Sweden: The great frontier

June 4, 2009 at 16:58 Leave a comment

 

Mjolnatorpet Ecovillage

Thursday, May 21 – Radu, Etienne, and I (Micah) leave Hurdal and Norway behind in the morning.  We mentally prepared, turning our “ø”s into “ö”s and learning new birthday songs.  Through the kindness of friends, strangers, and paid bus drivers, we make it to the city of Karlstad, Sweden by the end of the day, covering a distance of about 250 kilometers.  We caught a bus out of town to Mjolnatorpet Ecovillage – our host Jonas was out with his family when we arrived, but he had left a key giving us access both to his house and the common house (the building above covered in solar panels), where we’d be staying.

Mjolnatorpet was founded in 1995, during a very slow economic period in Sweden.  The building firm went bankrupt before construction was finished but the residents worked their way through that hurdle, among many others.  We had a chance to talk with Gunnar, the architect of the village – he lives here, a few houses over from Jonas.  The creation of a strong social structure was his main goal in creating the layout of the village.  The common house stands in the center of a ring of houses, all of which face inwards on it.  There are no fences in sight, and much of the land is held in common between all of the 16 households.  

 

Stefan

Stefan is one of the youngest owners in Mjolnatorpet.  One common issue in ecovillages, we’re learning, is that there is very little turnover – people enjoy living in them so much, they rarely choose to leave.  While this is certainly not a bad thing, it does mean that the average age in an ecovillage tends to get older each year after the founding.  After 14 years in existence, Stefan and other residents estimated the average age at Mjolnatorpet to be somewhere over 40.  

Cleaning the gutters

Each of the house-buildings is home to two separate units.  This building choice was made both for energy efficiency (one less exterior wall) and for social (closer contact with neighbors) reasons, and it works very well at Mjolnatorpet.  Everyone is able to spend as much or as little time with their neighbors as they choose, but the very design of the place means you’ll see other people in the village whenever you go outside. 

Many people mentioned the benefits of the design, in that each house has a social and a private side.  The frontyards all face in towards each other and the common house, but the backyards are more secluded and offer a bit more privacy for those who want it.

 

Breakfast on the common lawn

Breakfast on the common lawn

Jonas and his family were very helpful to us, giving us loads of information, delicious food, and contacts throughout the ecovillage and the city of Karlstad.  We spent the nights with them during our visit and spent the days visiting the city, conducting interviews, and planning for the rest of the trip.

One of four wastewater ponds

One of four wastewater ponds

One of the biggest innovations here is the waste treatment system.  Rather than connecting to an overused municipal sewer, Mjolnatorpet treats their own waste.  All the toilets in the village were built to separate feces and urine, so that the urine could be composted and sold to farmers for use as fertilizer.  E.U. regulations don’t allow this, however, so now everything goes to the same place – the ponds.  Full of plant varieties that purify the water, the wastewater travels through a series of four ponds before being released into the stream – when it reaches that point, it’s clean enough to support a healthy ecosystem with fish and aquatic life.  

Rhubarb pie a la Francaise

Rhubarb pie a la Francaise

We spent four days at Mjolnatorpet, conducting interviews with many of the residents.  Jonas told us of another ecovillage in Karlstad, the oldest in Sweden.  We made a day trip there (look for it in the next entry) and came back with a healthy load of rhubarb, which Etienne performed his French magic upon – rhubarb meringue pie!  A delicious end to a very interesting visit.

Etienne marveling at his creation

Etienne marveling at his creation

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First stop: Hurdal Less chewing, more greenhouses at Tuggelite

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