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Escaping the big city: Why successful people are choosing to live in the woods

14:50 12/11/2011
By Yelena Kosova

Europeans were the first to start fleeing the city in the mid-1990s to establish eco-communities in the woods and fields. In Russia, the first eco-communities appeared eight to ten years ago. In this special environmental report from the Kaluga Region, Yelena Kosova seeks to find out why successful people are leaving cities to develop uncultivated land and grow their own vegetables, bake their own bread, and even make their own soap.

A cottager differs radically from a resident of an eco-community. The latter has an ideology, not just a cottage on six hundred square meters in a village. Eco-community residents create a family estate in nature for their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Whether their descendants will continue living there will depend on whether they want to use solar panels for electricity, drink herbal tea instead of coffee, and eat steamed turnips instead of steak.

The first eco-communities appeared in Russia about ten years ago, but little is known about them. 

Eco-community near Milyonki village

Milyonki village is located in the Kaluga Region, 220 km from Moscow.

In 2006, the administration of the Dzerzhinsky District offered 150 hectares of agricultural land to establish an eco-community. The land, which has not been cultivated for a long time, borders on a forest, which means that the families living on it almost live in the woods.

Each family owns 1.5-2 hectares of land. The land is owned communally, which means that no one has the right to sell it. Land can only be passed down to descendants.

Newcomers pay a fee of nearly 200,000 rubles. It was 40,000 rubles just five years ago. Still, this isn’t much given how much land they are given to cultivate. Moreover, the people who decided to move here are actually quite successful. 

The average age of the residents of the eco-community is 30-35. All of them are families. Some are businessmen who used to have security guard. There are designers, doctors, and teachers. They lived in Kaluga, Moscow, and Yekaterinburg. There’s even a family from Greece.

Some lease their city apartments. Others sell herbs, mushrooms, berries gathered in the community. And some residents work as carpenters in the community.

Upon arriving here, urban residents learn to dig wells, build houses, and even bake bread.

Unanimous consent

Anyone can apply to live in the community, but if even one resident votes against you at the general council, you will have to look for another place for yourself and your family. There are rules that everyone must follow. There is no drinking, smoking, or cursing.

“We do not block off our land with fences, only with hedges, trees or shrubs. We do not slaughter animals either for food or sale. We all are vegetarians,” says eco-community resident Maria Dyachenko.

To wash dishes, it is recommended to use mustard, ashes, and cold process soap made by residents themselves.

All chemicals, even those used to grow crops, are prohibited in the community.

Though the earth is not ploughed, vegetables are eaten year round

An entertainment organizer demonstrates a Viking game and birch masks

The residents treat the earth with care. They do not plough it. Dung from the neighboring villages is used as fertilizer.

Thinly cut strips of white mushrooms are dried and eaten throughout the winter as chips. There are always nuts on the table. Residents have to buy them outside of the community for now, but a lot of Swiss pines have been planted, which means that in several years they will have their own nuts.  

Cucumbers and tomatoes are salted in tubs, apples are soaked. Pumpkins are especially important here. Porridge is made in them. It is used for cream soup. Boiled pumpkin is eaten with honey.

There are currently 50 families in the eco-community. Only families who  have already built houses or stood the test of winter in the country will remain in the community throughout the winter.

Newcomers usually arrive in early summer. At first, they live in tents. Forest trees are not even used for firewood, so when they do build a home, they have to purchase wood outside the community. Some residents build earthen homes. One family even lives in a yurt. The family of set designers from Moscow, Alexei and Yekaterina Sholosh, will spend their first winter there. They are now trying to insulate their yurta warmer using hay sacks. Everyone works – father, mother, and children.

Alexei has a small forge. Local boys spend nearly all their time there. Alexei teaches them how to smith. He volunteers as the local entertainment organizer. Among his many activities is an ancient Viking game. 

“People are to blame for all their diseases. It has nothing to do with germs.”

Former doctor builds environmentally friendly yurt

There are teachers and doctors in the community. Pavel and Natalya Cherepanov used to be doctors in a first aid center before they came to live there. Now they are responsible for first aid in the community.

The Cherepanovs came two years ago from the Urals. Now the head of the family is building a wooden house modeled on a yurta.

“We came here for the sake of our children mostly,” Pavel says. “What did they breathe in the city? Exhaust from cars and plants? My wife and I were constantly afraid for our son and daughter. There is so much crime in the city. And so many dangerous temptations. Teenagers drink, smoke, and take drugs. And here all families like ours. There is nothing to fear.”

Living in the woods is certainly safer than in the city.  Here, for example, cursing is not even allowed, let alone smoking from a young age or drinking beer. A healthy lifestyle is the focus in the community.

“My wife and I believe that people are to blame for all their diseases. It has nothing to do with germs. People should eat healthy food, breathe fresh air, condition themselves to the cold, and get away from the noisy city life. Here the rhythm of life is absolutely different,” Pavel Cherepanov says.

People who live in the city may find this environmentally friendly lifestyle extreme, but the people who live here disagree. They say city life is much more stressful, suitable for trained soldiers only. Children especially should not be exposed to this kind of stress.

Cartoons like Shrek are not welcome

In the community, fathers are typically present at the delivery of their babies. But each family makes its own choice. Women may also deliver in hospitals, or in the community under the supervision of a doctor.

Children feel free in the community. There is forest everywhere, and children feel safe in it.  However, adults limit their food choices until they grow up. Eco-community residents eat healthy food without preservatives, artificial colors, thickeners, and other additives. 

The common belief in the community is when children grow up, they may eat anything they want, but before that, parents can ensure that their children only use natural products. 

Children in the community are all friends. Together they watch Soviet and Russian cartoons. As for children’s films, they generally like Russian ones but also know very well the Harry Potter saga.

Cartoons like Shrek are not welcome in the community along with commercials for sanitary pads and beer. Nevertheless half of the families have a computer.

Children are mostly homeschooled here. They are taught by their parents. Many adults living here have more than one degree. Once a month, parents take their children to school in the neighboring Luzhnoye village, where they can get credit. This is in keeping with education laws.

“When our children grow up, they will make their own choice as to whether to continue their education or not. Live here, or forever leave for the city. No one can restrict their choice of where to live,” Maria Dyachenko says.

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RIA NovostiLiving in harmony with natureEscaping the big city: Why successful people are choosing to live in the woods

14:50 12/11/2011 Europeans were the first to start fleeing the city in the mid-1990s to establish eco-communities in the woods and fields. In Russia, the first eco-communities appeared eight to ten years ago.>>

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  • arnoldvinette@yahoo.comAn interesting idea but very constraining socially
    17:58, 15/11/2011
    Interesting lifestyle. I liked it until I got to the vegetarian part. There are many constraining social rules to life within this type of society and I don't think I would be able to do it. I like everything in moderation (except smoking). If something needs to be completely banned then it really shows a lack of control by the residents. And this may be a good thing when it comes to alcohol like Vodka in Russian society and smoking that is killing so many Russian people. In time the people will break their vows and this could lead to wide spread social / civil disharmony in the group. I can just see it happening knowing what people and teenagers are like. Interesting idea though if it offered a little bit more social flexibility, meat and cutting downlocal local trees which I thought was a little strange. If a local tree is cut down simply make sure to replant it ensuring a future supply. And limit the number of trees that are cut. All healthy forests need to be pruned yearly to ensure all the trees are growing well. Never-the-less an experiment that seems to be working well in Russia and providing a healthy alternative lifestyle to the people who do not want to live in the city with all of the noise, pollution and other vices.

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