Alain Dorange, pensioner and one of the cofounders of the eco-project ‘Le Moulin de Busseix’, explains how important it is for these shared-living-projects to have a variety of skills and knowledge available among its members. Your project is at risk, he says if you depend too much on one person for certain necessary skills, particularly concerning gardening, agriculture, construction, and diverse engineering-technical skills. “Besides it is important to have a good mixture of age, but this is not always easy”.
Alain describes an interesting phenomenon, which I have also noticed in other projects. It is either pensioners (by the way, in France I came across people in their early 50-ties that were already retired!) or young, up until about 35 years old that can be found in these eco-projects. The age group between 40 and 60 years seems often absent. Now, is it that this generation has been most influenced by the consumer model of society with all its comfort, convenience, and cleanliness, and that these, mainly city dwellers, are not interested to leave their comfort-zone or are not ready to change? Is it because this generation is still in the midst of a professional career with all the financial and societal benefits (status), which they are not willing to give up? Or is the fact of still having studying children (meaning high cost of living) and a mortgage to pay, which makes changing harder than for young starters or retired people?
Different stages in the process
In October 2004 three couples (all older than mid-fifty!) looked for a way of living that better corresponds with their personal, social and environmental ideals. They managed to find this property of 14 hectares of mainly prairie in the Limousin region. The land is owned by Terre de Liens. The legal construction is similar to other projects that I have visited, namely a
‘Société Civile Immobilière’ (SCI). This means that the SCI owns the houses on the land and the people rent from the SCI. In order to build the houses money has been brought in to the SCI as a loan. Furthermore, they created an association called ‘Busshélios’ that manages the economic activities of its members and/or of external people. The project currently consists of 17 people (including children). Apart from the retired couples there are also young people, of which some with children.
Alain, who is a passionate gardener, explains that the creation of such projects go through different stages. First there is finding and getting the location and the terrain. This involves a whole administrative process (as described earlier, administrative burdens in France are not to be underestimated), including the creation of the necessary legal structures and of course finding the investments needed.
Then comes the stage where everyone is very busy building the houses and the collective infrastructures, such as the ‘maison commune’, the community house, the water purification system, energy systems, etc. Finally the settling in and the real living together can start. Alain says that this latter aspect is probably one of the biggest challenges for these eco-projects. “Human interaction demands care and creating appropriate and satisfying communication is a learning process in itself”. We are all humans with
emotions and living together also demands patience and consideration for each other’s points of view, adds Alain. It is not a coincidence then that in many of these projects members were trained in so called non-violent communication.
On the learning process side, Alain shares his personal experience with the construction of everything around the water management at thi project. “The whole process of constructing installations and systems needed for the water collection, cleaning and distribution over the different houses and fields, makes you so much more conscious. When you live in a city everything is organised by the commune and you really have no clue of the work and investments behind it. It definitely makes you appreciate water more and become more careful!”
Producing green electricity
The land is mainly used for the 25 sheep and wheat to be grown for making bread. A smaller portion is used for the vegetable garden and some animals, such as a horse, a mule, and chicken.
The group constructed a ‘maison commune’, or community house. This house contains a large kitchen, washing facilities, a dormitory for guests, and a room with common gardening and construction tools. Furthermore, a common dry toilet and a large rain water reserve. Interesting feature on this building is the installation of solar panels to produce energy, which is fed into the grid (of EDF). This makes the project for about 80% self-sufficient in energy.
All members of Le Moulin de Busseix built their own house, based on ecological standards, such as the use of solar panels, dry toilets, and the use of wood, straw, etc. Three of the houses and the maison commune were built in cooperation with an architect of the ‘l’Ecocentre du Périgord’ (http://cr3e.com), a centre that gives workshops and trainings on ecological construction.
Currently the young couple Charlotte and Christophe are in the middle of this process. A busy life they have combining their professional work, raising a child and building a house at the same time.
Christophe works from home for a magazine and Charlotte started baking bread with home delivery to the clients in the region.
Currently, she uses wheat and cereals grown on the land of neighbouring farms. However, this winter she will start to grow the wheat on the land at Moulin de Busseix. I can tell that she bakes excellent bread!
There is also Igor, a young professional carpenter, who starts to build his own caravan on wheels completely out of wood.Another resident, Klaus, is a professional sheep shearer for over 25 years. He worked among others in Australia and the UK and all over France. Now, he stays more in the region, to avoid long distances. He is very well known in France and when we were at a sustainability fair and festival with stands of all kinds of different local products, handcrafts and arts, he knew all the products and producers that use sheep wool in their products.
Moulin the Busseix maintains a loose and flexible structure. The residents have their own house and their own professional activity, and private lives. They tell me that this project is the right mix for them between sharing life together and maintain individual freedom. The Maison commune is the centre of the shared living activities.
The lunches are taken together there. Twice a month they have a meeting to organise practical things. These meetings are also open to associates of the Association Busshélios, volunteers or invited people. The maison commune can be used for free by members of Busshélios for activities they want to organise and a fee is charged to external users.
They organise different workshops on e.g. eco-construction. In future they want to organise (also with external experts) workshops on permaculture, solar energy, phytopurification, etc. Another project to be further developed is around their gardening. The garden has mainly been developed by Alain and it produces already quite a lot of vegetables for the residents. Once a year they buy a whole pig for the residents. Vegetables, fruits etc. not used at Moulin de Busseix are exchanged for other local products. The group is looking into possibilities to also transform and make canning food. This will demand more time investment from the residents, but also proper facilities that meet the legal requirements for this activity.
As is written in their Charter, this is a place of co-management in a ‘convivial’ spirit, multiplying the possibilities to meet, to exchange and to connect, and to share the experiences with a wider audience. This was put into practice at the time I visited and as they had a very good friend from Africa over to stay with them.