DEEP DIVE INTO ECOVILLAGE LIFE
Ecovillage of Keuruu (Ecovillage) is politically and religiously uncommitted over 50-hectare farm, which is developed as a place to learn sustainable lifestyle. It is also a communal home of about 35 people. The goal of the Ecovillage is to advance a communal village life where ecologically sustainable lifestyle, toleration and sincerity are principles. Values of Ecovillage are to respect diversity of nature and to develop renewable energy sources. Ecovillage is primarily a home of its residents, but there is also an opportunity to visit in Ecovillage. (Keuruu Ekokylä ry., 2022)
During Flip’s Learning Journey, we had the chance to visit and stay at the Ecovillage of Keuruu for 4 days. The three of us got to write the Ecovillage orientation files from paper to computer. This gave us good insights into what the Ecovillage is and how they operate. This essay is an overview of the history, how the organization works, how the community is operating and what their plans are for 2030.
The story of Ecovillage
Keuruu Ecovillage Assosiation and Keuruu Ecovillage Cooperative has been founded in 1977. Founders are eco-spirited people who wanted to try ecological lifestyle to defend global threats. During the last 20 years they have learned to understand and know more about living organic lifestyle with harmony of nature. (Keuruun Ekokylä ry. 2022.) Nowadays Ecovillage is a communal home, organic farm and non-profit focused organization which is built as a voluntary work. Food is maid and premises are cleaned and fixed together. Vegetables, berries and herbs are grown at the garden. Fields are organic farmed. (Keuruun Ekokylä ry. 2022.)
History of Ecovillage
The history of Ekovillages field, farm of Kivijärvi, reaches back to year 1766 when it has been marked to a terrain tax list. Back then, the field was mainly inhabited deep forest. The first settlers were Matti, son of Juho, Kortemäki from village of Suojärvi and Kaisa, daughter of Yrjö, from Lankkua. The main building of farm of Kivijärvi has been built at early of 1800s. The main building is named as the stone house. At the 1922 the farm of Kivijärvi was choosen to be a work institution department and it was inaugurated in 1927. Work institutional activity was discontinued in 1980 when the operation changed to intoxicant welfare department. (Perehdytyskansio 2022.)
At the early 90s, the farm become a place for asylum seekers where were in some point 150 seekers at its peak. However, the operation was closed at the middle of 90s when policy of refugees were changes. The farm was empty couple of years until it was rented to the place to work for sustainable lifestyle and culture which respects nature in aspects of reconstructed environment habitat. In 1998 the farm of Kivijärvi was moved under mastery of Ecovillage of Keuruu. (Keuruun Ekokylä ry. 2022.)
How Ecovillage is run (rules, how people are selected there)
If you’d like to join the Ecovillage community, you should know that being ecological needs to be a priority, and you need to be willing to take part in community activities and take care of the community through work effort. There are few things that might come in the way of joining Ecovillage community and they are: problematic use of alcohol, drug usage and serious mental health issues.
The rules in Ecovillage make a lot of sense and they call them the 4 K rules, which only works in Finnish, but here are the translated versions.
Don’t Boose – Älä Kännää
Ecovillage wants to ensure that everyone – especially children have the right to live an alcohol-free life. There are people living in the community who wish not to witness alcohol usage or see the products. For this reason, drinking in common areas is not allowed. You can still enjoy your beverages, but if the usage or your drunken behavior disturbs others, you will get a warning.
Don’t Tussle – Älä Kähinöi
To ensure that everyone has the right for physical and mental immunity, all problems need to be solved through conversation. If the argument can’t be solved between the people involved, they can reach out for help. This goes all the way to actions on internet: no racism, being mean or silent treatment – these are not non-violent ways of communication. If you can’t solve your problems through peaceful methods, you should not join Ecovillage community.
Don’t Convert – Älä Käännytä
In Ecovillage everyone should have the right to their own world view, and in order to keep it so, it is forbidden to push your own religion, ideologies, world views etc. to others in the community. Overall Ecovillage is unbound when it comes to religion, politics and world views. If you can’t respect these principles, it’s better for you to not live in the Ecovillage.
Don’t Grope – Älä Kähmi
Everyone have the right to feel however they feel, but if the person of your interest says no, it is NO. No harassment of any kind is allowed in the Ecovillage, no matter who you are. If you break this or any other of the “4K rules”, you’ll be given a warning and second time you’ll need to leave Ecovillage.
Selection of New Members
When a new person or family wants to join the Ecovillage, they must follow the selection process. In the beginning, most people come for a visit to meet the members, see the premises, and understand how living in the Ecovillage works. After they have visited, they are then allowed to inform that they would be interested in applying to live there for x amount of time. Some people can inform in advance that they only want to stay for a certain period of time, whereas others may want the Ecovillage as a more permanent option.
