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Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Book on PA Solar Energy - Review by Bob Flatley

If you are a Pennsylvania homeowner with an interest in solar power Vera Cole's new book is for you. This hands-on, practical book is written to introduce solar power to the homeowner. It is not a technical manual on how to do an installation, instead it covers every aspect of the decision making process from concept to budgeting to the steps involved in arranging an installation.

The strength of the book lies in her simple yet clear advice guiding the homeowner through the decision making process. The book begins by describing how solar works then goes step by step through all the considerations a homeowner will need to make to decide whether solar might be a good choice for their property.

Of particular interest to Pennsylvanians is Cole's thorough explanation of the new federal and state incentives that can substantially reduce the final cost of a solar installation. She estimates that the average homeowner could save as much as 50% of the total cost of an installation. She covers the implications of state tax and rebate policy, including the latest changes in the law.

One question that people often ask is "How much can a homeowner save with solar electric or solar hot water?" This question is tricky to answer since the cost of fossil fuel-generated electricity can’t be predicted, nor can the future tax and rebate policies be foreseen. Nevertheless, Cole provides homeowners with some quick and easy calculations that can provide a rough answer to this crucial question. Another fuzzy area that the book makes clearer is Renewable Energy Credits. The market for RECs is in its infancy so there is no sure way to determine how homeowners might benefit. The author explains how RECs work and what a homeowner might expect to get from selling them.

The focus of the book is on the payback period for investment in solar. She seeks to answer the question: As an investment, does solar make sense for you? The book provides a way for readers to come to their own decision. If the answer is yes, the book includes advice and a checklist for homeowners to review; useful before, during, and after the installation.

The book itself is a statement of sustainability. It was written, designed, produced and printed in Pennsylvania on 100% post-consumer waste paper, produced at a plant powered by biogas. The book is published by the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA), the sponsor of Pennsylvania's largest green festival - the PA Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Festival held every year in Berks County, PA. The author serves as MAREA’s Director of Local Power and holds degrees in mechanical and industrial engineering.

The book is a short and useful introduction and reference to a confusing area for many homeowners. It includes a very useful companion web site that provides more information in critical areas and the “SunnyMoney” online calculator that easily and quickly generates many of the figures a homeowner will need as they consider going solar. You can learn more about the book and try out the SunnyMoney calculator at


This review will be published in the Sylvanian, the magazine of the PA Sierra Club. Bob Flatley is the chair of the Kittatinny Group. He served on the original planning committee that started the PA Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Festival and continues to volunteer at the event.

Apple Canning Workshop - October 17, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Henry George Workshop with Mike Curtis to be hosted at Ahimsa Village

Join us for an exploration: How the world really works, & how it would work, with Henry George - workshop facilitated by Mike Curtis

October 18, 2009, 10AM to 2pm. Bring a lunch. Light refreshments and snacks provided. Suggestion donation: $5

Make a distinction between the Earth itself and the results of human endeavor .

See what sets wages as an amount and as a portion of what's produced.
Consider the relationship between the owners of buildings & machines and those who use them.
Trace the cause of unemployment, recessions, and depressions.
Learn the formula: common opportunity, individually produced property, and the sharing of community produced property with sustainability and abundance for all.
Examine land rent and the potential of a community land trust.

Henry George was the world's most famous economist. His book Progress and Poverty was only out sold by the Bible in the 19th century. His work was translated into almost every language in the world. John Dewey said the following about George, "Henry George is one of a small number of definitely original social philosophers that the world has produced," and "It would require less than the fingers of the two hands to enumerate those who, from Plato down, rank with Henry George among the world's social philosophers." His ideas so radical, progressive, and true have been largely ignored by modern economists who see them as a threat to modern capitalism.

Seminar Leader: Mike Curtis, former Dir. Henry George School of Social Science, NYC; Trustee and life long resident of the Arden Land Trust in Delaware, School of Living member.

Please RSVP to Bob Flatley or 814-355-0850 if you plan to attend this important workshop!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

PA Renewable Energy Festival

The 5th Annual PA Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living festival will be held Sept. 18-20, 2009 at the Kempton Community Center in Berks County, PA. This is the largest event of this type in the Keystone State. Inspired by the Common Ground Festival and the Midwest Renewable Energy Festival this event offers a unique mix of green living, renewable energy, and sustainable living topics plus great music and entertainment. Ahimsa Village will be represented at the School of Living Table stop by and visit us! More info at their web site

Ahimsa Summer Camp

The 2009 camp just finished up last week. The kids really enjoyed gardening, learning wilderness survival skills, and painting, as well as checking on the chickens every day and feeding them food scraps from lunch. On our last day the kids helped prepare a celebration meal—homemade pizza and fruit smoothies--complete with table cloth and candles out on the picnic table. Thanks to Dominque Marsalek, Jean Forsberg, Barbara Anderson, Chuck Cave, Deb Fisher, Brenda Schaufler, Huston Township Parks and Recreation Authority, and especially Rosalind McIntosh for helping make this year’s camp happen. We are planning to offer a one-day maple syrup camp in February 2010 and two weekend overnight camps in next summer in addition to the summer camp. View pictures.

