COMMUNITIES I’VE VISITED

EMERALD EARTH

IMG_1139(The tip of the old communal house, deep in the ‘shady’ side of the plot)

Emerald Earth is a small intentional community hidden amongst the redwoods of the northern Californian hills of Mendocino County. The land was purchased in 1989 by Julie Jess Middleton with inheritance money, but was considerable cheaper than today’s prices which have skyrocketed due to the California cannabis boom. Basically, it’s great weed growing country.

The community are often assumed to gain revenue from cannabis farming – why else would you be called Emerald Earth? – but the name actually comes from a beautiful emerald owned by one of the founders.

In fact, each member of the community does make a living off the land, but by diverse means. The newest couple at Emerald Earth are starting an oyster mushroom business and currently building the greenhouse they need to grow their crop. Another member earns his crust from the seasonal seaweed harvest on the Pacific coast; he uses the open hillside at Emerald Earth to dry the crop. While yet another resident owns two cows from which she sells raw milk to local foodies.

IMG_1115(Slip-straw wall built by the Work Party I joined in October 2014)

At present, three couples live at Emerald Earth, each with one child. New members must pay $10,000 each if they want to join the community, a fee which is non-refundable upon departure, but which ensures membership for life. The fee can be paid gradually over time.

According to one resident who’s been at Emerald Earth for the past ten years, the community has a ‘pretty fine filter’ when it comes to choosing new members. Things they look for in new members include:

1) Experience of rural living

2) Experience of living in an intentional community

3) A plan of how they will make a living off the land

4) Practical outdoors skills: natural building, gardening etc

5) Admin skills: professional e-mail manner etc

It’s not necessary to be proficient in all of the above, but apparently it helps!

IMG_1128(The greenhouse-cum-bathhouse behind the sauna)

When new members join the fold, they can either move into an empty house or build their own. There are currently more houses than families at the community, so the newest members – who joined in mid 2014 – took an empty house and pay $850 a month. This price includes all food and utilities.

Each of the three children living in the community are currently under ten. They are all home-schooled.

Emerald Earth arrange four Work Parties a year. These are work-exchange events where visitors work alongside residents and complete the daily tasks of the community. For an analysis of this programme that I wrote on the main blog, click here.

IMG_1127(Solar panels, the new communal house, and a blanket of pines)

Emerald Earth website: http://emeraldearth.org/

Emerald Earth newsletter: http://emeraldearth.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/dirt14.pdf

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JUST DO IT

20141007_095720(One of the private houses at Just Do It)

This community isn’t really called Just Do It, and it’s not an intentional community either. But anyway.

In the mid 1980s a group of friends bought a piece of land a few miles south of Santa Cruz, California. The plan was to knock down the shack that stood there and build a big communal house, and a private home for each member. This is what happened.

Now, three couples live on site who use the Big House to eat dinner together each night, and shower independently each morning. The private houses have no kitchens and no bathrooms, just a toilet and sink.

Each member of the ‘community’ has a private income and a private bank account, but the land itself is joint owned. The buildings themselves aren’t officially owned by anyone, simply because they were built illegally and don’t exist in the eyes of the law.

Two of the original team live off-site, they don’t have their own house on the property but have a permanent ‘right-to-return’. There were two others in the founding group, one of which was bought out in the mid 90s and the other of which seems to have left on bad terms.

Two of the three resident couples have grown-up children. How inheritance works here is anyone’s guess.

20141007_102006(The view from the site to the Pacific Ocean)

For the full ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS blog post on Just Do It, click here.                                                               .

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LOS ANGELES ECO-VILLAGE

20140921_174302(117 Bimini Place, the heart of the L.A. Eco-Village)

The Los Angeles Eco-Village (LAEV) is an urban eco-village based in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Formed in 1993, the intentional community was born as a response to the civil unrest in L.A. – the Rodney King riots – of the previous year. It was formed by the non-profit public benefit organisation, the Cooperative Services and Resources Project (CRSP), a resource centre founded in 1980 by Lois Arkin which aimed to provide aid to new cooperatives.

After the riots, Lois decided to narrow CRSP’s focus into forming an ecologically minded neighbourhood that could provide affordable housing to low-income locals who wanted to live more sustainably. The CRSP chose the inner-city, multiethnic area of Koreatown as a suitable home for this project. In order to manage the complex legal minefield of land-use, land-ownership and financing employed by Los Angeles and the United States, the CRSP created several ‘independent’ sub-organisations each with a specific purpose. These included a community land trust, a limited equity housing cooperative and a revolving loan system, the combination of which gave the LAEV its roots for longevity.

