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Regenerative Future Learning Journey

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing” Arundhati Roy

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It is time for me to step up and step out. Having spent the recent years immersing myself into the universe of what is by some described as “Sustainability”, I realise that I have embarked on deep journey of self-exploration and search for meaning and purpose in our increasingly shattered and fragmented world we live in.

Without wanting to go into all the details of my explorations, much has evolved, somethings have changed and some things stay the same. But to keep you engaged in where I am heading from here, I have developed a vision, not only for myself but for where I think we can head towards, a fulfilling and inspiring future for all.

“My vision is to create a future world which is socially just, culturally rich, thriving and enriching, spiritually fulfilling, and ecologically sustainable and creates a, sustainable, restorative and regenerative human presence on this planet and wellbeing for all sentinel beings indefinitely” 

This is the starting point for me to head off onto a journey to explore and experience some places around the world, where inspiring and visionary people have attempted to create places and communities, which try to if and how we can make such visions a reality.

Therefore I invite you to come along with me on a  six months journey not only to explore a number of intentional communities, ecovillages, and co-housing places, particularly in North America and Europe (where language barriers are not too significant for me), but also further learning journeyings with many organisations and institutions working tirelessly to make our visions become reality.

As Theodore Roszak puts it so well: “There is one way forward: the creation of
flesh and blood examples of low-consumption, high quality alternatives to the mainstream pattern of life. This we can see happening already on the counter-cultural fringes. And nothing – no amount of argument or research – will take the place of such living proof. What people must see is that ecologically sane, socially responsible living is good living; that simplicity, thrift and reciprocity make for an existence that is free.”

And this in some form or another, will be my (and with many others) aim, create a space and facility to work towards creating a regenerative and resilient future within planetary boundaries where no one is left behind. A space and world of safe and nutritious food; of clean drinking water; of universal access to sustainability education; of physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being. A place and world which uses energy and materials with greatest efficiency, distributes wealth fairly and strives to eliminate the concept of waste. A place and world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity; of justice and quality; of respect for race and ethnicity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realisation of human potential while promoting shared prosperity.

If you would like to know more about such a “different world our hearts know is possible” then follow me and even if you are in doubt, remember:

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her
breathing” Arundhati Roy

Next time: My vision story of a regenerative living future in community.

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Moora Moora Co-operative Community- Community Living in the Great Southern Forests

Its been a fair while since my last blog post and  even more time since my last blog post describing an intentional community. My life has taken a lot of twists and turns in recent months and therefore I had to focus on other things than traveling to communities and blogging. Even though it is a passion of mine to learn more about sustainable and regenerative living and share my learnings with the wider world. But the wait is over, having travelled to two established communities in last couple of months, and a new community in formation in Australia, and having the plan to visit more communities in the near future, its time to break the silence and get the “pen” rolling once again – so I sincerely hope you enjoy my journeys with me.

What a good idea to spend part of the Easter weekend, which falls into the Autumn season here in Australia, at and with an intentional community and doing that in beautiful and warm (but not hot) weather is a treat, after a fickle and changeable and very dry summer. It’s of course not so much about looking for Easter Bunnies or Easter Eggs, but getting right down into the heart of the community and see, learn and experience a bit how it ticks. I am visiting no other than one of Australia’s long-lived, well established and impressive communities, which is around since 1974.

This old kid on the block  is a rural community in the southern state of Victoria, at the western edge of the Yarra Ranges mountain range, overlooking the Eastern Yarra River Valley (with views all the way to Victorias capital city Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay almost 70 km to the west). Situated on the expansive plateau of Mount Toolebewong up to 700m elevation, the 245 ha rural property mostly comprises native Eucalypt forests, including temperate rainforests in the vicinity in the Yarra Ranges National Park (imagine 100m tall trees, and house high tree ferns and an abundance of wildlife including many parrot species). The property is also surrounded by life style blocks and hobby farms of various size, with the nearest rural town (i.e. Healesville) some 25 minutes car drive away off the mountain (hence the community is moderately remote). Only about 40 hectares  of the property are cleared of forest, which is mostly left standing on the steeper parts of the property, which drops steeply towards the west and east from the mountain plateau. buildings (in six clusters or hamlets), roads and infrastructure, pastures and gardens comprise the cleared but fenced parts of the property. It was cleared more than 100 years ago and over the years used for various agricultural purposes (including livestock, potatoes and berries), with various exotic and native plantings and windbreaks.

The property has fairly sandy, but good soils, and due to high rainfalls at the edge of the mountain ranges (> 1,000 mm/year) (which are part of the Great Dividing Range, which extends for thousands of km along much of the East Coast of Australia), where westerly and southwesterly weather systems first encounter higher mountain ranges on the Australian Mainland), supports a dense forest cover. Relatively cold winters (in Australian terms, which means occasional snow falls), and moderately warm summers, with appreciable rainfalls (which where patchy this summer though), but also often very strong and gusty winds poses some challenges for this community (e.g. ample supplies of firewood for heating purposes are essential here and emphasised very strongly by community members).

The community currently houses approximately 40 adults and 20 children, with adult residents ranging in the age between about 30 up to 90 years. The community has 30 households and a number of community and recreational facilities and one building permit left to build one more house. Houses were built from the early days over time until recent years of and by the community (and including a two pre-existing buildings, which were later renovated and upgraded and one used as a community hub, lodge and learning centre), with a wide range of sizes and styles (from a tiny house to 4 to 5 bedroom houses) and use of many building styles and approaches as well as experimentation, from fairly conventional builds, but also many mud brick homes, rammed earth homes, as well as strawbale buildings, all individually designed (and owned) and built. The buildings are concentrated into 6 clusters of 4 to 6 houses each, to create a sort of village character and allow for effective service delivery, with a five-minute walk between the different clusters. One of the challenges of the community is to create more and innovative housing solutions, not only to expand the community (only one more house can be buildt), but to allow for other living arrangements (e.g. share housing, expansion of or modifications to buildings to allow more people to live there, rental accommodation, etc) due to changes in demographics in the community (reflecting trends elsewhere, e.g. single households, single parents, lone elders etc).

Moora Moora is an off grid community and has been from the very beginning. The community has a community wide water supply system, sourced from permanent springs on the property (one which also feeds a large dam used for recreational purposes), supplemented by a number of rain water tanks attached to the roofs of many houses. Waste water is also dealt with and treated onsite (because there is no central sewage system in this area to begin with).

Energy in form of electricity comes largely from solar PV, where most houses have their own supply, but also including battery storage systems and microgrids. Some wind generation exists and has been experimented with over the years but found very challenging due to very gusty non-steady wind conditions. Thanks to the presence of a renewable energy expert in the community (who also teaches solar installers), the community is at the cutting edge of community wide renewable energy systems, which is planned for expansion through a solar farm and connection to the grid (largely for energy export only, because community produces more than they consume). Most houses have solar hot water systems, are well situated and many with passive solar design and insulation. Heating is largely through individual wood stoves in each house, with much of the firewood supply from the communities own forest, which is an important aspect of living in this community to get enough firewood for the winter. Cooking is mostly with bottled gas or some wood ovens as well.

