Travelling from Gotland through the mainland of Sweden, I visited Charlottendal ecovillage in Jarna. This ecovillage started roughly 25 years ago when the Hagerrot family bought a piece of farmland with a house and old barn at the outskirts of town. Currently the community has a big variety in types of housing and inhabitants, as well as a successful kindergarten, tourist apartments and communally managed sheep and chicken. Like many places, the ecovillage has evolved and changed quite a bit over time. Beginning with a cluster of privately owned family houses in the first few years, to now including several forms of tiny houses, a girls collective and a permanent base for international volunteers. The community is set in strikingly beautiful forest surroundings, with one of the longest hiking trails of Sweden passing right along the community. During my stay I was warmly welcomed by the current EVS volunteers Ravia, Andrew and Avel in the newly constructed lakeside cabin volunteer base. I spend three days exploring the ecovillage and getting to know some of the inhabitants and the activities they engage in. I fell in love with the interesting mix of inhabitants and the passion they have for further developing the community spirit and making full use of the potential the ecovillage has to offer for the surrounding region.

Evolving over time
Situated close to Stockholm, Jarna is a town known for being the anthroposophical centre of Sweden where the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner is put into practice through schools, housing and many organizations. This offers a perfect setting for the ecovillage to flourish; being on commuting distance from Stockholm and housing many likeminded families, organizations and activities. When the ecovillage started with the purchase of the farmland by the Hagerrot family roughly 25 years ago, there was only a farm barn and one family house, in which an old lady was renting living space. The family envisioned a place where they could live ecologically with several families, sharing some community animals. On part of the land several family houses where build, using ecological and sustainable building methods and anthroposophical influenced interiors. Currently there are around 25 people living in those family homes spread across the land. Together they manage roughly 20 sheep and 40 chicken, taking turns feeding and taking care of them. They also constructed two guest/tourist apartments in the ecovillage which are rented out, making it easy to host visitors in the ecovillage. The housing options broadened in recent years when first one person took to living on the land in a self-build yurt. This attracted more inhabitants to live in small, movable houses on the community land. They pay a small amount of rent for living on the land of the ecovillage and share some facilities. The house which was for a long time still inhabited by the old lady was transformed last year into a collective of five girls renting apartments. These recent changes have diversified the inhabitants of the ecovillage and with that their levels of involvement in building community and it has led to many new activities starting on community grounds.

One of the core activities at Charlottendal has always been their kindergarten. Meerle Hagerrot tells me that because she had small children back when they started the ecovillage, they were inspired to start a kindergarten together with another local family of small children. The big plot of farm land and the beautiful surrounding forest area offered the perfect setting for a kindergarten, which they related to the Waldorf school movement. When she started the kindergarten there were only 12 children and three teachers. Classes were held in a newly constructed ecological and anthroposophical school building, right next to the community barn. Now, 17 years later, there are over 30 children enrolled and around seven employees. They have had to extend the school building and add an additional building. The children get to play outside in the forest grounds a lot, they are helping out with the sheep, roosters and horses and even helped constructing a new tipi last year. This way the children, rather than sitting in a boring classroom, get to grow up with a good understanding of nature, construction and animals, while their creativity and independence is very much stimulated. Sitting outside on the playground talking with Meerle surrounded by children playing in nature, with each other and with the little lambs, I can completely understand the attraction of sending children to a kindergarten like this!

Volunteer program
Next to the kindergarten, the ecovillage is since one year also offering its community grounds and shared facilities for an educational project with youths. Due to combined efforts of the community and interested youths, Charlottendal is now hosting one-year European Voluntary Service (EVS) program for international youths interested in developing their competences and experience with sustainable development, community life and practical skills in forest gardening and building with natural materials. Just recently the first program ended and it is safe to say that it was very successful. Everywhere you walk in the ecovillage you can see the seeds of this program. They started the construction of a wooden log cabin which provides a living space for all future volunteers which this years EVSers will continue: adding a greenhouse to the front and a bathroom to the back of the cabin. Next to this, they cooperated on the construction of a community yurt in the forest and the construction of a permanent tipi which can be used by the kindergarten, and many more things. The current EVS volunteers hosting me have just arrived several weeks ago and are looking forward to a year of building experience with forest gardening and the many construction projects. They also aspire to enhance the community spirit at Charlottendal even more by engaging all inhabitants in activities. They also help out in various other projects in Jarna, like a bike-repair shop and a charity foundation. Reflecting on the EVS program, the inhabitants of Charlottendal notice how the volunteer activity on community grounds has really stimulated the connection and interaction between community members. It is inspiring to see how the volunteer program is not just very empowering to the youths participating, but that it also has a very noticeable impact on the community, both in physical and social terms!