Some of the criteria that the new members must follow are their values, relations with other Ecovillage members, and ability to work in a community lifestyle. One of the most important values within the Ecovillage is the prioritization of living in an ecological and environmentally safe way. They utilize all natural resources including energy, water, and food. If a person does not comply with their lifestyle, it can be a reason for a declined application. Another aspect is the community, where everyone must contribute by completing different tasks like preparing breakfast, gardening in the spring and summer, and cleaning the common spaces. It is challenging to live only individually in the Ecovillage, because they are both a community and a cooperative.
During the meetings that the community has, they discuss the applications and people who would be interested in joining the Ecovillage community. If a person is accepted, they are granted a six-month trial period where they pay rent and participate in day-to-day tasks and work. This gives them a chance to understand the lifestyle better and if they feel that the ways of life don’t match, they are allowed to leave. If the person or family enjoys it and wants to stay, after the six-month period ends the board of the Ecovillage meets and decides if they are allowed to continue living there normally, or if they have been declined the spot, therefore meaning they must leave.
Life in Ecovillage
Lifestyle in Ecovillage is based on ecological choices and in everyday life this can be see through composting, recycling all materials, collecting herbs and organic farming. The community focuses on protecting the environment through changing the energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable energies and this is being done for example through solar panels and biomass. People in the Ecovillage exchange, sell and giveaway a lot of clothes to each other and nothing is thrown away before it’s totally unusable or impossible to be repaired.
Ecovillage is divided into an association and a cooperative. The association oversees ecological community lifestyle and takes care of so-called everyday things. The board has two yearly meetings: one in Spring and another in Autumn. In the Spring Meeting the focus is on financial statements and annual report whereas in the Autumn Meeting discussion focuses on approval of strategy, finances and choosing the board for upcoming year. The cooperative side is where rent will be payed. You need to be a member of the association in order to become a member of the cooperative.
The board decides also about new members and hired workers, any contracts made, loans taken or how much rent everyone should pay. Under the board there is Monday meetings which have the power to choose rentals, volunteer workers, renovations, courses and animals for the community and how all tasks will be divided in the community. In Monday Meetings can be also decided any purchases between 500-2000 euros. Under the Monday Meetings there are Work Groups that oversee different areas of the community. They can make purchases under 500 euros and agree on workshops and visits. Some of the current Work Groups are Culture group, Gardening group, Education Group and Property Maintenance Group. The idea of these groups is to make the decision-making progress easier and faster. Monday meetings can set different budgets to different groups depending on the needs the community has regarding those groups’ work.
All the tasks in Ecovillage are shared between the community. Someone needs to take care of the waste, cleaning, gardening, meetings, fixing etc. so these tasks are shared based on everyone’s capabilities, special skills and interests. If you are excellent at the garden, of course you should be taking care of the plants and on the other hand if you have skills of building; you should be renovating the common buildings. Some of the maintenance tasks will be rotated, so all need to take part in for example making lunch and doing the dishes for the community.
If you were to live in Ecovillage, this is how your typical day might look like. You’d wake up in the morning and go prepare a breakfast for the whole community and you’d enjoy it together with the others 8.30-9.30. After this you’d do the dishes and since we’re going to imagine you’re in charge of cleaning and today you need to begin with cleaning the kitchen and the dining hall. You’ll dust, vacuum, mop and wipe until it’s time to prepare lunch. Lunch will be eaten with the community at 13.00-14.00. This time someone else takes care of the dishes, so you get to go on and start cleaning the gym. The kids have been playing there so a lot of things are all around, you pick them up and put them where they belong. After vacuuming, you notice it’s time for a little break and an afternoon coffee. Once you’ve had a nice chat with some students visiting Ecovillage this week you’ll go back to the gym and take care of the locker rooms, starting with emptying the toilets. You’ll take the poo and the pee and carry them out to the compost area. You set up the toilet to be fully ready for a new round and keep on cleaning around the locker room. Once you’ve done, you’ll go get yourself cleaned and join an evening yoga class at the building called “Väen Tupa”. You decide to take sauna and swim in the ice lake today before having your dinner and going to bed.
Communication in the community
The community is currently made up of just under 35 people, including both children and adults. The number of members fluctuates depending on the time of the year and the needs of the Ecovillage. This time last year, there were around 45 people. The original founders of the Ecovillage are not all living there anymore, however, they make visits and participate in meetings from time to time.
There are weekly meetings that occur on Mondays in the evening where the community covers any changes, goes over any new members selection, and various work that needs to be done. Then, there are bi-annual meetings. One meeting happens in the spring between the months of January-May, and the second meeting happens in the autumn between September-December. These meetings are more decision-based, and according to their rules a decision can be passed if over half of the members present approve. Some of the decisions that need to be made include reviewing the rent, annual financial statement, and selecting the board of directors.
