Our community is continually evolving and growing as we work and live side-by-side, and as new people join us to live in the cohousing movement!
The connection between community members at Liberty Village is an essential aspect of day-to-day life in a cohousing community. On a typical day, neighbors can be seen chatting on their way to and from work, while collecting the mail or taking an evening stroll with their dogs. These interactions may seem inconsequential, but in an age where texting takes precedence to face-to-face connections, we believe that the relationships we develop through these natural conversations enrich our lives. Along the same lines, at Liberty Village, children gather in small groups to play among the trees, sled down the slope, and ride bikes through the neighborhood, spending time outdoors and socializing with their peers rather than resorting to screen time as their primary form of entertainment. Fellow residents are comfortable borrowing items from the people next door, sharing childcare arrangements, helping those who are sick, discussing gardening tips, and baking cookies for new arrivals and new friends. Despite our diverse personalities and backgrounds, we care deeply about one another and are committed to developing a community wherein members actively seek out ways to help one another. We also join together for events like weekly dinners, seasonal celebrations, concerts, impromptu game nights, pick-up soccer matches and community work days. Sustainability and eco-friendly living is part of our shared vision at Liberty Village. Our community gardens are part of this vision, providing fresh produce to members of the community. In the spring and summer, members can be found working together to plant and care for our gardens. We have (how many?) composting receptacles within the community, and members are encouraged to cut down on food waste while simultaneously helping the soil development in the gardens by composting. Members can also be found taking a stroll along the the paths in the “back 40,” 15 acres of conservation land that is also home to the community’s chickens that provide members farm fresh eggs on a weekly basis. As a "Homeowners Association", we manage and maintain Liberty Village ourselves. Residents participate in decision making by attending community meetings and by serving on a variety of teams designed to keep the various components of Liberty Village running smoothly.
Our community is continually evolving and growing as we work and live side-by-side, and as new people join us to live in the cohousing movement!
When I first told our friends we were thinking about moving to a cohousing community, the reactions I got were a mixed bag of enthusiasm and skepticism. Some had questions about the effectiveness of the consensus model, others worried about lack of privacy, others about whether we would have enough freedom to design a house to our liking. And let’s face it: when you tell your friends and family that you’re moving to a “cohousing community” or an “intentional community” the first thing that runs through their heads is, “so you’re moving to a commune.”
Obviously, this isn’t the case. Having been raised in the Pacific Northwest, I’m no stranger to Left Coast, hippie culture, and while I’m all for Birkenstocks, composting, and eating organic, a commune is a bit much, even for me. That said, in an age when I and my peers—the much maligned millennials— are increasingly isolated due to social media and social mobility as we move away to find jobs or to be near family, the idea of being part of a close-knit community that functions more like an old fashioned village than a modern suburban neighborhood is more appealing to me than upgrading to the iPhone 8.
But let’s back up. As of May 2017, I had never heard of Liberty Village or cohousing. In May I graduated with a PHD in English after nine long years of grad school and suddenly realized that we could start thinking about what to do with the rest of our lives now that school didn’t have to be the focus. However, we weren’t interested in living in one of the big cities nearby, nor were we interested in continuing to invest in our lovely, but in-need-of-repairs 1949 ranch home. We were interested in the idea of “intentional community,” but didn’t know if there was such a thing in Maryland near where we both work.
I started googling “intentional communities in Maryland,” which led me to the term “cohousing,” which led me straight to Liberty Village. After poring over the website for days, I broached the subject with my husband, Mike. While he was skeptical at first, like me, his interest was peaked by the concept of intentional community building as well as Liberty Village’s focus on sustainability and eco-friendly living.
We decided to take the plunge and contact the village for more information. I sent an email introducing my husband and myself and explaining our interest in the village. I also had about a million questions. I was promptly answered with an email that addressed about 999,999 of my questions, and Mike and I were invited to visit the village and take part in one of the community dinners where residents come together to share a weekday meal.