The community has ample cleared land for gardens and agriculture available, where some is intensively used as market gardens for food production for the community. Each member also has the right to use some land for personal use of choice and a number of members have horses, sheep and goats and some are community owned, with various experiments for livestock products. However, there is significant scope and space for new and other projects for food production and supply for the community and elsewhere, which is currently not being fully tapped into, but would certainly be supported by the community.

The overall focus and spirit of the community is a community based rural lifestyle rather than a social change focus (like Common Ground Community – watch the space for more on that). Saying that a number of community members are working in and active in the social change and social and environmental justice sector.

This is expressed in Moora Moora’s Manifesto as follows:

“We are creating a co-operative community with a diversity of personalities and lifestyles that enable us to shape our environment and live with people of our own choosing. Our primary concerns are social, educational and ecological.”

And further expressed in its vision:

  • Moora Moora is a community where we are committed to sharing our lives.
    We accept and support each other in a loving and conscious way, encouraging growth, balance and health.
  • Moora Moora is a place where we realise our dreams.
    We share and work cooperatively to co-create our lives.
  • Moora Moora is a mountain of beauty, art and healing.
    Our relationships with each other and the Earth create an opportunity for spiritual evolution.
  • Moora Moora is a centre for innovation and learning.
    We practise the art of living with self, each other and the Earth.

which in turn is expressed in a number of concrete principles and detailed aims, in relation to services to members, services to the wider world, and collaborative processes (see the community website for details).

Moora Moora legally is a members co-operative, which is represented by annually elected directors (7), which make the operational decisions of the community. The directors are supported by various committees tasked with certain topic issues (.e.g. infrastructure, houses, membership, finances, recreation, social, etc.), where each member has the right to participate. And special working groups are set up on an as needed basis (e.g. for larger events, festivals, major infrastructure works etc). Director’s and general community meetings are held once a month to allow for smooth operation of the community and sufficient time to discuss pertinent issues, with other groups meeting regularly on an as needed basis.

Each member is expected to invest substantially into the community and its life and operation, through work on committees or working groups (or if called upon as director), in working bees (which happen at least monthly for whole community and possibly more often in clusters), taking on projects, and daily support of neighbours and community members as needed.

Decisions are made democratically and attempted through consensus based decision making, but also if necessary through majority decision making. Conflict resolution is through various processes including facilitators and many members are trained in Non-violent communication and other social tools.

Economically each member needs to be financially self-sufficient and find their own income stream. To balance community work and income generating work can be a challenge for some, which is sometimes solved by the members through part-time work. Some members are able to draw sufficient work from within the community (e.g. gardening and horticulture, building and maintenance works, etc), but most members need to gain income from the outside, with some working from home (e.g. software engineer, renewable energy trainer, which is supported by good high-speed Internet access) or elsewhere outside the community, with many people working in the health and wellbeing sector, food sector, education, social and environmental justice, and others, including some also commuting to Melbourne (1.5 hrs drive!). Gaining sufficient work and income can be challenging for some members and prospective members  due to the location of the community and the community is currently of insufficient size nor has an extensive on-site events and programs to support a much greater number of people through work within the community and generating income for them. However, great potential exists for innovative and new community and social enterprises to be established, also able to tap into the available land and infrastructure resources (e.g. for farming or events).

Land is owned by the community as a co-operative through shares by each member (at least 6000 shares as a full member at $1 each share) but houses can be owned (and sold with approval from community to accept the new owner) by the individual members. House prices will vary widely due to the variable size, age, nature and type of houses and facilities.

Becoming a member of the Moora Moora community is a staged process, which will take at least 6 months, but most commonly between one and two years, before becoming a full member (and co-op shareholder), then being allowed to lease land and purchase a home. A common approach to becoming a member is by first visiting the community on an open day (which occurs monthly), then follow-up with a few co-op work days (open to all interested people irrespective if one wants to become a member or not and the community welcomes and hosts WOOFER’s as well) and attend director’s and community meetings. Later on one can arrange for longer stays, first by becoming a “Friend of Moora Moora” and stay in the community where accommodation will be arranged (a short-term rent) and by becoming a Non-Resident Member by approval by the Directors. A prospective member will be supported by a mentor to learn the inner workings of the community and to get support with integration and if necessary conflict resolution. A regular (at least 6-monthly) review of membership process will occur through the membership committee and once mutual agreement and desire for full membership is reached it will be voted upon by the community.

One of the main challenges of the community, like many other established communities, is aging of the community and its ability to attract younger people to join the community, not only for regeneration but also for new energy, ideas, innovation, enthusiasm to move the community along and explore new paths for the community to thrive for at least another 40 years or so. Remote communities can be challenging for older members, which may not be able to easily access necessary support services without heavily relying on community support, which is the essence and purpose of living in community, but each and every community, including Moora Moora has limitations on what level of support and care it can provide to older members. A topic of ongoing discussion and seeking for solutions.

In summary I consider Moora Moora Community as  a place of great natural beauty, a lifestyle choice for rural living, with open and friendly but strong community spirit and skills, with great potential for having and creating more of a vibrant and thriving “village” of self-reliance and regeneration from within the place and the people, with all the challenges (often economic but also social) ahead, reflecting challenges of our wider societies, but without wrecking the planet along the way – a place to visit, explore, contribute to and maybe stay. So if you are in this neck of the woods you should definitely pay Moora Moora co-operative community a visit.

More info on the Moora Moora community website 

 

 

 

Making the Invisible Visible – GEN Europe 2017 Conference Review

” Create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”  – Charles Eisenstein

Its been a nice and pleasantly warm summer so far on my recent 6 week Europe journey some time after spending a week in Findhorn community in northern Scotland. There I completed a Training of Trainers with Gaia Education, my last leg on my journey to become a Gaia Education Trainer for Ecovillage Design and Design for Sustainability as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.

Hence, enjoying the pleasant train ride from Stockholm through the sunlit Swedish country side of an undulating landscape, formed by the forces of the glacial ice sheets during the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago. Now covered in a mosaic of lakes and rivers, forests, fields and pastures, intsely green and lush with small villages and towns dotted here and there, bringing me into a mood of calm anticipation for the place where this year’s Global Ecovillage Network European Conference will take place over the coming 5 days.

 

Ängsbacka, a community and ecovillage in the heartland of Sweden, surrounded by stunning lakes, expansive pine and birch forests (and plenty of blueberries this time of the year), and lush pastures and fields dotted with cattle and silage at this time of the year is where the conference will take place. Some 2.5 hours by train west of Stockholm and 30 minutes bus ride north of the city of Karlstad lies the rural village of Molkom, where at its edge of the village you can find Ängsbacka, which states it is among the most important meeting places in Scandinavia for people who want to live a more conscious life, live from the heart and care for our planet.  And this beautifully captures the spirit and vibe of this beautiful place which says in its vision to become one of Europe’s leading meeting points for human sustainable development, and a source of inspiration for social, personal and global well being

Ängsbacka’s vision and mission says it is a sacred focal point bringing people to the realization of whom and what we really are beyond all thoughts and concepts.

Ängsbacka is an internationally renowned source of inspiration; exploring how human beings together consciously can create the life they desire on earth, and demonstrating paths to sustainable development, wellbeing, and harmony.”

