History"Storkollectiv": this word, meaning "large cohousing project" in Danish, is the title of the advertisement published in May 1977 in a Danish newspaper which marked the beginning of Svanholm community.
This advert, aiming at gathering people interested in a community project close to Copenhagen, has been particularly successful: 130 people came during the first information meeting.
One year later, the Svanholm estate (Svanholm is "the islet of swans" in Danish) was purchased by the founders of the project to create a farming community whose main objectives are ecology, self-sufficiency and shared governance. The estate, located only 55 kilometres from Copenhagen, includes a mansion and its annexes dating back to the 14th century and 415 hectares of farmland and forests.
A long renovation of the buildings has then been necessary to build the dwellings, the community living spaces and all other equipment to accommodate the whole community.
The Svanholm community, which is still characterized by an important farming activity, counts currently around 80 adults and 50 children.
One of the first objectives of the community of Svanholm was to limit its impact on the environment and, in particular, regarding food production. Further to the evolutions of the ecovillage and regular adjustments put in place by the inhabitants, the community has been able to significantly reduce its footprint: a study carried out in several Danish ecovillages in 2000 shows that the carbon emissions of Svanholm from heat and electricity production, transport, consumer goods and water use are 1.84 tonnes of CO2 per capita, only 30% of the average carbon footprint in Denmark (6.22 tonnes per capita).
Use of energy from renewable sourcesElectricity production is carried out locally using two industrial wind turbines installed in the 1980s on the ecovillage's fields: these wind turbines, whose investment costs have been made profitable for many years, are a very economic way to produce energy as the costs linked to the operation are now the only ones to be borne. Photovoltaic panels, mounted on several buildings in the community, enable to complete the production of electricity: the energy needs of the ecovillage are thus fully covered thanks to this equipment.
The heat is produced from the combustion of wood chips from the community's forest waste. This production is also supplemented by thermal solar panels installed on several roofs of the ecovillage: the heat is then brought to the various buildings of the ecovillage via a heating network provided for this purpose.
Food production from organic agricultureDenmark is one of the most agricultural countries in the world, with over 60% of its land area used for agriculture. At the end of the Second World War, traditional Danish agriculture very quickly transformed into intensive, highly specialized and industrialized agriculture, with a significant use of inputs (fertilizers and phytosanitary products).
In reaction to this movement, some Danes have gathered to try to build an alternative: this is the case of the Svanholm community which sets itself the objective of implementing agriculture that respects nature and the production of healthy food.
From its beginning, the community strived to implement environmentally friendly agricultural production methods and, in 1990, the farm became a pioneer in Denmark in terms of organic farming through its two main activities: milk production and market gardening. The community of Svanholm also has chickens, pigs, sheep and goats.
Market gardeningThe market gardening activity is carried out on large land close to the ecovillage, over an area of up to 20 hectares. Many vegetables are grown ecologically by a team of workers, helped by many volunteers.
In the 1980s, the community of Svanholm participated to create the national association for organic farming and partnerships were set up with a large group of supermarkets: Svanholm's production was then sold in many supermarkets, which made it possible to promote organic farming in Denmark and support its growth. Thanks to this impetus provided by Svanholm among others, the country is now a champion in terms of organic farming with around 7% of the total number of farms certified as organic.
In parallel with this market gardening activity, a packaging manufacturing plant was developed to store the fruits and vegetables that were sent to all the supermarkets. The packing factory made wooden crates and pallets from the trees of Svanholm.
In total, the market gardening activity and the packing plant provided an activity for about 15 people.
With the development across the country of organic farming, the partnership with the supermarket chain was stopped (as well as the packaging manufacturing plant): the market gardening activity was then reoriented towards supply of vegetables for great restaurants in and around Copenhagen. Twice a week, parcels are prepared with vegetables of over 80 different kinds and deliveries organized to Copenhagen: the famous restaurant Noma, with two Michelin stars and four times designated "best restaurant in the world", is one of the many Svanholm customers.
Vegetables are also used for community consumption: a team of cooks are employed by the ecovillage to prepare meals for the whole community throughout the week. This team, which also takes care of making the bread and churning the cream into butter), allows the best use of the community's food production, and the reduction of food waste.
In total, up to 80% of the products used in the communal kitchen are produced directly by the community.
Milk productionMilk production is another important activity in Svanholm: around 170 hectares of land are dedicated to the dairy cows.