The Ecovillage has the mindset and vision of doing things together for the environment and living at peace. People with conflicting beliefs or life practices are typically not accepted into the Ecovillage because it can cause flares in the community and create tension.
Communication within the Ecovillage focuses largely on psychological safety and being able to give and receive both positive and constructive feedback (Keuruun Ekokylä ry., 2021). Without a safe space, it is difficult to share honest feelings and ideas, which can result in misunderstandings. In their bi-annual meetings there are a series of statements related to speaking, listening, and group understanding to remind everyone of a safe space. Some of the statements are:
- Pay attention to body and verbal language
- Value silence
- Reflect on what has been said, prioritize understanding
- Speak truthfully of your thoughts and experiences
- Stay on topic
- Make sure you have been understood correctly
- Create a safe and supportive environment
- Keep in mind any agreements made and remain trustworthy
- Follow schedules and meeting structure
- Practice different communication styles
According to psychologist Irma Heiskanen, the main purpose of constructive feedback is to encourage change and development within a person, and the person giving the feedback must consider the timing and environment (Heiskanen, 2006). Feedback, especially constructive, can be a fragile concept to many people who have had poor experiences with it in the past. In the Ecovillage, one of their goals is to be able to share feedback openly and safely to help everyone become the best versions of themselves.
In the orientation paperwork Heiskanen’s five steps for giving constructive feedback are clearly outlined to assist new members and remind the community how it should be done.
Step 1: Use a specific example to provide facts
Step 2: Share the feelings the specific example brings up
Step 3: Share what you wish/need without demanding to be well
Step 4: Ask as clearly as possible what kind of changes you want
Step 5: Actively listen to the answer (words, tone of voice, body language)
It is important to work together to achieve a common goal and development. Within a community, information and practices are shared openly so that all members understand, which also means that connections and relations between various people are to be shared to bring more value to communication. Community with quite big amount of people can easily cause misunderstanding and miscommunication which have a big effect on everyday life and also to the atmosphere.
To support effective communication, all members are required to abide by a list of statements known as the Common Ground (Keuruun Ekokylä ry., 2021). Some statements are simpler than others, for example, respecting others is a general rule in society that applies everywhere. Whereas perspective and direct communication can be more challenging to agree to. Every individual has different skills and experiences when it comes to communication, and they should be utilized to the community’s advantage. The Ecovillage encourages development and learning in its practices, and communication is just one example of where to start.
2030 Plan & Reusable Energy
In 2030 Ecovillage will look like a rustic living community of about 150 people, who operate as a role model what comes to living a sustainable lifestyle. Their everyday life and work have no rush, but is surrounded by laughter, music and joy. They have day care and school, which are very closely tied to practical learning. Ecovillage operates as an important training center regarding sustainable lifestyles, and they organize courses regarding this topic having participants all year round from all over the world.
Ecovillage has set its eyes to become independent in all areas of life: energy, food production, etc. In their 2030 vision they’ll be able to get grains, herbs, veggies etc. From their own fields so much that it satisfies the needs of the community. Their way of farming is organic and ecological and the people living close to the fields, will be able to make their income base on the farming on those fields. Regarding energy, Ecovillage is not only independent, but able to provide and sell renewable energy to outside the community. They have wind power, solar panels, biomass and biogas. All the different parts of farming, energy production and overall, how the community operates are connected to each other and supports one another. They get wood from a forest they own and thus are fully independent on this part as well.
Not everything changes. Because they want to continue appreciating life and create a safe space for everyone, their rules modified in 25.4.2021 Will still be in place: Don’t Boose, Don’t Tussle, Don’t Convert and Don’t Grope. In everything they do ecological point of view is the one that stays. As they want to grow the community, they need to build more facilities for living and this must be done by considering the effects it has on nature, climate and energy lines. No building will be done to areas that might contain endangered species of any kind.
To ensure minimum harm to nature from building these new living areas (7 in total in the plan), there has been done a field survey in 2007. People of Ecovillage have also been following on birds in these areas for several years. They had also decided to change or move some of the locations to ensure minimum harm based on this survey. To all seven areas could be seen what trees, birds and plant were growing in that area and if building them would be too harmful for nature. For example, to building area 3 it was noted that one of the buildings should be built as close to already existing ones, to ensure minimum harm to the birch tree area located there.
