The Gaean Ecovillage
The third phase of development in the Tribe of Gaea is the building of self-sustaining ecovillages. In 1991, Robert Gilman set forth the following definition of an ecovillage:
“human-scale full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development, and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.” source
Let us examine each of these features described.
First, an ecovillage is a “settlement”. It is a development of homes, workplaces, greenhouses, gardens, etc… which support human life.
“Human scale is the set of physical qualities, and quantities of information, characterizing the human body, its motor, sensory, or mental capabilities, and human social institutions.” source
So, what would human scale settlement look like?
- Ecovillages are friendly to human powered locomotion, walking and biking, in particular. The villages are easily walk-able, even barefoot-friendly. Larger loads may be hauled with hand-carts, and we may also use domesticated animals, which can be integrated into a sustainable ecosystem. This is not to say that we don’t have or use motorized vehicles. Electric scooters or carts might help some less-mobile Gaeans get around, and gas-powered vehicles will be kept in a motor-pool. However, the paths and trails of the interior of the grounds will generally not be open to such vehicles.
- Ecovillage housing is scaled around maximum comfort and livability. For personal space, we consider a maximum of 300 sq.ft for a couple to be more than sufficient for bedroom, office, and personal closet/storage space. Also, we make maximum use of shared public spaces. In a modern suburban house, space is set aside in most homes simply for entertaining guests: formal living rooms and guest bedrooms and bathrooms, for instance. We consider this to be ostentatious and unnecessary. We plan to set aside some supplemental units for use by visiting guests, but those units will also be shared among the Gaeans of the ecovillage. Additional housing may be set up temporarily in the form of collapsible yurts or domes, as well.
- Population of an ecovillage is limited. Dunbar’s number is a guideline for identifying the maximum socially sustainable village size. “Socially sustainable” is important, because the larger the group, the less care and compassion people have toward each other. Dunbar’s number has been derived by independent means in many disparate disciplines to indicate that human organization does not scale well past around 150 individuals– perhaps as many as 200, but no more. Gaean ecovillages honor this social/mental capacity. Hearths still remain in the 8-12 adult range, so there will be approximately 12-20 Hearths in a Gaean Ecovillage (most likely 14-15).
- Gaean Ecovillages also employ sociocratic governance. This form of governance is highly similar to the governance of indigenous tribes, where all are considered equal, and consent is sought (not “consensus”, which has some slight, but significant differences from our preferred concept of “consent”).
A full-featured settlement is one which provides for 100% of the settlement’s needs. Shelter, food, water, power, transportation, education, entertainment, etc… there is no need to employ outside resources. It is a completely self-contained settlement. This does not mean that we isolate ourselves like many in the anarcho-libertarian “prepper” culture. To the contrary, we seek to be highly socially connected, and civilly engaged.
This is highly desirable to us, as we seek to decouple our lives from the national and global economies. The ability to get 100% of what we need within a day’s walk from us means we can live communally with a high degree of independence and self-reliance. No more would a global economic collapse, food shortage, or political upheaval mean a serious threat to our lives and livelihood.
A lot of this depends on the diversity of strengths, skills, knowledge, and interests of the Gaean population. Not everyone wants to be a farmer, or a bicycle repairman, or a hunter. However, in a population of 150 or so adults, we can confidently fill each niche needed to be truly “full-featured”.
Human Activities Harmlessly Integrated into the Natural World
While we claim a right to live, we believe that we can live our human lives in a way which preserves the natural environment. A primary purpose for an ecovillage is to “go lightly upon the Land”. We aim to reduce our carbon footprint to zero or below– going so far as to sequester more carbon than we release into the atmosphere. But “going lightly” means more than being carbon neutral. It means treating the land and water like the precious resources they are. It means supporting bio-diversity, and healthy polycultural ecosystems. It means building healthy, deep soil, and supporting succession from fragile prairie/grasslands into resilient forestland. It means that everything we do is done with deep consideration for its effects on Mother Earth.
We turn to the ecological wisdom of Permaculture for this end. We hope that most Gaeans will at least have a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), and teaching permaculture to others in the general community is a major goal (as well as business model).
Healthy Human Development
What is a healthy human? We believe in breathing clean air, eating wholesome foods, drinking clean water, sleeping soundly, getting plenty of exercise. Besides physical health, we also believe in supporting healthy social structures and systems, and we live according to the principles of compassionate service and non-violence. Finally, we support the self-actualization of individuals through arts, education, and a vibrant spiritual life.
“Multiple Centres of Initiative”
In later definitions, Gilman added the concept of “multiple centres of initiative”, which means that instead of a single entity (person or group) deciding every activity that will be done by the ecovillage, people are encouraged to have a creative, entrepreneurial spirit, developing initiatives on their own. We agree with this, although we definitely have some industries which we will promote as an organization, and expect everyone to tithe a certain amount of time into supporting. For instance, if we want to have food self-sufficiency, everyone needs to take their turn working in the gardens, or with the animals. Besides that, if there are those who wish to start an Etsy store selling their arts and crafts, by all means they should do it! If another wants to start a local thrift shop, then do it! If another wants to set up a Bed & Breakfast on the Ecovillage property to bring in guests, then do it!
The Gaean Ecovillage
Specifically, Gaean ecovillages will make extensive use of low-tech, earth-friendly construction. This means cob, earthbags, strawbales, living roofs, etc… Hearths will either be single-building dorm-style homes, or clusters of personal cabins with a Common House, depending on climate and other considerations.
Ecovillages will have greenhouses (perhaps “walpini” style for year-round production), gardens, pastures, and food-forests. We will likely raise laying hens, goats, and rabbits at the very least, and perhaps some milking cows, beef cattle, sheep, donkeys, and maybe a horse or two.
Ecovillages will have a community center, featuring a common room for meetings and events, offices, a library, classroom, swimming pool, hot-tub, sauna, etc… (power and heat will be supplied through passive solar, PV, and wood-gas CHP generators).
Ecovillages will have miles of maintained trails, dotted with meditation areas and shrines. An outdoor campground will be maintained, with areas for RV hookups and tent camping (we hope to host festivals).
We will maintain a motor-pool of fuel-efficient or bio-fueled vehicles. We will likely operate our own bio-diesel production facility to fuel our diesel vehicles.
As a spiritual community, we will observe a liturgical calendar of rituals, feasts, and festivals. We will operate a seminary for priesthood education and training.