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"As a concept, the ecovillage first emerged in Germany in the 1970s, formalized with the establishment of the global network in 1994. Its earliest vestiges in the United States also start in the early 1970s with the founding of two communes that recently began calling themselves ecovillages: Twin Oaks in rural Virginia and The Farm in the back woods of Tennessee.

Much of the literature on ecovillages has been written not by experts on community living, but by those who have created and live in ecovillages themselves. But this is changing. Karen Litfen, a professor who teaches food justice at the University of Washington, has spent the past ten months staying for two weeks each at fifteen different ecovillages and has visited several more. In Litfen's view, the most important thing ecovillages offer is not their use of solar panels to live off the grid or what they might grow in a ten-by-eight vegetable patch, but their social aspect, the way they unite environmentalists.

"There's a shift happening in politics in general," Litfen said, "and you see it in the ecovillage movement as well." This shift embodies a shying away from the traditional protest. At its core, the new environmentalism is about individuals doing all that they can to live out their values — from buying green and buying local, to reducing car use, to growing their own food. Ecovillages, Litfen says, allow environmental activists to live a lifestyle that mirrors their beliefs. She said that ecovillages also become a "source of support for activists who would otherwise feel isolated." (

More Information

  1. Urban Ecovillages