Sonntag, 27. März 2016

Homesteading settlements in Russia (Part 2) - The Kovcheg settlement and the "Eco-technology Festival"

Nina(left) on Elenas family homestead

When I arrived at the station in Maloyaroslavets I was picked up by an Internet contact named Dmitriy Vatolin and his neighbor Nina. They both live in "Kovcheg", a vegetarian eco-village in the Kula region. It was founded in 2002 and received official village status in 2009. The trip there took about an hour, although the village is located only 30 km from Maloyaroslavets. The reason for the long drive was that the last 14 kilometers of the route was a dirt road with large potholes. The road was in bad condition and Dmitriy had to drive slowly, and drive around the holes as much as possible. In spite of his efforts, it was a very bumpy ride that I would not want to do regularly. Nina told me once that in Russia there is a joke asking the question: "How do you recognize a road in Russia? Quite simple: as long as you can walk on it, it can be driven on!" They told me that during the Russian Campaign Nazi Germany had underestimated the bad roads in Russia, to the benefit of the Russian population. When I arrived in Kovcheg we drove at a walking pace through the village. On each side of the hedges family domains were to be seen, sometimes already large in size, sometimes quite small. We drove past the community center, school, the fire station, store and through the village.

Street in Kovcheg, to both sides well grown hedges.

We let Nina out of the car and then drove about 150 meters further until we reached Dmitriy's homestead. Just as Andrey had in Slavnoje, Dmitriy also lives on the edge of the settlement, near the woods.  
Dmitriy lives together with his partner Valia, and her 2 children from a previous marriage, on their 1-hectare homestead. Throughout the year he has his own honey from natural beekeeping and is largely a raw foodist.

Dmitriys self-made Solarbox for melting bee wax

During the week that I lived at his house, he ate only fresh vegetables from his garden for lunch and dinner. This was mostly a mixture of red and yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, salad greens and berries. Valia and the children ate cooked food alongside the raw food. We spoke in English, so the children and Valia had a chance to practice the recognized world-language.
Dmitriy with neighbour goat
The special thing about Kovcheg is that the land was given to the community free of charge by the regional government, however, only for a 50 year lease. The land previously consisted of barren fields and meadows with very poor soils. But within a few years it has been transformed into a beautiful settlement, with living fences (hedges), an abundance of trees and houses for families in which children are born. During a walk through the village Dmitriy showed me the most varied and innovative houses. Additionally he also mentioned that they now have a fire station in Kovcheg because some houses had already burnt down. I was very surprised by this, but it showed the laxity of the Russians in this regard. Fortunately nothing happened to anyone, but they learnt their lesson, and they now conform to the safety distances for stove and chimney construction in wooden houses.
Community house facing south
The first building in Kovcheg was the Community House which was built right in the center. This house has a kitchen and several rooms, which are used as classrooms for school lessons or as dance, art and seminar rooms. 
A classroom
Community members also gather here for meetings whereby decisions are made with a 75 percent majority vote. I was impressed by the fact that in this eco-village consisting of 79 families, many classes such as dance, Aikido and yoga, are held several times a week. As the Community House is in the center of the village it can be reached by a short walk or bike from all homesteads. The advantages of everyone living on 1 hectare of land could be seen in this settlement. It is more compact and people can reach their neighbors, the community center, store or community sauna easier and not be tempted to use a car as I experienced in Slavnoje, where some people owned 3, 4 or even 5 hectares of land. Personally, I find a size between 1 and 1.4 hectare per homestead is optimal. Depending on their wishes and needs a family should be allowed to occupy a correspondingly large homestead. 
Community house facing west

Map of Kovcheg with family photos
What I liked in the community center was the large map of Kovcheg.

 This was made from images of individual families on their domains. So you could see exactly where each family's place in the village was. I thought that was a great idea! In addition to the community center there is a building for the theater. There I was able to watch the children of Kovcheg rehearse “Alice in Wonderland". Incidentally the school lessons in Kovcheg are taught, organized and planned by the parents themselves. It is therefore a style of homeschooling where skilled parents band together to educate the children, each according to their abilities. Once a year the children need to take an exam at a state recognized school in the nearest town.
One day I was invited by Ludomila the English teacher to facilitate an English lesson for the Kovcheg students. I told the students a little bit about myself and my work, then I showed them my film "A New We", a film aboutEuropean Eco-Villages. At the end, I gave Ludomila and the school my film and they were very appreciative. One day I was invited to their family domain for tea. She lives in a beautiful wooden house together with her husband and four children. There I also met a friend of theirs, a Krishna devotee who had formerly lived in Kovcheg.