They realize and sustain their vision through;
● openhearted communication and sharing, based on honesty and acceptance

● practices that encourage self-awareness and personal growth
● cultivating a thriving and fruitful cooperation with the local community of Molkom
● involving our members in the growth and development of Ängsbacka
● consciously creating a life of presence, creativity and respect for all life on earth

Ängsbacka community was founded in 1997 and currently around 20 people live there permanently (with around 50 members residing in the nearby village) and is open to everyone to become a member, participant and resident of the community to contribute to its development and thriving. Ängsbacka as the vision says is geared toward eduation, training, exploration and development of new futures, through hosting many festivals, seminars, workshops and so forth all year round, hence with an intense outward focus to bring to the world all the many beautiful and valuable ideas, concepts and learnings of the local and wider communities exploring sustainable pathways for regenarative living. From inner development, interpersonal relationships, community development and building, governance, practial ecological work as well as spiritual pathways are explored in many different ways with many people from around the world. Indeed a very vibrant and inviting place to be. And Angsbacka is very international and open for new members to join.

And the place is just perfectly set up for small but more so large events like the GEN conference, with ample accommodation spaces (from private rooms, dorms to camping), large and small venues, expansive space in the beautiful gardens and pastures and woodlans beyond, so that one has always space to retreat and recharge from the sometimes buzzling intensity of a new story conference.

 

” You have to give up your life you have planned for the life which is waiting for you” – Jospeh Campbell. 

GEN Europe 2017 Conference, an event which takes place annually and moves around Europe to different ecovillages every year. Last year in Spain (I have been there as well), and next Year in Estonia, is the largest event ofn the Global ecovillage and community and sustainable living calendar each and every. This year it was going for 5 very full and rich days (day and night), attracted between 400 and 600 participants every day and was overall a hugely intense, immersive and holistic experienc. Feeling and experiencing not only the positive and overflowing energy of participants creations, ideas and practices of co-creating a more beautiful world our hearts know is possible, but also the feeling of joy, flow, being together and sharing so much with others and the world, inspite of our acute awareness of the darkness and shadows which are around us in our own personal lifes, in local communities, countries and internationally, day in day out. But also trying to understand the deep root causes of where we are now and how we got here.  But this concentration of laying bare and showing everyone else that a new story of life and being in this world is not only strong and boldly present but growing and spreading, expanding and diversivying at a rapid pace, brings joy and delight, support, ongoing commitment for all to continue on our paths.

This year’s GEN Europe conference was under the theme of

MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE through Solidarity, Resilience and Hope, by LIVING THE FUTURE WE WANT NOW!.

The idea of expanding and stepping up our (ecovillages, intentional communities, sustainability & regenerative initiatives, transition towns, co-housing, and any other groups and communities who identify with the spirit of GEN and what it stands for) efforts to enter and show “main stream” society and at higher levels of “power and decision making” about all the experiences, learnings, ideas, models, practices coming out of this “movement”. With ecovillages as laboratories and living models to create locally grounded regenerative and thriving cultures and communities globally connected and networked (glocalism or cosmopolitan bioregionalism) outside of ecovillages and communities (from ecovillages, to ecocommunities, to ecotowns to ecocities), but everywhere, through holistic approaches to co-create and co-design with communities and development. From Visions to real solutions and pathways – lived political economcis. And deliver it did, during the conference on this theme, not only through the sheer number of events, from daily key note speakers, discussion panels, to the dozens of daily workshops, seminars, lectures, explorations many running in parallel, creating a difficulty of choosing and some FOMO. But also the weaving together of the cognitive experiences and learnings, somatic experiences with music, singing, dancing, play, group work, sharing circles and more and not to mention the absolutely stunning and delicous vegetarian and vegan food served from breakfast til dinner (spiced up inbetween for the unsatiable with beautful cakes, coffe and icecreams in the on-site cafe), creating a beautifully relaxed and postively supporting field and energy for enabling co-creation, fostered by being in community and feeling a deep sense of belonging.

Topics  covered all aspects and dimensions of sustainable and regenerative design, development and living (i.e. social, economic, ecological and cultural/worldview and integration of all into a holistic way of being and acting in the world – individually and collectively from ego to eco). From the inner world explorations on how to deal with and overcome personal (but also interpersonal, collective and cultural) shadows and traumas to fully align ourselves with our mind, body, spirit and soul (or head, heart and hands), and about creating new stories and worldviews. To outer world explorations how to create holistically aligned and deeply connected relationships (of any type, intimate, friendships, professional, casual – Love without Fear! – through Trust, Thruthfulness and Transparency and being open honest and willing to gain belonging, trust and safety, ability to be open and vulnerable so we can connect and co-create). Group forming and development (like NVC, Process Work, Action Learning, Healing/Heart Circles, ZEGG Forum, Dagaon Dreaming, to go the way from I to We in safe places with self care and compassion), decision making processes (like Sociocracy) and conflict resolution, governancce to alternative business forms and opportunities, new economic systems and models (e.g. COPIOSIS, Basic Income), localism, appropriate ecological technologies (e.g. home made wind turbines, biodigesters, food systems etc).  Also covered wider topics like adaptive and generative development approaches, ways to spread alternative worldviews and visions to the world and include others beyond (e.g expanding work of GEN and other emerging organisations (movements of movements), but also opportunities for individuals to connect to existing and emerging communities, and of course networking and networkin and networking and of course dance, song and party …… and some walks in the pleasant nearby forests of course !

 

There was definitely too much content and events in order to try to provide a concise but comprehensive account of what comes out of the conference but a few highlights for me were:

  • Key note talk by Helena Norberg-Hodge and her long standing work on LOCAL FUTURES with Local Activism or Heart Activism, drawing together her decades of experience working with local communities in the global south and deeply understanding the ills of our current systems, structures and institutions and underlying worldviews, beliefs and value system of sepration, scarcy and competation as outdated models and paradigm, creating fear and spreading facism. Alternatives in localism, deep connection with ourselves, others and nature, unity and abundance as the new story relfected in the many ideas, concepts and initiatives and practices already spreading rapidly everywhere as a sign for accelerating change and transition into the new story and world, through Economics of Happiness or an Economics of Love – by and for the wellbeing of all and nature.
  • Key note talk by Charles Eisenstein on “Make the Impossible Possible” by envisioning and co-creating the “Impossible” (i.e. the new story and the beautiful world our hearts know is possible), through not only changing our own stories and ways of being in the world (from linear and dualistic to circular, networked and holistic models and paradigms), but similarly with changing the way we connect with others, communiy and the wider world and by creating a clear visions and deeply rooted stories (of place and culture and of interbeing) and changed narratives of a regenerative and thriveable future is core in order to generate synchonicities and emergence of the new world we are yearning for and creating even though often not knowing what and how the future will emerge, but accepting the uncertainty as part of the NEW STORY
  • GEN INTERNATIONAL work lead by Kousho Joubert (current CEO of GEN) of expansions and growth in the sense of connecting with many more communities and initiatives worldwide to draw on their extensive knowledge and experience within GEN (i.e. intensify networking and exchange), GEN reaching out locally (through drawing in other sustainability initiatives like in schools or towns and cities), and globally (for example through working with the UN, participation in various COP meetings), work with refugees (RefuGEN) and in crisis regions (EmerGENcy), GEN Development (work with groups, organisations and governments worldwide particularly in the global south to learn from ecovillages and communities to advance and dvelop their own communities), GEN Ambassadors (individuals who represent GEN wherever they are and whatever they do (e.g. I am a GEN Australia Ambassador), GEN Consultancy (as a diverse resource for communities and organistions to be able to tap into the vast knowledge of regenerative development within GEN), GEN Education (aligned with Gaia Education to provide more products and offers to help communities and organisations learn about holistic and regenerative approaches to work and development, but also webinars, GEN playing cards etc)., doing research in and on communities and last but not least foster and nurture the next generation (NextGEN).
  • The creation of a wider movement of movements known as ECOLISE the (at the moment) European network for community-led initiatives on climate change  and sustainability and transition, is a coalition of organisations (~40 at the moment) engaged in promoting and supporting local communities across Europe in their efforts to build pathways to a sustainable future.  Working in knowledge and learning, policy and advocacy and communication (internal and external) to show viable solutions. The upcoming European Day of Sustainable Communities (23 September 2017) is an event which should be joined through local events everywhere by all communities (and not just in Europe!).
  • The creation of an online platform supporting a movement of movements to connect groups and initiatives together in a smart and innovative way to allow deep and effective global networking and sharing and collaborative learning for holistic, integrated  systemic change – the SOLUTIONS REVOLUTION one can say is an example of a support system for generating Cosmpolitan Localism (or Bioregionalsim), attempting to cover all aspects of social and ecological systems change (from local to global) and a respirotory of workable and proven solutions from around the world. An attempt to unify but maintain diversity, but to make the invisible (of so many solutions out there) visible to all and accessible to all. Welcome to the World of Planetary Co-Creation – THE GEOSOCIAL NETWORK FOR CONSCIOUS CHANGEMAKERS (a Metanetwork also here ). – will be available from 21 September 2017.  

