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Historic Berea Kentucky Walking Tour
Item 3 of 11

Ecovillage at Berea College was opened in 2005 by school officials. Located along Washington Avenue, Ecovillage is a housing complex which provides homes for students of the college who have children. Ecovillage was born not just out of a need to provide housing to students and their children, but also the school's desire to establish a sustainable living community. Today, those who live in the community grow their own crops, make their own cleaning products, and reduce energy and water usage through the use of solar panels and irrigation systems. In order to help the families who live within the community, the college also offers a daycare and learning center for children located within the community.


  • A sign marking the beginning of the Ecovillage
  • A side view of a row of houses in the Ecovillage
  • A view of some of the crops housed in the Ecovillage
  • The view from the backside of one of the residences in the Ecovillage
  • The Jackson L. Oldham Ecological Machine
In the late 1990s, Berea College launched an initiative to actively recruit and admit single parents at students to the school, in the hopes of providing the demographic with opportunities that may not otherwise be available to them. Resultant from this initiative was the need for family housing options offered through the college. Instead of building conventional apartments as most universities and colleges do when such a need arises, Berea College instead decided to take the opportunity to combine this need for family-suitable housing with the town's desire to establish a self-sustainable model for the community. The result of this dual desire was the Berea College Ecovillage, located from 116-220 Washington Avenue in Berea, Kentucky. 

The village is comprised of six Colonial-style brick homes which were constructed in 1988 for married student housing. The residences went largely unused, and their convenience made them the school's first choice for use in the establishment of the Ecovillage. The homes and the land surrounding them underwent renovations, the majority of which took place from 2002-03, with the Ecovillage being opened and dedicated in January 2005 shortly before the spring semester. The renovations included the addition of greenhouses, storehouses, small sheds, and more housing options for families, allowing the village to house around 50 families in all. Over time, the village has since undergone additional renovations, with the college adding an information center, a water treatment facility, a natural building shelter, a commons house, and a child development laboratory. Perhaps the most notable addition to the Ecovillage, however, is the Jackson L. Oldham Ecological Machine. According to the college's brochure on the Ecovillage, 
"The ecological machine consists of a series of tanks that provide optimal conditions for bacteria, snails, plants, fish, and other aquatic organisms to consume organic wastes, converting waste water into odor-free, swimmable-quality water. The greenhouse-like environment is also an excellent classroom for teaching biology, chemistry, and other sciences. The ecological machine can process up to 10,000 gallons of sewage a day, which—after flowing through a subsurface wetland and passing through an ultraviolet sterilizer—returns to a majority of Ecovillage buildings to flush toilets. Because much of the waste water from the Ecovillage community flows into the ecological machine, which contains living organisms, residents are taught to not use bleach, antibacterial soaps, or other products that may harm the organisms and decrease the ecological machine’s effectiveness."
Within the village, each family grows their own food and operates solar panels to help power the community while also taking care of their own waste. In addition, each family helps create, distribute, and use green cleaning products and also takes part in composting. The village challenges each family to reduce their energy usage by 75% as well as urging the community as a whole to reduce their per capita water use by 75%, the latter of which is achieved by the village's innovative water innovation system which contributes to landscape irrigation for the residents' crops. The college also urges residents to purify waste and sewage to "swimmable" quality while also having each of them sign a pledge to recycle and compost over 50% of their daily waste in addition to teaching others to do the same. 

In line with the original goal of the village, to provide housing to students with children, Berea College also offers a Child Development Laboratory and Daycare located within the limits of the village. At the facility, officials provide childcare and education for up to 118 students, with many of the center's staff members being made up of other Berea College students, especially those studying ecology, who help maintain the village and teach the children about sustainable living. 
Ecovillage. berea.edu. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://www.berea.edu/campus-map/ecovillage/.

Ecovillage Brochure. berea.edu. . Accessed July 23, 2019. https://4efrxppj37l1sgsbr1ye6idr-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/sustainability/wp-content/uploads/sites/121/2016/09/ecovillagebro.pdf. 

Ecovillage Life. berea.edu. Accessed July 22, 2019. https://www.berea.edu/non-trad/ecovillage/.

Sustainability and Environmental Studies Department. berea.edu.  Accessed July 23, 2019. https://www.berea.edu/sens/ecovillage/.