The house of the English teacher

One morning I went to the natural pond belonging to Dmitriy (this pond had no liner, no concrete or similar substrate, the water was held in only by a compacted clay layer), I did a few acrobatic exercises that I enjoy and relished the subsequent swim. It was nice and warm and after I had climbed out of the water, I let myself dry in the sun.

Music rehearsal in the common house

What differentiates Kovcheg from many other settlements I have seen, is that the land does not belong to the families themselves, but a legal entity, a kind of cooperative, which they describe as a non-profit company. Each family sort of rents the land from this cooperative. Incidentally, this is the main point of contention in Kovcheg and has caused the villagers to be divided into 3 camps. One group wants to keep it the way it is now, the second group wants the families themselves to be able to "own" the land, and the third group is neutral and either won't, or isn't able to, clearly position themselves.

Path between two homesteads
I was surprised to learn that in Kovcheg, in contrast to the settlement of Slavnoje. every family has exactly 1 hectare of land. Everything is precisely structured, the homesteads run exactly parallel to each other and are separated by a three meter wide path. The domains are not square but rectangular and south-facing. In this way they each gain plenty of southern sun without taking any from their neighbors. The paths and roads in Kovcheg are unpaved and have a width of about 6 meters.

The shop in Kovcheg

In Kovcheg there is a shop with food, magazines and DVDs. It is open for 1 hour a day and offers vegetarian food. The food is not certified organic, which is normal in Russia, because organic certification is not yet as widespread as elsewhere in Europe. This is relative to the fact that among other things, the unsprayed share of food in Russia (produced by allotment holders and wild crafting) is substantially larger than in Europe, and therefore people in Russia have a correspondingly lower demand for organic food. They also consider food mostly organic when its from their own gardens anyway. A market also takes place in Kovcheg now and again. This is usually organized in conjunction with another public event. At this market the residents sell products from their family domains and miscellaneous goods. What I also found interesting was the Kovcheg text messaging service. 95% of residents subscribe to this service. They regularly receive text messages with important news. If one of the residents wants to share something important, they can do this by directing the appropriate message to the voluntary Text Message Service Manager. Then all the people of Kovcheg get the message. An important message could be for example: "New store opening times! From Wednesday from 10-11am", or: “The market will take place this Saturday morning”, or “Valia is building her roof, helping hands welcome" This messaging service is paid for by the Community company.
There are two fees, which the residents in Kovcheg pay. The first of these is an annual fee, which is used for the maintenance of roads and streets, as well as the infrastructure of the village. The second is a direct charge, which is used for community buildings. If someone wants to leave the village for good, they get back a good portion of the money for the community buildings, but nothing from the annual fee.

In the woods around Kovcheg it was the same as in Slavnoje, there was an abundance of mushrooms and I was allowed to enjoy both their harvest and consumption. Once I took an extensive walk with Dmitriy through the woods. We surveyed his forest beehives, high up on the trees, in order to entice new swarms of bees. He was happy because they were successful, and seven new swarms had settled in the hives. 

Additionally we wanted to go into the depths of the woods, because he had mounted motion cameras there to film wildlife. On the way we found an incredible number of raspberries and I was pleased to see how Dmitriy was in heavenly rapture eating the berries. Back at home, he showed me the pictures from his cameras. I saw infrared shots of wild boar, deer and a fox and found this very enjoyable. But I experienced an even greater joy watching Dmitriy. He was as pleased with the recordings as a small child and showed them to me enthusiastically. It was really lovely to watch an adult who has something he can really be happy enjoying, as much as a small child -who still can- does.