The conference definitely was noticed by and reported on in the Media in Sweden (including some Green politicians attending the conference) and Scandinavia, so a good starting point to make the invisible visible.

On a personal level, it not only provided a myriad of ideas, concepts and insights into practices, many new connections and also uplifted the soul, our mind, body and spirit to make it deeply aligned with our vision of a world which is socially just, culturally rich, thriving and enriching, spiritually fulfilling, and ecologically sustainable and creates a regenerative human presence on this planet and wellbeing for all sentinel beings indefinitely. It has for me personally re-invigorated my own deep commitment to serve as part of actualizing these visions through my own work and vocation for regenerative and thriving futures, it deeply reflects who I am and what my work is, living on the Edge and working on the Edge (in Permaculture language), heading into the uncertainty with my eyes wide open and keep on walking the path – truely inspiring and greatful having been able to be part of this event. So if you ever have the chance to get to Europe for e GEN conference, go for it!

And if you are ever in Sweden I can recommend you head to Ängsbacka for a day or more (or attend a workshop of Festival, work there or live there …. ).

 

Some other Resources very worth checking out:

United Earth

CAPE – Costum Academic Education Programs in Ecovillages

SIRCLE – Social Innovation for Resilient Communities 

CLIPS – Community Led Incubator Programme for Sustainability

JOYALITY – A Program for Personal and Planetary Transformation

Bridgedale360 – Online Youth Sustainability Toolbox

COPIOSIS – A New Post-capitalist Socio-Economic System (and here)

 

Ecovillage and Intentional Communities Tour 2016 – Some visual impressions

It has been a little while since my last blog post about communities I have visited. This has been because of having been deeply immersed in community life and experiences to the point that I have experienced exhaustion and the need for spending time with other activities like hiking and nature time in order to process the many learnings. Hence blogs about all the other communities I have visited will still emerge some time soon.

In the meantime I have compiled a small selection of some pictures I have taken during my visits of communities and other journeys I have undertaken during  my travels.

Sit back and enjoy on https://goo.gl/photos/2Bex4fcMSKWkGU3C8

 

Arterra Bizimodu Community, Spain

Heading straight from Tamera Healing Biotope after the end of the ICSA conference to the next community related conference, the GEN (Global Ecovillage Network) Europe 2016 conference, a week long gathering of hundreds of people from around the world working on, living in or interested in ecovillages and intentional communities, to exchange research, experiences and ideas about communal, sustainable and regenerative living, from personal and community development and governance to practical ecological research projects to ecovillage design. spiritual and artistic aspects of community life with contributions from around the world. An amazing multicultural and diverse and inspiring event showing the strength and beauty of what is possible in a future our hearts know is possible.

But more on the GEN Europe conference will come in a separate blog bit later, but thought to also briefly describe the conference venue, a relatively recent intentional community and ecovillage in the old agricultural village of Arteida, Narvarra province in northern Spain south of the town of Paplona.

The Arterra Bizimodu project started in 2014 when a group of around 50 people purchased a large old monastery, with ample space for living in a multi-level building, large kitchen and recreational facilities (e.g. swimming pool). The place is located at the edge of the small agricultural village of Arteida within undulating alluvial valleys, dotted with small old villages, largely used for production of cash crops, and surrounded by steep mountain ranges. The area has typical mediterranean climate with relatively dry and hot summers and mild and rainy winters.

The guiding slogan for the community is “Another world is not only possible, but necessary“.

This approach is reflected in the Arterra’s core values of collaboration, care, sharing and participation. Based on these values Arterra missions is to:

  1. Encourage the creation and growth of sustainable settlements (humanly, ecologically, economically)
  2. Promote the exchange of information and resources among various rural and urban projects.
  3. Explore and disseminate Co-Inhabiting modes (Cohousing) as an alternative to the current way of living.
  4. Convene various events and national and international meetings to share different experiences in this area.
  5. Any activity that the association consider in their fields.

The current focus in the early stages of Arterra is to work on achieving self-sufficiency (through application of Permaculture in the production of local food) and develop alternative economies (e.g. a local currency already exists).  Another major area of work is the hosting of events of various nature (e.g. GEN Europe conference) to teach and distribute the skills and knowledge needed for a transition to a sustainable and just world. Some of the works and offerings of Arterra include a craft brewery, a permaculture garden, a free school, a recording studio, chicken composting system, GEN Europe office, horse work seminars, seminars and events centre and also offer lodging, courses and workshops and shared office space.

Arterra  experiment with Sociocracy  for their governance, exploring other ways of self-governance and collective management. It is an innovative model of self-government that seeks to harmonize the distribution of power and efficiency in organizations.

The community organises  in circles for the management of the different common areas, and meet once a month the whole group to share as we inquiring structures capable of hosting a group growing.

Joining Arterra is possible best through initially by doing some volunteer work at the place, later by at least three months of co-living and working in the community so that the community can get to know prospective members by participating in all community and governance processes. But also to allow individuals to explore their own “fit” with the community and for space and time for self-development within the community. The acceptance of new members is then decided upon by the whole community by consensus decision, after which an integration process will be started to train and teach new members to take more responsibilities and initiatives within the community.

Because I have visited Arterra as part of the GEN conference I do not have detailed insights into the community, but based on the fact that within two years of existence the community has taken on the task of hosting this large event, shows high levels of energy and enthusiasm and can do attitude and the creation of an interesting experiment of a co-living community in an existing building. Of course much work is still to be done, by renovating and creating the space the community wishes to and of course the way to higher levels of self-sufficiency through local food production. But a great place and wider environment for events of any size and enjoyable experience, other than a bit hard to get there (without car) and from.

