Off the Grid for Good

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(Photo above: Founder of Omfield, Patrick Oliver)

On a recent visit to Omfield, what is most immediately obvious is what isn’t there. Noise, for one. Crowds. Congestion. Concrete. Even the structures are consciously spaced with the intention of maximizing awareness. Although the 36-acre parcel is just three miles from Prineville Reservoir, it feels extremely remote, especially after driving by multiple farms and hayfields on route from Bend. I stepped out of my car into the quiet, parking next to an adorned turquoise bus. The founder and steward of Omfield, the electric Patrick Oliver, greeted me with an ear-to ear smile that immediately warmed me to him and his passion for off-the-grid living.

Omfield is a pop-up community, open to anyone willing to explore the possibilities of balancing natural life with the evolution of technology. Creating its own power through solar panels and batteries, Omfield’s few structures are sparsely sprinkled over the land and include the kitchen/power center, his personal cabin, a trailer, a storage shed/bathroom, the bus, the start of a shelter called the Lexacon and a beautiful temple designed with sacred geometry. The hand-painted bus that serves as a cozy retreat, complete with a library and wood-burning stove, is a personal favorite. I could envision holing up there without my cell phone for days. These buildings were consciously created by Oliver in conjunction with a skilled tradesman who visits periodically from New Mexico and serves as lead volunteer, local volunteers and a youth crew from Heart of Oregon Corps.

As you arrive, the first and most complex building serves as a kitchen and indoor garden and houses the property’s mechanical room. The 600-square-foot building is constructed of earth-packed tires and earth bags below grade, and straw bales and more tires above. As the technology hub, the power room contains an inverter to convert power from DC to AC, and four golf-cart batteries which power everything, including a full-size family fridge, a blender, food processor, water pumps and stove. Along one wall are lovely custom-made juniper benches, which double as storage, as space is at a premium. The garden features a healthy aloe plant which has many medicinal qualities and a productive Meyer lemon tree, and any additional food or ornamental plants can be added. The metal roof is designed to collect rainwater, which is gathered in a huge cistern, providing Omfield with enough water for the year, so no well is needed.

A wind-blocking wall encircles the east side of the house, constructed from earth bags, recycled cans and tires. Tucked within this perimeter is an outdoor solar kitchen, which was cooking rice, at 180 degrees due to cloud cover. A sunny day can boost the cooker’s power to 350 degrees. A barricade protects the free-range cattle from ascending the hill and getting too close to four large solar panels which generate up to 900 watts, more than enough for a typical day’s needs. Not surprisingly, Oliver doesn’t believe in fences or gates, as he wants Omfield to be a welcoming place for all, four-leggeds included. “Everything is fenced in Oregon, and I want us to think about what we are fencing off versus what we’re fencing in,” he adds.

As we walked the property, we meandered through several intentional sacred stations, such as a medicine wheel and labyrinth. Towards the west side of the land, we came upon an earth-colored temple flanked by wave-shaped walls adorned with glass orbs that glisten as the sun hits them. The unusual dome ceiling was reverse engineered, constructed of lathe and chicken wire and 472 welds. The high vault and distinctive shape allows for the amplification of sound and healing. Oliver tested a singing bowl for me, and the lovely resonance lasted 30 seconds after he stopped encircling it. Oliver proudly informs me that the County has the blueprints for all Omfield’s buildings, which are available to anyone interested in the design of sustainable structures.

There is an ebb and flow to the community, with people drawn to live at Omfield and giving of their time or talents in exchange for their living space. The only other dwellers currently are a woman named Kristan and her toddler who reside in the trailer. Regarding this choice, Kristan comments, “The land drew me. It feels more natural to raise my daughter out here, as close to nature as possible. I knew she would thrive out here and I knew I would too because Omfield demands that a person’s behavior is impeccable.” In addition to her healing work, Christine is significantly engaged in Omfield’s cottage industries, which include leather bags and purses and faux fur hats created onsite and sold to benefit the community.

As the land was purchased outright by Oliver in 2009, there are no recurring monthly costs such as a mortgage payment, gas, electricity or water bills, and the annual taxes are just $250. Oliver is the 501©3 chief fundraiser, and, in addition to grants he applies for and receives, Omfield’s largest supporter is a private bank.

The pace of growth at Omfield is tied to incoming funds, and so it’s a stop-and-start process that is also linked to the County’s permitting process. The temple, for example, is completely signed off, whereas other buildings are still being finished. A full bathroom featuring a Sun-Mar compost toilet is one of the next planned products.

When asked about his reason for this lifestyle, Oliver comments, “Omfield is named after a friend of mine who passed away too soon. I realized that there were more important things for me to focus on in this lifetime and that included my patterns of consumption. When you are out here, awareness moves differently than it does in the mainstream. The silence allows you to re-center and as one’s awareness grows from the stillness and the silence, magical moments become the norm rather than the exception.”

In keeping with Oliver’s commitment to serving as a community resource for healing, in the summer Omfield hosts NAC (Native American Church) Teepee Meetings in which locals interact with tribespeople who erect a teepee on the property and hold ceremonial gatherings that last through the night. The next day, after the sunrise and the ceremony concludes, NAC members, dressed in native regalia, dance for hours and share their movements with those in attendance. Similarly, the temple is open for healing rituals, hands-on massage, and ceremony, the results of which are magnified by the energy that is contained within the sacred space.

Not everyone is ready for the commitment to a heightened level of awareness that Oliver expects of his co-habitants. He comments: “We’ve had guests who haven’t completely shut the fridge after a midnight snack, and then the fridge runs all night and drains the battery, which affects the whole community.” But Patrick’s open-door policy remains because he wants to model the opposite of how the rest of the world is run: “Power is usually centrally located, such as in banks and power grids, but out here it’s the opposite. Everything at Omfield is public domain, including the kitchen. It’s an ‘ours,’ versus a ‘mine’ mentality. And that’s reflected in the fact that residents have choices, not chores, and they contribute at whatever level they are inspired to.” Oliver refers to this exchange as an economy of giving.

Visiting Omfield was a liberating experience. For two hours I was guided through a kinder, gentler, slower world that seemed to adequately provide for the needs of its inhabitants. For the entire drive home and well into the evening, I imagined what it would be like to live there, simply, in harmony with the natural world. And the kind acceptance and generosity of Patrick was a happy memory. Omfield is a place that begs the questions: “If not now, when? if not me, who? If not here, where?” The visionary Oliver leads us thoughtfully into our answers.

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Chelsea Callicott

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