Organizational structure
The ownership in Charlottendal is mostly private, with the Hagerrot family still owning all of the community land and buildings. Only some of the family homes are privately owned by the inhabitants, the other inhabitants rent their living spaces or a piece of land to place their tiny home on. I ask questions about how they feel this mostly privately owned land is influencing the community vibe and most inhabitants reflect positively on this. As long as they have a sense of ownership stemming from the feeling that they can influence what is happening and decided in the ecovillage, they do not mind that they don’t actually own the land or living space they have for themselves. Actually it also provides them with a sense of freedom as they don’t have the responsibility of owning the land, the threshold of joining the community is perceived as a lot lower when you can just step in as a renter. Because the inhabitants of the tiny homes share a lot of facilities and do a lot of outdoor activities, the community spirit amongst them is actually a bit stronger than between the owners of the family homes. They have an outdoor woodworkshop, some outdoor compost toilets and a mobile sauna between them and they also have time to collaborate with the EVSers. The inhabitants of the family homes mostly have jobs outside of the ecovillage and they have children, which takes up most of their time and prevent them from being super involved in the community. They however perceive the current level of involvement as perfect. When talking to several community members I feel there is a renewed energy bubbling up the last few years to strengthen connections between all community members, actively involving also the family home inhabitants with communal activities and building personal relations. The community meets irregularly for community meetings in the old barn house and they have several committees or workgroups for different activities in the ecovillage.

Ecological lifestyles
In Charlottendal, many aspects to a life with low ecological impact have been realized. In the first family homes of the ecovillage, build quite some years ago already, this is mostly achieved through the building materials chosen for the homes and the water and energy technologies employed. The big yellow house is a wooden construction, insulated with a (for the time of construction) very thick pack of Cellulose insulation and all paints used are ecological. The community waste water is treated on site with different systems. For example, some family homes share a system which separates pee and poo in the basement after which a worm culture helps transform the poo into fertilizer. The inhabitants of the tiny homes and EVS cabin share several outdoor compost toilets, some of which also separate pee and poo. For heating a geothermal system going roughly 70 metres deep combined with a heatpump is used in some family homes. Other homes have a traditional mass stove and most tiny homes have small, efficient wood stoves. The community shares some solar panels on the old barn for generating electricity on site and they have shares in wind turbine energy where.

In the more recent tiny and in most cases moveable homes in the ecovillage provide sustainable living in terms of living space per person and affordability for people with different financial capacities. The rent for the living spaces, or the land on which they can place a temporary home is low, this has attracted inhabitants with occupations that allow them to also invest a lot of time in the community. They have constructed an outdoor wood and yurt-building workshop, help out with the kindergarten, the EVSers and community animals, as well as make a big contribution to communal activities, organizing workdays etc. The tiny homes are yurts, a camper, rv, a small apartment and the lakeside cabin. All offer small living spaces which means a lower heating, water and electricity demand compared to larger households. Most of them are partly or entirely off-grid. Some of the tiny homes who are not connected to electricity at all, in which they use small battery packs for their electrical appliances with plans to install more solar panels in the future.

There are some vegetable plots but these are not really communally managed yet, rather by a few individuals who manage their own beds and greenhouse space. One of the EVS projects of this year is to start planning some forest gardening in the community.

Saying goodbye
Saying goodbye after my short visit was difficult, which always shows me that I had a good time somewhere. Meeting the diverse community members and exploring their houses and projects was very inspiring to me, and diners and games in the volunteer base left me with a warm, welcoming feeling. Charlottendal has a beautiful setting in the forest and with the community opening up to diverse members with more time and energy to invest in the community spirit and activity, I don’t see it going anywhere other than in the direction of a loving and inspiring community. Offering space for local and international youths to grow and learn, while providing a warm, ecological home for the permanent inhabitants.

Want to see more of Charlottendal? Watch this video made by one of last years’ EVS volunteers:

And check out their website: http://charlottendal.se


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