And to end this blog I also wanted to draw your attention to a developing community in the beautiful green mountains south of Bilbao (Basque Country). I did not have the chance to visit the place myself but a reliable friend has reported it as an amazing place, which looks for people who want to join a developing community.

The community of Amalurra, Basque for ‘mother earth’, was formed from a meditation group with life-coach Irene Goikolea over 20 years ago. Wanting to take their practice further, they bought an old seminary and oriented their lives around making it beautiful and offering hospitality. Fast forward to now, and there are several gleaming buildings, including a hotel, hostel, spa, cafe, restaurant, many spaces for meetings and workshops, a sweat-lodge next to a stream and extensive gardens. Every niche resonates with aesthetic abundance and the community has many friends and even two satellite communities elsewhere in Spain. In their pursuit of spiritual wealth, the villagers have created very tangible wealth, which is all the more valuable for being shared. Amalurra introduced Permaculture in their agenda some years ago, but now it is expanding this practice.

Arterra Bizimodu Community (in Spanish – use Google to translate) 

Global Ecovillage Network Europe 2016 Conference

Sociocracy 3.0

 

TAMERA – Healing Biotope 1 and Terra Nova – a realistic Utopia

After a good couple of weeks of intense learning of a different kind in England at Schumacher College, and experiencing a beautiful but different kind of community there its time to pick up on my community exploration journey again and heading for Portugal.

Tamera ecovillage is located in southern Portugal in the region of Alentejo, some 20km inland  from the Atlantic coast. The ecovillage owns 130 hectares of land in the rolling hills of the area with an intense Mediterranean climate of hot and dry summers (up to 40 degrees) and mild winters (with more or less rain which can vary between 300 and 1200 mm of precipitation). The region was traditionally farmed by small scale subsidence farmers, with some livestock (largely sheep and goats), cork harvesting, olives and small scale grain production. Over the last 50 to 60 years many farms in this area where combined into larger scale industrial farms with extensive use of fossil fuels, fertilizers and pesticides. Over the years the area was more and more depopulated as most younger people were moving into the cities due to lack of opportunities and progressive desertification and soil degradation of the area made even farming more and more difficult. This has also affected the land and soils of Tamera and one main focus of the ecovillage is the restoration of natural soil and water systems in order to support the regenerative development of the ecovillage and to support the needs of humans and ecosystems.

Tamera the Healing Biotope was founded in 1995 and two of the main founding members are Dieter Duhm and Sabine Lichtenfels, both still residing in Tamera. The founding thought was to develop a non-violent life model for cooperation between human beings, animals and nature. This is reflected in Tamera’s Vision:

The Healing Biotope I Tamera is a peace research project with the goal to create a model for a future society that is free from hatred, lies, violence and fear. Tamera should become an acupuncture point of peace, a greenhouse of trust, a prototype for an existence free of fear on this planet, a post-capitalist societal model and a place where the human and meta realm of life come together.

This is reflected in Tamera’s goals, which are implemented in Tamera and elsewhere through various research projects and outreach programs worldwide:

  • Development of communities where human beings can rely on each other again.
  • Ending the war between the genders and the healing of love.
  • Creating a way of living together, in which the sexual attraction of one to another does not cause jealousy in a third; where no hatred or competition is aroused.
  • Ethics of truth, mutual support and responsible participation.
  • Cooperation with nature and living non-violently with animals and all fellow creatures, even with the smallest ones.
  • Creating a material basis of life that is no longer connected with the destruction of nature, exploitation or the exhaustion of natural resources.
  • Regional food autonomy and ecological subsistence.
  • Water and landscape healing through the creation of Water Retention Landscapes.
  • Stepping out of the oil-based economy through the development of autonomous energy systems.
  • Healing by way of creating healing life circumstances.
  • Re-embedment of man-made systems within the higher systems of creation.

Hence, the physical environment of Tamera was designed based on Permaculture Principles from the beginning initially with support from Max Lindegger (of Crystal Waters in Australia), and later by the Austrian Permaculture teacher Sepp Holzer, who designed and helped implement an integrated water landscape, consisting of a number of large ponds and lakes, combined with terraced areas and other water retention features (e.g. ditches and swales) to retain much of the precipitation on the land and regenerate a healthy water balance and soils also supporting more intensive agriculture to support the needs (or at least parts of) the village, initially with more intense human support (e.g. extensive compost and mulch applications).
The lakes and ponds as well as 2 to 3 terraces along each water retention structure were successively constructed since 2007, with as minimal earthworks as possible but with maximum impact on ecological water systems in mind. The steep slopes of terraces are used for fruit trees and bushes to stabilize the slopes and the flat areas used for vegetables and berries supported with drip irrigation systems, with very careful zoning of tree types according to their water needs, over time developing into Food Forests and Timber Forests and soil erosion has been minimised, soil and groundwater restoration achieved and a highly resilient and balanced water system (one of the focus and research areas of Tamera being shared with the world for creation of regenerative settlements).

At the geometric and heart center place of Tamera one finds a stone circle – a community artwork, modeled after the prehistoric stone circle, Almendres, near Evora. It serves the community for prayer, meditation and celebrations. Originating at the stone circle, a network of Pilgrims Paths and geomantic power places weave throughout the landscape. These are places of contemplation, silence and communication with nature.

With currently approximately 170 people living permanently in Tamera (including around 20 children) and thousands of visitors and volunteers coming to Tamera every year during the summer season, less than 20% of required food consumed in Tamera is produced on the land. However, Tamera’s aim is not food self-sufficiency, even though Tamera has the land area to achieve this, seeds (produced on the land), water systems and soils to be self-sufficient, the focus is not on food production (but other areas – see later), but Tamera helped develop a local and regional network of sustainable food producers (some are separate ecovillages and communities as well) to provide for most of food needs of Tamera and others. Tamera is 100% self-sufficient in its water needs, 80% in energy needs, and in food <20% (with 2/3 coming from Portugal and rest from elsewhere).

Another research focus of Tamera is research in sustainable energy and living systems, undertaken by a sub-community (i.e. Solar Village or Habitat 3) of around 30 residents, who put their  research effort into appropriate technologies and techniques for urban water management, urban scale high intensity farming, solar and biogas systems and more, with internally more ambitious self-sufficiency targets then the wider Tamera community. For example the Solar Village uses an outdoor (covered but no walls) community kitchen, utilizing a commercial-scale solar oven and a biogas system (using all kitchen and green waste from the village), all designed and built by and within the community (i.e. appropriate technology like if you can put together a bike or fix a lawnmower you can build this type of technology), plus solar hot water and some solar PV, providing for integrated examples of alternative living to our current outdated fossil fuels based systems, but being really sustainable and not perpetuating the industrial complex with conventional “green” solutions. Ongoing research for example also goes into development of simple small-scale and safe “commercial” biodigester systems and further development of the Stirling engine linking it to solar energy harvesting, for eventual light industrial production and use based on P2P principles. Other projects are in aquaponics, sustainable architecture and buildings etc. One current limitation for Tamera is the inability to build additional houses for living, so that some residents need to live in temporary structures, due to current land use zoning restrictions. However, Tamera is currently working with the local council to achieve a rezoning of the land for the creation of an extended village.

