Back when the COVID-19 pandemic started, workers at the Earth Citizens Organization (ECO) invited me to spend a night on their property in Cottonwood. After being postponed multiple times because of social distancing and schedule conflicts, I finally visited the nonprofit’s farm early Wednesday morning.
Two friends decided to join me on this journey — NAU junior Andrew Foss and UA sophomore Kyle Openshaw — and we stayed together in a tiny house that night. During the blistering day, we engaged in various activities that promoted ECO’s mission of sustainability: collecting eggs, harvesting lettuce and practicing yoga.
Throughout my life, I’ve wasted too many resources. I travel regularly, my parents drive big cars and we often use nonorganic foods. If people around the world lived like us, sustainability would be unachievable.
At ECO, however, the tiny house showed us that humans can allot and control space quite carefully. Even for three college students bending to fit in the shower, sharing this area was both a welcome challenge and unique adventure.
Shortly before checking out of the Rio Verde RV Park — where ECO’s tiny houses are currently located — Openshaw considered his experience with utilizing and sharing this space. He said most people will never downsize in this manner, likely because it compromises the “American Dream” of owning expensive houses and fancy cars, but also that these smaller living conditions are manageable.
“The tiny house was too compact for us to live in there comfortably for a long amount of time,” Openshaw said. “But if it’s one to two people, I think that’s a perfectly viable living situation.”
After our one-night stay, I think we were all ready to come back to Flagstaff and enjoy extra separation. Nonetheless, our stay in a tiny house demonstrated that sustainability is attainable, interactive and even special.
Pam Rasch, ECO Farm’s manager for the past two months, showed us around the property and explained how operations have changed since a traumatic flood in early 2019. The farm utilizes a system called community-supported agriculture (CSA), wherein farmers can directly connect with local customers. According to the ECO website, this type of agriculture allows members to purchase a share of each season’s harvest, which lasts from March 15 to Sept. 5 this year.
ECO Farm has 88 chickens, Rasch said, which produce approximately 75 eggs daily. Across the property, a greenhouse also regulates temperature and humidity conditions as mint, parsley and other plants are carefully grown. Lettuce is also produced outside, before it is harvested, cleaned and packaged into eight ounce bags every Thursday.
While exploring the farm and staying in the tiny house were memorable, mindfulness was another important component of our trip. After a long day outside, ECO director Paul Yanson took us inside for a combined yoga and meditation lesson.
Our session lasted for nearly two hours, and by its completion, we were all breathing heavily. Yanson directed us through rigorous core and abdomen workouts, while also guiding everyone through typical yogic postures. Additionally, we engaged in long periods of shavasana — also known as corpse pose — that helped to clear our minds and conclude the exercise.
The next morning, we all reflected about mindfulness and meditation after completing a brief hike up 120 steps. ECO founder Ilchi Lee, who also wrote a book titled "I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years," claims that all people are capable of living for this long. While hiking up the 120 stairs, we each stopped and considered the best years of our lives, our current positions and where we hope to be in the future.
“Whatever life you’ve lived so far, all the stages of your past life have come together to make you who you are now,” Lee wrote in his book.
At the top of the steps, Foss said he is not a spiritual person, but he understands others who are. Millions of people work through their lives repeatedly and routinely, he explained, just trying to make enough money and eventually retire. Maybe self-reflection can break this pattern.
“Mindfulness can make seemingly useless or tedious things seem more purposeful,” Foss said. “It’s not something that really speaks to me, but I can definitely see how it’s a powerful tool in some people’s lives.”
While wrapping up this discussion, Yanson said people should make their own choices and become their own leaders. Although ECO’s mission is protect the earth and its inhabitants through sustainability, humans can individually develop their lives.
One example of people generating change, Yanson added, is within the organic food industry at Walmart. Previously, the multinational retail corporation used mass production and sold processed foods, but a greater demand for healthier options adjusted this strategy.
In an article for The Balance, writer Jennifer Chait catalogued the largest organic retailers in North America, and Walmart was listed first. Global Data recorded Walmart’s market share of American grocery shopping as 14.5% in 2016.
This transition happened because of people, Yanson said, who are capable of changing our society. By using self-reflection and following enriched experiences, maybe life can become more meaningful.
“People should have time to educate themselves and discover what they want in their lives, because then they will live with purpose,” Yanson said.