Midsummer festival at Solbacka

To celebrate the longest day of the year, Solbacka community in Southern Finland hosted a midsummer weekend festival, this gave me the opportunity to get to know the community and celebrate together. Solbacka was founded around 2012 by a collective of seven initiators who wanted to live in community, in balance with the nature and create a healing space. They spend over ten years looking for the perfect plot of land and finally settled down on at the outskirts of small town Fagervik. Their land is surrounded by some protected forest and beautiful spring lakes. There are no neighbours to be found anywhere close and the local nature is powerful.

When the ecovillage started, there was only one old house on the land. Thanks to combined effort of renovating the house and creating an outdoor kitchen, a temple, a straw bale sauna and many tiny homes of all shapes and kinds the community has now grown into a beautiful place to spend time. During the festival, over sixty people came to gather and celebrate here. Being able to host an event like the midsummer festival is a dream come true for many of the initiators of Solbacka. It allows them to offer their ecological lifestyle to inspire many others for living in harmony with the local nature, with each other and with themselves. In this blog I give a brief overview of the community and my experience during the midsummer festival.

Overlooking the midsummer sunset from the hill at Solbacka community. Solbacka means sunny hill in Swedish (this is a largely swedish speaking area of Finland).

Following your passion while building
Most striking when one arrives to Solbacka is the so-called Dragon Temple. This is a project of community members Charlie and Petra. The temple is an amazing piece of art and craftsmanship in which decades of experience in woodcraft, straw bale building and clay plastering have come together for Charlie. The temple is an incredibly nice place to be inside and is used for a variety of workshops, rituals and gatherings on shamanistic and traditional healing, dance, song, yoga and massage. The sacred space makes it possible for Solbacka community to inspire and heal many more individuals.

A look at the Dragon Temple from the outside (with some scaffolding in the front). The sacred space is used for a variety of gatherings on shamanistic healing methods, dance, song, yoga and massage.

Even though the temple is used for many community gatherings and public workshops, Charlie and Petra invested in the project privately and without taking loans. Charlie explains to me that they chose for this way because it would allow him during the building process to just follow his flow of working. Having lived in community all his life, he acknowledges that sometimes with bigger projects concerning communal investments and big decisions, a project can be slowed down by fears and concerns of all individuals in a community. Wanting to be able to work from his passion and creativity, he avoided needing approval from the whole community for every decision by building it from private investment. They did not want to get stuck with a big loan from building something sacred like a temple, so they just build it step by step when they had some money to invest.

A look inside the dragon temple which has walls of strawbale, finished with smoothly polished clay plaster which create very nice acoustics. The structure is wooden and includes beautiful wood carvings.

The same philosophy goes for the building process of everybody’s private house in the community. The families are responsible to build for themselves a house in which they want to live. Off course members help each other out with the construction process when needed, but in principle they are individual building processes, which allows everyone to follow their passion. This is in contrast to some ecovillages where all buildings are communally planned, and all decisions about the building then also have to be approved by everyone.

There are several tiny houses on the land, completely self-built and designed.

Different types of membership
The community land is owned by an unlimited housing company of which a share can be bought to have access to building on the land. They chose this ownership structure as most suitable of the few options there are for communal ownership in Finland. Within the rules of the company they can set some values and guidelines for the community. To start communal infrastructure on the land they all made personal loans to the building company which over time they expect to get returned. Members can rent pieces of land to build their private houses or place their moveable tiny homes on. Now, a wide variety of living spaces can be found on the land, including some small houses, tipi’s, yurts, tiny homes, vans and more. When a member wants to leave the community and sell their privately build house, the building company has one year right to find a new member for this home. Only when after that period they have not found a suitable new community member, the private house can be sold on the regular housing market. This structure ensures that the community members have a say about who comes to live with them. Communally owned land does make it a bit more difficult however to get private loans for building, but in a way this is seen as good so that members do not take too high mortgages which force them to work a lot.

A look at the only building which was on the land when they arrives, the founding members renovated it and now it is a collective where several (temporary) members live.

All of the new houses are build using natural materials, since they have a lot of knowledge and skill about natural building with their natural building company and this is in line with their values of living in harmony with nature. There is for example a straw bale house which was build for one member as part of a straw bale building workshop. Kian and his family are building their dream house on a rock overlooking the land, also using straw bales, clay plaster and a wooden structure.

Building with natural materials and creative structures does not fit into the existing building regulations and institutions so much yet. One members explains to me how they try to remain in good communication with the local authorities to convey their humble and ecological motivations for building like this, to prevent too many delays and restrictions. He mentions that for his own house the whole building process got delayed two years simply because the building permit had to go to a higher level of authority as it was a ‘special’ building. As frustrating as that is, he had to accept the delay, wait for the authorities to realize this design was still within the law and perfectly ok to build. He used the waiting time to dig a lake on the land and further clarify his building plans. Another woman also got some delays in building because of wanting something outside of the standard, she agreed that despite how frustrating that is, it did give her some time to think over her design and needs for the house. Making the end-result better than when she could have build straight away. It is nice to hear how they try to look at the positive side of the inevitable effects from pushing against current norms and standards.

You can barely see it through the trees, but this is where Kian and his family are building their dream home on a rock overlooking the area. During the building process they were first living in the yurt which now functions as a guestroom.