The community structures and workings of the Tamera community, the Healing Biotope are centered around creating and maintain a community of TRUST, TRUTH and TRANSPARENCY to achieve peaceful living together and on a larger scale to create communities and societies to avoid violence and wars, seeing the issues arising in small-scale communities as a reflection of the issues facing the whole world. The basis is to change our personal and our communities stories and narratives from violence, separation, exploitation, destruction, selfishness to a regenerative culture of love, peace, cooperation, connection, care and restoration. These are of course very ambitious aims, and some may argue this is naive and unrealistic, but this is the core work of Tamera, working as individuals and as community internally and externally and on a personal level to create the ways and approaches as well as tools to achieve these goals. Tamera, like many other intentional communities is a very good example of an incubator and laboratory for a different way of being in the world, experimenting with the creation of a regenerative culture of creating and living community and for sustainable one planet living.

One of the (many) tools used in Tamera for both personal development and community building is the FORUM (initially developed in ZEGG Community in Germany and now used at a number of communities and evolved from its original form), a form of sharing circle, but much more, a guided and facilitated open space for deep honest sharing and reflecting on all issues which one personally or the community moves and occupies at the moment, with a mirror of impressions and perspectives provided as feedback from the community spoken with a loving heart, which can help each and everyone to gain more self-knowledge, self-acceptance, trust and empowerment by learning through community much of what one may not learn on our own – the wisdom of community (noting again that this is only one of many approaches to self-development, healing and community building used but I can only provide a glimpse here and not writing a dissertation of community processes in Tamera).
An interesting aspect of living in Tamera is about decision-making also on what we would in conventional society consider our personal and individual choices we make ourselves and alone (or in a nucleus family), for a wide range of issues. For example about having children and raising children is a collective decision, of course in deep and caring cooperation with the individuals (i.e. parents or caregivers) involved. This is because particularly raising children takes the support, energy and resources of the whole village, and this is particularly true for Tamera, where raising children is literally shared by all in many different ways in genuine and mutual support, and children for example have a number of adults, who they can consider as their “parents”, and issues of children’s development and wellbeing are discussed and decided upon collectively (by consensus of course). Children also live together in  a childrens village, supervised by a group of adults  and most are home schooled (together). The aim is to educate children so they can trust adults and find safety in adults and others by being nurtured in mind, body and spirit to trust and feel safety, hence the need to rebel against adults, due to double standards and untruths is greatly diminished. This of course needs the self-development and ability by the adults to be and live by the basic ethics, of speaking your truth, provide and stay with genuine mutual support and have genuine participation in community and the world.

As mentioned personal and interpersonal issues are dealt with in the FORUM (which is used in various groups and sub-communities). For more formal discussions on “objective” issues there are a number of Carrier Circles on specific topics (e.g. water, children,…) with around 20 members, which discuss topics in-depth until a more or less consensus is reached, when an issue can be passed to the Plenary, where community can provide input before a decision on an issue is made. Aside from that there are also Councils (e.g. Womans (or Social), Finance, Guests, etc) with 5 to 7 members, which deal with their assigned topics in great detail in order to come to a position on a topic. One of the impressions I got from all the systems and structures used in Tamera, is not only the overall complexity of the systems and processes but more so their great flexibility and constant evolution (organically), to account for individual circumstances and needs, community needs and the ever-changing composition and character of the community itself (including generational changes) – change is the only constant. This is also reflected in the fact that approximately 30% of “work” (on average) is put into community building, social relations, education. This does not say that there would not be issues and conflicts about exactly the issues Tamera is set out to create a new culture for, like money, power, sex, love, partnerships, etc, but there are strong systems in place to successfully work through them and transform the destructive into regenerative ways of being, through trust, truth and transparency.

Love without Fear or Free Love
We are all very used to open display of anger, hate, power and violence in any public space and also online and consider this as the normal way of how things are, a force of separation. Public display of love, compassion, affection, loving kindness are more often considered a personal and to some are only in the private realm, to some extent depending on cultural context. But it is love and all facets and ways of it and all different types of love we actually look for, which is and will be the way of eventually creating regenerative social and cultural systems which will be sustainable and the regaining of connection (to ourselves, between ourselves and nature). Tamera is part of a worldwide network of Love Schools (Terra Nova), with the aim of teaching and spreading the ways to reach love without fear. Through creation of safe spaces where we can share our fears, our love, our wants and desires, and all other feelings and emotions in relation to love and fear, openly and honestly, with ourselves and others, so we can find ways to express freely and start to heal and overcome the separation, jealousy, anxieties, clinging, separation, lack of commitment, loneliness, intimacy fears, lack of truthfulness and heal traumas and shadows in many layers of our existence and develop true empathy and compassion and loving kindness.   This is not only for our personal and intimate relationships, from where its needs to start from, but also for all our relations with others and community, to be able to be more open, fearless and compassionate and an eventual per-requisite for a positive and regenerative systems and cultural transformation. Tamera is running a Love School to teach Love without Fear, which most recently has gone online as well. It is also notable that for the development of communities the related issues of power, money and love are often the make it or break it issues, which if unresolved will result likely result in failure of a community (and often is for intimate relationships).

Tamera also operates a research group as part of the International Global Peace Network (IGP – currently with approximately 15 people working full-time on it from Tamera). It is based on the strong outward and outreach vision and program of Tameara starting in the early days of the community, initially with extensive involvement in Peace work in Israel-Palestine. Because Tamera sees itself as a living laboratory of alternative and peaceful, cooperative existence of humans irrespective of cultural background, religion, sex, color or creed, living this in Tamera on a daily basis of what the issues are in a village are the issues of whole societies and nations. Developing ways and real world and tested approaches for systemic social change away from competition, fear, dominance, exploitation, displacement all for the benefit of a few, to a deeply connected existence with all life systems and to create a new culture without fear and a culture of love and non-violence. Practical peace work from Tamera not only includes work in Israel-Palestine but also at the frontline peace negotiations in Columbia (also under the concept of decolonisation), models of socially just and ecological living in the Favelas of Brasil, or in Permaculture Villages in Kenya and many other places worldwide and also a number of local, regional, national and international organisations and communities (i.e. Global Campus). Now IGP at Tamera is a reference point and resource of support and expertise in the creation of socially just and sustainable communities addressing underlying systemic core issues of our problems. Much of IGP work is through networking, conventional and social media work and collaboration  and with an aim to combine and environmental activism with spirituality as a more holistic and sustainable approach to this important work, through inner and outer transformation of individuals, partnerships, communities and societies as a whole, based on the concept of Interbeing. IGP also provides information and resources on inner/outer change work, blueprints for community living, development of consciousness as well on income/finance of communities. The Terra Nova School and the Global Campus support this process of planetary network-building through mental, spiritual, human and ecological education.

Money, Finances and Economics
Tamera partially utilises income sharing and as a full member of Tamera (i.e. co-worker) all basic living expenses, including all living expenses, food, health care, schooling for kids, transport, etc. are covered for all, including up to Euro 200 per month of personal money per person. However, additional income (and every co-worker is required to work standard hours in and for Tamera in the chosen area of interest (which can change by agreement), is allowed from outside sources (work or other) for personal use if so desired and similarly personal wealth (e.g. from before joining Tamera) can be retained individually (but can also be transferred to Tamera if one wishes to). The internal economy of Tamera itself is gift based and without exchange of money.
Most income for Tamera currently comes from education and training programs (seminars and workshops, horse work) operated at the Tamera campus during the summer months. Income is distributed also to the various research projects run in and from Tamera (see above but also for example a dog rescue and shelter).
Legal ownership of the land is through two separate companies and hence no personal land ownership of individuals is possible.

