LEBENSGARTEN AS AN EXAMPLE OF A
translated from German by Elisa Graf & Declan Kennedy, 07.07.2011
The eco-village “Lebensgarten-Steyerberg” was established in 1985, in the 65 buildings that once comprised the living quarters of a WWII ammunitions factory, built in 1939. Situated in Lower Saxony, northern Germany the community is currently home to 100 adults and 40 children. The large central community building houses a cultural and social hub with offices, smaller and larger seminar rooms, a concert hall, and a canteen. The material basis for a thriving seminar center has been created in another original building, referred to as the ‘healing house”, once a medical clinic and now a comfortable guesthouse.
In the many years we have lived in Lebensgarten, one of the greatest wonders that we have witnessed is the emergence of newfound skills among its members, developed out of necessity to compensate for the lack of specialists, generally present in larger cities. The need to develop such skills naturally arises, and in this way a completely new quality of life is discovered. It is precisely this type of growth that is required in a post-growth-economy, because in terms of “quality of life” there is infinite potential. The following examples illustrate what qualitative growth means in the context of Lebensgarten and how this conserves natural resources.
It began in 1985 with the retrofitting of the houses and the 2000 m2 (20 000 sq.ft.) community center. Re-use as opposed to building anew resulted in a significant reduction in Lebensgarten’s ‘ecological footprint’: e.g. building materials, energy for transport and labor hours. Each household was renovated at its own pace. There was and continues to be a lot of mutual support and participation among neighbors. Each room in the community center was remodeled and financed in a different manner – some financed privately, some communally or through a combination of both options. Had we not experienced this first hand, we would not have believed it possible.
One central Lebensgarten establishment that has been a success for many years is the food co-op, Lebensmittel Distribution Center - abbreviated “LeDi.” Here one can purchase nearly all the organic food and ecologically-produced supplies needed for daily living, at almost wholesale prices. All adults and older youth have a key to the LeDi and can shop 24 hours per day, deducting the sum of their purchases from the prepaid balance, maintained on their account card. This reduces the need for salespeople and for residents to drive to a market to buy groceries. It also saves on the costs of one’s own food stocks.
Apart from the extensive practice among neighbors to co-operate (especially in cases of emergency), a carpool exists through which a large group of residents share cars. There is also a boutique where used items of clothing are hung, and may be taken by others free of charge. Employment opportunities, particularly in social health services and in handicrafts, are created to enable residents to work locally. At the same time, Lebensgarten has become the region’s second largest “lodging business” through the seminar center’s guest accommodations, in conjunction with the hosting of seminar guests by residents in their own homes. It is a nucleus for entrepreneurship and offers a setting for cooperative engagement usually found only in larger cities.
Besides dance, yoga and other exercise offerings, it is important to mention the ‘pub’ with its occasional discotheque, open Wednesday and Saturday evenings, serving as a cafe on Sundays, where one can enjoy outstanding organic cakes, baked by our own residents.
Even more important than the sharing of skills, space, cars and equipment as well as its associated cost and resource savings is Lebensgarten’s experience in conflict-resolution. Violence and war present the costliest and most dire harm to life on our planet today, and hopefully may be overcome entirely in a post-growth economy.
At Lebensgarten each person is responsible for oneself and for the community at one and the same time. Nobody is required to do anything more than respect the laws of the country, and pay a membership fee of 30 euros per month to the group treasury. The remarkable thing is that Lebensgarten still exists - all the studies on communities suggest that it should have long ago disintegrated due to internal conflict. From the standpoint of social diversity, we are a small universe of the most varied religious, spiritual, philosophical views and interests. At the same time, we are far from uniform with regard to our cultural origins, ages, education, incomes and professional experiences.
Most members arrive with their own ideas and ideals as to what Lebensgarten should look like and how it should function. This always creates tension because people who have not been raised in community, of course, do not know the ground rules for social interaction. We have had to develop these rules ourselves and they require constant renewal, as there are always new members joining the community. As a practical rule in the case of conflict, we usually try to include a neutral third party who mediates between the parties - and if that is not possible then we try to find a resolution through a mediation process.
Thus far, we have made all the most important decisions through a “modified consensus” process. This means that if members are not in agreement with a particular decision they are asked if they are able to live with this decision and should the community proceed with it. If the answer is no, then the resolution will not be seen as passed and the person will be asked to come up with a ratification of the decision that can then be accepted by all. If this is not possible, then the decision cannot be passed. This method of decision making has shown itself to be more efficient and effective in the long run than the usual democratic voting process, because those who are outvoted will often find one way or another (even if unintentional or subconscious) to circumvent or undermine the decisions that were made against their will.
Funding sources for Lebensgarten include membership fees, donations from members as well as non-members, sponsors, the earnings from the seminar center, low interest or no interest loans from neighbors and friends, and bank loans. Costs are also reduced by our own voluntary labor. Communal work days are organized in such a way that it is fun to participate. We avoid bank loans as much as possible, because the income needed to repay them derives from seminars and our educational department and is subject to great fluctuations from year to year.
The Lebensgarten kitchen offers a wonderful opportunity for residents to not have to cook themselves, and to enjoy sharing tasty, healthy organic vegetarian meals with a diverse group of people. The latest research confirms that the consumption of meat and dairy products is responsible for half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Due to energy savings in the purchase and preparation of food, there is again both cost reduction and less environmental impact for most members.
Lebensgarten is sharing its knowledge with varied specialized businesses and groups in the outside world. These contacts range from vegetarian cooking classes to courses taught through the “School for Understanding and Mediation,” the Steyerberg Center for Non-Violent Communication”; from the “Forest Kindergarten,” to the work of a local patient solidarity group, “Artabana,” which provides an alternative to the state-mandated health insurance system.
There are women’s as well as men’s groups hosted here, whose participants also come from outside the community. The many meditation forms practiced on site bring together people from both inside and outside as well. Gaia University offers university-level, action-learning workshops in Lebensgarten through permaculture and other approaches with practical application to entrepreneurial goals toward a healthy and sustainable world.
Since 2009, the production of food has greatly increased on our own land, via a Permaculture Park, developed directly next to Lebensgarten, where we plant and harvest fruit, vegetables and flowers. Ultimately, this will provide a growing autonomy from the world’s centralized supply and distribution structures, enabling the conservation of resources as well as the recovery and preservation of opportunities for a sustainable livelihood for both ourselves and nature.
Wealth we have learned is not the accumulation of money but the quality of human interaction and the possibility to communicate with each other on a deep level, to celebrate and develop new rituals, and to experiment and evolve new patterns in our relationships. The post-growth economy is not a model of ‘empoverishment' but a model making us all jointly richer. We can take our model from nature, which has demonstrated this for millions of years. This new economy thrives on diversity not singularity, cooperation not competition. It knows no unlimited growth. Through mutual understanding and creative connections between individuals there is a growing potential for a healthy human society. Continual quantitative growth will ultimately destroy our planet and society itself. To be successful, a post-growth economy must be guided by these natural laws.
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: Mostly in German but with some English translations - includes Seminar and Cultural Programms
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: Margrit Kennedy's Money Suggestions in different languages - her book INTEREST AND INFLATION FREE MONEY can be downlaoded at www.margritkennedy.de/pdf
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