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!

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