Whether we know it or not, nearly all of us are familiar with the idea of intentional communities. The colonies that became the United States were started with them. The first settlers in Plymouth and Jamestown set up intentional communities, though the intentions were different. They have existed all through history.
One rather new kind of intentional community is an ecovillage (bit.ly/wikipedia-ecovillage). Ecovillages are intended to be sustainable. Their design takes social, cultural, economic, and ecological sustainability into account. Some of these, such as the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, are well known. There is no single organization uniting all of them, but looser organizations do exist. The Global Ecovillage Network (bit.ly/global-ecovillage-network) is just one such organization; it has about 10,000 ecovillages affiliated with it.
A really good example of an ecovillage is La Cíté Écologíque of New Hampshire (CENH). It was founded in 2003 as an offshoot of another ecovillage, also called La Cíté Écologíque, which was founded in 1984 in Ham-Nord, Québec. Like possibly all ecovillages these two have strong interest in organic gardening, community living, and sustainable economic development. They both also have an especially strong interests in educating children.
One of the members of the Québec community had the idea for starting a business involving stained glass objects. As a result, Kheops International (KI) was founded in 1991. At first, it seemed to those interested that Florida would be a good place to develop this business, but the distance from Québec argued in favor of a new ecovillage in New England, from which KI could do business. As a result, CENH was founded in Colebrook.
The New Hampshire ecovillage produces fruit and vegetables, which are sold in the area. It is beginning to develop sugar bushes with the maple trees on its 315 acres of land, most of which is forested, and there are already about a thousand trees tapped. CENH has its own solar array and biomass furnace. But there are other businesses associated with the ecovillage, in addition to KI and sustainable agriculture.
We spoke with Leonie Brien, the Coordinator and Director of Programs at CENH’s Learning Center, and her husband, Pierre Forest, an electrical engineer. Both had long experience with living in ecovillages before their New Hampshire community was set up.
The focus on education is very important. Children have been home schooled, when there were not many of them at the community, with expertise drawn from the adults. When enough children were present, the community had its own an accredited private school.
CENH is not a standoffish unwelcoming community. In her position directing the programs at the community, Leonie Brien works to make sure that people can learn about sustainability, permaculture, and the other aspects of life in ecovillages. CENH offers a number of programs to interested people. These range from workshops and school field trips to multi-week sessions and internships.
Remarkably CENH has about forty residents behind all this work. I would have to say they are forty very creative, very productive residents. But they cannot do the work by themselves. One important aspect of CENH is the economic benefit it brings to its community. Ten of CENH’s residents are employed in its businesses, but so are about forty other people of the area, making it an important source of jobs.
CENH has a delightful web site, http://citeecologiquenh.org/. For anyone who might be interested, go there,hover your cursor over “About Us,” and you will notice a page called “How to become a member.”