Today, around forty people call the LAEV their home. Most of these residents live in a U-shaped, two-storey apartment block (117 Bimini Place) that surrounds an interior garden courtyard in which fruit and vegetables are grown. The LAEV also owns the adjacent property – a mansion-house with large front garden – and two properties on the other side of the street – a fourplex and a bungalow now used as a bike workshop. One interesting feature of the living arrangement is that some of the residents of 117 Bimini Place are not members of the intentional community. These residents were living in the building when the LAEV took it over, and the LAEV respected their wish to continue living independently.

20140921_151435(Jimmy’s bike workshop in the LAEV neighbourhood)

Each member of the LAEV is expected to have some source of private income and must pay rent for their accommodation and membership each month. There are very few paid roles within the LAEV itself. The professions of the L.A ecovillagers range from musicians and teachers to lawyers and physiotherapists. Some rooms are occupied by couples (with or without children), but most apartments house singletons.

There is no formal arrangement for how members engage with the projects and governance of the LAEV, although it is expected and encouraged that residents take roles within one of the working committees. There is a Management Committee, a Gardening Group, and a Conflict Resolution Team among many others, each of which is responsible for their designated aspect of collective living. A general weekly meeting occurs every Monday evening in which members can air concerns and propose new events or ideas relating to day-to-day life at the LAEV.

At the meeting I attended the agenda included: details of the upcoming Time Bank Craft Fare in which individuals can sell items they’ve made for cost price (e.g. $5 for a bead necklace if the beads cost $5) plus Time dollars for the time it took to make (e.g. two Time dollars if it took two hours to construct)*; the organisation of a traditional yard/garage sale; the question of whether the LAEV should support a campaign for a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) free L.A.; and a vote on whether a new prospective member could be ‘green-lighted’ to continue his application process.

20140921_174027(Painted walls and growing fruit behind 117 Bimini Place)

Like many intentional communities, some members of the LAEV are more active in the management of the collective than others. No-one is forced to attend the weekly meeting, and I was told that certain residents had chosen to ‘step out’ of these collective decision-making processes a long-time previous. Such abdication is perhaps more possible in the LAEV than other intentional communities I’ve visited because the LAEV doesn’t impose many strict rules of living. Car use is strongly discouraged, but you won’t be evicted for driving. Many members prefer to be vegetarian or vegan, but eating meat at the LAEV is a matter of choice. Much like more traditional landlord-tenant agreements, if you pay your rent, you can live how you like.

*For more information on Time Banks and Time-based currency click here

Los Angeles Eco-Village: http://laecovillage.org/

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MONKTON WYLD COURT

Monkton Wyld Court was built in 1848 by the wealthy mother-in-law of a Church of England rector who had moved abroad with his wife. His mother-in-law was so desperate to get her daughter back to England that she built a church and a rectory and founded the parish of Monkton Wyld – all so her son-in-law had a flock to watch over and had no choice but to return. In 1940 the rectory became a progressive secondary school dedicated to teaching practical skills such as woodwork and farming. The school closed in 1982 and slowly grew into the community it is today: a small group of caretakers who live in the house under the premise that they maintain the property and grounds.

In addition to the 3-story, 16-room neo-gothic rectory, the 12-acre site also holds a converted farmhouse, complete with bedrooms, a library and a large tool shed. Annexed onto the main house is a mid-20th century classroom, a dairy, a washing room and extra dining room and kitchenette. There is also a large dance hall complete with sprung floor and piano. Behind this rests a wood workshop and some other bungalow living quarters. Down the hill towards the dairy meadows is an ugly but functional 1950s one-story, five-bedroom living space used mainly by volunteers. Further down is the yurt that houses one community member, and round the fruit garden is the straw-bale house that provides a home for some others. Across the fields lies the farm: a set of old stone stables facing a brand-new timber-frame barn which uses ancient wood-fitting methods and wooden pegs to avoid bolts or mortar. A couple renovated caravans provide homes for other residents and guests. There is also a garden shed which has been converted into a pub. It’s open on request or whenever a community member fancies a drink. They serve one ale.

Two cows and two pigs live on site. The cows are bred once a year and their calves are sold, while their milk is use to make cheese for the residents. The pigs are kept solely as a living waste disposal unit and to occasionally churn up turf ahead of potato planting. There’s a one-acre walled garden which protects vegetables and gives fruit extra warmth from the sun-splattered brick. Three poly-tunnels allow seedlings and exotic plants the chance to flourish.

The estate is currently home to nine adults and two children. All decisions concerning the management of the living situation are made by consensus in a weekly meeting. Members of the trust who own the house and grounds visit sporadically to enquire on the daily happenings and long-term plans. Any prospective new community member must first spend a few months volunteering, after which they can apply to become full-time members and begin receiving the £50-a-week they are then entitled to.

