Start your own eco-community

We asked two flourishing South African eco-communities some questions, and to share their advice for starting a successful and sustainable eco-community.

Khula Dhamma Community

Location? What made you choose the location?
Eastern Cape, between East London and the Kei river, 8km inland. When the land chose us we didn’t fully appreciate how ideal the climate is for growing a wide variety of food all year-round. We can also harvest an abundance of sun and wind energy. We are close enough to the sea for frequent beach trips, but far enough not to be too threatened by rising sea-levels (but who really knows what will happen!)

When was the community formed?
2003 with three adults.

How many members? Do you have any particular beliefs in common?
We are now five adult members and three little ones (and one on the way). We also have four adults and two children who are long-term visitors (with possible interest to join). Our community was founded with strong roots in Vipassana meditation.

While many of us have since come to embrace other teachings and personal explorations, we adhere that the practice of mindfulness or “presence” is core to our ongoing harmony. Living in community is in and of itself a powerful spiritual practice if it is approached as such. Open and ongoing talking circles are an essential tool to stay connected and attuned.

What were the “founding principles”, the purpose in forming the community?
The founding principles were to live in a place that is far from pollution and the frenetic city-life. To create a place where we could live peacefully and grow spiritually through meditation and communal living. Understanding that our food quality has become severely compromised and adulterated for the sake of quantity, we realised that true health can only come from growing our own food.

Last, and most importantly, we wanted to create a natural, magical, supportive and stimulating environment for children to grow up in. We feel that what has been socially accepted as the “normal” way of raising and educating children lies at the heart of humanity’s troubles.

Mother Nature and our own health are very precious to us so we take care to nurture them both. We try to become aware of the potential consequences of all our actions so we may consciously steer them towards growth and well-being — for us and the Earth.

Is your community self-sufficient? Do any members work in “normal” jobs outside the community to support it?
Financially our community is not self-sufficient. All members are either working in nearby villages or living off savings. Our project of building an Ecovillage Training Centre (Home Of Providence and Ecoliving HOPE) will, among many other things, create a variety of livelihood opportunities for resident members. Other livelihoods that are currently developing are: honey and propolis production, a tree nursery and heirloom vegetable seed production.

In which ways is your community self-sufficient? In which ways is it not?
There is still much room for growth around self-sufficiency. Our aim is to become completely self-sufficient apart from, perhaps, producing all our own clothing. We are already self-sufficient in terms of our water and energy requirements.

We currently grow 90% of the vegetables and about 10% of the fruits we eat. This spring we will be planting many fruit trees. One Elder couple will be establishing a “mini-farm” which will contribute enormously to our food supply, especially in terms of the community’s grain and pulse requirements.

What were the greatest challenges in forming/creating your community?
It was quite a challenge to be so few members for so long. But life here has always been full of learning and fulfillment.

What are the greatest ongoing challenges to keeping your community going?
Our current challenge is to manage our rapid growth. Where personal dynamics seem to be the biggest challenge for most communities we feel fortunate that our spiritual practice and commitment to honest communication have really helped us to remain free from any conflict worth mentioning.

Are there any things you would have done differently, looking back?
The garden. It teaches us so much. It was interesting that after about three years of living here we came across a very informative book (Creating a Life Together, by Diana Leafe Christian) on starting a community or an ecovillage. It was nice to read that so much of what was mentioned and advised affirmed what we were already intuitively practicing.

Could you share any information about what your community hopes to achieve?
Buckminster Fuller said “You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete.” We are becoming a living solution to the severely imbalanced and disconnected way of life that has grown out of the “developing” world. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the global political-social-economic structure is verging on collapse. To not take radical measures to prepare for this is to deny it.

Ultimately, though, we feel that while it’s important and fun to explore practical solutions towards living in harmony with Nature, this cosmic crescendo that is upon us is all about launching humanity into a radical transformation of consciousness.

The type of ecovillage or eco-community we are creating is a space that explores and facilitates all aspects of that shift.

Are you accepting new members? Requirements for eligibility?
To insure mutual compatibility we choose to go with a 6-12 month “integration period” for us to get to know each other. Entering into community is essentially akin to entering into marriage. The people joining will help raise our children and shape our common dream.

We hope to attract people of all races and ages who are skilled, hard-working, enthusiastic, committed and always open to growing, learning, sharing and evolving. Like I mentioned before, managing our growth is currently our biggest challenge.

For now, we seem to be managing fine, however, I think we’re now at a point where we need to settle and give time and energy to getting to know the people who have taken the brave leap to join us.

We all share a concern for the current greed-fuelled trend of the degeneration and adulteration of our food supply. Much joy comes from sharing healthy, colourful meals fresh from a garden that’s grown with love. Immense satisfaction comes from simple, natural living. Enthusiasm for learning and versatility leads us to share our knowledge and skills freely.

Do you welcome/allow interested visitors? Do you offer any courses?
We still allow people who are genuinely interested in joining or forming their own community to come for a short visit (3-7 days) so we can meet and they can get a feel for
the place and people. Those interested in visiting can browse our website for more information or send us a letter. Currently we are not yet offering any courses, but this will change as we start building our Learning Centre.

