The Homestead at Denison University

The Homestead at Denison University

The Homestead at Denison University (Granville, Ohio) is a student-run intentional community with a focus on environmental sustainability and voluntary simplicity. Founded in 1977 under the guiding vision of biology professor Dr. Robert W. Alrutz, it is an evolving experiment in learning through living. Membership is limited to twelve full-time students of Denison University per semester. These students (referred to as “Homesteaders” or “Homies”) represent a variety of ages, backgrounds, and academic majors.

In its core values and activities, The Homestead has much in common with intentional communities like Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (Missouri), [ Sandhill Farm] (Missouri), and [ Cobb Hill CoHousing] (Vermont). It differs from these communities in its direct connection to a liberal arts college, and its lack of long-term residents. As all Homesteaders are students, their residencies last from one semester to three years.

The Homestead differs dramatically from typical college housing arrangements. It has no television, and no internet access (Homesteaders visit the Denison main campus to use the internet). Its structures and utilities are designed, built or installed, maintained, and improved by students (as feasible.) It relies heavily on alternative and renewable sources of energy. Technologies include an off-the-grid photovoltaic system for limited electricity, wood stoves for heat and cooking, and passive solar design as another source of building heat.

The Homestead is located on about ten acres in a wooded valley; students typically walk or bike the one mile to the Denison main campus. At present, two wooden cabins (built in 1977-78) serve as residential spaces for the twelve Homesteaders. A strawbale cabin (named Cabin Bob in honor of Robert Alrutz, built in 1999-2001) serves as a kitchen and community center. The Homesteaders are building a new residential cabin—an earthship named Cabin Phoenix—which they plan to have under roof by fall 2008.

Homesteaders grow some of their own food, using organic gardens, orchards, beehives, and chickens (for eggs). Manual labor is an integral part of life at The Homestead, as residents must haul and split wood, tend gardens and livestock, maintain and repair buildings, and cook.

Each resident must balance the responsibilities of being a Homesteader with those of being a student. Homesteaders receive academic credit only for the annual Homestead Seminar (usually on sustainability issues) and for the summer internship program.

The Homestead Coordinator, a Denison employee, advises The Homestead on some of its decisions, and supervises some of its projects. The Homestead Advisory Board (HAB) is composed of Homesteaders, The Homestead Coordinator, and university administration, faculty, and staff. It oversees The Homestead’s major decisions, and helps to integrate The Homestead with its parent university. HAB helped to establish The Homestead May Term as an internship open to all Denison students.

The Homestead was the brainchild of Dr. Robert Alrtuz. At a symposium in January 1976, Alrutz raised the idea of a student-run Homestead. Afterwards, nine students approached Alrutz and expressed a desire to make the homestead dream a reality. Alrutz and the students jointly prepared a formal proposal, and won approval (including a startup loan) from the board of trustees.

In the summer of 1977, students began construction of The Homestead. They started building three wooden cabins, established a water-well, and grew a sizeable garden. Alrutz supervised the project; the university physical plant and outside volunteers helped. By late September 1977, all of the original eleven Homesteaders had moved in to the first two still-unfinished cabins. They installed insulation and wood stoves later that fall.

Homesteaders used oil lamps for interior lighting until 1982, when they installed a photovoltaic system.

The Homestead has remained an active community since its founding, although membership has varied from four residents to twelve. The extent of on-site gardening and livestock-raising has varied with the interest of the students. In the past ten years, The Homestead has undertaken two ambitious building projects: the strawbale Cabin Bob, and the earthship Cabin Phoenix.

Dr. Alrutz died in 1997, but the community he founded lives on.


*Blackburn, R.A. “Students making progress with Denison ‘homestead’”. "The Advocate". Newark, Ohio. September 29, 1977. p.5

*Burk, William R. “Robert Willard Alrutz” (obituary), "Ohio Journal of Science". 1997. vol 98 no 415. p. 87

*Cahlander, Kent. “A Different Kind of Dorm”, "The Advocate". Newark, Ohio. July 13, 1997. pp. C1

*Dildine, David. “Homestead teaches students about nature”, "Newark Advocate". Newark, Ohio. April 22, 1990.

*Dodosh, Mark N. “Students find out how to be both rich and uncomfortable”, "The Wall Street Journal". January 2, 1981.

*Frolking, Evelyn. “The living experiment”. "Denison Magazine". Spring 2006. p.14- 17

*“Homesteaders get back to the basics of life” "Denison". November 1977.

*Hurwitz, Liesha. “Alternative Lifestyle in Granville”, "Granville Booster". Granville, Ohio. November 28-December 4, 1988.

*Jacobs, David. “Retiring professor is taking on the world,” "Columbus Dispatch". May 13, 1990

*Lafferty, Mike. “Building with straw stirs students”, "Columbus Dispatch". 2000.

*Lore, David. “College ‘Homestead’ imparts student self-reliance”, "Columbus Dispatch". February 17, 1980. pp. C12-15

*Marcotty, Josephine. “The Homestead.” "Dayton Daily News". Dayton, Ohio. November 13, 1977. pp. 1B

*Murray, Cars. “Solar shines in licking”, "The Denisonian". October 8, 1982, page 5.

*“New pioneers: Denison’s eco-throwbacks”, "Columbus Monthly". March 1992. p. 12-13

*Paprocki, Sherry Beck. “Homesteading, ‘90s’ style”, "Beacon". January 5, 1992. p. 9, 13-15

*Reynolds, Kate Fox. “On the tenth anniversary of The Homestead”, "Denison Magazine". Fall 1988. p. 14-19

*Robinson, Sarah. “Community spotlight: Bob Alrutz”, "Granville Sentinel". Granville, Ohio. May 2, 1991.

*“Students at Denison live on land”, Associated Press (AP). November 20, 1977.

*Wesley, Kathy. “Homestead living part of education”, "The Advocate". Newark, Ohio. November 25, 1984.

*Whyde, L.B. “Home, sweet home.” "Newark Advocate". Newark, Ohio. November 17, 2002. pp. D1

External links

* [ The Homestead: official site]
* [ The Homestead in the FIC Communities Directory]

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