This would be one of several ensuing visits to the village. We were greeted by many friendly residents, got to tour the “back 40,” 15 acres of beautifully wild conservation land, and even got to meet the chickens, which, frankly, remains the highlight of these visits. Don’t get me wrong, the people in the Village are wonderful. But guys, there are free range chickens that lay free range, farm fresh eggs. And sometimes, there are baby chicks. Baby.Chicks. Enough said. Moving on from the chickens.
Aside from the wonderful people, the community meals, and the chickens, Liberty Village is a quick 20-30 minutes away from Frederick, MD, a charming little foodie town that I can’t wait to explore. The community is also within close access to several trail systems including the Appalachian Trail, which I also can’t wait to explore. One of our favorite hikes in the area is up on Sugar Loaf Mountain, which provided a solid day’s worth of hiking, and on the way back, a conveniently located vineyard to quench our thirst after a long day’s hike.
There’s a lot more I could say about Liberty Village: how they encouraged us to attend business meetings before we made any decisions, how beautiful the community gardens are, how excited I am to be a part of a community that supports values like non-violent communication and eco-friendly sustainability practices. For now, however, I’ll just say this: Liberty Village is on to something. It’s a symptom of the modern age to yearn for a “simpler time,” but I’m not convinced that any time was necessarily “simpler.” I do think, however, that people used to be more connected; people knew their neighbors’ names; borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbor next door wasn’t weird or even dangerous. As my husband and I complete the design for our new house in the village and sign a contract with Lancaster Builders, I look forward to learning my new neighbors’ names, borrowing that cup of sugar, and maybe, just maybe, helping to raise a few chickens along the way.
I’ve been thinking of you a lot, but particularly I wanted to share with you the story of one of the greatest adventures of my life. Yes, even greater than that time I took you for the mule ride down the rim of the Grand Canyon.
I’m living in a neat place called Liberty Village which I helped develop. This is a cool idea called a cohousing community, where all the neighbors worked together to build the community and now live here together with lots of things which we share like tools and gardens and even fresh eggs from chickens here. Every family here has its own home which they bought themselves and every home is a little bit different, different enough that every home has a distinctive character, just like all the homes in Buffalo were very similar in size, but each had its own builder features that made it unique.
I’ve been working on developing this community since 1990 which is the longest single project I’ve ever taken on. But it’s been the most rewarding project I’ve ever started also. Maybe you figured out I would be a builder someday since I was always trying to build stuff when I was a kid. But the great part of this is stuff I never had in mind when I started planning the project with just a few folks I met here in Frederick. The great part is all the people who have come together to live here and every one of them has added something unique.
When I first met the group, I was just thinking about the economy of getting a lot of people together to buy a large piece of land and plan a small community with our homes clustered together so we could keep the rest of the land with lots of trees and open space. Not like a Buffalo type subdivision all carved up with streets, and not like a Godfather type fenced enclave either, but an open space clustered community, kind of like a small village with plenty of space for kids to play or walk around or ride bicycles, just like I used to do in Buffalo, but much safer because we’d be away from heavy traffic. In fact, one of the guys here became a bicycling mentor to me long before we found the property. He helped me by taking me out for bike rides on the local roads and I got a lot stronger riding with him until we were doing 100 mile bike rides together across the state. That’s kind of how the people here get together and help each other become better people. Happens all the time.
Anyhow, we started looking for land together to build this community and found a small farm which no one was farming any more. It had a great old home that was all brick like a 16th century English Manor House. It was built in 1753 actually and was one of the first homes in this area, before there was even a town here. Well, that was too big for any of us and we all wanted newer homes so that’s what we finally developed and built. In fact, we built duplex homes, side by side so we could save money on construction costs and save energy by not being as exposed to the winter cold and summer heat. Over half our land will never be built on because we have preserved it forever for woodland and even planted over 800 new trees to create a forest that will be here for our kids and grandkids. Well, not mine, but somebody’s.
