The Once and Future Village: calling brave, survivor neighbours to live 100% off-grid (from Summer 2022)
Do you know that humans can be symbiotic instead of parasitic? Do you understand industrial capitalism to be the bain of the biosphere? Do you see our current monetary system as the root of that ill? Do you seek to enact a 100% ecological economics? Do you cherish truly-rural life? Do you see your own security better bound with land and neighbours than with money? Are you ready to live in the logic of the land by renouncing ALL fossil fuel and rare mineral derivatives? Would you like to be part of a self-sufficient community that operates entirely within a given watershed?
Thriving like indigenous people in a pre-industrial setting as Luddites, gardeners, hunters, gatherers and/or herders in a barter economy is a full time occupation and means:
- ultimately rejecting material modernity wholesale
- learning the old ways from the native elders of the place
- taking 100% responsibility for ourselves
- maintaining great relationships (far easier with your own house and garden, and without the stress of debt-based-money and its power differentials)
- switching our focus from earning a living to creating a living
- diversifying from our current professions to become, first and foremost, all-rounder smallholders
- possibly, eventually, in a larger community, creating our own positive currency/mutual credit system to trade our surpluses/specialisms if/after meeting our own needs directly first
- living without digitech, electricity and motor engines
- using sweat and blood instead of (most) tools
- having more time for arts and culture
- educating our children ourselves
- attending to our own healthcare
- embracing the likelihood of a shorter, more vital, life
- recognising that the dominant, capitalist, industrial-agriculture group may try to take our lands, as they always have done worldwide… or, alternatively, that we may form the survivors’ refuges that keep alive the old ways when the dominant culture and climate collapse.
In short, living a quiet peasant life with quiet, peasant neighbours.
We can transition downwards in a planned descent, but compromise positions are too flawed and too tense to last the long haul. I’m not proposing a sabbatical or an experiment. I’m proposing a change of life. Materially, there can ultimately be no cherrypicking.
Inspired by the life and works of Mark Boyle, especially ‘The Way Home: tales from a life without technology’, this is a call for a wise, compassionate, committed, visionary group of people to live as neighbours in some beautiful, affordable, fertile corner of Western Europe. We would create not a commune, but a neighbourhood, aiming to learn from and integrate with the pre-existing peasant community that still knows some of the old ways. Side by side we would buy up an abandoned hamlet, township or hillside with a few farms on it, dividing the territory into small, separate titles for the sake of household autonomy and future flexibility. We may have our own hideaways and vegetable plots, say, but perhaps share some village green, woodstore, common grazing, woodland, hunting ground, forest garden, community orchard, riverbank, library…
I myself am a 42 year-old, solo, electrohypersensitive, omnivorous, introverted creative; a countrywoman, grower, musician; a would-be eco-builder; a writer, thinker and educator. (I don’t want to spend my life preaching permaculture to the privileged or to under-paid labourers.) Darkly optimistic, warm-hearted, highly sensitive, practical, capable, but no longer an athlete, I am independent and tend to be solitary (with my share of insecurities), but recognise my limits solo, and well know the immense value of inhabiting a particular landscape, being part of its history and sharing respectful inter-reliance (and fun!) with the other equals (people and species) of the place. I have British and Italian passports, a campervan, a yurt, technically a horse, likely again a hound, and potentially access to just enough capital to buy a couple of acres and a ruin for myself in one of the humbler corners of Europe, and then live, rent-and-mortgage-free (this is essential) on my wits – but not alone.
I invite expressions of interest from fellow would-be villagers to outline your geographic preferences and your:
I look forward to hearing from you.
The Ecological Land Co-op offers support, especially with planning permission, for small farm startups in the south of England. The catch is that a household requires about £100,000 initial outlay to buy the 150 year leasehold from the ELC, and on top of that you have to build your own dwelling there. Also, for the first five years (until you’re granted full planning permission, if you are) you have to demonstrate a sound agricultural business model, which keeps you bound to and by the extractive paradigm of the monetary economy for at least that period, in theory indefinitely. The upside is that sustainable agricultural businesses (insofar as businesses based in a debt-money system may ever be sustainable) can include such loveliness as wildflower seed farms, medicinal plant gardens, maybe even dye gardens (enter: These Isles) as well as the more obvious artisan produce and/or prepared food production.
The One Planet Development framework, created by the Welsh government but now being adopted elsewhere (e.g. by the Dartmoor National Park Authority), supports low-impact, land-based living initiatives as above, with two significant differences that could work well for my proposal: 1) the policy’s emphasis is on sustainable living, not on sustainable business (although it takes some digging to understand this because monetised society does not have a conceptual framework for non-monetary living, not least because self-sufficiency at the level of just one household is nigh-impossible – it is assumed that we all want and need mod cons, digitech, cars and chainsaws etc.); 2) you buy (and are free to sell) land on the open market as a freehold. You work with your local planning authority to win planning permission by submitting first a sound application, and consent is forever conditional upon submission of annual accounts (which are made public) of your ecological footprint (which must be less than 2.4 global hectares, aiming for 1.88gha) in perpetuity. Effectively, you become a government guinea pig trailblazing on a public wrack. No small price – but possibly worth it for both the personal and the common environmental good.
The Crofters’ Association (Scotland) will lease you (usually marginal) land quite affordably, with, again, the key stipulation being that you run the croft as an agricultural business for as long as you hold the lease. Permission to build a dwelling on the croft is often relatively easy to obtain as long as you are genuinely crofting (farming) the land commercially (albeit on a small scale).
Other useful bodies and authors on all this are the Land Workers’ Alliance, the Permaculture Association, Permanent Press (their publishing house), the Smallholders’ Association, Simon Fairlie (The Land Magazine), Chris Smaje (book: Small Farm Futures), the Transition movement (Rob Hopkins, Shaun Chamberlin, David Fleming; UK, Ireland, France and?), Diggers and Dreamers, Chelsea Green publishers (US and UK), Dave Darby of lowimpact.org, Bruce Parry (film: Tawai), as well as myriad intentional communities and off-grid groups here and abroad represented online and on social media.
BUT beware, rural economics are particular: my understanding is that the logics of subsistence and monetary economics are in irreconcilable conflict. My theroetical analysis tells me that the latter will always subsume the former due to the voracious dynamic of the debt based monetary system. My own and others’ personal and professional lived experience, as well as my reading of history, tells me that the conflict will, except for the most privileged, generally lead to breakdown in any individual or community that tries to straddle both logics. The problem is that the very desirable comforts of the industrial economy necessitate certain conveniences which short-circuit the subsistence model and undermine your very ability (skills, community networks, art creation) to self-subsist.
Also, as long as you are part-plugged in to the monetary economy and trying to participate in mainstream society as is, you are extremely unlikely to contract your carbon footprint as much as is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5º, because the monetary economy requires you to grow, not contract nor even just maintain, your consumption levels. Besides, as soon as you depend on any one product of industrial capitalism, you are dependent on the whole filthy, exploitative, growth-dependent, global infrastructure necessary to get that one artefact to you for your pleasure, convenience, business or so-called health.
So I fear it’s all or nothing, ultimately, even if there are certain permissible compromises in the transition steps which might be facilitated by the above schemes, as long as these schemes don’t bind us too restrictively in perpetuity. The change will be hard, but may be our best hope for survival.
The ship is sinking. I’m inviting you to join me on this lifeboat to go and build something different, NOT something that is as flawed as our present system.