El Calabacino

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El Calabacino is a village located in the nature reserve "Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche", in the western part of Andalusia.

Since 1985, people have been gradually repopulating this village, abandoned for a long time, with the objectives of having a way of life more in harmony with nature and traditions. People came from different parts of Spain and Europe to rebuild the village and repair the houses fallen into ruins.

In the last 20 years, the number of inhabitants has increased a lot, now reaching around 130 persons, including many children.

The ecovillage has adopted simple and traditional forms of living and one of the particularities of El Calabacino is that there is no vehicle access to the village: the transportation of all goods and needed material to build the houses is performed with the help of donkeys.

In 2017, the administration started legal proceedings against the community: indeed, the ecovillage is situated in a large protected natural space and some of the houses of the village do not comply with the new construction norms. Some of the houses' owners are accused of environmental and urban infractions and risk important fines, destruction of their houses and prison sentences in the worst cases.
The ecovillagers are currently trying to demonstrate that the administration, by applying the law in a literal way, does not take into account the positive impact of this ecovillage.

El Calabacino
El Calabacino

Renewable Energy

El Calabacino is not connected to the main electrical grid: therefore, all the houses are equipped with photovoltaic panels and batteries to store the energy produced. Although this area receive a lot of sun, this is a strong constraint as the houses can experience energy shortcuts when there are successive cloudy days. Besides, all houses have to limit their energy consumption: the number of electrical devices is therefore reduced.

Solar Panels
All houses are equipped with solar panels facing South


As indicated in the introduction paragraph, one of the particularities of El Calabacino is that there is no road to the village: all the cars have to be parked at the parking lot down the valley and people have then to walk up to reach their homes. The transportation of all necessary goods and material is therefore realised with the help of donkeys: the villagers share some donkeys whose brayings regularly resonate in the valley!

According to the ecovillagers, having both a reduced access to the electricity and to the road is, at the same time, a strong constraint and a great advantage. Indeed, by adding constraints to the use of electricity and cars, people become more aware of the real value of these services, in opposition with the cities where all these services are always available.

One of the donkeys of El Calabacino

Regenerative agriculture

There is not, at the moment, a common garden enabling to feed the population: some of the village inhabitants have however private gardens where they can cultivate their own vegetables, using organic methods.

Private Garden
Private garden
Orange Tree
Orange Tree

Cycle of water

The ecovillagers have only 2 water fountains in the village where to find drinkable water.
However, some ducts have been installed in all the village, so that all the houses can have their own water supply: this water is generally not considered as drinkable water and is used for the kitchen and showers.

Reduction and reuse of waste

El Calabacino is not connected to the public sewers to collect and evacuate grey and black water (grey and black water are waste water, the difference between the 2 is that black water has come into contact with solid human waste, increasing the risk of development of pathogens).

In the ecovillage, 2 strategies have been settled in all the houses in order to handle the waste waters:
  • composting toilets are used in all the village: as flush toilets are not used, there is no production of black water and composted solid human waste can be used for example for growing crops or trees.
  • grey water is treated in treatment basin upon which aquatic plants are planted

Green building technology

Some of the houses of El Calabacino are former ruins that have been repaired when the village has been repopulated. The methods used for the repairs are traditional ones: the walls are build with rocks for the first meters and then adobe (traditional air-dried bricks, made of a mixture of mud, sand, straw and water).

About half of the houses in El Calabacino are newly constructed. The other half, like this round stone house pictured above, are re-inhabited.

House El Calabacino
One of the traditional house of El Calabacino

Nurture mindfulness and personal growth

El Calabacino, through its geographic isolation, keeps its distance with the day-to-day bustle of the cities. Thus, the ecovillage inhabitants generally live from day to day, in a very calm environment, following the rhythms imposed by their natural environment.
The daily tasks performed by the ecovillagers are commonly very simple: cutting firewood, gardening, playing music, working for a couple of hours... Many of El Calabacino's inhabitants define their way of life as a hippie life, based on the distance they keep from the conventional society.
The behaviour of everybody is therefore more conscious: conscious of the environment, conscious of the neighbourhood,...

One of the community's objective is to bring children up so that they can develop themselves as free individuals. El Calabacino is indeed a place where a lot of families live, with many children of various ages. Children bring a very strong energy to the village, and conversely this place brings a very special environment for them to grow: they are very free, have access to a luxuriant nature and are always considered not as children but as human beings.