Another thing I was never planning on but just happened is our gardens. At first, just a couple neighbors wanted to plant gardens for vegetables for their families. The next year, their garden was over twice as big and several folks were gardening together. Now there are a lot of gardeners, all planting and growing fresh vegetables and sharing their surplus and we often get fresh fruit and vegetables for our community dinner table. And a couple chicken coops providing fresh eggs every day.
That’s another one of the greatest things here. We have community meals together every week. This happens all year long. One of the neighbors plans a meal schedule and folks team up and plan a menu and share the meal prep, cooking, serving and even cleaning up together. The rest of us, which is now over 60 neighbors, come together for dinner and enjoy eating and conversation and watching each other’s kids growing up. There’s about two dozen kids here now. They have a great time playing together, riding bikes, skate boards, scooters, just like I did with all my brothers and sisters.
I wish you could visit here with us, but at least my daughter Rebecca has been able to come and visit and she liked it a lot. MaryAnn also came here and celebrated her 70th birthday here in our Common House. That’s a separate home which we all own together and use for common events like dinners, meetings, movies, sometimes for childcare or even separate family celebrations like MaryAnn’s birthday. All 9 of my brothers and sisters came together here to celebrate with MaryAnn and brought all their kids also. I guess we had at least 60 people here for a family celebration and I wish you could have been with us to join in.
So that’s the story of how I/we started Liberty Village. Without the others, it never would have happened. I’d much rather work with a team and when we got together on this, we just made it happen.
Love you, Mom, wish you were still with us.
When we started planning for the cohousing community that was to become Liberty Village, MD, I was also consulting with other groups interested in starting cohousing communities in Montgomery County, MD and Vienna, VA.
Out of those group efforts, I encouraged one group to continue and they became a very successful and well managed community.
I encouraged the other group members to not try to continue starting a new community in a very competitive real estate market and to merge their efforts into other communities and create synergy through combined efforts. They did and they are very happy about their decisions.
I recommend that any small group in particular, especially those who are thinking of breaking new ground as pioneers, or who may have made a best effort and folded their program, to consider moving en masse to an established community which may still have multiple lots, condos, or home building opportunities still available. Many experienced builders over the past years combined companies rather than risk trying to restart in an uncertain economy.
Why start over on a four to ten year risk loaded enterprise when an energetic community is waiting to embrace you all only a few hours drive or a brief airline flight away. A good example: Liberty Village in Maryland has 18 homes completed and ten platted lots immediately available to start construction. We are working vigorously to determine what makes new housing even more affordable more quickly: Smaller Houses? Lower Quality? Different Technology? Dropping geothermal ground source heating systems and focusing on smaller and tighter homes with photovoltaic instead? Liberty Village is trying to be open to all creative thinking.
As Liberty Village completes its next ten new homes, it will also have ample land and zoning available to build another ten later to bring it to our approved community size of 38 total new homes. Liberty Village has already moved in at least three households relocated here from California, and all appear to be well assimilated as settlers even if they missed the opportunity to join us as pioneering burning souls 15 years ago. One retired to move here; another kept her California job and works here remotely with ample time to walk her dog every day instead of driving to an office; another negotiated job reassignment to her company's Maryland office and left cohousing in California to leapfrog to Maryland. She rented a house initially and is buying a home this year.
There are 28 households here including renters now sharing the existing 18 homes, and enjoying community meals every week in a charming, delightful, photovoltaic energized Common House. More residents may mean even more common meals as well as less work for everyone. The number of kids has grown from four to 24 and they have a very active Kids Club of their own.
If you'd rather live with friends than strangers, check out Liberty Village with your family and friends. Why start over on a four to ten year risk loaded enterprise when an energetic, experienced community is waiting to embrace you all only a few hours away.
Cheers and best cohousing wishes,
Liberty Village, MD
Since I turned in my grade book and last lesson plan to become a retired teacher, I have been, well, a bit busy.