The toilet on Dmitriy's homestead was simple, as with most other family homesteads. A small building with a hole in the ground. You just squat down and do your business. At the end of the toilet session you throw sawdust over the excreta and the matter is settled. During my time in Kovcheg my friend Nina introduced me to various different people and we visited their family homesteads. I found three homesteads particularly noteworthy. On one lived Mikhail, Valia's ex-husband. He runs a nursery on his land and grows a variety of pine and conifer trees, including the Siberian Stone Pine (colloquially known as the “Siberian Cedar”).
It was nice to see such a variety of different conifers. He sells his trees through his online store and he can live well from this.

At the entrance of Michails nursery-homestead
The second homestead I want to mention here is Elena's. She and her husband manage the theaters in Kovcheg. On her homestead everything is very "German" and tidy. They were constantly apologizing that it was not properly looked after because they don't have the time to clean-up and maintain it, but I thought everything looked nice and tidy...

Elena`s homestead

Elena and Stefan with siberian pine tree(Pinus Sibirica)
And the third family homestead, which I found particularly interesting was that of Tatjana's. She was one of the few people in Kovcheg who actually implemented the ideas and practical tips from the Anastasía books. Accordingly her family domain is beautiful and the energy was noticeably higher compared to the energy of other homesteads. At her place I had my first encounter with an old Russian healing method called "Pravilo". In this technique the whole body is stretched, both the hands and legs are pulled in four directions. This was a treat for the body and the mind. I also found the grove of trees at Tatjana's particularly special. She buried her mother on their land and planted a tree there. It looked beautiful and I felt very moved by it. She didn't want me to photograph this place and I completely accepted this. It was a sacred and intimate place for them. Otherwise, I was able to photograph everything I wanted.

Tatyana's house
Doing Pravilo
Tatyana's Earthcellar
Tatyana's pond

One evening Dmitriy and I rode bikes to the community sauna. This operates daily throughout the year. I think three times a week there are men's sauna, three women's sauna and one time family sauna. The sauna is located next to a small river with a beautiful swimming area. First you sweat properly in the sauna and then dip into the cold river to bathe. It was a pleasant experience that was repeated many times. In the foyer of the sauna we took breaks to rest and drink good tea, sweetened with Dmitriy's honey. A nice experience! The sauna serves as a great place for health and relaxation, at the same time it is a place of natural communication and organization and provides space to discuss various matters. An example of this was that in the sauna we met a man who fells, processes and sells wood in Kovcheg. Dmitriy told him that he wanted to order more wood from him and he was ready to buy it. So the communal sauna and other community facilities provide natural, regular contact and communication can flow naturally, without the need to use the phone for every little thing. There are plenty of opportunities to meet each other in the flow of life.

The bridal pair
One day we were invited to a wedding in Kovcheg. People came, both from outside and from within the settlement. The bridal pair took us through their land and told us what they had already done and what they wanted to create in the future. Following this was a colorful buffet. As a gift I gave the wedding couple unhulled pinenuts from Siberia, which they rejoiced over.

Bridal pair with guests

Towards the end of my trip to Kovcheg, Nina invited me and her neighbors to come to an "Eco-technology Festival". I accepted this offer gladly. We drove about 3 hours to the festival, which took place on the community grounds of a settlement called "Everlasting Family".
I found the festival very enjoyable. People came together from different settlements and had an ideal opportunity to exchange. There were several tents, tipis, stages or free places in nature where people offered workshops, shared their practical knowledge and experiences. Topics included natural parenting, organic technology vs. technocratic technology, self-sufficiency, music, natural construction and cleaning, the conscious procreation of children and many other topics were facilitated. I took part in a beautiful healing and prayer ceremony for the freedom and happiness of all beings. There was dancing in the evening and a beautiful campfire where a bard offered his beautiful songs. People slept in their own tents in the meadow or in the woods. At the festival I got to know many, very dear people, and whenever people realized that I wasn't from Russia, they were very interested and beamed at me.

Svetlana, Stefan, Nina and Maria at the festival
They were mostly curious and wanted to know what lead me here to Russia. Once I had a long conversation with two lovely women from Moscow, named Maria and Svetlana. I asked them, amongst other things about their attitudes towards homosexuality. I wanted to find out for myself, by empirical field survey, what the general attitude towards homosexuality is in Russia . They told me that homosexuality is regarded as a disease in Russia. However, it is a curable disease. Svetlana said that she herself was a therapist and told me that she had already healed several men of homosexuality. One of them is now a good friend of hers. She practices a method by Arny Mindell, called Process Work.

