Ecovillage Economics

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Case Studies

Amalurra, Spain

URL = http://www.amalurra.org/

Matslats:

"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 supported by the RIE (Iberian Network of Ecovillages). Amalurra joined the Global Ecovillage Network 2 years ago.


Almost all of member-adults have careers in the global economy; money earned is their own, but they pay a substantial rent to their cooperative. Many members brought significant capital to the project - the land and building are wholly owned, but that means when people go while cash levels are low, the difference must be made up by the bank. So the village is feeling pressure now to increase the hotel occupancy rate! This chimes with the general desire for growth, but what what was a hobby is now a necessity.

Many local and regional organisations use the site for cultural and spiritual activities and they have experimented with creating their own activities, mostly with the young, although they have not opened up to WWOOFers. But they want to reach out to northern Europe where the Euro debt implosion has yet to be felt. They want to grow grain, and produce fruit and veg for guests as well as themselves. regardless of the imperatives of debt, Amalurra wants to expand in order to manifest its idea heaven on earth and share it.

The hotel and conference centre are a business wholly owned by the cooperative, yet rather than supporting the cooperative, the business barely breaks even and members volunteer substantial hours in gardening, running the restaurant, cleaning the hotel rooms, and everything. This is not the failed attempt to get a business off the ground, but a commitment to collective participation and a belief in the ennobling function of work. Think of it as a karma yoga ashram. I know that taking joy and meaning from work you choose is an achievement and a blessing, and I see that visitors can feel that difference. Now that sales is the most needed job, it looks like a experienced outsider will be needed.

I would like to see some of the villagers quitting their jobs outside and building up the village from the inside, as full time employees rather than as volunteers." (http://matslats.net/ecovillage-tour/amalurra-basque)

Lakabe, Spain

Matslats:

"Perched on one of the foothills of the Pyrenees, in the Basque region, Lakabe was a tiny deserted village of 7 houses re-inhabited 34 years ago by a handful idealists fleeing the city life. There was no road, and no rooves on the houses, very little money for redevelopment, and certainly no tenure. Now there are 50 people, a bakery, a sustainable pine forest, and the village is 'official' although the property can neither be bought by the residents nor sold by the local government. The endeavour was and continues to develop very slowly, but without debt. In fact building isn't so expensive when you have the skills on-site, the stone, the wood and the lime.

60% of the village's monetary income comes from the bakery. Throughout the summer, the bread is driven all accross Spain to be sold at festivals and shows, this isn't extremely profitable but they enjoy it! In addition there is soap, beer, juice, timber and solar electricity produced but not much above subsistence levels; the village runs various courses for paying guests, distributes and installs solar panels (not for profit), and other professional skills are sold into the Spanish economy.

Exchange with the outside world is practised extensively. There are several proto-ecovillages in the region and Lakabe provides bread to them all in exchange for vegetables not produced here and building skills. Students on the courses for whom money is tight, are presented with a list of the village's material needs. Bulk buying is also utilised. The bakery takes one delivery of organic grain per year, and every month they drive to Valencia to pick up a tonne of oranges for consumption, juice and redistribution.

All food and resources are held in common, people enter each other's houses without knocking, but beyond that, there is no attempt at equality within the village, either of contributions or expenditure. All income from both outside work and sales goes straight into one pot from which all monetary needs are met. Withdrawals up to 500 Euros need no authorisation and no importantly, no name. Villagers found it impossible to estimate their average working hours. It is truly "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

Villagers do not feel that money is insufficient, nor do they have any new enterprises planned, nor do they take WOOFers. There are indicators of abundance also: the children receive lots of attention, there is no coercion of any kind, and the bakery stands idle for five days out of seven! But the converse is also true. The furniture, clothing and hairstyles are by no means clear indicators of poverty, but there is no lump of accruing capital to comfort the ageing pioneers in their less productive years; most of them have gone or are seeking alternatives. Indeed the 'pot' sometimes runs empty.

Some people think that 35 adults is too many for this extreme familial form of communal living. Over the years they have tailored various methodologies such as 'horizontal governance' and 'sociocracy', to their needs, and now they have their own way of maintaining understanding and motivation. But there is no way to resolve some matters, such as people choosing work which is not valued by others, because no-one wants to compel anyone.

Towards the end of my stay, I started to understand how this community is valuing self-sufficiency above efficiency and abundance and personal freedom. However self sufficiency involves hard work and only a few people are working hard, which means the standard of living although leisurely, is low. The idealism that sustains Lakabe gives rise to an ambivalent attitude towards technology; the tractor in the car park is used only for cutting wood while the small plots of land are ploughed by horses. There is a reluctance to develop the economy if it involves investment technology and machinery.

In many ways this village is a great example of long term cooperation and commitment to living together. But an ecovillage with nothing to offer the elderly is not as self-sufficient as its ideals would require." (http://matslats.net/ecovillage-tour/lakabe)

Sieben Linden, Germany

Matslats:

"Sieben Linden (Seven Linden trees) sits amongst forests, fields and sparsley populated villages in the plains of Northern Germany.

The land is owned by a cooperative in which all members buy a stake. There are a few large straw-bale houses which are designed for a family and several friends and guests, while half the members live in 'temporary' caravans waiting for the money and the people to come together for subsequent houses. Where would this money come from? Mostly from rent from existing members, a little from new members buying their stake, some from loans from supporters and banks, a little from donations.

Most of the village's income is from running short educational courses for up to 30 outsiders at a time. In addition there is a large carpentry workshop and several building experts, sustainable forest supplying fuel, and numerous micro-enterprises, including Raw living which employs 5 people. The units supplying the village with essentials - 60% of the vegetables and all the firewood, are owned by the coop, while the rest are private.

Many other people work within the village, in micro-enterprises, freelancing, or for the village itself, earning modest amounts of money and using it to pay rent, tax, buy things in the shop, etc. Few people work outside.

The village exports very little, partly because of the lack of neighbours, I think if the village wanted more income from trade, it could easily export more, but those producers do not feel the need for that. Certainly the material standard of living is adequate. Exchange without money is not widely practised - remember Germany is the only country in Europe not in recession.

There are many solar panels around for heating water. On sunny days electricity is sold to the national grid. Wood gasification boilers warm several houses at a time with high efficiency and bottled gas is used for cooking.

There is extensive buying in bulk and members simply take the food and toiletries they need from the store. Some eat communally with the guests, some privately but all take their turn in the kitchen. There are five shared cars and a minibus.

Retired people contribute to the economy as well. One man maintains bicycles, and another has his own garden patch, donating food to the store. Since the state provides adequate money for the elderly, the village has no special provision.

As with everywhere, I suppose the national legal and financial system is not at all suited for community life and Sieben Linden is a pot pourri of legal entities and relationships. The village is comprised of many legal entities with many financial vectors between them e.g. the garden unit sells food to the catering unit, which takes money from the courses; If money did not flow in this way villagers would not qualify for national insurance, but some members think it leaves less room for the gift economy." (http://matslats.net/ecovillage-tour/sieben-linden)