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.
Support of personal growthSvanholm, through its ideals, seeks to provide each of its inhabitants with a living environment where it is possible to develop while respecting the needs of others and the limits imposed by nature.
The place of children is essential in Svanholm: all children members of the community are integrated into the daily life of the collective.
Children who attend the ecovillage nursery and nursery school regularly have the opportunity to walk around the community to meet the adult members who live there and learn about their daily activities. The ecovillage, with its large natural areas and various farm production activities, is an ideal discovery ground for children.
Likewise, all adolescents are given the opportunity to participate in odd jobs for the ecovillage, so that they can see the tasks that adults have to do on a daily basis.
As indicated in the Social section, children also have a place in each community meeting: at the start of each monthly meeting, they can propose discussions on topics that concern them.
Respect of cultural traditionsSeveral traditions take place in Svanholm, during which the community can show its commitment to the protection of its lands and human relations.
For example, every year, the community celebrates Økodag: this day, celebrated in April all over Denmark, marks the first day of the year when the organic dairy cows come to pasture after a winter in the stables. It is a big day of celebration in Svanholm which attracts a lot of people: thousands of visitors are expected each year to see the cows "dancing" while leaving the stables, since they are so happy to find again the fresh grass at the end of winter. This is an opportunity for the collective to sell its production, to present its way of life and to promote a more united and ecological society.
The community also has traditions which are only reserved for its members, strengthening its unity. Each year, the collective celebrates the anniversary of its creation during a day of sharing between the community members: a brunch is served for all inhabitants and various activities are organized (games, hikes around the ecovillage...). The day traditionally ends with a pizza party, the pizzas being cooked in the outdoor wood-fired ovens provided for this purpose.
Many celebrations also take place at the foot of a centuries-old oak tree planted very close to the mansion: with its about thirty meters high, this oak has probably witnessed the construction of the mansion since the beginning. The community is used to meeting under its very imposing crown to celebrate key moments in the ecovillage: ceremonies for births, marriages and deaths of community members are regularly organized there.
Involvement to protect communities and natureThe Svanholm community strongly claims its ideals of nature protection, community life, sharing of wealth and shared governance.
The inhabitants feel responsible for sharing its values and experiences with the society in order to make it evolve. The many events proposed are a proof of its openness to others: several celebrations, such as the harvest festival or the Christmas party, are open to all, so that everybody can discover the way of life adopted by the community.
Some Svanholm members also participate in the local politics, or in social or environmental NGOs.
As indicated in the section Ecology, the Svanholm community assisted in the 1990s in the creation of the national association for organic agriculture and was the initiator of sales of organic vegetables in supermarkets, which allowed to develop organic agriculture in Denmark.
A partnership has also been set up with Kalø, the Danish organic agricultural college: many students join the working teams in Svanholm to work in the stables or in the market garden with several months' internships.
- https://www.kalo.dk/en/ (in English)
Reconnection with natureWith its 130 hectares of forests, Svanholm's inhabitants benefit from a close proximity to nature.
In order to be able to get closer to the wildlife, the community has installed several shelters in one of its forests, where everyone is free to come and spend the night. These shelters are quite common in Denmark: the country is covered by these rudimentary lodges. Spending a night in one of these shelters is the opportunity to approach the wildlife, to listen the animal calls and sometimes observe their silhouettes.
Outside the forests, the Svanholm domain is, as a whole, very natural: in the ecovillage centre, the buildings are surrounded with many trees and shrubs and the fauna is very well represented.
The main street of the ecovillage is an example: this walnut tree-lined street is the reflection of the very green and peaceful life frame of the community.
Even so, every night, very many owls are flying around the mansion: their shouts that resonate in the obscurity, reinforce the mystical framework of the place.
Guarantee of equitable ownership of land and resourcesIn 1978, the property was purchased collectively through a legal entity, so that there is no individual ownership in Svanholm and all land and buildings belong to the collective.
The community of Svanholm was created around a very strong idea in terms of solidarity between its members which was reflected, from its beginnings, through the sharing of resources between all inhabitants.
Today, the model has slightly evolved but remains very marked by an important solidarity between all.
Upon the arrival of a new member in the community, it is agreed that all his financial and real estate belongings are transferred to the community:
- the sum of money owned by the new member is fully transferred to the community: the community can thus justify to the banks a certain amount of own funds, allowing access to bank loans which are useful for the investments of the community. Conversely, a member arriving in the community may have his debts redeemed by the collective: if the person stays at least 15 years in the community, the debt is entirely erased and covered by the community.