A workshop in nature
Bread and salt is given during a peace ceremony
A conversation with a Russian bard particularly stands out in my memory. Unfortunately I do not remember his name. He was an estimated 50 years young, lived for several years in New Zealand and radiated a lot of positive energy. He told me he was sure that we were living in a period of total upheaval and it would take a few more years until massive changes would result for the positive. He told me that in 1985 he had been able to predict that the Soviet Union wouldn't be around much longer. He began to tell people that the Soviet Union would be gone in a few years. People thought he was crazy because the political-military power structure seemed too overwhelmingly big and powerful. But he was right, and it came faster than many could imagine. And we are at such a tipping point now. His prediction for the coming years and decades inspired me and gave me a good and confident feeling.
Yes, it will be good on earth, and we are here!

Written by Stefan Veda
for life, love and truth!

Mittwoch, 2. März 2016

Family homestead settlements in Russia! A ray of hope for humanity? (Part 1)

The rise of Russian Eco villages is of great interest to many people currently searching for meaningful, healthy and community-orientated lifestyles. In this report Stefan Wolf recounts his extraordinary experiences staying with Russian families who welcomed him into their lives. 

In 2011 the Anastasia series of books by Vladimir Megre opened up a new way of perceiving Russia and its society for me. Prior to reading these books I had zero interest in Russia. However the historical and visionary stories revealed about this land and its inhabitants, as well as the family homestead movement inspired by the books, appealed to me.

I then released a German documentary in early 2015 about the family homestead settlement “Slavnoye” and through this I was in contact with the Director of the film Andrey Shadrov. He lives with his family in “Slavnoye” so I made enquiries as to whether I could stay with him for a few days. Andrey agreed and so it came about that in August 2015 I embarked on a 4 week Russian journey. I prepared for my trip by acquiring the basics of Russian language and writing that I felt appropriate. In particular the words “vegetarian” and “vegan” were very important to me, as I was anxious that as a vegan in Russia I wouldn't get enough to eat. Fortunately this fear quickly turned out to be an illusion when Andrey and his brother Eugen collected me from the airport. Eugen explained that he was a Raw Foodist and that in Russia there are increasing numbers of vegetarian, vegan and raw food enthusiasts. I felt a sense of pleasant relief!

In the “Slavnoye” settlement

On the way to the settlement Eugen told me that he would stay with us for a few days before going to his parents who were based half an hour away from the Slavnoye settlement. I asked him about Vladimir Putin and he replied that most Russians considered him a good president. Before Putin became president the average life expectancy in Russia was 60 years and the death rate was higher than the birth rate. In the meantime the life expectancy has risen to 70 years and the birth rate is higher than the death rate. According to Eugen, the rates of crime and corruption have decreased significantly, the standard of living increased and the Russian people have restored their love for the Nation again thanks to Putin. Generally speaking the residents of Slavnoye also like Putin due to his support for the idea of family homesteads.

When we arrived in Slavnoye we needed to drive through the entire settlement as Andrey lived at the far end. I was then very warmly welcomed by Andrey's wife Tatjana. After a delicious dinner of homegrown potatoes and vegetables I retired early to recover from the long journey I had made from Taiwan.

The next morning we awoke to fruit and watermelon for breakfast followed by a delicious green smoothie with energy-giving greens from the garden.
After breakfast we walked into the forest. I almost didn't believe my eyes at how many chanterelle mushrooms there were. In a short time the basket was filled. At home Tatjana prepared delicious meals with the mushrooms and dried the rest to store for winter.

In the afternoon I was invited to enjoy the Russian sauna on Andrey's land. For me the idea of using a sauna in the heat of summer was unusual, but according to Andrey, in Russia people sauna the year round.

150 families have a homestead in Slavonoye, but the majority are only seasonal residents. A lot of them still work in the cities and only come to their homestead recreationally. I spent my first week in Russia at Slavnoye with Andrey, his wife Tatjana and son Luchic at their family homestead. I couldn't speak Russian except for a few sentences and they also only spoke a few sentences of English and German. Nevertheless we succeeded in being able to communicate simply, but above all, we understood each other well at a heart level. For complex conversation Andrey and I used computer translation programs (Google or Yandex translator) which helped greatly and worked very well. I stayed with them in their hand-built wooden house and had my own room so I was granted insight into their harmonic family life.

