our brain and our cooperation we have become the dominant species. Voluntary cooperation is a superb principle,” said Hartley.

Hartley said the Raven Rocks property was set up as a for-profit corporation that would protect the preserve, and that part of it has been protected by the Captina Conservancy, a local group dedicated to preserving one of the most pristine creeks and watersheds in Ohio.

“Greed and get-ahead-at-any-cost philosophies don’t really work in the long run. They might work in the short run for somebody, but not in the long run — especially not for a whole society. Even though we set it up as a for-profit corporation initially, we wanted to have all the fruits of our labor benefit the society as a whole. … We wanted this place to be a laboratory for new techniques for eco-friendly housing and farming as well as for land preservation,” Hartley concluded.


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