Agroforestry and cohousing in the making – an invitation or inspiration to live together with more people in the countryside

Dec 15, 2022

Quercus X Ecovillage

Quercus is a funny word! What does it mean? It’s actually the Latin word for the Oak family of trees. You could draw so many metaphors to that name, history, wisdom, family, and ancestors, and let your roots take a solid ground. But, it’s also a project that this couple has spent a lot of hours creating. They are breeding oaks to get sweet, edible acorns that will grow in Scandinavia. And now they also want to start a cohousing community that grows food together. Here is the text they wrote with their vision for their community. All are welcome to join! 


A few years back Lauren and Jouke met at a WWOOF farm in southern Sweden. Lauren studied gender and colonialism at Harvard before she went WWOOFing. Jouke is a part-time fireman from Friesland, the Netherlands who breeds oak trees and is into permaculture. They met and settled down in the midst of Småland in the Countryside. They bought a farm and started welcoming other WWOOFers. They had two children. Now they are planning to move away from their farm and create a cohousing project. 

Jouke and their eldest son Oane

Quercus X Ecovillage Vision Statement

A place to live where we can have a beautiful and fulfilling life in the countryside, without the isolation and vulnerability that often come with it. A place where children always have many playmates, where adults who don’t have offspring of their own can still interact with children, and where the sick and elderly can live rich social lives at home. A place where we can hear birdsong and frogsong, where we can walk in nature and feel at peace.

Lauren in their spring garden

Edible acorns for lunch together with WWOOFers

A place where we can eat fresh healthy food that we grow, but still take vacation and do other things with our lives. A place where music flourishes because people have the time and mental space to sit down with one another and improvise. 

A variety of young oak species nestled in the vegetable garden

There will be flow and exchange between the cohousing community and the surrounding inhabitants and society. Non-residents will be welcome to participate in our agricultural projects, for example by participating in garden workdays and taking home a share of vegetables. Non-residents will also be welcome at events organized within the cohousing community, for example harvest festivals, lactofermentation parties, acorn preparation workshops…

We will create a vibrant Cohousing* neighborhood of mixed families, with 20-35 adults and however many children are attached to them, where each family has their own fully functioning independent home and also access to shared spaces and resources. Residents will have their own private economies and income streams — the community will not provide significant jobs for residents. The only shared economies will be those surrounding the explicitly defined community projects, or projects agreed to between individual residents (i.e., two families decide to purchase a car together). 

Mark Shepards farm from Restoration Agriculture is their inspiration
Jouke uses a nut harvester to collect acorns from the edge of a lake

Homes may be freestanding houses, rowhouses, or apartments. With any of these options residents can have a private garden (or larger private farm). People may own or rent but all will have equal voting rights in community projects. 

Acorn-spread on home made bread

All will pay a monthly or yearly fee to cover maintenance costs of shared spaces and projects. Shared spaces can include: a common house with a common kitchen and dining room where residents may partake in optional dinners each week; one or more guest rooms; a children’s play room; a teen hang-out room; a communal workshop; a laundry; a hobby/craft room; etc. Residents will plan together to decide what shared spaces to create, and will then manage these spaces through optional monthly meetings. One shared project will be agriculture: see below. 

Shared goals of community

Agriculture:

We will grow an abundance of food, for ourselves and to share if we have a surplus. We will use methods in alignment with Restoration Agriculture**, and a focus on agroforestry — methods that sequester carbon, build up soil organic matter, create habitat for biodiversity, restore groundwater aquifers, etc. In practice this may look like: alleycropping of nut and fruit trees, low-till annual gardens, forest gardens, perennial vegetable gardens, pollinator gardens… lots of different gardens! Not everybody will physically work on the agricultural projects, but everyone will support the shared projects one way or another. 

A more detailed description of our vision for common agricultural projects:

  • Compost processing
  • Humanure processing
  • Energy infrastructure: solar panels, electric car charger, central wood heating
  • 1-2 ha fruits, vegetables, potatoes
  • Greenhouse
  • 4-5 ha nut orchards
  • Woodland to supply firewood, timber 
  • Small tractor capable of handling compost, humanure, snow, and forestry products
  • Keyline design of the whole property, including swales, ponds, paths and roads. Consider permaculture principles
  • Implement tree windbreak design
  • If there is naturbetesmark, appropriate management to preserve nature value
  • Common support animals: chickens and/or pigs for compost and reclaiming land; geese for orchard grazing; sheep for naturbetesmark
  • Optional: grain fields, animals for meat
  • Storing and processing facilities: root cellar, grovkök, grain bin

Common management:

  • Keyline water design. Try to regenerate groundwater, not overexploit 
  • Organic fruit and vegetable land will be as follows: Keyline rows of trees with nitrogen fixers in the row; wide rows between trees on strong rootstock; low-till vegetable growing between rows of trees
  • Nut orchards undergrazed as appropriate by geese, horses. Incorporate nitrogen-fixing shrubs between nut trees. 
  • Woodland management: consider coppice management or continuous cover forestry as appropriate 
  • When grazing larger areas: consider holistic grazing
  • Private gardens and farms: should follow rules of organic agriculture; should not overexploit water; should not threaten other gardens or infrastructure by erosion
  • Allow /support mutually beneficial Regenerative Agriculture practices by third parties on common land 

Health:

We will build up the physical and logistical infrastructure of our community to support the health of our own residents as well as society at large. We have this goal while keeping in mind that everyone has a unique definition of what “health and well-being” means to them. What this could look like in practice: building with low-embodied energy, low-toxin materials; growing food without the use of harmful pesticides; organizing children’s play groups; planning movie nights and open mic nights… the options are endless! We aim to support all kinds of health: physical, mental, spiritual, etc. 

Property parameters

We are searching for a property with the following characteristics: 

  • At least 10 hectares of land suitable for agriculture (åker eller bete, field or pasture); additional forest is welcome but not necessary.
  • No more than 15 minutes’ drive from a preschool and school
  • No more than 45 minutes’ drive from a hospital 
  • No more than 45 minutes’ drive from a town with at least 15,000 people 
  • In swedish climate zone 1 or 2: https://svensktradgard.se/tradgardsrad/zonkartan/digitala-zonkartan/
  • More than 15 meters above sea level
  • In an area with at least some forest nearby. Most of Sweden has some forest, but southern Skåne does not and so we are not looking there.
  • Has at least three living units present or enough living space to divide into three units (ie, a large main house that could be divided into two apartments and a separate guest house). Or, if we are more parties involved, enough living space to house all parties 

If you are interested to learn more, please contact Lauren lchaleff@gmail.com for more information!

Different oak plants from their tree nursery where they have hundreds of trees.

*There is a lot of great literature out there about Cohousing: what it is, how it works, what the benefits are. Below is a selection of resources you can peruse to learn more, but you can also just search “Cohousing” on google or youtube.

https://www.adlibris.com/se/bok/creating-cohousing-9780865716728

https://www.adlibris.com/se/bok/creating-a-life-together-9780865714717

**https://www.adlibris.com/se/bok/restoration-agriculture-9781601730350