What's in a Name?

As you may recall from a prior post, Lia and I agreed to divide and conquer when it came to the architecture vs interior design. I am handling the building envelope, mechanical/electrical/plumbing and renewable energy systems and Lia pretty much has free reign when it comes to designing and outfitting the interiors. I generally like her style of mixing old world and modern but she doesn’t care for my flair for the 70’s and all the things that come with it. In return for giving up the lead on interior decorating, I got to name our new homestead.

The name, Gaia’s Way Farm, might seem odd and even unpronounceable to many, but it has a deeper meaning. Why this of all names? Well for starters, I ruled out things like ‘Estate’, ‘Manor’, ‘Acres’, or ‘Homestead’ at the end of the name as all being too cliche, pretentious, or unfitting. Ultimately the goal is to have this as a working micro-farm, not unlike the one’s Lia and I grew up on separately, so ‘Farm’ seemed a natural fit and honest enough.

Gaea , by  Anselm Feuerbach  (1875)

Gaea, by Anselm Feuerbach (1875)

The Gaia part has multiple meanings to me. First, being a lover of mythology, Gaia, or Gaea, was the primal Mother Earth goddess of Greek mythology, said to have borne the Titans, Mountains and Sea. The giver of life so to speak. It is not only our desire to have a working micro-farm, but one that is in harmony with Nature and which is sustainable in its practices, including the renovation and restoration of this home.

Second, in 1965 Dr. James Lovelock came up with the Gaia Theory while working at NASA to determine if there was life on Mars. At first, this theory was dismissed by many scientists, but experiments since have provided proof that there is sound evidence to support it. The Gaia Theory posits that the organic and inorganic components of the Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors; that it maintains its own habitability. In a phrase, “life maintains conditions suitable for its own survival,” according to www.gaiatheory.org. The Gaia Theory offers insights into the interconnection of seemingly disparate areas such as climate change, energy, health, agriculture and water cycles that have become urgent today. Once again, it’s ultimately about balance. In this case, the Gaia Theory extends to postulate that the living and non-living elements of the Earth work together to maintain this balance and ideal conditions for life and therefore will self correct as needed to maintain said balance. One could go so far as to say, the Earth will self correct the destruction, pollution and gross over-consumption of resources man has wrought upon it, in order to maintain that balance. Whether or not the human species survives that self correction remains to be seen.

I often ask, when I teach classes on Climate Change, how many planets would we need if everyone lived like we do here in the United States? The shocking and sad answer is estimated to be about 5 Planets. That is obviously not sustainable. We only have one and we are all on this boat together, good , bad or indifferent. The Gaia Theory is no longer dismissed. In fact, it has become part of the study of geo-physiology and Earth systems science, and some of its principles have been adopted in fields like bio-geochemistry and systems ecology. This ecological hypothesis has also inspired analogies and various interpretations in social sciences, politics, and religion under a vague philosophical movement. Harvard has published a detailed paper on this which you can read more about HERE.

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The mission of my practice as an Architect for my whole career, dating back to my discovery of it in College, and now through my own firm, Designs for Life, and since 2010 Lia’s mission with me when we created the Green Building Center and she created her own company in 2015, Simply Sustainable, has been to help find and maintain this balance between the man made/built environment and Nature. Climate Change wasn’t really a thing in the 1980’s or 1990’s when I was in College. In 2006, when Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was released, it exploded into the public realm, though the topic had been talked about for decades prior. We know buildings are responsible for a substantial portion of the global greenhouse gas emissions responsible for Climate Change. We also know they have to be part of the solution. I could write a book about the topic of Climate Change alone…but I digress.

For a brief time, we had a company called Gaiasway Inc., but no one could pronounce it, and few except those deep in the environmental movement knew what it meant. So, our businesses needed to be something more literal and understandable, hence the various names chosen. Why Gaia’s Way Farm for our home? It’s easy to understand now why I would want such a moniker given my passion for green building, sustainability, and deep respect/awe for all things Nature. I am a big believer in walking the talk. I can’t just tell my clients they should be sustainable, I have to and want to live it myself. Once you know the theory behind the name, Gais’s Way Farm makes a lot of sense for two people like Lia and I. It is both a way for us to raise awareness about the precarious balance, or lack thereof, we find ourselves and future generations in on a finite Planet, as well as a way to recognize and celebrate the fact that we know how to do this. We know how to live in harmony with Nature. We know that a once-through stream of consumption, that has no regard for the path of destruction left or pollution caused, is not sustainable.

Gaia’s Way Farm is intended to be an example of sustainable agricultural practices, a community resource for those seeking to be more sustainable in their own lives and business, and a sustainable way of life for us to enjoy and pass down to our Family. The renovated and restored house will showcase healthy building materials, energy efficient heating, cooling, ventilation & lighting, a renewable energy system that allows us to actually live off-grid, water conservation, land stewardship practices, local living (1.5 miles from our office in downtown Lambertville, walkable along the beautiful tow path), and preservation/restoration of a pre-Colonial settlement from one of Lambertville’s original founding families. Calling the property something like the ‘Historic Holcombe Farmstead’ or the ‘Holcombe House Estate’ or some other less meaningful name just doesn’t seem to compare, or encompass, what we’ve envisioned for this place. Nor does it convey how deeply the name I have chosen has been part of my life, my work, and my passion. What’s in a name? A lot…

Lia, Jason & Nutmeg in front of the 1744 ‘walk-in’ fireplace…

Lia, Jason & Nutmeg in front of the 1744 ‘walk-in’ fireplace…