120 cows, of Danish Jersey breed (a local adaptation of Jersey), allow the production, twice a day, of milk. This milk is mainly bought by the artisanal ice cream factory Hansen Fløde Is, well known in Denmark. Some restaurants in Copenhagen also buy it for their kitchens. Finally, the community uses this milk and transforms it into cream and butter for its own consumption.
In order to guarantee the organic production of milk, the herd is managed based on strict specifications. In addition, new methods of pasture management are put in place (called holistic management methods) and consist in imitating the natural grazing of large animal herds in the steppes: the grazing area of Svanholm is thus divided into small areas in which the cows will be kept for short periods. The result of holistic grazing is that the grass can grow longer than usually, before the cows eat it: the grass is more robust (which improves the quality of milk) and the soil is made more fertile.
Hedges will also be planted in 2021 in the fields to provide shelter from the wind for the cows and house for more biodiversity.
Other agricultural activitiesMany other crops are cultivated on the land of Svanholm: several fields of cereals and hemp are spread within the ecovillage. Rapeseed for production of oil is also cultivated.
A herd of 200 Lleyn sheep, a breed from Wales, are also raised in the community allowing the production of lamb and mutton.
In total, all agricultural activities, including breeding and forest management, brings activity for 15 people in the ecovillage.
Finally, several agricultural production activities are only carried out for the community consumption and are not managed professionally: these activities, too time-consuming in relation to the resulting production, would not be profitable for the community. It was therefore decided that the ecovillage members would take the responsibility of these activities on a voluntary basis, to be carried out on their free time.
This is the case with the production of chicken eggs, collection of berries, aromatic herbs, the orchard and the breeding of goats which are all activities carried out by volunteers.
Construction of sustainable buildingsWhen purchasing the property, many buildings were already present on the land: the mansion as well as many barns and storage buildings were already built.
The community had to work hard to renovate and rehabilitate these buildings: traditional construction methods were implemented. Environmentally friendly materials were also used: natural paints and lime coatings were used for example.
In the 2000s, in order to attract more young families to the community, it was decided to renovate an old pigsty into adjoining apartments.
Protection of biodiversity and regeneration ecosystemsThe community of Svanholm is committed to taking care of the biodiversity of its environment, as we have seen in several previous examples.
A forest garden has also been created by some members of the ecovillage: a forest garden is a nurturing garden built on the model of the natural forest. It includes the different levels of vegetation that we find in our natural forests with large trees (fruit trees or nuts), shrubs (small fruit trees or shrubby trees), bushes (producing berries or aromatics), fruit lianas (grapes...) and herbaceous plants (vegetables, aromatic, medicinal and others).
In 2016, an experiment of a way of life even closer to nature and more respectful of the biodiversity of the place was also started: a group of inhabitants thus decided to install two permacultural farms on the fields of the ecovillage, with an area of 1.5 hectares each. Long discussions were necessary with the municipality to obtain authorization to construct buildings on these agricultural lands. Now five families are settled with their children and rent the land to the community.
In the long term, six farms are planned on this 11-hectares site: these farms will integrate forest gardens or agroforestry projects, allowing families to become almost self-sufficient. The buildings will be very small in size and built with local resources (wood, straw, clay, etc).
The objective of this experiment is to show the feasibility of projects allowing a family to supply at least 75% of itself via its local production, without the use of fossil energy.
Promotion of public transportation systemsThe ecovillage centre is not open to cars: vehicles must therefore park in outdoor car parks and displacement in the ecovillage is mainly done by foot and by bike, which offers a peaceful and safe environment for children.
A car-sharing service has been created by the community: around twenty cars, both gasoline-fuelled and electric, are available to Svanholm's members. An online reservation platform has been developed to facilitate car reservations: each user pays according to the number of hours of use and the mileage travelled.
In addition, the usage price is reduced if the car is used to move to and from the workplace, so as not to penalize members of the community working outside the ecovillage.
Interested to visit the Svanholm community? Several options are available to you:
- a café and a shop are open every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm and offer several products from the community. During the summer months, they are open daily. More information can be found on the Facebook page of the community.
- guided tours (for DKK 120, approximately €16) are offered every Sunday at 11am from May to September. The one-and-a-half-hour tour will enable you to discover the history, the community life and the ecovillage activities. You will finish the tour with a coffee and Hansen ice cream, made with the Svanholm cows' milk.
- group visits can also be offered and must be booked by phone or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- you can live in Svanholm for several weeks as a volunteer and thus participate in community tasks up to 30 hours per week in one the 3 following teams: market gardening, building maintenance or kitchen. Around ten volunteers can be accommodated simultaneously in the community and are housed in a wing of the manor. For more information, see the volunteering page .