What are the best ways to contact you?
The best way to contact is via email: [email protected] khuladhamma.org or write to Khula Dhamma Community, PO Box 1 Haga Haga 5272

Is there anything you would like to share with our readers? Any tips for creating an intentional community?
Firstly, I would like to say that the answers I have provided are my own. While they attempt to reflect the common ideas of the community, there may be different views held by some individuals. In terms of advice on forming/founding an intentional community I would recommend to start off with a small core group of friends who know each other well and share a common dream. Then spend ample time developing your vision and methodology together. Have lots of talking circles. If you keep working on your communication and on your individual spiritual growth then the most important work of forming a community will be well underway.Other than that, you can contact and visit existing communities and read everything you can find about starting an intentional community.

AumFarm Eco-Community

Location? What made you choose the location? Waterberg, Limpopo. The area was chosen for its remoteness, distance from major cities and general inhabitant profile.

When was the community formed?
October, 2004

How many members? Do you have any particular beliefs in common?
Currently three men, two women and one young adult (male, 16) – no particular philosophy/spiritual belief system. We are open minded and respect most views. Some community members follow the Shaumbra Way and others are students of Rudolf Steiner’s and Bio-Dynamics.

What were the “founding principles”, the purpose in forming the community? Self-sufficiency and preparation for when cities and urban groupings are no longer viable entities. With the way things are going in the world with runaway prices, cost of fuel and housing, the founder members wished to start a community where costs, workload and the joy of living could be shared, long term, among people with a similar desire.

The AumFarm Eco-Community is a gathering of like-minded, spiritually aware people, who are creating a low-impact, minimum footprint, sustainable lifestyle. To help us achieve this, we integrate eco-logically aware design practices and use permaculture and bio-culture methods, low impact structures, local production and consumption, renewable energy sources and community-minded building practices. The way of life today is unsustainable and we believe that eco-communities will be popping up all over the country. People will once again begin using barter as the local currency for products as well as services.

Is your community self-sufficient?
Do any members work in “normal” jobs outside the community to support it? No, not totally but we are constantly working towards it. At the moment, one couple works off site during the week to fund the general infrastructure and development projects. Also working on investments that will keep the community viable going forward (The goal is that in two years’ time all the current members will be full-time residents)

In which ways is your community self-sufficient? In which ways is it not?
All veggies, eggs and chicken are currently grown on the farm. Many different varieties of fruit are coming into their own as well. Moving forward, we wish to start putting up produce in the growing season so that there is plenty available in the low production winter months. We are busy putting in a root cellar to store the canned and bottled produce without the need for electricity. We are busy completing a RAM pump setup to get water from the stream to the storage tanks for when Eskom lets us down. We have started putting in solar power in all buildings.

What were the greatest challenges in forming/creating your community?
To find like-minded people of independent means that are able to let go of the consumer based living rules that we are brought up with. To get people to drop the belief that existence is their only lot in life.

What are the greatest ongoing challenges to keeping your community going?
People that are prepared to enter into an eco-community type living arrangement are not your normal, run-of-the-mill folk. Keeping everyone focused on the group as a whole and to prevent them from becoming totally self-serving within the eco-community can be a challenge. It is vital that folk plan for their future so that they do not become a drain on other members’ resources, this could be another challenge as the community matures.

Are there any things you would have done differently, looking back?
Yes. We would have stuck to the basics… we adapted as we went along and it would have become a millstone around our neck if we had not woken up to the fact and started changing things back to how we had originally planned.

Small steps need to be taken, it cannot happen overnight. You can not be all things to all people, members must be able to support themselves in the long run to ensure survival of the community as a whole.

Could you share any information about what your community hopes to achieve?
Our main goal is to become totally self-reliant, to live outside of the system (as much as it is possible), to encourage a barter economy in our chosen area. To achieve real community, a coming together of souls that are in it for the betterment of the community as a whole and not just for individual satisfaction or survival.

Are you accepting new members? Requirements for eligibility?
Yes. There is a documented joining process that is followed. People that have a desire to live in harmony with others, to live simply and elegantly with a minimum ecological footprint are invited to make enquiries

Do you welcome/allow interested visitors? Do you offer any courses?
Visitors are welcome as long as it is their desire to eventually join a community. Due to the fact that we do not generally charge for visits we do an exchange of e-mails sharing intent, dreams and long term goals prior to an invitation to visit being extended.

We do not wish to become a cheap, once-off weekend getaway. We do not run courses at present but there are plans for the future to offer hands-on training in permaculture and bio-dynamics.

What are the best ways to contact you?
E-mail with an introduction and sharing of future plans is probably the best way to kick-off a visit/joining process. Our e-mail address is [email protected] Our website is currently under construction and should be up and running soon.

Is there anything you would like to share with our readers? Any tips for creating an intentional community?
The best advice I can give is to start small, because too many people and too many grand ideas during the initial start up phase can lead to dissent and an early dissolution. It is much easier and probably better in the long run to start with a core group of dedicated and resilient people and at least get off the ground. Set your guidelines, decide how to proceed, decide how big you wish to become… pick your game plan and then STICK TO IT regardless of how tempting it is to take shortcuts and sometimes make concessions to keep members there. It will probably lead to resentment later as things get taken for granted.

Do research on the internet on communities, communes, co-housing, eco-villages and the other types of groupings. See what the successful ones have done; see what they are doing to keep together. You will be surprised by how many actually don’t make it to full community status. Forming and remaining a community is a lot of work, sometimes sacrifice and always a healthy sense of humour are required.

Always remember that people have their own truths to discover and whether you like it or not you will have people coming and going as they walk their path through life. We are registered WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms www.wwoof.org) hosts and this is a great way of getting the hang of interacting with a whole range of different people and cultures.

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