Teaching isn't the kind of profession that allows for much discretionary time, despite having the "summers off." So once I retired, I had to find and reweave the threads of my pre-teaching life.
One major thread is growing and preparing yummy food and beautiful flowers in my large "intentional" gardens. Another is learning to play tunes on various sizes of ukuleles. A third is exploring the world of artistic expression and sharing works of art. I find myself the manager of the Blanch Ames Art Gallery in Frederick, Md. Not a position I was seeking, but a worthwhile organizational challenge and chance to help artists share their self expression with others.
Arranging other people's works of art so they hang together has re-stimulated my long latent creativity in the 3D visual art field. No more paper, no more books, no more students' dirty looks!! And voila! Here is my first self-portrait since retiring!
If she only had snakes for hair, she would probably turn you to stone. Next step is to turn her from red rock clay to Bondo, which is hard stuff, indeed. The other head is of my sweet husband. Hard as a rock is his Bondo head, and just as pretty as a picture.
I wonder who will be my next victim, I mean, subject? Any volunteers in the Village?
The garden plots at Liberty Village are robust and fussy affairs. Rectangles of posts and wires, long mounds of fertile earth and tidy rows of tomatoes, beans and corn lined up like schoolchildren. This obedience to schedule and geometry pays dividends, and I’m most thankful for the big bowl of fresh greens my wife tosses in the colander.
But this work is not for me. I like to wander.
I have more in common with the fat little squirrel scurrying about. He’s a lazy-busy fellow, going where he pleases, forgetting about the trees he’s planted and eating what he wants.
My brother the deer understands me as well and knows the early summer mornings are the best. This is wild berry season. Duck under dewy webs, trample poison ivy underfoot and push through shoulder-high bramble. The rules out here are first-come, first-served. There is no pest control, unless you count my nudging aside a beetle or slug or spider. I’m bigger than bugs, I don’t mind the rain and I will fill my gallon bowl with juicy black raspberries.
Woodland gardening is a leisurely exercise. Wild animals don’t work up a lather, hauling hoses in the hot sun. Moseying is the proper speed to discover what is ripe, to linger over patches of moss, to daydream by a trickle under the canopy.
Sure, I do some weeding, but not the sort. Mr. MacGregor would recognize. I’m not after a manicured produce factory. I’m in search of that primordial woodland of 500 years ago.
If it’s native, it stays. If it’s invasive, it goes.
Garlic mustard, English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, mile-a-minute vine…there are many more baddies, but those are the worst offenders. Weeding is best in winter. Those invasive plants show themselves, ever growing while natives rest. I easily tear them from the January mud.
Some of you are wagging your finger thinking we humans are invasive too…and we are, sort of. Our species has been in North America some 13,000 years but these aggressive foreign plants arrived only a century or so ago.
An arbitrary cutoff? Let’s let the bugs adjudicate this matter. They have no interest in eating these invasive plants, which means these weeds grow unfettered and crowd out the natural diversity. The bugs can’t thrive as well without food, which means the other animals have fewer bugs to eat. As a woodland gardener, I love ecological balance and want bugs, even if the mosquitos and ticks wish to make a meal of me. I suppose there’s justice in that.
There are many wild animals to spot in the woods of Liberty Village. Great-horned owls, garter snakes, red foxes, and this fool in a frayed t-shirt and torn nylon pants. Come garden with us.
So, do you all dance naked around a drum circle and sacrifice goats?
Only on Saturdays.
KIDDING. We DO converse and parent around bonfire circles. We DO raise chickens and hope to have more beneficial animals in the community in the future. But, we are not some sort of "compound", "commune", "religious thing". Believe me, we've heard it all. Some of us have strong beliefs. Some of us are atheists. Some of us love gardening. Some of us own dogs. Some of us make dandelion syrup. :)
We are just people, like those in your neighborhood. The only difference is that we've chosen to live in a community where everyone contributes and we value our relationships.
