Lebensgarten Steyerberg, founded almost 28 years ago, is acknowledged as one of the longest continually existing, spiritually and ecologically oriented communities in Germany and Europe. In the years after the turn of the millennium, the community faced a growing challenge of the increasing age of the approximately one hundred adult community members. Hence they started a campaign for inviting more young families and couples to join and to move there. Martin Madhukar Dittes reports about the recent steps of progress in the Lebensgarten.
At that time the community had the opportunity to extend its terrain of property considerably.
So we started to plan new accommodation facilities and housing structures. However, under the impact of the worldwide crisis of finance and euro-currency a year later, we found the consensus to turn the project into PaLS (Permaculture Park at Lebensgarten Steyerberg), which was mainly initiated by our community member Declan Kennedy, co-founder and former chairman of GEN.
When Jan-Philippe, a certified engineer from France, moved with his family to Lebensgarten community after having run a strictly ecologically oriented farm for more than ten years, we had found the best experienced man for PaLS.
The PaLS site covers about four acres of a very low rated cropland and woods which was formerly cultivated by orthodox farmers. As the youngest and biggest of our projects, PaLS now shares its cropland with a handful of gardeners of the community who cultivate their claims mainly for self supply and produce a stunning wide range of highest quality vegetables, herbs and fruits on a strictly biological basis. All the year round the crop is mainly sold to community members, our community, and guest kitchen. PaLS is now searching for more customers in the region outside our community village.
PaLS also has crises and challenges. In particular, the economic basis of the project is still not secure and Jan-Philippe cannot yet generate an adequate income for himself and his family out of his daily hard work in the fields. He still depends on voluntary assistance and financial support from community members.
It is a hard job to get the crops on to the commercial market: to change the habits and consciousness that such high quality, fresh, biologically cultivated vegetables and fruits, delivered straight from the fields just nearby, have to command a higher price because it includes the whole sustainable process of production.
The argument that a lot of people cannot afford the prices of high quality food is not persuasive when we include the hidden costs which orthodox cultivated produce externalises with all its subsidies, impacts on the environment, exploitation of resources and interventions by the government.
Paying good prices for good produce not only gives the organic farmer a fair income but it is always a good investment in health, and in the future generations, which has to be understood on more than the physical level.
Lebensgarten member, Annette, is a Dutch expert in vegetarian cooking and a highly experienced gatherer of wildflowers and herbs, with an impressive knowledge of their benefits for human health, and of local conditions necessary for their growth.
A couple of years ago she started her own business: creating a wide range of different and new varieties of natural flavoured salts and blends of spices. Our common project ‘Wildes Zeug’, Wild Stuff, is designed to support the PaLS project, which serves as a vital field for empirical research and is a pioneering example for the implementation of permaculture. Wild Stuff is mainly dedicated to two tasks: re-naturalization and education.
As a result of the widespread practice of monoculture and the intense use of toxic chemicals on the fields by orthodox farming methods countrywide, including the vicinity of Lebensgarten, many wild plants have almost completely disappeared. This is barely noticed by the public, but it reveals a big problem in terms of the natural biological balance of the ecosystem, and is closely linked to the degradation of biodiversity and, for instance, the vanishing of bees.
With great enthusiasm and commitment, Declan and his team invite people to different kinds of work camps. We cooperate very closely and contribute our knowledge and experience to promote the planting and seeding of wild herbs. On the terrain, we work on the soil, and the vegetation quickly recovers, and we gain an increase in bright, colourful and diverse areas of land.
We invite individuals, groups of interested people and students of different school grades to join our guided tours on the PaLS property for learning about all different kinds of plants, especially edible wild plants which deliver such a high and valuable amount of nutrients such as minerals, vitamins and enzymes. We are thus dedicated to spreading the old wisdom of the incredible healing power of plants among our modern contemporaries.
On such a tour we gather the ‘wild stuff’ and, working in practical teams, prepare a delicious meal using various methods of cooking, including open fire. Salads, soups, dips and pestos are part of our healthy meal as well as bread from our own hand-built oven. In a ritual, we give thanks to the plants and elements with a sort of thanksgiving dance. Such mutuality brings us joy and enables our visitors to re-strengthen their bond with nature and encourages them to deepen their appreciation of what we gain from it.
First solar powered vehicle charging station
Primarily based on an initiative of our long term member Joachim, Lebensgarten is considered as a pioneer in electrical vehicle mobility, running the first solar powered charging station in the whole of Lower Saxonia. It is powered by self-produced solar electricity.
Last year Alex, a professional musician and teacher for percussionists and drummers, extended this project and gathered almost twenty members to join a car-sharing system. These cars can be booked online from just twenty minutes in advance. This is an almost perfect contribution to climate protection on short and mid-distance rides which simultaneously saves disposable personal income because the total costs per mile of such an e-car on demand are much lower compared with a privately run vehicle powered by a combustion engine.
Maintenance of the buildings of the Lebensgarten community is an everlasting issue and keeps some of us busy the year round. Although we permanently improve the status of the buildings and houses step by step, some tasks are very challenging by their sheer dimensions. Last year we finally restored and covered with new tiles another quarter of the huge roof of our central community building, which houses some seminar rooms, the community kitchen, the dining hall, offices, shops, and storage facilities. This was urgently necessary to preserve the building from the ravages of time and weather.
The whole action was of course supervised by hired professionals, but whatever we were capable of, we did on our own, so quite a lot of us were kept busy labouring through the summer months last year. At the end we had some good reasons to celebrate the completion with a big party!
A group of young people who joined Lebensgarten as a result of our campaign in the early years of this century, established a project they named ‘Mindfulness and Understanding’ – referring to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. It is designed to guide and support young adults on their path to a self-determined and self-respected sustainable life in a social context that always considers and appreciates the concerns and needs of others and the environment.
Within this very dedicated and active group, Julian, and some others, recently initiated a one-year course called Peace Lab. It was initiated in cooperation with Lebensgarten’s Schule für Gewaltfreie Kommunikation (based on the ideas of Marshall Rosenberg and his concept of Nonviolent Communication).
Peace Lab is designed to bring to Lebensgarten dozens of young adults from Europe and all over the world who want to live their own lives’ purpose. For the participants it means a one-year-learning of living in community, following their individual likings and guided by experienced supervisors, linking into meaningful and already running projects within the community, and studying the art of communication and conflict resolution. By gaining a certain level of expertise they will grow into the role of teaching their skills to the newcomers in the second half of the course, a big advantage to attendees as well as trainers. This project keeps on waving the flag of a global network of peaceful and creative heads hands and hearts.