Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist


OFF THE GRID: Ecovillage provides skilled trade education and off-grid community living in Mountain Ranch

Marie-Elena Schembri, Calaveras Enterprise, October 8, 2021

Imagine waking up every morning to the scent of fresh cedar, the feel of cool air on your skin, and the sound of birds and wildlife chattering over a quietly trickling stream. There is no blaring alarm clock, no text notification or emails to check and no morning commute. Your "work" is right outside the door of your cedar bark tipi -- whether it be tending to chickens, growing a forest of edible plants, or learning how to build with materials harvested right where you live.

There’s no paycheck, either. Instead, you receive wholesome, nutritious meals, primitive sleeping arrangements, and the opportunity to experience off-grid living while learning trade skills you can use to create or enhance your own business.

If this sounds like something out of a fairy tale or history book, think again. This is what life looks like as a work-trade volunteer at the nonprofit called 3ndless 3arth 3covillage (pronounced endless earth eco-village) in Mountain Ranch, California.

3ndless 3arth 3covillage describes itself as “a regenerative community...focused on land restoration, permaculture farming, natural building, holistic health, and eco-conscious education.”

Co-founder, Secretary, and Archaeobotanist Samantha Iacobello explains that their main goal is to educate people -- especially children and young adults -- in these skills and eventually become a model of how communities can become more resilient, eco-conscious, and create “a culture of building.”

Building is central to the ecovillage’s mission, with natural architecture workshops being a primary source of community collaboration and trade education. The ecovillage features several hand-built structures on their 22 acres of land, with all lumber harvested directly from burnt, dead trees on the property.

One such structure is a 22-foot diameter Tipi, the first built at the ecovillage, which sits near the Jesus Maria Creek and was built by 19 people throughout a four-day winter solstice workshop. During the four days, community members worked together to harvest, prepare and erect three large cedar poles in the traditional tripod style of the Sioux.

The workshop was directed by Lead Builder and President Keith Enderlein, described as a “third-generation Calaveras County hillbilly” on the organization’s website. Enderlein is a Calaveras local and owns Endliss Timber Works, operating a mobile lumber mill to provide lumber and reforestation services in the county.

Utilizing Enderlein’s skills and knowledge of lumber, building, and forestry, the ecovillage has been able to salvage burnt, dead trees from the Butte Fire and turn them into usable building materials. Working with the available natural resources, 3ndless 3arth 3covillage builds and provides tiny homes and furniture to the community at an affordable rate, without causing harm to the environment.

Enderlein is also the lead designer and builder of a proposed two-story Community House, which utilizes two 40-foot long metal shipping containers as the basis for its foundation. The roof will be made using 40-foot wood beams from reclaimed wood milled by 333, and framing made of angle iron. The rest will be filled in with straw bales and cob, a natural building material made up of a mix of soil, straw and water. Cob is purported to be extremely durable, earthquake-safe, and fire-resistant.

Other projects include a shower house (soon to be fitted with solar power and a tankless water heater), wood pallet “humanure outhouses” with compost toilets, an outdoor kitchen, cob cordwood chicken coop, and the foundation for the Community House building currently in progress -- all built by 3ndless 3arth 3covillage Board members and volunteers.

These (and future) building projects are permitted through Title 25 of the California Code of Regulations. Title 25 regulations apply specifically to “limited density owner-built rural dwellings,” which is defined in the Calaveras Code of Ordinances as “any structure consisting of one or more habitable rooms...with facilities for living and sleeping, located in a rural area as defined in this chapter.”

There are several differences between Title 25 and the more commonly known Title 24, with perhaps the most pivotal being that under Title 25, landowners are permitted “temporary occupancy” on the land while building is taking place. Landowners are also permitted to use generators as a primary source of power -- something that is not allowed with Title 24 -- and are allowed to utilize their own lumber, providing that lumber passes review and moisture content requirements.

Title 25 makes natural building in Calaveras county not only easier but also more affordable and sustainable, especially for those whose property was damaged by the Butte Fire. With lumber prices higher than ever and a global shortage of all kinds of man-made materials, it might be a good time to consider alternative building options.

That’s why 3ndless 3arth 3covillage wants to teach community members how to build for themselves, using the resources that are already right here in Calaveras county. They hope that the work they are doing will empower and encourage community members to get involved in creating what Iacobello calls “a new work ethic and culture of building.”

3ndless 3arth 3covillage is actively seeking volunteers to help with the Community House project. Those with building skills or who want to learn are encouraged to contact 3ndless 3arth 3covillage for more information on upcoming community volunteer workdays and work-trade opportunities.

3ndless 3arth 3covillage will have an information booth in the West Point Community Garden at Lumberjack Day on October 2, 2021. Stop by or follow them online at, on Facebook at and Instagram @3ndless3arth3covillage

To learn more about Title 25 and Calaveras County building codes, go to