Appalachian Zen House (AZH)

AZH intern Rosalind McIntosh co-leaded the summer camp with Kelle this summer. Her experience with guiding meditation and teaching nature awareness and wilderness survival skills were beneficial additions to the camp program. Currently Rosalind is residing at Ahimsa Village in the old yurt—Dominique moved out at the beginning of August to live with her boyfriend in town—and has initiated morning zazen in the new yurt three mornings per week.

Floating Lotus Zendo met throughout the summer at Ahimsa Village. With the return of the Penn State students FLZ will once again have zazen in State College on alternating Saturdays. The Speak Your Peace program also has several events for the public in the planning phase for this fall, including workshops on non-violent communication, council circle, Byron Katie’s The Work, mediation, and other tools for compassionate communication. To learn more about AZH visit their web site at


Henrietta got lonely during the School of Living meeting in July and followed us up to Deb’s, her former home. She was attacked by the rooster again but only suffered minor injuries this time. Deb gave us two more chickens to keep Henrietta company so now we have three chickens in residence at Ahimsa. The new chickens are Ji (Chinese for rooster) and Geneveva (pronounced Hen-ay-vay-va). Ji is young, still learning to crow like an adult rooster, and starting to look like a handsome rooster. Heneveva is the oldest of the three and only laid one egg since she arrived. Henrietta keeps laying one egg nearly every day. The chickens spend the hot afternoons in the jungle of weeds that have grown up in their pen.

How My Nephew Came to Attend the SOL Strategic Planning Retreet in July, 2009

Hey, nobody told my nephew about this retreat on Ahimsa Village's Facebook Fan Page and the School of Living Fan Page didn't even exist yet. There wasn't even a Tweet on Twitter about it From:AEROEDUCATION before the Reaching in Reaching Out Retreat. I did however just discover that AERO has a new web address through TipTop Search. I did know that the SOL Strategic Planning Retreat was to be held at Julian Woods Community on July 10-12, 2009, through Ahimsa Village's weekly business meetings, but was not able to attend until a last minute opportunity presented itself. Regarding the background on School of Living as an organization, I barely know that: “The SOL was founded in1934 by Dr. Ralph Borsodi in Suffren, NY to teach people how to live the "good life" in trying times. His vision was carried on and expanded by Mildred Loomis at Lane's End Farm in Ohio and later Heathcote Center in Maryland . The SOL was the leading organization for the "green revolution" and inspired such people as J.I. Rodale, Adele Davis, Paul Keane, the Nearing and many, many others. It pioneered many movements including organic agriculture, permaculture, alternative currency, alternative education, intentional community, “back to the land,” community land trust, etc. The recent history of the organization has focused on maintaining 6 community land trust communities and less so on “green education” (although each community is engaged in educational activities). What made this retreat so unique is that it is the first time in memory that the SOL has held a retreat with the specific purpose of reevaluating its mission, vision, and goals. The event marked a unique opportunity in the organization’s 75 year history to determine its future direction.” Read more.

My interaction with SOL had been a purely an administrative one during the Ahimsa Village property lease signing back in October of 2006. I remember that Robert, Herb, Rita James and some other Land Committee members were there. I had heard about some of the other communities through Bob and Kelle, but had never had the opportunity to chat with anyone from the Common Ground, Heathcote, or Seven Sisters communities. So up until July, my interactions with SOL living members revolved around Ahimsa, Julian Woods and CCA members. I had never read any Henry George, could never remember Borsodi's name, and realized that I knew next to nothing about School of Living's rich organizational history. Well, I'm glad to say that has all changed after I was fortunate enough to attend a the wonderfully organized, beautifully attended, and amazingly provisioned weekend event in Julian, PA. Arriving at Ahimsa Village Friday afternoon, after a visit with family in Bucks County, PA and a flight from my current homestead in Santa Cruz, CA; I was pleasantly surprised that my nephew would be arriving from York, PA the next day to join us...or cash in on his birthday glider ride at the Ridge Soaring Gliderport Getting in on Friday evenings potluck, I immediately knew that I was around good light-hearted people that were gearing up for a serious couple days of get-up, get-down, and get-dirty group action. The workshop sessions facilitated by Grace Potts and Alice Leibowitz of Insight Unlimited were well organized, educational, and productive...especially in a people kind of way. Even my nephew, who arrived mid-morning, was sweeped into a focus group upon arrival and put to task with marker in hand. If you don't recall his engaging conversations during the day, or his fancy disco dance steps Saturday night, you might remember him as the “government guy” in one of closing skits. I seemed to gravitate toward the land-related groups, discussions, and planning areas which opened my eyes to historic land acquisition issues, concerns of those living on the land, and current land administrative and legal hurdles, and future strategic planning opportunities. Beyond getting a real sense of organizational comradery, interpersonal warmth and some real action items, I brought home Henry George's “The Coming Keynesian Catastrophe”, four SOL t-shirts, and a lentil soup recipe. If you would like to reminisce about the weekend please check out the weekend retreat photos.