One by one birds start to sing forming a consonant choir of sundry voices. A big stork is crossing the field fluttering its powerful wings, and there is no doubt that the day has come. The sun crawls out of the trees and looks into the windows of the old house filling its spacious rooms with light and warmth.
The Esna manor with its stunning surroundings, located in an Estonian village 100km South from Tallin, became a home for the Baltic Eco-village Network (BEN) whose participants gathered to discuss vital aspects of eco-communities and future projects of the cooperation. The network, which connects so diverse and yet tightly related partners, has developed a good vibe during one year of operation and is eager to move forward.
People are increasingly getting concerned with their consumerist lifestyles and seeking the ways to reduce their ecological impact, involve in resilient communities and live in harmony with the environment. Thus, international cooperation of eco-villages, of which BEN is a good example, may serve the society by enhancing the communication of best practices and creating a platform for engaging projects. This recent meeting touched upon the future directions of the network including the ways to sustain the cooperationand develop new projects. During the upcoming year, the participants will meet to learn each other’s experiences in the key eco-village principles: social, ecological, economic and worldview. Also, the issue of food resilience will be addressed through the project aiming to support exchange of seeds in the region.
To increase its presence in the society, BEN will participate in the Baltic Sea NGO forum, focus on creating policy recommendations and closely address education. Moreover, the meeting touched upon the questions of entrepreneurship– how to create opportunities that can benefit both individuals’ passions and communities’ needs, and social resilience of communities – how to better connect with each other.
Learn and engage
Societies are highly dependent on the devastating resource and energy systems. We are losing connection with food becoming farther and farther away from its production, and we lack practical skills of creating things relying on numerous companies doing it for us. Education has the power to stop and reverse this trend providing people with insights on how they can get back to earth and become more self-sustained. Eco-villages, similarly to the Permaculture and Transition movements, are developing their educational programmes focused on eco-village designs.
For some, this can provide life-fulfilment and give new powers to move forward. In Denmark, there was a practice of providing eco-village education for unemployed. During the programme, they did a project for municipality helping with farm restoration. The programme, believed to be successful, gave valuable inspiration and leadership skills for their future life.
For others, the courses can bring significant health benefits. During the meeting, we visited one Estonian farm, where its owner gives permaculture education to people with psychological trauma. They can try building miniatures of natural houses using straw and clay. The recreational effects of this reconnection with nature are astonishing.
And these are not the only target groups that can benefit from such education. BEN is highly interested in involving more children and teachers, business leaders and decision makers, as well as the society at large. If the benefits are communicated correctly, then this sustainable lifestyle educationcan add significantly to the positive world transformation.
It is highly unlikely that people will adopt eco-village lifestyle until this step ensures good employment opportunities. Entrepreneurship is vital for eco-villages to become self-sustained and resilient. Not only does it give motivation and fulfilment to residents, but it also brings money and vibrant life to the community. From the participants’ experiences, eco-villagers can earn by producing food, growing herbs and creating various crafts. Their sustainable profiles give them high added valueand meet the growing demand for high quality and responsible products. Moreover, eco-villagers are highly involved in education, training and services: from horse riding and animal behaviour to natural building, permaculture and renewable energy.
BEN is looking closely into how entrepreneurial opportunities may be developed in the region. Just recently, with the help of some members, a handbook on entrepreneurship based on case studies was published to provide guidelines for eco-villages and foster development in the Baltic region. On the meeting, it was brought up that the network may serve as an information platformfor eco-entrepreneurs in the region. The creation of eco-village incubators for social enterprises and gathering success stories on both local and cooperation levels may help to boost economies that benefit both nature and people.
‘It is vital to connect with nature, but we should also connect with each other’
Many communities fail, because people don’t manage to find ways to live and work together. Community buildingrelies on common values and joint activities, as well as decisions regarding common resources and proper governance systems. The system is based on trust, and participatory leadership is very important for eco-villages to sustain. The BEN’s participants were invited to a 7-day workshop designed to develop leadership skills for building communities through conscious communication, supporting greater trust and learning ritual practices.
Across the borders
To achieve greater results, BEN should continue developing as an inclusive network with an open mind. Both Permaculture and Transition movements can be seen as potential partners for eco-villages, and together they can create substantial impact on the society that is increasingly concerned with the uncertain future. It is also necessary to search for common roots in both Baltic and global traditional cultures and look for integration of them into a dynamic learning system that can benefit local communities and the whole world.
 Robert Hall, 2013. The enterprising ecovillager – Achieving Community Development through Innovative Greenntrepreneurship, BMK leidykla, Lithuania, 52 p.