Engage actively to protect communities and nature

Organisation of "El encuentro de Alternativas"

From 1992, the first inhabitants of El Calabacino have decided to launch in Seville a new event dedicated to all existing alternatives to the current society. This fair, called "El Encuentro de Alternativas" (the alternatives meeting) was organized every year for 3 days in the central park of Seville. Although the organisation of this event has been difficult for the first years (the first editions of this event were organized without approval from the local authorities), this event is now famous in Seville and welcomes a lot of visitors.
During the fair, many activities, shows, concerts and conferences are organized, visitors can participate to group works, local and ecological food is proposed and craftspersons exhibit their works.

El Calabacino: an abandoned village then repopulated

When the first inhabitants arrived in 1985, El Calabacino was an abandoned village as many others in Spain and, more generally in Europe. Few decades before, a rural exodus occurred in this region, exacerbated by the loss of rural services (such as doctors and schools). The village had crumbled away and nature has reclaimed the area.

By rehabilitating the ruined houses and cleaning the former pathways, the new inhabitants of El Calabacino enabled to repopulate this area. The important number of families with children was also an opportunity to limit the decrease of public services: many children attend for example the public school in the nearest village Alájar.

When the first inhabitants arrived in El Calabacino, the relationships between the liberal community members and more conservative townspeople (who were former villagers that were now living closely in Alájar, 1 km away) were quite tense: the culture shock was indeed strong. Besides, it's likely that the former villagers felt jealousy when noticing that these new comers were able to invert the rural exodus which had been unsuccessfully fought few decades before.

Alajar, the nearest village

A need to defend a way of life

Until the 2000s, a majority of the ecovillagers wanted to keep El Calabacino anonymous: indeed, they wanted to keep unknown what they were considering as their paradise.
Later on, people have realized that it was important to show to the society that others ways of life exist, with better environmental and social impacts, so that people can continue to create alternatives to the current society.

In 2017, the need to make known this project was even bigger: the community indeed faced legal proceedings from the local administration. As the ecovillage is installed in a protected natural space, specific construction rules has to be followed by all the buildings, which is not the case.
Some of the houses' owners are accused of environmental and urban infractions and risk important fines, destruction of their houses and prison sentences in the worst cases.
The community is currently organizing its defence and lobbying so that the positive impact of this ecovillage can be taken into account, in the hope of changing the law related to this topic, so that other similar projects can be implemented in other parts of the region. A sociocratic circle "Resilience" has been created in the community in order to organize the means and skills available to defend the community.

Celebrate life and diversity through art

Art plays a very specific role in the ecovillage and many different means of artistic expression are represented in the community: singers, instrumentalists, actors, clowns, dancers...
A lot of inhabitants are also craftspersons and produce their own products (bracelets, pottery,...).

Several inhabitants hold weekly classes such as yoga, salsa, circus and music lessons for the community and many different music groups regularly meet and play music: thus, it's quite common to hear some music resonating in the valley during the evenings.

Besides, various festivals and celebrations are organized in the community. At the end of May, the community organizes its yearly festival. For some days, the ecovillage comes alive and everybody has the chance to express through arts: a joyful procession, in which all the community inhabitants actively participates, first crosses the village. Then, several events are organized. For instance, during the next 3 evenings, each village district (there are 3 different districts in El Calabacino) hosts a cabaret: the district inhabitants have to lead the cabaret and present several shows related to a chosen theme.
These events bring a lot of cohesion in the community and enable, by using arts, to strike down barriers between the inhabitants. Many community members agree that these celebrations were one of the main starting point of a general trend leading to more common projects in the community, such as the implementation of the sociocratic system.
Besides, this "district team work" enabled to generate a lot a complicity in each district, as all the district's inhabitants were creating a common history to share. These new relationships between the inhabitants have enabled the organization of common community works: the district inhabitants regularly meet a day per month in order to work together to repair a pathway for example and then share a meal.

Other celebrations are also organized in the ecovillage: the winter celebration, the Carnival...

Wealth through sharing and collaboration

There is a strong economy of collaboration in the village: the community members are used to help their neighbours for free, by just considering that the help provided to the neighbourhood will be given back when needed.

Several families have also decided to create a day-nursery in the community: before going to school, the children are alternatively looked after by different parents.

A bread oven has also been built by the community and is at the disposal of everybody: an ecovillager comes every Wednesday to make bread and distribute it to the community. Every Friday, pizzas are also made and proposed by another volunteer.