We are both an intentional community and a co-housing community.
So, ya'll live together?
Not in the same house! We have a porch neighbor, so the set up is similar to a duplex but with a full house on either side.
We share meals about once per week, yard work, gardening, and responsibilities for upkeep and promotion of our community. Yes. We want you to know about us. No. We are not trying to "recruit" you or make you drink our kool-aid. ;)
What's unique about us is that we all have daily interaction with neighbors, there's no driving between homes so children are safe to play, and we strive to leave a small carbon footprint.
Some of our eco-initiatives include composting, permaculture practices, small scale gardening, solar panels, geothermal heating/cooling, creation of rain gardens, rain water collection barrels, and raising our own chickens. Most of us are striving to live in an eco-friendly manner. We learn from one another on best practices and new practices.
Twice per year we hold a Village Fest to invite our larger community - Frederick County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Carroll County, and beyond - to visit, tour, and learn with us. We welcome visitors at any point and would love to have you for one of our summer events - meals, hot dog roasts, or other celebrations.
Feel free to reach out to ask any and all questions or come on over for a visit! Come back to the blog for some educational, funny, and super rad posts from the residents of Liberty Village!
-Jacqie, Pirate Captain of the Blog. . . I commandeered this vessel.
Reading these cohousing books helps new groups and new residents/renters to understand the full implications and responsibilities of living in cohousing.
Creating Cohousing. Building Sustainable Communities. by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett (2011).
Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living. The Handbook. by Charles Durrett (2009).
A note from authors/architects Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant:
What's in a book?
Last week, in Washington D.C., I was told about two cohousing neighborhoods that were successfully organized and built in the D.C. area. I was then told that the same organizer (Ann Zabaldo) and developer (Don Tucker) recently tried to organize another cohousing development but couldn't get traction. After six months of hard work the cohousing community, that had everything going for it, (affordable, team with a good track record, etc.) could not get off the ground and was abandoned. I asked Ann what happened?
I would think the third should be easier since there were two great local, and both prize-winning model projects to look to. Ann said that the main difference was that in both of the early projects, everybody who came to the table had read the book. What book? The cohousing book, now called Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities by Katie McCamant and Charles Durrett. In the third project, no one who came to the table had read the book. There was incessant explaining, backtracking, clarifying, and discussing. People were always in different places on the understanding scale. They couldn't coalesce, and when it became clear to some people, others were just starting and bogged the rest down. People became frustrated and disappeared, until finally the project could not afford the dialogue necessary to get enough people moving forward at the same time with a predictable pace. Predictable enough so that people didn't think that they were wasting their time.
Cohousing is more than a sound bite. Nowhere on the internet is the story of why and how a cohousing community won neighborhood of the year in the USA in 2004, or a hundred other stories and distinctions of how these projects hold a vision and move forward in a deliberate fashion. The internet is great for some things, but telling a story and having that story sit on the coffee table available to discuss with friends and visitors at a moment’s notice because when they say "what’s this," only a response with sentences, paragraphs, and complete thoughts will be fully understood. It is sometimes beneficial to hold in your hands the whole story, or at least enough of the story for there to be a foundation to build from. Web pages come and go in a matter of seconds in some people's hands. Those first two projects were developed before the switch to internet-based communication, yet they were highly successful. The internet has firmly established its place in our daily lives, but it’s not a panacea, and an email or a web page, will never replace a good face-to-face with a friend, or a book.
Empirically, it has been clear that the cohousing book makes projects happen. When we started the Nevada City project, the first thing that we did was to go to the local library. All three copies of the book were almost continuously checked out, in a town of only 3,000 people. Of the 25 families who started that project, virtually all of them had read our book. That made it possible for the Nevada City cohousing to happen.
Set future residents of your cohousing up for success; give them a copy of Creating Cohousing to read. Set your group, and your future community, up for success by getting on the same “page” – read the book.
Charles Durrett and Katie McCamant Authors & Architects