Although every resident is expected to work 9am – 5pm, five days a week within their specific discipline (kitchen, housework, maintenance, garden), some compromises are made. One couple has two small children, and although the mother is responsible for the fruit garden, it is accepted that she spends most of her time looking after the kids. If you are ill you are also exempt from work.

Monkton Wyld Court bills itself as an education centre for sustainable living. It achieves this aim by offering workshops on sustainable ecological practices such as grassland management using hand-scythes and ethical beekeeping. It also practices what it preaches by only using wood-burners for heat, having its own well and reed-bed filter system and using compost toilets where possible. The communal diet is vegetarian with the milk, cheese, butter and cream all being sourced from the onsite dairy farm, and many vegetables and herbs sourced from the garden. At present, the community buy a large percent of the food they cook, as different head-gardeners with conflicting philosophies have left Monkton with a poor yield – but with the introduction of newest head-gardener in early 2014 things are improving.

The site also accommodates the head-office of The Land magazine, a publication which believes that lack of access to the land is a larger social injustice than lack of access to money. Founders and editors Simon Fairlie and Gill Barron run both the magazine and Monkton Wyld’s dairy farm.

Visiting Monkton Wyld is easy. Email them asking for a two-week volunteering visit and they’ll say when they can accommodate you. Alternatively, pay to stay in the bed and breakfast or enrol on one of their courses.

Monkton Wyld Court: http://www.monktonwyldcourt.co.uk/

The Land: http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/

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SIEBEN LINDEN

Sieben Linden is an eco-village in central Germany. The community began in 1997 when a group of environmental idealists collectively bought a piece of land and converted its dilapidated barn into habitable space. The village is now home to about 100 adults and 40 children who live in the eight multi-storey straw-bale houses and twenty decorated caravans that currently exist. Since its founding, the renovated barn known as the Regiohaus has been often extended and now houses a seminar hall, kitchen, dining room, library and guest quarters. It also contains a bar which is voluntarily staffed by residents and a dance hall for parties. Other buildings on site include a newly built meditation space, stables for the horses, outdoor amphitheatre and a stand-alone sauna.

The community has no over-arching religious, spiritual or ideological belief system other than a commitment to ecological sustainability. The site is designed under the principles of permaculture, an ecological philosophy that aims to work with, rather than against nature. The entire village of Sieben Linden is serviced by one well, and waste water is filtered through a reed-bed system which rids it of its pollutants. All toilets on site are compost toilets, and these range from rough-and-ready holes in the ground to clinically maintained indoor facilities.

All the houses are fitted with solar panels, from which they derive most their electricity, and wood-burning stoves provide warmth, fuel for cooking and a source of hot water for cleaning. All the wood is logged in the adjacent forest, also owned by the community.

Each resident is entitled to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner communally in the Regiohaus dining room, but some choose to eat at home. Almost all the fruit and vegetables cooked communally are grown in the onsite garden, and all staples (grain, rice etc) are bought in. All communal food is vegetarian, and largely vegan.

If you want to join the village, you need to pay €13, 000 to the co-operative, which can be returned to you if you decide to leave. Each month, every adult member of the community pays around €100 for day-to-day operating costs, basically a form of council tax. Sieben Linden is not a commune in that its members do not share their income. Each resident is expected to be self-financing, and must pay for their wood and any other services or products they desire from their own pocket.

There are many employment opportunities within the village: lumberjack, chef, gardener to name just a few, but other residents prefer to source their income from the outside world via teaching jobs or freelance computer work.

Sieben Linden encourages new members to submit plans to build their own house. New houses must have a minimum of three unrelated adults members. Living on your own as a couple is not allowed, but of course couples are allowed to live together in shared houses. When you first arrive in the village (before you’ve built your house), you need to rent a room or a caravan. This can cost between €200 – €300 a month depending on size and convenience. The use of caravans is discouraged by the community as they are less energy efficient than houses in that they are not as well insulated, and the long term plan is to move everyone into permanent houses.

Sieben Linden is a central member of the Global Ecovillage Network, and many of it’s residents are employed by this institution. The village hosts a variety of public courses on permaculture, dragon dreaming, poetry, theatre, conflict resolution and more, but most of the courses are offered in German.

Speaking to one of the founders of the community, she explained that Sieben Linden’s raison d’être is showing how you can live a comfortable life without having such a negative ecological impact on the planet. She is proud of how Sieben Linden has grown and how it sets an example to others to go out and build the lives they really want to live.

