A night at ecovillage Dyssekilde

Dyssekilde is a large, established community on the tip of Zealand and was started thirty years ago on principles of ecological and communal life. With today over 200 people living in the ecovillage, the community is a popular place to live. They produce more than double the amount of electricity they uses and have their own waste water treatment in place. The houses are built in very different styles: with the oldest houses having been built 30 years ago and the latest just being finished, you can see a physical change in perspective on sustainable building over time. I stayed the night with community member Matawan, who built his own house in Dyssekilde in 2007 and has himself visited many other ecovillages around the world. He explains that diversity, in both the buildings and people, is one of the key characteristics of this ecovillage and how the ecovillage has a close relationship of with the region which has thrived from the establishment of Dyssekilde.

The earthship at Dyssekilde ecovillage giving an almost mythical impression during twilight.

Dyssekilde is built on the terrain of an old farm with 14 ha land, which used to be monoculture potato fields. The farm was bought in 1989 by a collective of around 50 people who shared the vision of living in ecological and social balance. A few years earlier, four people had taken the initiative to gather people for the start of an spiritual, vegetarian community. Over the year, a group formed but it became clear that they did not want any ideological or political foundation to their ecovillage, apart from living ecologically. The original founders therefor left the initiative, but their energy had brought together over 50 people who were still dedicated to starting Dyssekilde. The farm was bought and Dyssekilde was founded. In the earliest years the members lived in the farm or in caravans while they were building their houses. They used the old barn as storage, the main building for meetings and a library and the kitchen for daily community meals. A small house besides the farm was used as kindergarten for several of the communities children. As time went by and the children grew up, the entire farm was transformed into an official private school, attracting kids from surrounding towns. The monoculture fields have been transformed to a lively ecosystem of people, plants and animals. Matawan most of all enjoys all the different types of bird that come to visit his garden. I wake up in the morning to the sound of singing birds.

A map of Dyssekilde, a community of over 80 households. On the top left corner is the trainstation which connects them to Copenhagen.

The community is owner of all communal ground and the former farm building. They have split the 14 ha land in two and reserved half for building houses and the other half for food production, waste water treatment, energy production and nature area. The area destined for building was divided into several neighbourhoods to phase the construction. Each neighbourhood has their own characteristics and small building rules. For example, there is a neighbourhood with only dome structures, one with row houses and one with social rent houses. The rental apartments were build from communal money in the 90s based on the ideology that they wanted to make life in an ecovillage accessible for all. In the other neighbourhoods, only the footprints of the foundation of the houses are privately owned by the different community members. This means that even the gardens right around the houses are not private property but belong to the community. They have made the compromise that each household may claim the four metres around their house for some private gardens if they wish. Matawan explains to me that to stimulate passive heating of houses and thereby reduce energy consumption: they also made the rule that you can attach a greenhouse to your house on the communal ground. These m2 are not taken into the plot prices. This has led to a wide variety of greenhouses attached to the houses.

Some examples of greenhouses attached to different houses.

The entire community of over 200 members has four annual meetings in which all major decisions are taken. Proposals are handed in at least three weeks in advance according to a strict guideline. They take decisions with democracy, following a majority vote system. To allow more time for discussion about topics, they on the one hand organize a discussion evening one week in advance of the actual meeting. On the other hand, during the actual meeting, they are seated at small tables of six to eight members each: when a proposal is announced they first discuss the proposal in these small groups, then one person of each group summarizes what has been said to the collective. They have decided on this method to give everyone a chance to speak and feel heard at the plenary meeting, without taking too much time. Apart from these annual meetings, each neighbourhood holds their own, irregular meetings for decision-making about their little area. For example, the neighbourhood in which Matawan lives started a small legal association to cooperatively own the geothermal heating system they have in all their houses. Next to this, the community has over 25 workgroups that work on all the different tasks to maintain the ecovillage. All work in these groups is done on a voluntary basis. Matawan is part of the external relations workgroup and keeps contact with networks and other ecovillages. For a few years he has been in the board of the Danish ecovillage network. Dyssekilde also has a board of five to nine members, chosen every two years, that meet every two-three weeks.

Matawan mentions that they are currently in the process of shifting to a decision-making and organisational structure based on sociocracy.

The rainbow street seen from the back. This neighbourhood is build along a building style from the faroe islands. With brick walls separating the row houses, inbetween the walls each household was free to build what and how they pleased.

