Surrounded by a verdant wall of trees, Avalon Organic Gardens and EcoVillage is a sheltered oasis of lush agricultural production and community living based on the residents’ spiritual beliefs that emphasize sustainable living and social service.

Despite choosing a lifestyle set apart from the outside world on this idyllic 220-acre property just southeast of Tumacácori National Historical Park, the approximately 120-person group also defines itself as part of a “global family,” with branches of their organization reaching into the surrounding community in the form of businesses and nonprofits that provide health and legal services, training and education programs, as well as communications and agricultural partnerships, said O’Breean Lawrence, who has been a member of the community for 22 years.

“We believe we are all one planetary family,” she told visitors from the Zonta Club of Nogales during a recent visit to the farm. “So when you come from that base of realizing that the whole planet is your family, for us, we’re a family here, but you are part of that family, too.”

The Avalon Gardens village is run by a church called the Global Community Communications Alliance, which has existed in Arizona for nearly 30 years. Leaders Gabriel of Urantia and Niánn Emerson Chase started the church in Prescott in 1989, then moved to Sedona for about a decade before taking root in Santa Cruz County in late 2006, where it has expanded and grown with the help of ample space and productive agricultural land, Lawrence said.

Using “The Urantia Book” – which includes discussions on the meaning of life, the role of humankind in the universe and their relationship to God, and the life of Jesus Christ – as the founding text for their religion, members of the eco village make a lifetime commitment to the group, she said, taking a vow of poverty and living and working on the farm in support of their community.

With members from around the world, each person plays a different part in keeping the community running smoothly, from working in the fields to helping in food production – like 24-year community member Delina Garcia – to holding a position in one of the organization’s businesses or educating the 23 children who live in the commune, as Lawrence does.

All of the youth in the community are homeschooled, “basically from birth” until they finish their secondary education, she said. And while they follow state standards for math, science, reading and writing, schooling the youth at home allows teachers the creativity and flexibility to create a wholistic, “or ‘soulistic’” education, she added.

“The whole purpose of our school is to develop each soul to be a life-long learner,” she said.

Though the students are exposed to the outside world through field trips and activities in the surrounding community as well as through history lessons and presentations, their access to books, music, television, movies, news and the internet is always previewed and supervised, Lawrence said.

“Media can have a very negative impact on a child. One thing that you watch can damage you for life,” she said. “We love our children. We want them to have every opportunity to be all that they can be. We’re not snobs from the internet, I mean, we use it, of course. But it’s a tool and you don’t let it use you.”

At Avalon Gardens, she said, staying up to date on the goings-on of the outside world is highly valued both on an individual level as well as communally, and current events are shared each week during their Sunday meetings.

Reaching out

Keeping in touch with what is going on in the outside world is essential for a group centered on alliances, according to Lawrence. Avalon Gardens and the Global Community Communications Alliance believes in building relationships and sharing the knowledge and skills that allow them to be successful, she said.

The church has partnerships with a wide variety of community organizations, including the Mariposa Community Health Clinic, Nogales Community Development and Friends of the Santa Cruz River, said Garcia, who leads the group’s efforts to cultivate agricultural products in carefully plowed fields and large greenhouses on the Tumacácori property. They also have holistic health clinics, hospice services, a family legal aid program, a communications division and a variety of other businesses in Southern Arizona.

The group also invites others to the farm for tours, workshops, internships, skill-sharing partnerships and adult education classes, which Lawrence said teach “the science of spirituality.”

Still, relations with the outside community haven’t always been smooth. In November 2011, a county board denied the Global Community Communications Alliance a conditional use permit to build a church on the Avalon Gardens property after a number of residents spoke out against the plan. GCCA appealed the legally questionable decision and the county ultimately had to concede defeat, paying out a total of more than $40,000 in the process.

Future plans for the group include developing a University of Ascension Science, and they are working to get accreditation for some of their classes in organic agriculture, Garcia said.

“We teach what we live,” she said, noting that as one of the largest eco villages in the world, visitors come to Avalon Gardens from around the world to learn the philosophies and skills they practice.

Life at Avalon Gardens is a “prototype,” Lawrence said, providing an example of sustainable community living that can benefit anyone.

“We encourage people to find their community. This works for us, but this doesn’t necessarily work for everybody. That’s OK,” she said. “You go take what you learn here and make it work for you.”

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