Sieben Linden – http://www.siebenlinden.de/

Global Ecovillage Network – http://gen.ecovillage.org/

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TAMERA

Tamera overview-eden(Look carefully: the left side shows the mis-managed land typical of southern Portugal, the right shows the green of Tamera)

Tamera is an eco-village in southern Portugal. It is a self-proclaimed healing biotope and peace research centre. According to Dieter Duhm, one of Tamera’s founders, a healing biotope is a local centre which can help ‘replace the existing informational field of fear and violence with a new, globally effective informational field of trust and cooperation’.

Tamera aims to set an example of how humanity can live together in cooperation with itself and with the geological earth and all its living organisms. It seeks a holistic and fully comprehensive way of being which incorporates economy, ecology and psychology in order to nurture and sustain peace.

The eco-village was set up in 1995 after a group of political, environmental and spiritual activists left Germany in search of a new living scenario. Tamera is now home to 170 people in the summer, and 90 people in the winter. Each member of the community, or ‘co-worker’, devotes their energy to some important aspect of sustaining life. Engineers develop the water retention plan so that Tamera has bountiful drinking and irrigation water, solar scientists design ways to generate electricity and cooking heat from the sun, and school teachers create a flexible environment in which the children of the community can learn. Cooks cook, gardeners grow, builders build and someone is always rota-ed on for the washing up.

ECOLOGY

20140809_194350(Man made lake at Tamera)

At present, Tamera is around 70% regionally autonomous in food. This means 70% of food consumed is grown on site, or bought from a local farmer. All food consumed at Tamera is vegan. 60% of the community’s electricity is generated from the sun. Tamera seeks to reach 80% solar dependancy, as it claims that the energy it takes to achieve the final 20% (aka to be 100% solar dependant) is the same amount as it takes to achieve the first 80%, and is therefore inefficient.

The founders of Tamera waited seven years before commencing to grow food on-site. This was because the land needed to be primed and managed for new cultivation. In 2007 Tamera began to build its first lakes. These lakes use no artificial lining or sealant, the soil that is removed is built up into terraces around the lake, and into a large earth-dam which holds in the water. These lakes fill up during the winter when the 160-hectare site receives 50cm of rainfall. The water seeps out during the summer months, but is never depleted.

Tamera is employs the principles of permaculture to maintain harmony between all organisms and land that it stewards. Pigs are kept, but only to dig the soil. When snakes eat the salads, the gardeners attempt to direct them to one patch of lettuce, instead of attempting to deny them access.

ECONOMY

Guest Houses(Guest accommodation at Tamera)

It costs about €1 million to run Tamera for one year, excluding any new investments such as school buildings or lakes. Tamera gains 60% of its income from course, seminar and guest fees, 20% from private donations and 20% from the private income of the community members. Community members either have savings from their professional life before Tamera, or spend a few months of the year working in the ‘real’ world to earn money. All community members who live at Tamera pay nothing for accommodation, food and water, and are given €20 a week ‘pocket money’.

Despite their low income, community members often get to travel via certain global projects that Tamera supports, such as peace camps in Israel/Palestine, environmental projects in Bolivia or youth theatre tours in Europe.

SOCIETY

Music at the Bar(Live music at Tamera’s Cultural Centre)

Tamera believes in free love and sexuality. They think that monogamy is unrealistic and aim to eliminate jealousy and ownership in love by encouraging each and everyone to fulfil their desires and vocalise their emotional suffering. They believe that only through radical honesty about desire can humans live in peace. Long-term partnerships are welcome at Tamera, but such partnerships should be flexible enough to allow both members to have sex with others. Tamera has a Love School, run by founder and matriarch Sabine Lichtenfels, in which community members can learn how to be open with their feelings and trust those around them for support.

WORLD POLITICS

Aula, close up ext(The Aula, Tamera’s lecture hall and central meeting space)

Tamera is home to a political ashram and an Institute for Global Peace where international activists are invited to discuss and plan how to approach the wars and oppression of the wider world. Tamera believe that all humanity is connected, and that the wars which threaten the lives of people in Gaza (for example) are as much our wars as they are their wars. Tamera seeks a relationship with those suffering from the violent mechanisms of the world, and spends some of its resources bringing activists to the safe space of Tamera, and some resources visiting them.

OUTREACH

20140809_195101(One of the motivational billboards of Tamera)

Tamera is the origin of the Terra Nova school, a movement which seeks to spread the ideas and values of the community throughout the world – ‘it contains the image of a post-patriarchal civilization free of violence and war.’ The Terra Nova school is a way people can connect with mission of Tamera if they are unable to visit the eco-village itself. For more details: http://www.tamera.org/basic-thoughts/what-is-terra-nova/

Tamera: http://www.tamera.org/

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