Friday, February 21, 2014

Ecovillages - New Frontiers for Sustainability - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 9

This week for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I took a momentary departure from fiction books and read Ecovillages - New Frontiers for Sustainability by Jonathan Dawson. The book gives an interesting insight into the growing interest in ecovillages and the successes that existing ones have had since their inception.

According to the book, "The ecovillage movement was born when the ancient idea of intential communal living met the burgeoning international green movement of the 1960s and 1970s .... [It is] a human-scale settlement, harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future. In other words, a peaceful, socially just, sustainable community."

Generally ecovillages have several principles in common: self-reliance, decentralization, and spiritual inquiry. There seems to be a shared commitment to ecological restoration, rebuilding community, global justice, and service to others.

Alternative, holistic education seems to be the core activity and largest single source of income for many intentional communities. The central "function of ecovillages is to develop new ideas, technologies, and models that it then shares with the wider world."

What resonated with me was that the "knowledge and skills of the small-scale farmer and artisan were viewed as strengths to be built upon rather than a problem to be solved." This philosophy fits so nicely with the community in which I live where there are many hobby farmers and craftspeople. Rather than having all these individuals work independently, it would be interesting to see what would happen if this group of like-minded individuals came together in some way.

Another philosophy that seems to make ecovillages cohesive is that the people are committed to social, ecological, spiritual, and economic concerns.

They "see themselves as being in service to a wider cause, generally phrased in terms of ecological restoration, strengthening community, nurturing the local economy, and/or deepening spiritual insight. Most are engaged in educational and other demonstration activities as a way of communicating their message and insights to the wider world."

This reminds me of the farm and art camp that I founded and directed here at the farm back in the late 1990s to early 2000s. 

Many of these same issues and purposes - growing organic food; educating children and their families about how to use fresh produce; giving youth (6-18 years old) opportunities to work with and be mentored by artists - all are very similar to what an ecovillage may strive to do.

Further, the camp program provided economic (paid) positions to teens and adults. There also were many volunteer opportunities for people within a wide age range - from 12 years old to seniors; those who were volunteering on their own to those; individuals who part of a restorative justice program (youth and adult first-time offenders); and employees coming with a large corporate group (e.g., 3-M, Aveda) to help make a difference.

Many ecovillages focus on environmental education - both within their community as well as by offering programs at local schools. Another draws on the experience of "midwives and medicine men [to] research...medicinal plants and herbs."

In terms of food production, "much effort is put into the production of food within the community."  One ecovillage, for example, "is about 75% self-reliant in vegetables, and buys its grains and other food from a network of organic suppliers that it helped to establish."

One ecovillage, The Ladakh Project, "introduced the first solar greenhouse...enabling villagers to grow vegetables all year round."

Another ecovillage is committed to preserving land by reserving 90% of it for "open space for organic agriculture, woods, meadows, and wetland." In this way, "people are more healthily and sustainably integrated into the non-human world."

From Back of Property Looking North
View of the back part of our farm looking north towards the barn.
(Photo taken in October 2011.)

An ecovillage in Scotland created "Trees for Life...with the vision to restore a wild forest, which is there for its own sake, as a home for wildlife and fulfill the ecological functions necessary for the well-being of the land itself."

Some ecovillages have looked at natural ways to supply heat to their homes and buildings. Some rely on wood while other generate electrical power on-site by solar panels, wind generators, and micro-hydro units.

"A core objective of [ecovillages] is to demonstrate that it is possible to make a living from the products growing on their own land. This has led to the development of a wide range of traditional crafts, including basketry, rustic gate making, woodturning, spinning, weaving, and felt making." Other ecovillages have craft studios where "beautiful ceramics, textiles, carvings, and candles" are produced.

Sophia Making a Beeswax Candle
Sophia making a beeswax candle.
(Photo taken in December 2007.)

Another strong commitment ecovillages have is voluntary simplicity - or the conscious decision to live more simply. The goal is to live a low-impact lifestyle.

One of the challenges that ecovillages have had is "food-processing at the village scale as an economic activity." Because of corporate regulations and rules regarding "stainless steel, refrigeration, and fluorescent lighting," the minimum investment required for food-processing today has driven many small-scale enterprises out of business."

There are some excellent resources on the internet for those interested in ecovillages:

=> Global Ecovillage Network
=> Fellowship of Intentional Communities
=> The Camphill Movement

In terms of peace work, activism, and international solidarity, I was very impressed with Plenty - a non-profit organization that is doing amazing work throughout the world. There are many national and international projects that could be adapted to a local level for smaller ecovillages.

There is another organization - Trees for Life - that aims to plant 10 million trees in 10 years. (Their work started in the early 1980s with the planting of fruit trees in India. The emphasis was on creating awareness, training people to plant and take care of trees and providing them with the resources needed to accomplish their tasks.)

Trees for Life hopes to create "...a movement in which people join hands to break the cycle of poverty and hunger and care for our earth."

According to their website, the strategy to reach this mission is that "each person or community that is helped pledges to pass on to at least two others their experience, knowledge and/or materials to get started. This starts a chain reaction—a movement—that can spread to many other people and communities. In this way, we demonstrate that by helping each other people can unleash extraordinary power that enriches every life."

Fence with trees
Trees that we planted in the pasture. 
They are growing more each year and providing shelter 
for the birds and wildlife now.
(Photo taken in September 2007.)

I found Ecovillages - New Frontiers for Sustainability to be an inspiring and informative book. There were so many practical, life-sustaining ideas packed into this book. It also gives me pause for thought that trying to establish a local ecovillage would be a meaningful way to bring together like-minded people who would support one another - especially in difficult economic times.


cleopatra said...

Thanks so much for your review of this book. I am very interested in this topic and had no idea a book like this existed. It's going at the top of my TBR list!

Faith said...

My husband and I toured a potential eco-village site more than 12 years ago. We were really intrigued by the idea. It didn't work out for us and I don't think that particular eco-village ever got off the ground. They just had too many zoning issues and such. I'd be really interested in reading a book about them. Does the book have a list of existing eco-villages? We live near a sort of proto-type; a small intentional community. It is really charming. Great place to go trick or treating! LOL. You get fresh fruit and homebaked cookies!