- the real estate holdings of each inhabitant also go to the collective: all the inhabitants of Svanholm can then use to the shared properties, which allows everyone to have pied-à-terre or holiday homes in many places in Denmark and, more broadly, the world. However, each person officially remains the owner of the housing they bring to the community: they have priority when they want to go there and remain the decision-maker.
The monthly income of the members of the community is equally shared between all:
- members with a professional activity outside the community receive only 18% of their salaries. Employers pay salaries directly into the account of the community: the persons in charge of the ecovillage administration will then take care of the payment of income taxes and will proceed the payment into the resident's account of 18% of his salary. The rest will be kept by the community to allow its operation.
- pensioners similarly receive only 18% of their pensions, the rest going towards the payment of taxes and running costs of the community.
- finally, members working within the community receive compensation from the collective for the services provided.
This treatment of individual resources may seem particularly strict. However, it should be emphasized that the community provides all the services necessary for everyone's life: each inhabitant is allocated accommodation, can provide himself with free food in the community and enjoys a healthy and peaceful living environment. The money received by each community members (the 18% of income or work allowances) are therefore only pocket money.
In addition, this system remains flexible: the community can thus participate in the personal expenses of some inhabitants when they are too high: the children's education costs, the expenses related to personal projects (such as trips) or health costs may be covered by the community. In this case, the person concerned must present his need to the community, which will decide on the financing of this project.
Every year, several community members have also the opportunity to get a gap year, during which they will have the opportunity to follow a one-year training. The beneficiaries are chosen by a committee and all fees will be covered by the community.
Wealth creation through sharing and collaborationSeveral inhabitants of the ecovillage are directly employed by the community: they work in the community kitchen, in the maintenance of buildings and equipment, in administration or in production activities (market gardening or cow breeding). In total, about 30 people work in the ecovillage, the others having a professional activity outside.
Each of these employees is required to work 40 hours per week, which corresponds to the legal working time in Denmark. Working time arrangements can also be accepted by the community when they are justified by the beneficiaries.
These jobs granted by the community are a wealth for the ecovillage: they allow certain members of the collective to dedicate themselves entirely to the proper functioning of the ecovillage, which is no longer dependent on the amount of volunteer hours performed by the community members. Having employees in the kitchens, for example, make it possible to organize all the lunches and dinners of the week: these meals, prepared by a team of professionals largely using Svanholm products, are very practical for everyone. In addition to having incredibly good meals, the collective preparation of meals allows everyone to avoid spending time in the kitchen to cook for their own family. Everyone is then free to eat there or to bring their meal home to eat more quietly.
During the weekends, teams of volunteers prepare the meals: each inhabitant is in fact asked to participate in a meal preparation and two dishwashing services per month.
For people wishing to cook at home, it is also possible to bring the desired products: some fridges and a large grocery store containing all the necessary food are available to residents who can help themselves as they wish.
Support of local economiesThe community of Svanholm is committed to prioritizing local businesses.
The collaboration with the Hansen Fløde Is ice cream factory, whose factory is only 14 kilometres away, is one example: the milk from the Svanholm cows is collected daily by the Hansen company's milk truck: the milk is then processed in a traditional way in ice cream, allowing a reduced transport of milk to the production plant. These famous ice creams are sold all over Denmark.
The sending of vegetables grown in the community to restaurants in Copenhagen 55 kilometres away is also proof of the collective's involvement in supporting local economies.
Several companies are also established in Svanholm: this is for example the case of Play & Landscape which builds natural playgrounds, designed from wood. The workshop, located in the Svanholm ecovillage, allows the construction of unique games made from materials resistant to the Danish climate.
- https://hansens-is.dk/historier/fra-ko-til-is/ (in Danish)
Responsible production, consumption and tradeThe different means of production set up at Svanholm have already been detailed previously.
Much of the community's production is directly consumed on site. The rest of the production is either sold to local businesses or offered for sale to individuals.
A café is indeed open every weekend (and every day during the summer months) where you can enjoy homemade cakes and various drinks, as well as Hansen ice cream made with Svanholm milk.
Hot dishes are also offered for brunch, cooked with organic ingredients produced by the community.
The café also houses a shop in which many organic products from the ecovillage are sold: pieces of beef and lamb raised in the community, apple juice, rapeseed oil, rye bread, jams and honeys produced in Svanholm.
A farmer's shop is also permanently open: as in many places in Denmark, products are made available to visitors, who serve and pay by themselves for the products they take. You can find fresh seasonal vegetables, milk and eggs from the community.
An online shopping platform has also been set up for individuals and professionals to allow consumers to order products from the community. Baskets of seasonal vegetables are also available.
Respect of diversity and development of a community visionThe community of Svanholm has been built based on ecological ideals, sharing of resources, community living and collective and shared governance, in part inherited from the hippie movement of the 1960s.