When Dyssekilde ecovillage was started, the region around them was in decline. There were high levels of unemployment and depression and people were moving away. One of the visions of Dyssekilde was to also be a booster for their surroundings. Because, as Matawan explains to me, an ecovillage is intrinsically connected to its surroundings and benefits from investing in it. So while the region benefits from the new kindergarten and economic activity at Dyssekilde, the community has actively invested in the region: For example, the have given a loan to the local supermarket so that it could built an extension. They have financed together with other local citizens a fund for turning the old barn into a gathering hall, which can be rented out for various activities and as workshop space. They started a guild for raising a windmill on the community ground, of which also non-members can buy shares.

As the membership fee in Dyssekilde has not changed since its start, this is a very low source of income to the community. Most income instead has in the past come from selling building plots to community members. Since they have recently sold out of plots, this source of income has now stopped and they might need to consider changing their economic structure a bit. Community members can also rent small plots of the communal land to grow vegetables or hold animals, this is another (very small) source of income. There are also an organic shop, a bakery and a cafe on site.

Matawan remarks to me that during the crisis in 2008 there were only two places in all of Demark where housing prices did not go down, but up. One of them was Dyssekilde. This shows how popular this type of living is and should be a sign for banks to lower their interest rates on loans for houses in ecovillages.

Matawan buying some delicious bread in the community shop from one of the original founders of Dyssekilde.

The houses in Dyssekilde ecovillage are built over a period of 30 years and are very diverse in building materials, size and energy techniques. It becomes apparent that the older houses had more a focus on having a small size in m2 and using passive heating techniques, where the more recent houses are larger but use much more sustainable building materials. Matawan says that if they could start the ecovillage over, it would be useful to make much clearer guidelines about what is seen as an ecological/sustainable building, because peoples interpretation of this differs a lot. Some houses use materials which in my eyes would never classify as sustainable. However, quite a lot of houses also use very experimental and creative building materials and techniques. Demonstrating the architectural freedom that is often intrinsic to ecovillage projects.

The earthship at Dyssekilde. It originally consisted of three households, but when the middle one sold their house, it was merged with the other two to provide a bit more living space for the inhabitants.
A dome greenhouse attached to a dome house.
Two more households in the dome neighbourhood.

The community’s waste water is treated by large willow fields just next to the building area. In the past they had more complex filtration system in place using an artificial mountain and root plants. However, the capacity was not large enough as the community grew and they shifted to the willow solution. The community collectively invested in a windmill as a guild of which also non-members could buy share, again with the ideology to economically boost their region as well. Over time they inspired neighbours to raise six more windmills. In a green survey performed in 2014, they calculated that their windmill and solar cells produced more than double the electricity all their houses consumed (700.00- kWh vs. 270.000 kWh). For heating of the houses there are many different techniques chosen. The most popular is a conventional wood stove (30 households), but there are also some mass ovens, solar boilers, pellet ovens and two geothermal systems combined with heat pumps.

A view of the willow waste water treatment system with the communities first windmill in the back.

There are many communal facilities at Dyssekilde. The most central is their community building which they finished around the time that Matawan came here in 2007. Before that, they had been using the old farm barns as communal building. The communal building nnow houses their office, guestrooms, a big kitchen, a gym and a lot of space for meetings, diners and watching a movie. There is a communal diner once a week, to which about a third of the members come. To keep each other up to date about everything that’s going on in this large community, they send out a newsletter every week to which everyone can make a contribution. They also have an active facebook group for members.

The oak tree that was planted at the start of Dyssekilde 30 years ago.

There are a lot of cool cultural activities organized at Dyssekilde as well. They host a yearly festival which has grown from 250 to over 1000 visitors and has two stages for music, as well as many food-stands and fun activities for kids. They also have a yearly festival where all the artists in their community open up their workshops. Next to this, they sponsor and organize events in the local town together with a local association, with which they also share an old building of the local trainstation to host markets in summer time. Several members also provide different types of body training and therapy. The celebrate festivities together and sing as a community for every newborn in the village.

A few years back they constructed a Dysse on the big communal playing ground.

Whole books can be written about Dyssekilde and all its different aspects and this blog is not the place to go too much in depth. All I can add is that I loved my stay in Dyssekilde mainly for seeing all the different styles of ecological and creative houses. To me it is also impressive how the community economically and socially contributes and interacts with the wider region. In terms of social life, I have had too little experience to have a grip on the extend to which this works out in practice. But the fact that the municipality has recently decided for the built of a second ecovillage just down the road, shows that Dyssekilde is a success and an example for many families wishing to live in balance with nature and each other.

Read more about Dyssekilde here: http://www.dyssekilde.dk

Currently for sale…

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