Returning to our roots: Handy Village Institute joins the movement of being self-sufficient

By Chandler Holland
Times-News correspondent

Deborah Amaral, founder and managing director of Handy Village Institute, is shown at the site. Michael Holland / Special to the Times-News

SAXAPAHAW — Have you ever broken something and didn’t know how to fix it? When a snowstorm hits, the power goes out and you start running out of food, do you know what to do? These are problems that, though they might be daunting to us, would have been everyday events that our great-grandparents took in stride.
Led by Deborah Amaral and her husband Chris Carter, the Handy Village Institute (HVI) is going back to that time to help people relearn what we as a society have forgotten. Driven by the awareness that their grandparents were able to live fully self-sufficient lives, and that since that time much of this knowledge has been almost entirely lost, HVI offered their first workshop on “homebrew wind turbines” last spring.
In an interview, Amaral and Carter said their grandparents “knew how to milk a cow, and build a fence. They knew how, and had to, do everything. They just did.” Since then, a break in the transmission of awareness between generations has caused us to be almost incapable of being self-sufficient.
“A big social shift happened,” Amaral said. “I’m feeling like we have failed to transmit something that for me was only two generations ago. If I’d had kids in my twenties, that would be five generations ago for my grandkids, but still accessible. My grandmother taught me and I could teach a grandchild. But take one more 20-year leap, and it’s completely broken.”
Most of us rely on products we buy at a store, and if something breaks, we simply throw it out and buy a new one. This means when something goes wrong, and we no longer have the means to get what we need from elsewhere, there’s not much we can do about it.
    HVI is joining the movement of going back to being self-sufficient. They’re doing this while staying firmly in the present, weaving together our past and future. HVI started with wind turbines because “there’s a gold rush right now to put up large wind power in both the mountains and the coast, but in the Piedmont we have gusty winds that are perfect for small wind turbines. We found (learning about turbines offered) a nice variety of skills; woodworking, mixing and casting resins, electrical work, welding, a lot of mathematics (and physics). It seemed like a nice core curriculum.”
But according to Amaral, “It’s more than that — it’s more than just teaching ‘how you make a fire.’ It’s more than just ‘here’s how you twist fibers to make a thread.’ It’s going to that next level; being able to look at a situation and think, ‘I need a tool’ or, ‘I need a rope’ and being able to make it yourself.”
This March, HVI will again run a homebrew wind turbine workshop, teaching participants how to make turbines “from scratch” and entirely by hand. For a more in-depth look at Handy Village Institute, visit them online at, or for a transcript of their full interview.

Chandler Holland is a senior high school home-schooler and a Teens & 20s writer. She looks forward to attending Warren Wilson College, and will obtain her N.C. Environmental Educator Certification during her gap year.

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