Bread Oven El Calabacino
The common bread oven of El Calabacino

Responsible production, consumption and trade

A local "convenience store" has been created in the community in order to buy collectively ecological products, to reduce the negative effects on the environment.
Some members can also propose to others their own production in this store.

Convenience Store El Calabacino
The local convenience store of El Calabacino

Embrace diversity and build community cohesion

El Calabacino follows a traditional village model, each family has their own house and garden and is really independent from the others. The inhabitants are used to define themselves as a "family of families" instead of a community.
The objectives of the ecovillage have not been approved and formalized but seem to be shared by all inhabitants: thus, the aims are to enjoy a life in harmony with nature, to facilitate personal development and to bring children up so that they can develop themselves as free individuals.
For many inhabitants, this absence of clear objectives is very positive as it gives no restrictions to the community directions: the community is free to evolve, in a very natural way, depending on the current circumstances. On the contrary, a consequence of this absence of community intentions is that the community evolves very slowly, which brings weariness for some inhabitants, more eager to quickly change the community habits.
Although the community is not gathered around concrete objectives, the past events have proved that all inhabitants can join forces so as to face unusual situations.

The communal spaces are: a soccer field, bakery (where a baker makes bread every Wednesday and another volunteer makes pizzas every Friday).
Community events are also organised on a weekly basis: that's the case with the Tetería, the teas time, where 2 persons serve pastries and chai tea on Wednesday afternoons. This event is very important for the community as it became a weekly meeting for the community members.

Participatory leadership and governance

When the first inhabitants repopulated the village, the common decisions were taken spontaneously or in informal assemblies.
In the 2000s, the number of ecovillagers was still increasing and the community had not settled any specific governance system that could enable people to take their decisions commonly: it led to a certain confusion in the community. The important decisions were normally taken by consent with all the community members: the needed time to discuss and take decisions were very long and was creating despondency.

From 2016, El Calabacino joined the local ecovillage network, the RIE (Red Ibérica de Ecoaldeas), and discovered sociocracy through this organisation. Several members of El Calabacino decided to follow trainings on this governance system, and more particularly a tool called S3 or Sociocracy 3.0, a practical and summarized guide to implement sociocracy in an organisation. For more information about how sociocracy works in general, click here.

More information

The sociocratic model has then been settled in the community and several circles have been created:
  • Circle Economy, responsible for the collective earnings and expenses
  • Circle Maintenance, which manages the maintenance of the pathways and the pipes
  • Circle Resilience, responsible for the protection of the community
  • Circle Parties, organizing the community celebrations
  • Circle Conflict facilitation, helping to solve neighbourhood conflicts through mediations

Each circle organises its regular meetings in order to manage the ordinary tasks.
All these circles are linked to the general circle, called in El Calabacino, the Matrix circle: 2 persons of each circle attend the Matrix meetings where all the work of the circle is reviewed and the main decisions are taken.

In the community, all decisions are taken by consent and many different inhabitants emphasize the fact that all objections are seen as a true gift made to the community, always enabling a better management of the ecovillage.

Conflict facilitation and communication skills

A sociocratic circle has been specifically created in order to manage the conflict facilitation in the ecovillage: with the help of this circle, all the community members have the opportunity to ask for mediation assistance.
A group of volunteers has been trained to conflict facilitation and is now able to offer mediation to any neighbour, as a way to solve conflicts through listening and dialogue.

When needed, a dialogue will be organized between 2 community members in disagreement in order to find a solution to the conflict, in the presence of 2 mediators.
To favour the conflict resolution, 4 main rules have to be respected by all the stakeholders:
  • everybody has to respect the other's turn to speak
  • everybody should speak respectfully and without any aggression
  • everybody agrees to make his best effort to find some resolution in the conflict
  • everything discussed during the conflict facilitation will be kept confidential so that everybody can feel comfortable

The "conflict facilitation" circle is also responsible to be attentive to any stress that could be experienced by a group of persons in the community, in order then to make propositions to the Matrix circle to appease this tension.

Holistic Education

The children education is one of the community objectives: more precisely, all community members make their contribution to the education of every children. All children are really free in the village, they can explore all parts of the village and are welcome in every house: they can therefore feed themselves from many different cultures.

There is no defined program to welcome visitors in the community.
However, some houses in the community can be rented for short stays: a research on the Internet should enable to find an opportunity.