By Jason Nardi and Ruby van der Wekken, Ripess Europe 

Ananda Gaorii, Vig St, Denmark. In this unique ashram of the Ananda Marga movement (as well as ecovillage, organic farm and retreat centre), in the cool green Danish countryside, over 300 people from more than 50 ecovillages and intentional communities around Europe and beyond met at the European Ecovillage gathering, which took place between the 7th and the 10th of July. We (Jason Nardi and Ruby van der Wekken) participated on behalf of RIPESS Europe, co-organising a number of sessions on the “Abundance economy” of communities, with the GEN-Europe network.

Four days of wonderful encounters and delicious vegetarian food – including also a lot of food for thought… and music to dance to. The very lively spirit of the ecovillages movement is also a profound soul-searching one, working on personal development while building the deep relations of “intentional communities”, sharing and nurturing the commoning experience. People coming together to form real communities and creating the conditions for a “good living”, while developing common projects on agriculture and land, education and wellbeing, etc.

We immediately perceived the many similarities and common grounds with solidarity economy initiatives, which are starting from the land, production and the creation of livelihood from which mutual learning exchanges follow.

A regenerative path

Four days with a very rich programme – under the theme of “a regenerative path”, building in a sequence from Wilderness (“understanding the chaos and situation in the world we are in today”) on the first day to Acceptance (“digesting what we have seen and being able to hold the emotions and responses that comes with it” and “celebrating diversity”) on the second day, leading to the finding of a Vision for a Regenerative Future (“new solutions and new ways of telling the story of our world”) on the third day and, finally, translating all of this into Action (“from the living laboratories of ecovillages and the rest of the regenerative movement”) on the last day of the meetings.

One striking point was the strong presence of GEN Ukraine: together with the Danish ecovillages network, they organised many activities around the role of ecovillages in the ongoing war, as they are mobilising inside and outside of Ukraine to welcome refugees whilst preparing communities for a greener, more resilient future: building the “Green road of ecovillages”.

The gathering had an important focus on today’s challenges and urgency for change, with a deep awareness of the “collapse” of the global humanity “system” we may have in a not-so-distant future. Several inspirational speeches, including from first nation elder Rupert Encinas, laid out a vision in the mornings, to be developed in the many workshops in tents and other spaces. So for example also the fascinating talk by Dougald Hine (Dark Mountain project) – leading from strategy to action – and the poetic and passionate speech of Ellika Linden (Circle Way), who lives in the autonomous community of Christiania in Copenhagen.

One of the areas which carries a particular focus of the ecovillages are collective decision-making processes and one got a feel of their solutions from the many interactive sessions they had on governance: Sociocracy, holacracy, children’s democracy – how do we structure ourselves in communities. And another was the Youth Programme which creates a space for connection for the youth of GEN Europe in a series of collaborative workshops designed to strengthen actions in our communities, ecovillages, and the world (NEXTGEN).

An Economy of Abundance

The question raised throughout this strand of the programme – and the reason RIPESS Europe was invited to join – was: “How can our livelihoods and economic systems be centred around care and community?”

We started by discussing whether the ecovillage model failed or fell short with the pandemic and its impact, and how to prepare for a resilient and regenerative way to confront the “collapse” of the multiple socio-ecological crisis, which will continue to lead to extreme weather events and other disruptions with regardsto food, water, power, and governance systems. Together with Grace Rachmany we addressed the lack of real sharing in and between our communities, with our monetary system an important part of the problem, bringing to the forefront the question that if we were to have a flow between our communities, what would its values be…

Robert Hall (ECOLISE) explored more with us the existing scenarios of collapse, the emotions that brings up in us and how there are 4 areas in which we can all work around as a network: to stop destruction, to assist migration (not only of people but for instance of trees, which will die if not assisted to “move” up north), to share skills and spread knowledge regarding, for example, food production and to answer the question around how will we trade.

For our part then, we introduced participants to the empowering envisioning of solidarity economy and the commons, community-supported enterprises and alternative economic models for ecovillages, communes and co-housings and had very lively debates on how to “go beyond the community” and point to the necessities of local and regional networks to come to economic sufficiency and sovereignty.

We discussed how to use well-established examples such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to go toward Community Supported Everything Else (CSX). In Community Supported Agriculture a group of individuals comes together to form a mutual web of support between farmer producer members and consumer food members to combine their resources to share risks and cover the running costs of healthy farm operations. To differing extents, this relation is not only financial but can come to include meaningful pedagogical co-production processes regarding both the ecological and the social.

This principle is transferable to all our basic needs and other goods and services, such as health and wellness, construction and repair services, energy production and distribution, education and arts, cooperative housing etc. When a community creates a network of mutual support and a democratically self-managed economic circuit, caring for their commons and promoting systemic change, you have a solidarity economy. Ecovillages can be part of the solidarity economy by becoming CSXs!

Finally, we looked at the work and welfare dimension of working in communities, with examples from German communities (with Steffen Emrich from the GEN EU board) and Finnish initiatives. Steffen told of his community, in particular on its principles of sharing regarding income and property. This led also to a practical exercise in groups, in which everyone’s money that was wanted to contribute was put in a common pool and decided upon. From Finland the examples of Helsinki Timebank and Oma maa food cooperative were brought up, to speak of challenges as also potential with regards to systemic change in our communities, and through this society.