Homeschooling, decision-making processes and increasing self-sufficiency

Three-year Luchic was in my opinion an exceptional boy. In the week of my visit I didn't see him cry once. Although he repeatedly stumbled while running in the woods or on the gravel road, and a few times he fell pretty hard, he didn't cry. Everything Andrey and Uncle Eugen asked of him he undertook in a serene, but determined way. “They really know how to raise a child” I thought. Also, I never felt that he was disturbing me, as I have often experienced with other children, because he always knew how to entertain himself and our contact was based on mutual respect. To me this child was like an angel. Perhaps the reason for his harmonious nature is based on the fact that he was conceived in love on Andrey and Tatyana's own family homestead, in their hand-built home? Or maybe because Tatjana spent the pregnancy on the homestead, Luchic was born in the house, is now growing up surrounded by various flora, flowers and trees his parents planted for him and that now provide him and his family with real food? Perhaps these are some of the reasons that may explain why Luchic is so harmonious. It is probably also due to the natural, wise and clear way in which he is being raised, as well as the harmonious and loving relationship of his parents. Moreover, life in the community would certainly be supportive of his development. Not to mention the beautiful songs with truly good lyrics that are sung almost daily with or to Luchic, accompanied by Andrey on guitar and Tatjana's flute. 

Luchic will not have to go to a school outside Slavnoye, because the community's residents have created their own non-state school, where parents jointly teach the students. Once a year, students must pass an examination at a state school. This type of homeschooling can be practiced in Russia up until the commencement of high school. 

Decisions by vote

Incidentally the community residents make strategic decisions for the settlement by majority vote (75 % ) during a general meeting . Additionally they are also able to call on other communities for advice and they have a Chairman in the settlement, who is elected by the residents. 

On one occasion Tatjana showed me some photograph albums. In the pictures I could see the change that had happened on their land. From its beginnings as a barren field they have transformed it into a living oasis with lots of trees, a beautiful wooden house and several smaller buildings, a fountain and gardens. 

More and more people are able to achieve an income through activity undertaken at their homestead or in the community. In addition, their self-sufficiency increases. Water self-suffiency is 100 percent achieved through their own wells and according to Andrey about 50 percent of their food needs are achieved on average by self-sufficiency.

"Illegal" homes

One day Andrey and his two sons took me on a tour of Slavnoye. We visited some people that featured in the film Slavnoye, and I took pictures. We also went to the lake of Slavnoye, a two hectare natural lake created by Sepp Holzer and sponsored for the benefit of the entire settlement by a businessman who lives in a homestead next to the lake. It was a pleasure to swim in this lake.

What was impressive to me was that each house really was unique and individual. There are no two houses that look similar. This is due to the fact that people designed and built their homes themselves to their own specifications. 

All the houses in Slavnoye were built illegally, which means that they have no official address and officially the inhabitants live elsewhere. But in Russia, nobody cares all too much about these things. Nevertheless they hope that a future law will make it easy for them to legalize everything. There are already ways to legalize, but at the moment they would bring practically no advantages and the disadvantages would include higher payments.

The settlement "Living Picture"

One day we went to the neighboring settlement "Living Picture". There the co-founder of the settlement had invited us to his 67th birthday. It was a big birthday party on a mown lawn next to a large river and there were an estimated 150 guests. There was a great vegetarian/vegan buffet and numerous children and adults enjoyed the variety of dishes.  On stage there were musical and dance performances including Andrey and Tatjana with their uplifting songs, who incidentally are professional musicians. They have a wonderful Album called "Ode to Nature"*

At this birthday party I met Rita and other people from the "Living Picture" community. Some of them including Rita, could speak very good English and we had nice conversations with each other. So it came about that Rita and her husband Ivan invited me for the following Sunday to their homestead. I accepted this invitation enthusiastically, especially as it meant I would get to know the neighboring settlement better.

As a guest at Rita and Ivan's homestead.

