Cabin Fever

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Published in Pegasus magazine, By Sarah Sekula

Terry and Tia Meer’s version of a dream house scenario goes something like this:

Buy five acres of arborous land in east Orange County, Fla. Build a 1,024-square-foot abode almost completely out of Southern yellow pine logs.

Surround the eco-friendly enclave with more than four acres’ worth of  organic gardens. Outfit the metal A-frame roof with solar paneling. And collect nearly 20 thousand gallons of rain drops a year with a handy water catchment system.

Typical dream-home scenario? No, but that’s exactly the point. It’s much more than a two-bedroom cabin with a cozy loft; it’s a self sufficient bio-intensive habitat with attached mini-farm. And it’s unlike anything this east Orlando neighborhood has ever seen. For starters, it’s built on eight-foot-tall stilts, a giant bird house of sorts, with a 180-degree view of Florida’s finest flora and fauna.

Why the stilts? It’s all about functionality. The raised elevation and negative pressure whip up a killer cross-sectional breeze tickling the home’s underbelly and regulating the temps. “It’s all built with a passive design,” Terry says proudly. “We won’t have to turn on air-conditioning or heating.”

As I ponder the anomaly of a Florida house with no A/C, we trot the winding trails of the backyard, passing what seems to be an ordinary pile of firewood. Turns out it’s much more. Each 2-foot-long log is inoculated with shitake and pearl mushroom spawn and will produce at least 3 pounds of the low-fat delicacy annually.

More surprises pop up around each untrammeled corner: Star fruit trees. Wild orchids. A small banana grove. Not your typical Central Florida greenery.

Back near the cabin, there is a garden full of basil, lettuce and Hawaiian peppers sitting near a single-panel solar system — a multiple battery bank with inverter — which juices up the Meers’ laptops and cell phones.

And it doesn’t end there. We pass another garden, equally as impressive, that plays host to corn, carrots, peas and towering sunflowers. Just before we reach the orchard of various trees — mango, grapefruit, mulberry and Japanese plum — a red-shouldered hawk shrieks from above and perches on a giant laurel oak branch.

This is simple living at its best, and it sure beats my backyard. However, the Meers’ planning has been anything but easy. After graduating from UCF the couple voraciously studied sustainability, permaculture and alternatives to fossil fuels and pesticides here and overseas for nearly five years. During that time Terry’s work as an environmental consultant shuttled them off to Hawaii for two years.

While soaking up the tropical paradise, the eco-reconnaissance continued. “In Hawaii,” he says. “It’s very overdeveloped and there’s no real possibility of being sustainable. Fifty years ago, they were 100 percent sustainable on the island. Now, 90 percent of their goods are shipped in every day.”

Through globe-trotting excursions the Meers learned the dos and don’ts of sustainability. Through childhood experience (Terry grew up on a sailboat and Tia on a Pennsylvania farm) they developed a love for nature. And current occupations have also boosted their environmental know-how; Terry runs Alternative Concepts and Technology, an eco-friendly company dedicated to helping people use solar power, water catchment and organic gardening and Tia heads up the Simple Living Institute Inc.

All in all, I think the Meers are on to something. This earthy home, sans A/C and all, sounds pretty dreamy. And don’t just take my word. Rumor has it, even Oprah Winfrey gives this peaceful hideaway a green thumbs up.