Although common goals are shared by members of the ecovillage, there is no specifically defended political or spiritual base in Svanholm.
The community of Svanholm likes to define itself as a "state within the state": born out of dissatisfaction with the existing society and the desire to create an alternative, the collective has put in place its own rules, in accordance with its ideals: the community has its own wealth distribution agreements, its transition planning, its environmental, education and health policies...
An inclusion process to ensure the compatibility of newcomersIn order to maintain the community in the ideals in which it is committed, a long inclusion process of new members has been put in place. It makes it possible to select members who share these ideals, psychologically mature and capable of financially supporting the community.
Thus, after a first visit in the community, applicants are invited to send an email to the community to show their interest. For approximately 6 months, the applicants will be invited to join all the events that are important to the community, in order that everyone can get to know each other better.
At the end of this first step and if no opposition is raised for the inclusion of the applicants, a community member will contact the applicants in order to find logistical solutions so that they can settle in the community: a job search can be made, accommodation corresponding to the applicant's family structure will be found in the ecovillage and, if necessary, places in nurseries or schools will be requested.
This is also the moment when the financial and real estate belongings are recognized: they will be, as indicated in the Economy section, fully transferred to the community. A minimum of 50,000 DSK (6,700 euros) is requested and a loan can be offered to cover this amount.
When all the conditions for entering the community are removed, the person becomes a member of the community.
Guarantee of participatory leadership and shared governanceShared governance is a key element of the Svanholm collective: it allows everyone to be at the heart of the decision-making process and to influence the policies followed by all the ecovillage members.
A decision-making process based on consensusDecisions within the community are made during monthly meetings, which are open to everyone. No vote is taken during these meetings but negotiations are carried out in order to reach a consensus among all.
The community decided to use consensus for several reasons: indeed, it avoids submitting minorities to majority decisions as it can be the case with voting. Once the decision is made, it is therefore likely to be correctly applied as it is based on the full understanding of the issue and the total agreement of the group.
In addition, the consensus does not encourage the amplification of differences: the vote generally requires demarcating its position, sometimes forcing to seek more clear-cut ideas, while more consensual positions could be adopted.
In practice in Svanholm, taking decisions by consensus means that everyone must agree to a proposal for it to be approved: if a member is against a proposal, it is rejected and adaptations will be proposed according to the remarks and community objections, so that everyone can agree to the new proposal. When two parties are opposed over a decision, they are often asked to discuss together and propose a new solution: this process is particularly effective and it sometimes happens that the parties come back with a proposal completely different from the original idea.
When an important decision has to be made, the community forces itself to take the needed time to make the decision: a rule has thus been put in place in the community to ensure that an important decision for the collective cannot be taken on the same day of its presentation. The decision must be taken at the earliest during the meeting following its presentation, thus giving everyone time for reflection.
Before each meeting, an agenda is drawn up from the proposals of each member: the subjects are then discussed among all during the meeting.
The meeting always begins with a time dedicated to children: the children who are members of the community then have the opportunity to express, by themselves or through the voice of their parents, their ideas or needs, which can lead to a decision from the community.
Equal access to holistic education and healthcareAs indicated in the Economy section, health costs are covered by the community when justified (when these costs are not covered by the Danish social protection system).
An acupuncturist doctor is also present in the community to treat members of the collective and provide the medical expertise necessary to define internal health policies for the ecovillage.
Shortly after the creation of the community, and to allow parents to be freed up to work, a nursery/kindergarten internal to the community was created. A few years later, the nursery/kindergarten was taken over by the state, allowing it to be opened to children outside the ecovillage and its public funding.
The establishment accommodates around thirty children, ten in nursery and the rest in nursery school. The children are, without distinction, inhabitants of Svanholm or children of the surroundings. Seven people are currently working here.
The property enjoys great proximity to the forest, meadows and the community of Svanholm where many agricultural activities are present, providing many learning opportunities for children.
Strong traditions have been put in place throughout the year, making it possible to culturally anchor the children in their own community. For example, a farewell party is organized at the end of each school year: to mark the departure of future schoolchildren, a big party is organized during which parents are invited. Many games are proposed and cakes and fruits collected by the children are shared. Finally, under the encouragement and songs of their comrades, the future schoolchildren are carried in the "king's chair" by the adults then thrown over the garden door in the arms of their parents who retrieve them, symbolically marking the passage to primary school.
Development of fair, effective and accountable institutionsThe establishment of an administration in which several members of the community work makes it possible to better manage the needs of the collective.
Community members can therefore delegate administrative tasks to people for whom it is the mission, which makes management more efficient.
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 mansion. For more information, see the volunteering page .