Eco-Villages and Intentional Communities

Laurie Voeltz
Intern at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

I have this dream of living some kind of “happily-ever-after.” A dream where I’m surrounded by friends, and we eat together, laugh together, create together, work together and work out our problems together outside the constraints of modern society as we know it. A dream where childcare means being able to actually care for your children, or having your dependable group of friends you live with be able to care for them when you can’t. A dream where fast food means popping cherry tomatoes and green beans from the garden in your mouth. A dream where work means spending a day weeding, harvesting, planting in the garden or helping build a strawbale home that runs on solar power. Where work means building our own town and making a small place on this earth to truly call home. This work means building relationships and creating a tight, supportive community in this vast, disconnected world.

Maybe this dream sounds familiar to you. Maybe you’ve dared to dream of such things too, maybe you’ve desired at least one of these things at some point in your life. In fact, it would surprise me if you haven’t dared to have dreams like these, because (believe it or not), there are millions of people today daring to live these dreams as you read this.

There are thousands of communities made up of people like this all across the globe. They are not fanatical cults or hippies lost in time, they are hard-working groups of people. These groups of people live in “intentional communities”(IC’s). What are these, you ask? This answer is articulated best in the Communities Directory 2000: “An intentional community is a group of people who have chosen to live or work together in pursuit of a common ideal or vision. Most, though not all, share land or housing. Intentional communities come in all shapes and sizes and display an amazing diversity in their common values which may be social, economic, spiritual, political and/or ecological. Some are rural, some are urban. Some live all in a single residence, some in separate households. Some raise children, some don’t. Some are secular, some are spiritually based and others are both. For all their variety, though, most intentional communities hold a common commitment to living cooperatively, to solving problems nonviolently and to sharing their experience with others.”

There are a few different types of IC’s. Co-housing and Co-ops are some which are discussed in their own section, and there are also “ecovillages.” Ecovillages focus their efforts on being a sustainable community. This means: using alternative energy sources such as solar and/or wind power; utilizing alternative building methods and materials like cob, strawbale construction, earthen plasters and recycled materials from demolition projects; using permaculture and organic farming methods; reducing waste by composting, recycling and buying in bulk and growing your own food; and employing alternative transportation like biking, walking, bio-diesel fueled cars and car cooperatives. Many intentional communities focus on some ways of sustainable living while ecovillages dedicate their efforts to sustainability in almost every way possible.

These communities have histories that date back to over 2000 years ago. One of the first known intentional communities was made up of followers of Buddha and its history may be traced back to 6th Century B.C.. These followers lived in communities where they rejected wealth, practiced meditation and attempted to model an orderly, productive and spiritual way to live. Other groups followed suit (for different purposes) through history. These groups included, but were not limited to: Christians in 1st Century CE, Mennonites in the 1540’s, Puritans in 1620, The Diggers (common folk revolting against British nobility occupying Crown Lands) in 1649, Amish people in 1698, the Shakers in 1774, and a community named “New Harmony” that was founded as a non-religious village of unity and cooperation in 1825. In 1910 the first Kibbutzim (Jewish communal societies) was founded in Israel.

Closer to the present, communities began to unite around ideals other than religious ones, such as “rehabilitation of emotionally exhausted and disturbed people,” or, “a human community offering protection against the city.” In 1937, the first co-op house was established in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and 51 years later, the first co-housing community was established in North America. The “Summer of Love” in 1967 saw the establishment of thousands of hippie communes and the 1970’s were a prolific time for community growth in the U.S. Finally, ecovillages were founded in 1992 in Ithaca, New York; Los Angeles, California and St. Petersburg, Russia. These locations, purposes and dates are only a small piece of the history of intentional communities across the world; more information can be found on the web or at your public library. (Check out the history booklist in the back of the Communities Directory for an extensive list of titles).

Not even knowing this much about IC’s, I recently spent three months as an intern at Dancing Rabbit, an ecovillage in Northwestern Missouri. There, I had a chance to learn what this community thing is all about, and experience seems essential to truly be able to learn and experience community. There, I DID get to eat, cook, garden, work, laugh and build with amazing dedicated people who became my friends. Although I spent most of my time working in the gardens and some of it helping out with construction (neither of which I’ve done too much of before), I feel like I learned most about communication. As a community of 10 people (plus interns and visitors) who worked and lived closely together, open and clear communication is a necessity. While there, I had opportunities to meet people from other intentional communities since many of them are networked with each other. I learned more there than I ever could from a book or a website. Hands-on experience is essential, and no matter what your interests are, you can learn more through such an experience too.

I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about intentional communities to go and visit one or more for the most complete learning experience. Each community has different rules and ideas about guests, visitors and interns. To find out what different communities exist and just what those rules are, you can explore numerous resources. Once you get your hands on the books or that webpage up on your screen, what to do is self-explanatory. It’s helpful to know beforehand what you’re looking for since there are so many communities to choose from. Make a list that answers some of the following kinds of questions so your search can be narrowed and simplified. For example, are you looking locally or do you want to visit one in a different country or different part of this country? Are your dietary preferences important to you (vegetarian, vegan)? Is ecological sustainability important to you or are you just looking for community?

If you’ve heard and read and done all this before and are ready to take a bigger step to create your own community, these resources will also help you out. But here are a few basics to help you on your way:

  1. Establish your community: Who’s going to create this community with you?
  2. Decide what type of community you’d like to be: co-housing, co-op living, ecovillage?
  3. Establish your location: This may mean purchasing land or housing. The Communities Directory provides a more extensive listing on things that are helpful in not only creating a community, but also keeping it surviving.

Now that you’ve made it this far, it’s only fair for me to tell you that there is much more information on this topic. Please pursue the resources in the information box to obtain this information. This article is only the beginning of an infinite topic. I hope this information gives you something to dream about, if you haven’t dreamed about it already.

Eco-Villages in the Midwest:

Camphill Village MN, Inc.
Rt 3 Box 249
Sauk Centre, MN 56378

Fellowship for Intentional Communities
RR1 Box 156
Rutledge, MO 63563

Nishnajida (AKA Teaching Drum Outdoor School)
7124 Military Rd
Three Lakes, WI 54562

River Hayven Ecovillage and Tubing Society
N-9562 County Rd. G
Colfax, WI 54370

The Christine Center for Unitive Spirituality
W. 8291 Mann Rd
Willard, WI 54493

Dreamtime Ecovillage
10375 City Hwy. A
Lafarge, WI 54639

Highwind Association Ecovillage
W7136 County Rd. U
Plymouth, WI 53073

Wellspring Community and Retreat/Conference Center
P.O. Box 72
Newburg, WI 53060

Watersmeet Ecovillage
S93 W27685 Edgewood Ave.
Mukwonago, WI 53149

Read Up

Communities Directory 2000; A Guide to Intentional Communities and Cooperative Living, 2000

Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities, Diane and Bob Gilman, 1991


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