Becoming a member of Tamera community (i.e. Co-worker)
Because of the complexity, high level of flexibility and continuous change of how Tamera community operates, becoming a resident member of Tamera is an involved process, through which anyone who wants to join the community has sufficient time and opportunity for self-development and to gain the trust and support of the community and truly learn the inner workings of the community and also find their fitting place. The membership process generally starts with a guest program through a workshop or on-site course, through which people gain a first basic insight and understanding of the community. This, if one is interested to join, will lead to an intense one month community access program, with intensive learning and exploration of the community in all facets. If one wants to continue the process a whole winter will need to be spent in Tamera, where one is involved deeply in the running and operation of the community (including attendance of the FORUM and other community events). Any decision for acceptance of a new member (i.e. a co-worker in training, where one is still undergoing intensive training and education as well as self development processes) is discussed and decided through the FORUM and it may take between 1 to 10 years before being accepted as full member, i.e. co-worker, but generally the process would take around 3 years. Needless to say that people do also leave Tamera, some temporarily to pursue other endeavours in the world, for personal or family reasons and on occasion eventually feeling that Tamera may not be (or maybe for some time) be the “right” path and environment. On very rare occasions the community may also ask members to temporarily leave the community to resolve personal issues which may significantly impact on the community, but always with ongoing support from the community. Hence, like all other communities Tamera is in constant change, renewal and development of its members, the land and the community and therefore making it an exciting and lively place to be.

At this point I should make a disclaimer that what I have written about Tamera is of course my view of what I have learned and does in no way attempt to cover all aspects of the community but tries to give a glimpse on some aspects to convey a basic feel for the community, but acknowledging Tamera’s diverse and wide-reaching work and complexity and richness and beauty of the place.

In summary Tamera and its people have not only created a beautiful, regenerative and energetically outward looking, truly, loving and peaceful community and are truly a lighthouse of hope, of a laboratory of experimentation of new forms of living and living together and sharing the knowledge and wisdom which needs to be spread far and wide. I would say you need to visit Tamera and immerse yourself into all its diversity and depth and experience fully with your body, emotions, mind and spirit and internalise the philosophy, messages and knowledge and hopefully it lights your internal fire to join this path of personal and cultural healing and regeneration.

P.S. One purpose of my visit of Tamera was also the attendance of the International Communal Studies Association Conference, which was held early July in Tamera, but will report on it in a later post. But an amazing summary of what it takes to create and make communities last for the long term can be found in my previous blog How do Intentional Communities Last & Thrive?

Resources:

Tamera – Healing Biotope 1

Terra Nova – The Healing of Love (Movie Trailer, 2016)

Online Love School Course (Terra Nova Global Revolution and the Healing of Love)

Dreaming Beyond Capitalism: A culture without fear (recent article by one of Tamera’s researchers – Martin Winiecki)

How do Intentional Communities Last & Thrive?

Now that I have traveled some communities (around 15 or so) I can say that I have seen and experienced a lot of beautiful diversity but also start to learn and understand, experience and feel what can make communities to work and last in the long term. Many books and papers have been written about this topic and it ain’t easy or simple to explain and less so to create communities. But I would like to share a dozen of main insights collected from a number of long term communities and community members, on what makes (or breaks) communities. This information is based on to the courtesy of Deborah Altus of Washburn University (Kansas, US) who presented a great Key note speech (“Perspectives on Inner and Outer Peace from Long-Term Members of Intentional Communities in the USA”) during the International Communal Studies Association conference held In Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal early July (more about Tamera Healing Biotope and the conference will come in a separate blog).

Here the wisdom comes or a 12 Step Program to Inner and Outer Peace:

  1. Actively nurture and support personal growth and development
  2. Provide daily opportunities to live out your values
  3. Nurture deep connections and relationships between members
  4. Nurture deep connections and relationships with the land and the natural world
  5. Actively and regularly engage in celebrations, rituals and traditions
  6. Actively work on communication and group processes
  7. Clearly define and stick to your core values
  8. Develop a system for sharing the work
  9. Actively involve the next generation
  10. Pay close attention to the economics of the community
  11. Actively work on being good neighbours
  12. Develop models of and share cooperative culture

Of course this can only be a teaser and each and every of these main has a lot to it (and can elaborate on it at a later stage), but good to get it out there now and please add your own thoughts and ideas to it.

Additionally, the content of Deborah’s work will likely be published in the near future and I will let you know when and where once it appears.

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Resources:

International Communal Studies Association (ICSA)

ICSA 2016 Conference in Tamera

Communities Magazine (great articles and stories and up to date infos about communities worldwide)

Tamera Healing Biotope – A School and Research Station for Realistic Utopia

 

 

Oak Trees and Forests – Egalitarian Communities In Virginia

After spending a very pleasant time in Ecovillage at Ithaca in Upstate New York I was making my long way south all the way to Virginia to visit a couple of rural egalitarian communities in the rural heartland of that state – TWIN OAKS and ACORN egalitarian communities, two of an increasing number of communities (e.g. also Living Energy Farm) in this area (developing into a network of intentional communities), in the rolling hills of (oak) forests and pastures at this time of the year blossoming in an explosion of greens.

Twin Oaks Community was founded in 1967 on approximately 250 acres of rural farming land in central Virginia, as an egalitarian community based on the publication Walden 2 by the behavioural Anthropologist B.F. Skinner, because of this some aspects of Twin Oaks are somewhat different from other communities. However, the community has also changed and evolved (and still does) over the years.

The guiding values of the community are cooperation, sharing, non-violence, equality and ecology, which are upheld in each and every decision-making process in the community. The community is not religious and members follow various beliefs of their own choosing.

Much of the land is woodland and forested and approximately 15 acres are used for agricultural production, which includes a wide range of veggies, fruit, berries, some crops as well as some livestock (i.e. cows, goats, chickens, bees) for dairy (including yoghurt and cheese) and eggs and honey, but also some meat (not all are vegetarian), with on-site processing and preserving to supply much of the food used on-site and also included extended production almost year round (it rarely snows in this area of the country) months with large poly tunnels. The production also includes many herbs and medicinal plants in a magnificent herb garden.

Twin Oaks Community currently has approximately 90 adult and 15 child residents. Average members stay approximately 8 to 9 years but many have been long-term residents (e.g our guide Valerie has been living here for more than 20 years) and spanning a wide age range up to the 6os, 70s and 80s (oldest member is 81), but appears somewhat younger on average than other communities I have visited. As an egalitarian community all income is shared and members live in one of a number of common houses where each member has its own room but share all facilities to achieve lower ecological footprint, where in some houses 20 to 30 people live together and also a large Community Centre, which houses amongst other things the communal kitchen where most people eat every day. Most houses at the site were built between the 1970s and 1990s in various styles with some ecological principles in mind (e.g. passive solar, insulation), but because of their age are not quite as of high sustainability design standard as newer constructions. Houses generally have gas boosted solar hot water and larger solar PV (including newer PV trackers installed with state government support), all of which is grid connected. Water supply is from on-site water bore and water saving appears of relatively lowe priority, judging by the conventional water appliances used. Waste water is treated in an on-site WWTP and discharged to a nearby river under a discharge licence, but biosolids are currently not re-used (a future project). Cooking is done with bottled propane gas and heating with wood from the forest.

