Combat veteran, Lucas Berard, finds peace in the tiny house lifestyle while reaching out to empower other veterans to do the same.
Lucas is easy to spot from just about anywhere in Dancing Rabbit Eco-village. (He’s the beefy guy wearing a florescent orange t-shirt.) I recently found him working in his garden, where we chatted for a bit while he harvested a few peppers and plucked the last tender leaves of fresh lettuce for the year, near the tiny house where he lives: Bluestem. (By the way, if you’re interested in seeing this house, and all the other tiny homes at Dancing Rabbit Eco-village, consider spending three weeks with us in 2016 through our visitor program. You’ll get to see several different styles of tiny houses together in the same place, and learn a lot about environmental sustainability in the process.)
Things are going well for him, he told me. He’s learning a lot about gardening and construction, in preparation for his plans to build an efficient, tiny house-on-wheels in the coming years. He revels in crushing the high scores of all the newbies vying with him for the video game hall of fame, and he reserves his evenings for gazing at the stars through his mondo, high-powered telescope. (Now and then, he even has a chance to share a glass of lemonade with the local hummingbirds. *wink*)
His most important project, however, is the work he is doing as a member of Veterans for Peace. (Lucas spent three years deployed abroad with the United States Army.) VFP is an organization that brings our honored veterans together to expose the true costs of war – in terms of dollars as well as human lives. You can read about Lucas’s story at their website.
Fortunately, the battlefields of Fallujah and Kirkuk are a long way from the rolling hills of northeast Missouri, where Lucas now lives with his partner Brooke, a scientist who specializes in environmental impact analysis. Their home is a beautiful rental property called Bluestem, a tiny house designed for a family to live sustainably.
Bluestem is a traditional stick-frame building made of recycled and locally harvested lumber. It boasts a 448 square foot living space, adjoined by a private bathroom and enclosed mudroom/storage area. The walls stand atop several courses of gravel-filled polypropylene earth-bags that make up the foundation. Eco-friendly cellulose was used to insulate the walls, between exterior cladding of recycled barn-wood batten siding and an inner layer of cozy painted drywall.
The interior features locally milled hardwood – oaken flooring, as well as high quality oaken cabinets that provide the kitchen with ample storage space, along with an overhead rack hanging for pots and pans. (The house was originally intended to be the locus of a dining co-op.) A Premier gas range/oven is connected to two 100-pound propane tanks for cooking, alongside a dish-sink equipped with water via a 20-40 PSI pressure tank housed in the bathroom. The kitchen also has a snazzy new 10 cubic-foot Energy Star refrigerator.
Drinking water is triple-filtered through a ceramic filtration system installed with its own faucet. Separate water lines are in place, ready to receive a water heater. Grey-water flows outside into two barrels where sediments can settle, allowing clean water to be directed into the nearby 6000 square foot garden. Lucas and Brooke spent all summer in the garden working their raised beds, trellises and compost bins, while harvesting mature asparagus and enjoying a variety of fruit from their nearby orchard.
Standard metal roofing panels enable Lucas to catch rainwater and store it in a 1700-gallon cistern buried on the northern exposure of the house. An attic is accessible from inside the building, making additional storage space easy and convenient to use.
Lucas and Brooke utilize Joseph Jenkins’s Humanure Method to compost their solid waste, which vastly reduces their water consumption while yielding nutrient-dense fertilizer for their fruit trees. Bluestem has a well-made deposit location, which ensures that all contents are properly housed and well contained until fully composted.
Winter heating needs are easily met by a cast-iron wood stove in the center of the structure, with the help of an 812 AirMax Ecofan and a solar hot-air panel on the south wall of the porch, also known as a Trombe Wall. A fire in the morning is usually enough to ensure that the house is comfortable throughout the day. Firewood is stored in a 90 square foot utility shed, along with gardening tools and other odds and ends, like the materials Lucas plans to use next year to build an outdoor solar shower.
If you would like to visit Bluestem in person, keep tabs on the Dancing Rabbit Eco-village visitor program calendar. (Bluestem is currently for sale, with an asking price of $47k.) The 2016 visitor program dates are still to be determined, but you can expect the first session to be sometime next April. You might also consider applying for one of the 2016 work-exchange openings, or take time to visit us over our next Open House celebration, where the public can come and participate in a guided tour and other fun activities. Lucas would love to connect with other US military veterans who want to support Veterans for Peace. You can get in touch with him at his personal blog: The Home Front Fight.