Living and deciding in the community
During the festival I met the community members and came to learn that some are full member and shareholders of the land, whereas others are just renting a living space or volunteering at the community. So there are two types of inhabitants in the ecovillage: the initial founders and shareholders of the property, and renters who have not made any big investments into the ecovillage but just pay on a monthly basis and can easily come and go. This makes living in the community accessible for people who cannot make the full commitment at once, but it has created a bit of a complicated situation around the decision-making in the community. In principle all big decisions in Solbacka are made with full consensus of the shareholders of the natural building company which owns the land.

They use the circle way for discussing and deciding on issues which arise. Everybody living in Solbacka, so that includes some temporary renters and volunteers, can call a circle to discuss certain things. During the midsummer festival I talk with several of the founding members about how they will soon go into a process to more clearly define their vision and values for the place. What they notice in recent times is that people who just rent a piece of land for their tiny homes want to be included in the decision-making, however, they have a different kind of attachment to the place. Since the founding members have made the investments of buying the land and organising the first communal infrastructures and putting in the energy to build the community from scratch, they feel deep responsibility and ownership over everything that happens or needs to happen in Solbacka. They notice that the renters have a different perspective on decisions and feel a different kind of responsibility since they do not have this history of making big investments in time and energy into the place. Therefor the founding members are now planning to have this envisioning process in which they lay down some core values of the community to guide the decision-making more clearly and create more transparency. This also in light of recent purchase of a neighbouring piece of land with which they have the opportunity to welcome more families as shareholders of the community.

A wedding ceremony
The midsummer festival was opened by a ritual in which the community members set out intentions of merging their newly purchased land with their existing community. This year they got an extra plot of land of around seven hectares of neighbouring forest land, bringing the total ecovillage land to around 18 hectares. This new plot of land also gives them some extra building rights, making it possible for around six new families to move into the community! On midsummer evening we set out with a group of 50 people on a walk across their community lands, stopping at one central point on the old land and one central point on the new land where they had already laid-down a flower mandala. The ritual was referred to as a wedding ceremony, to merge together the two pieces of land, with good intentions and appreciation for the nature asking for blessing and permission for their ecological community vision.

Mandala laid out on the new plot of land recently purchased to extend the community. During the midsummer festival we asked for permission to use the land and set out intentions to live there in harmony with the local nature.

This possibility of housing new families has made an envisioning process extra relevant to them. Clarifying the values and vision for the land amongst the founding members will make it more easy for newcomers to see if they agree with these values and to understand how and why certain decisions are being made. The founding members really want to welcome more families to live in their community but they also want to make sure that new members and the renters understand the history and motivations for this community and respect the commitments which have already been put in over the past eight years.

The outdoor community kitchen at Solbacka with a sign stating that this is a sacred place to practice awareness and compassion for the community (a clever way to remind people to clean up and put care into the food they are making).

Using the community to inspire many others
Now that the community has some good facilities for it, Solbacka has started to function as a place for inspiring many others to live sustainably and in harmony with nature. For the founding members to which I listened this is really a dream come through. Rather than living their lives fighting against norms and values which they do not like about mainstream society, they have just quietly build their lives here in Solbacka and use the community to heal and support others who want to do the same. Charlie explains to me that rather than travelling around telling other people how they should or should not live, he believes strongly is this way: inviting individuals who are motivated for changing their lifestyles to Solbacka and offering them here their experience and knowledge. They also host an European Solidarity Corps volunteer every year.

Several members perform healing services and similar types of workshops for an income. They host many different types of festivals and workshops at Solbacka around tantra, massage, yoga, healing and also natural building. Member Anna uses the community to experiment with her natural dyes and fabrics with which she hopes to make an impact on the clothing industry. One of the renting community members really appreciated the possibility to live affordibly in the community so that he can spend a lot of time experimenting with electronics. He explains to me that in mainstream society he felt judged for not working full-time or investing his intellectual knowledge in some kind of company. Here however he has the freedom to experiment with radically new technologies and to follow his creativity, which to him is much more important. He shows me around his self-build house and explains some of the battery packs which he is developing for electronic bikes.

For almost all members and visitors the community is also a wonderful place to spend time in nature, away from modern society.

One of the lakes close to Solbacka where you can easily walk (through a beautiful forest) to go for a refreshing swim. This is a spring lake, meaning that it is only filled with water coming up from the soil. A very special place to be.

I had an amazing time in Solbacka, talking with the many different members about their values of living in community, in harmony with the local nature and providing a livelihood through radically different ways than norm. It was inspiring to see over sixty people gathered in the community who can experience connection between each other and with nature and gain knowledge on natural building and healing practices thanks to the incredible efforts of the founding members in pushing the norms.

Petra tells me that most people she asks why they come to visit Solbacka answer that they notice that the ecovillage is a place where they can just be themselves, where they are accepted for who they are and can make true connections with other people and explore their own creativity and passion.

Read more about Solbacka here: http://solbackaexperience.com/

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2 thoughts on “Midsummer festival at Solbacka

  1. Wonderful post Ilonka! Just an important correction: The land is not owned by The Natural Building Company, but rather an unlimited housing company where a share can be purchased to get access to building. Happy travels onwards, Charlie

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    1. Hi charlie, thanks for this important comment, i have changed the text! Have a good day, love from sunny hill ecovillage in slovenia (they share your ecovillage name ;).

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