Members do not own their own car, but the community has a fleet of 12 community cars/vans which are available to all members for a small fee ( 3 cents per km, encouraging car sharing to reduce costs further) using a well organised ride sharing system.

Most members generally only work within the community working on many different things (often at one time) at each members free choise. But each member has to do 42 hours of work per work, but many things which conventionally would not be considered work are included, like work to keep community operating, farming, gardening, cleaning, cooking, maintenance, repairs, childcare, visitors, communities work, administration, activism etc. and only 50% of work needs to be income earning. However, members are still allowed to do some work outside the community for example to earn some more money (every member gets $85 per month as pocket-money) for saving to go on a vacation (noting that everyone gets 3 weeks vacation a year, but one can work more to accrue from leave time for longer vacations). The community provides for all basic needs for each member, like food, shelter, healthcare, training, work, recreation, entertainment (and there appears to be lots of that). The community also runs a community weekend every year (September) where one can meet people from some 35 different communities from around the country (and event which is also open to outsiders – sounds really cool). The community also cares for the needs of children (i.e. childcare, homeschooling) but has limitations with number of kids due to space and facilities limitations. Everyone can choose to do the work they would like to do and the schedule they would like to work (and often people choose to do various things during a week, with a prefilled time sheet submitted weekly, for a coordinator to check to make sure that all necessary work is covered sufficiently. This provides for high degree of flexibility in work arrangements, able to accommodate almost any needs of individual members.

The economic basis for the community, which is basically self-sufficient in an economic sense (and always has) comes from producing handmade hammocks (and hanging chairs), a Soy business (producing tofu and tempeh), seed production and delivery business, a book indexing business, FIC directory sales, which provides for sufficient diversity to absorb fluctuations in the businesses.

As a community of substantial size and social, cultural and economic diversity Twin Oaks is extremely well organised and has well developed rules and regulations for the functioning of all of the parts of the community, like kitchen (all meals are communal, but people can still cook their own stuff if they wish), workshops, woodshops, etc. The community is run by a system of area managers (e.g. kitchen, workshop, dairy…) who can make decisions for day to day operation of their area, but with ongoing community input and consultation and open and transparent participation process (i.e. everyone can make a proposal for any change and all inputs are public at all times). Separate from that are three planners elected for 18 months terms who deal with more far reaching and longer term issues for the community (e.g. for budgets) who make decisions but with extensive community input and also but facilitate the decision making process, by collating proposal, and go through the process and facilitate community for decision making, where up to 20% of members can vote against a proposal and still being accepted. The community also has weekly community meeting. The community also has various committees for certain areas e.g. visitors, members, which can make some decisions in the area they work in.

Becoming a member of Twin Oaks involves the completion of a 3-week visitor program (open to everyone even just interested to check it out), followed by at least one month away from the community, to allow reflection and contemplation, which is followed by a decision process by the whole community to deliberate and vote on a new member. New members do not need to pay any joining fees to keep the community accessible for all. Twin Oaks also offers Internships for volunteers of variable duration (generally 2 to 6 months). Resources owned by a member remain the personal ownership of the member as well are personal effects and items of personal use (e.g. mobile phones, computers, clothing, etc). Conflict resolution process is highly developed and has many layers from directly resolution between people involved, all the way with support off group, a facilitator, councilor and so forth and everything in between.

The community feels like an impressively well run organism but has a very positive, friendly, relaxed and welcoming feel with lots of energy, enthusiasm, passion and dedication, but also loving care, fun, buzzing, energetic village with and extraordinary degree of self-sufficiency in relation to work for people living in community. And the community is likely still here because of a very high level of organisation and planning and strong systems, structures and processes in place to keen the ball rolling, but also with high degree of flexibility and willingness to change.

What an inspiring example of a sustainable village economy and community! Well worth a visit for everyone.

ACORN COMMUNITY

Due to the success of Twin Oaks Community, a number of “spin-off” communities developed in nearby areas, one of which I was able to visit. Acorn Community Farm describes itself as an anarchist, egalitarian community in central Virginia founded in 1993, with a start-up loan and support provided by Twin Oaks.  Acorn is committed to non-coercive, non-hierarchical, voluntary associations both within our community as well as within the larger community in which they find themselves. Acorn is also committed to income-sharing, sustainable living, and creating a vibrant, eclectic culture.

Acorn community is only few kilometers from Twin Oaks and is an old 73 acres farm (including the old farmstead). The structure and operation of Acorn is to some degree similar to Twin Oaks (i.e. egalitarian and income sharing) with a number of living quarters having been built to date, from small visors quarters to a 14 bedroom communal house. Currently there are 25 adults and 4 children living at Acorn (with a maximum of 30 adults and 5 children possible). The main source of income for Acorn is a seed selling business with some seed growing on-site but also from Twin Oaks and other nearby communities which grow seeds as well.

As mentioned many aspects of operation of the community are very similar to Twin Oaks (even though economy is not as diverse) and community provides basic needs for all members, and all generally work on-site (42 hours a week with 4 weeks vacation per year and community covers travel costs if one wants to travel). The difference to Twin Oaks appears that Acorn does not seem to have as many rules and regulations and systems appear more fluid and much is based on weekly meetings of community which uses consensus decision-making process.

This is reflected in following description: Acorn is non-hierarchical.  There are no bosses, owners, investors, managers or supervisors.  Although structured in areas such as membership, we intentionally keep policies to a minimum (we have a policy of very little policy) preferring a calm anarchy to prevail. Of the few policies that are in place, our culture encourages personal responsibility rather than supervision, as well as taking issues on a case-by-case basis keeping in mind that needs of individuals vary.

Acorn community is and also feels younger than Twin Oaks with oldest member in their 6os. Like Twin Oaks it feels very diverse community with a more alternative at times almost hippie like feel, and is very casual and relaxed and easy going. Conflict resolution processes are well and highly developed and used in many different layers. Additionally the community uses an annual personal appraisal/review or clearing process of each member person to person in order to resolve any lingering issues and resentments with support provided by whole group in the process. This process is also used for prospective members who want to join the community.

The focus of Acorn is not so much on ecological sustainability (even though they recently built a large strawbale building, which houses the seed saving business and other facilities), but more on way to reduce personal footprint by living differently by sharing living spaces and resources, income and use of as little as possible form the outside. Acorn produces a fair bit of their food from on-site production (also including some livestock), but also supplements this with food from a grocer, which would otherwise be thrown away.

A very energetic and hip and young community with a very relaxed and welcoming lifestyle.

Resources:

Twin Oaks Community

Is it Utopia Yet? Book describing the first 20 years of Twin Oaks

Acorn Community 

East Wind Community

Living Energy Farm

Federation of Egalitarian communities (US)

Fellowship of Intentional Communities (great resource for finding communities worldwide and related information  and many publications)