I started off my ‘Wanderjahr’ in the Ecovillage Sieben Linden in Germany, taking part in the Ecovillage Design Education by the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education. Following is some information about the village that we got on our first day. As I ll find time to work myself through my notes I ll post more information about the stuff we’ve learnt.
The idea of founding an ecovillage was formed in1989. In1993, aproject centre was bought where the core group stayed for four years before buying land in Sieben Linden. Today the village has around 120 to 130 citizen, of which 40 are children.
The village started off to ideally and experimentally be organised in different neighbourhoods around interests like healing, family, radical community living (Club99 inSieben Linden). People were able to move between the different neighbourhoods if they found themselves more attracted by a different interest groups. The size of 24 to 30 people in a neighbourhood would enable intimate relationships between the people. This concept should give the community a structure of different integrated support circles. This has not fully worked out and even though the concept of neighbourhoods still exist in Sieben Linden, individual places and homes start coming up.
The village Sieben Linden is a settlement cooperative. People that come and live there and want to become members of the community will pay their share, so that the community owns the land together. Ownership makes the people stay and see the land as “theirs”, making them recognise their responsibility. The fee to pay is around 12.300 Euro. The same amount is paid back to the person on departure, even though often it isn’t returned all together. There is a small loss to the one who leaves as the inflation rate is not integrated. A solidarity systems is available to help people that want to join and don’t have the money, so that individual solutions with loans can be found. Houses are built by individuals or groups with individual freedom whenever money is there. This makes the village designs an organic process and for some a bit chaotic.
The decision making in Sieben Linden started out with consensus decision, based on the ideal that the community should listen to all. As the group was small in the early years, having around 20 to 30 members, this was possible. As the community grew, this process became tiring, leading to a lot of “I can go along with that”, lukewarm agreements between the members. The solution that the community found was to combine decision making with building trust and organise the community in different delegations, the five elected councils of Sieben Linden: the landholding cooperative, the educational association, the building cooperative, the self-sufficiency council and the social council. These councils meet to take decisions in their field. This year in September a sixth council shall join them, the visionary council, consisting of elders and being a sort superordinate council to unite the other ones. The vision part represents for the villagers, next to the appropriate decision making process and the trust building, the third leg of a strong forward moving community. Today, decisions need to be fully agreed upon by 2/3 of the community members. Every individual is however able to step into his/her power and call out a veto. He/She has then two weeks to organise meetings and find more people to agree with the veto.
Most projects that break up, in Sieben Linden but also in other communities, do because of personal conflict. Therefore, some of the members of Sieben Linden use the non-violent communication method of Marshall Rosenberg to make themselves transparent.
Of the approximate 80 grown up members of the community, 50 persons are earning most of their money in being involved in the seminars inside of the village. There are approximately 4000 visitors every year. A lot of people earn additional money through giving seminars and consultancy related to community and ecovillage design outside of Sieben Linden. Other income are craft and building, 10 to 15 people working in this field, mostly in the village but also outside. Beside that there are subsistence workers in the village like the gardeners and the firewood collectors. The people from Sieben Linden pay 150 percent of the normal price for food that comes from inside of the village to be able to pay the gardeners higher wages.
In Sieben Linden, there are different gardeners that use different techniques. 70 to 80 percent of the vegetables that are eaten in the village are grown there. Reconsidering that there are 4000 visitors each year that eat from the same foot, 70 to 80 persent self-sufficienci is a lot. However, there are no grains or wheat grown. There are tunnel houses to grow tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants. Some gardeners have started to sell wild herbs and export their produce to restaurants and hotels. Every toilet in the village is a compost toilet, which doesn’t use water, so that the gray water is much less polluted than in most settlements. A reed bed system is cleaning the gray waters back to a drinking quality. This cleansed water is however used for the garden and will charge the groundwater again. The houses in Sieben Linden are mostly built of clay, wood and straw.
Sieben Linden has a small commercial area where noisy businesses, such as woodcraft and electric engineering, are executed. There is a small household cash that villagers pay everyday for the community food and facilities.
A forest kindergarten exists, with two educators and 15 kids. It is the wish of the villagers to start a free school for primary education somewhere in bicycle distance to the village to also attract children from the larger region. The kids that go to secondary school go by bus to the nearby town,30 kmaway from Sieben Linden. This gives them the opportunity to get out of the rural area and come in contact with the larger society.
It is the vision of Sieben Linden to become a settlement for 250 to 300 people. However, the villagers are well aware that the moving towards that goal should rather be a slow process so that the community and the resource use can follow in a sustainable way.