PICTURE 1: Ecovillage Building Plan, (Keuruun Ekokylä, 2021)
Ecovillages are becoming more and more common around the world. An organization called Gen-Europe, which includes a network of ecovillages in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, has the mission of promoting sustainable settlements and bringing awareness of ecovillages around the globe. Gen-Europe is mainly focusing on a few continents, whereas the Global Ecovillage Network aims to focus on and connect ecovillages all around the world.
Professor of philosophy at Hanover College Dr. Robert J. Rosenthal claims that ecovillages are supportive and traditional communities that encourage longevity. In the early history of planet Earth, many groups of people lived in tribes and cultural communities with their own traditions and practices that worked towards a common belief or goal. The modern ecovillages are remembering their past and combining it with more modern concepts such as renewable energy sources.
Some ways that the ecovillages around the world are attempting to bring awareness to their lifestyle are hosting trainings, meeting with educational institutions, and publishing stories about ecovillages for everyone to discover and read. Ecovillages are also closely tied to their local cities or towns that they are nearby to. They often provide and sell organic food, assist in waste management, and educate on more eco-friendly practices.
One specific project that is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation grant is focusing on citizen lead energy transition. Their goal is to research how the law, economy, and psychology support citizens and societies in energy regimes. The end result would create a sustainable transition to low-carbon societies where the people and communities are at the center. The Center for Social Innovations in Austria is the coordinator of this project, which has the timeline of three years between 2020-2023.
What are the similarities with Ecovillage and Proakatemia? What can we learn from Ecovillage?
As we can see from the familiarization document of Ecovillage, a community needs rules and regulations how to work together efficiently and the way to please everyone. It would be easy to think that because the working style is quite free and there in no hurry to work and people love peaceful environment, there are no needs to have rules. When community is big, there needs to be a common understanding how everyone is going to work together and what is permissible.
It is common that team companies at Proakatemia do their team rules when they establish their companies. Some teams make them more carefully than others, but when company is existing and company rules are finished, normally there are also rules for the team. A new team at the middle of honeymoon period could think that there would not be necessary to make strict rules and operational model, because team seems to be that solid that there would not be disagreements. After all, working as a company and a team, there are going to be difficulties and disagreements which might need to be solve by rules and official documents. In that case it is important to have updated rules to go back to.
The familiarization document of Ecovillage does not tell how often they updates rules, but it is believable that it is checked quite often since everyone new inhabitant is going to go through the document. Would be recommended that every team company in Proakatemia would go through their team rules every action period, for example when new leading groups are selected. In that way, rules are not going to be forgotten and they will be updated if there is need for it. During the journey as a team can bring up situations which hasn’t been even thought when rules have been made at the beginning. To keep the professionality between team members it is good to solve problems through dialogue and conversation which are based on common rules.
Ecovillage highlights the calm dialogue-based communication and problem solving in their familiarization document. We don’t have experience or knowledge to say does it work just like rules says, but it is definitely what we prefer in Proakatemia. Sometimes we would need to remember that non-violence communication and calmness more often when there are difficulties and disagreements. Creating and maintaining safe space in community is the key point when the trust and common understanding are goal of atmosphere. That is something we should think about more inside teams.
When there is true will to live by own values, there are willing to do things which can be look unbelievable to outside. People in Ecovillage values their view of life to live sustainably and work for that lifestyle. The spirit and willingness towards their values and lifestyle is visible and it can be sense in Ecovillage. It is believable that is it not easy to live with dozens of people which are strangers at the beginning. In some point they become family in sort of. Even though they would not become that close to call them family, they are part of own community still. There needs to be a will to work together for better future and get everything work properly that everyone can live in the village to be happy.
That is something we should remember at Proakatemia and especially in own team during difficult times. Even though we don’t have similar background and people are strangers at the first place, we can work together for common good and happy future when common values and goal are found, and everybody has a will to work for those. Sometimes you need to clean the mess for someone else and even do something which feel sacrifice at first. But when there is a value, goal and will, there is a chance to success.
Written By: Emilia Parikka, Ella Muja & Jemina Laitinen
EC2 Project. 2020. EC2: Harnessing knowledge for a citizen-led energy transition. Read 2.4.2022. https://ec2project.eu/about-ec2/the-project
Gaia Education. N.d. Ecovillages Around the World: 20 regenerative designs for sustainable communities. Read 2.4.2022. https://www.gaiaeducation.uk/gaia-shop/books/ecovillages-around-the-world/
Gen-Europe. N.d. What is an ecovillage? Read 1.4.2022. https://gen-europe.org/ecovillages/what-is-an-ecovillage/
Heiskanen, I. 2016. Ekopsykologia ja perinnetieto. Green Spot.
Keuruun Ekokylä ry. 2021. Perehdytyskansio. Luettu 24.3.2022.
Keuruu Ekokylä ry. 2022. www.keuruunekokyla.fi Read 10.4.2022.