On Sunday Ivan picked me up by car. We drove on the gravel road that leads through Slavnoye to the community of "Living Picture". We had to also traverse a river and a steep incline that would probably be impossible in rainy weather without an all-wheel drive vehicle. Arriving at the family homestead of Rita and Ivan I was initially surprised by their beautiful, self-built eco-house and the beauty of their land. Both are from Moscow, about 30 years old, ethically motivated vegans and have lived for 3 years on their country homestead. In such a short time, they have achieved so much. I was very impressed with what they have done. They built the first straw bale home in their settlement and have achieved remarkable results in the garden as well as natural, peaceful beekeeping. Rita and her friendly neighbor Svetlana greeted me and Ivan apologized that he had to leave again because his neighbor needed help with building a roof on his house. Yes, even on a Sunday there is work to be done in the settlement. We agreed that we would pay him a visit later at his neighbors. After Ivan had gone Rita showed me their house and their land. Her neighbor Svetlana accompanied us wearing her ​​six month old baby in a sling. 

It looked bright and neat, a space of love was already recognizably felt. Rita showed me an apple tree, which was previously a wild apple, with thorns and inedible fruit, and which has now mutated into a "good" apple tree, with entirely different leaves, no more thorns and now has edible fruit, which improve in taste from year to year. She told me that she has achieved this through regular communication with the tree. Truly amazing what is possible! Co-creating with nature holds so much potential and there is still much to discover! After a tour of the land, she showed me her house and told me about the process of building. They built most of it themselves, but the neighbors also lent a helping hand every now and then. The interior of the house had a warm and cozy atmosphere. The straw bales were coated with adobe and then the walls were plastered with lime to create a beautiful white color. 

To strengthen me in the kitchen home-baked, yeast-free bread was offered with a spread made ​​from their own honey and flaxseed paste (called "Urbetsch" in Russian). This tasted so good to me and I wasn't even aware it existed until now. “Unbelievable that we do not have this”, I thought. In no health food store have I ever seen linseed spread.

It probably doesn't taste so good pure, but in combination with honey from the land it was a delight. Then Jenya came to visit and invited us to his and his wife Anja's Homestead.

Prior to this we took a walk through the village, and we visited Ivan, who as I said, was helping a neighbor in house construction. I was amazed at the size of this house the neighbor was constructing.

Quite in contrast then was the home of Jenya, which was a small, two-story wooden house. Of course, he had also built the house himself and his child had come into the world there. Again, the energy of the house was good, it was bright and clean. 

Professions - as multifaceted as life

As Jenya and I are both filmmakers, we had discussions about our work. He has a Film company with Anja in England and has made ​​documentaries about their travels through most of Asia. He also runs a successful web shop, which offers various natural products. In regards to professional backgrounds in the settlements I came to know people from all directions. From doctors, filmmakers, artists, musicians and artisans, to the mining engineer, nursery owner, beekeeper, online store owners or self-sufficient, every possible occupation was there. When we were back at Rita's homestead, we went to the birch forest, where I filmed a nice interview with Rita. She told me of her background, from their way to their own family homestead, the building of their home, and many more interesting things. The resulting Interview contains invaluable pearls of experience and knowledge from Rita and is offered free to download from the online shop at

Heartfelt farewells

On the last morning at breakfast there was one final private concert for me from Andrey and Tatiana, which naturally pleased me very much. Then Andrey and Elisey took me to Moscow. 

In Moscow Andrey, Elisey and Andrey's mother brought me to the station, waited with me for the train and then there was a heartfelt farewell along with hugs. I travelled in the direction of the Kovcheg  ecovillage. The train journey there would take two hours. 

To be continued ... 

Story by Stefan Wolf (Stefan Veda)

*The album "Ode to Nature"

Andrey & Tatyana Shadrovi are two Russian Bards who are changing the world through their songs!
Finally you can get the full album with a Digital Booklet of two of the best bards of Russia!
The Album comes as a Digital Download with a Booklet containing all original Russian lyrics, as well as the English translations. 

  • 15 Unique Songs by Andrey & Tatyana Shadrovi
  • Songs with beautiful melodies and uplifting lyrics
  • incl. Digital Booklet
  • Russian Lyrics and English Translation
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