Fairytale house "Undine" founder Ingus Zālītis has created an ecovillage

What do you know about ecovillages in Latvia?

Latvia already is one great eco-village – people often say. This is not entirely correct, knowledgeable people say. People are uniting in ecovillages consciously and purposefully, following a particular idea. Surely among the plans they have "eco" in various forms.

Just a few years ago the international project "Ecovillages for sustainable development" creators counted nine Latvian ecovillages, but today there are only two of them left. One of them is the widely praised Neimaņi family "Camphill Rožkalni" (created in 1999 in Vidzeme, Rencēnu parish), which caters for people with special needs. The second one, not yet as popular one is in Sēlija region (South-East Latvia) where the society “Ecovillage” is committed to create a "paradise for yourself" in 80ha of Sece parish.


A place to ‘dig’ up some good mood

Extensive property with some buildings in Jaunjelgava county, Seces parish has been named “Omrači” by the "Ecovillage" society (‘oma’ – mood; ‘rakt’ – to dig, ‘racēji’/’rači’ – diggers). One of the initiators of the society and its spiritual leader Ingus Zālītis explains that the name is not chosen accidentally. Sēļi (people of the Sēlija) are commonly giving names with such endings, and in life next to practical matters, which are ensured by gold-diggers, ground-diggers and others, one also need a good mood, and “Omrači” are taking care of the both.

So far there are not too many of them – permanently here lives only Ingus’ family of four people and a neighbor Rihards. Occasionally some collaborators and helpers arrive. The original intention with nine farmsteads has not fulfilled – not everyone is able to maintain a good mood and will to work in a place where you have to start from “zero”. “In fact, even from less than that, because six years ago here was a jungle,” adds the other pillar of the ecovillage idea, Ingus wife Andra Simanova.


From the "Undine" to "Ecovillage"

On our visiting day, Omrači are organizing a gathering in their handsome log house, the public building of the ecovillage, also called the “Center of crafts and local history”. Fire is on in the big room, smells of chocolate and quince - society girls are trying a new snacks recipe from the new harvest. In rows on the table there are jars and packets of the tea made from the plants picked up from the nearby meadows. The new generation sits by the window – each is creating something of clay. Cosy.

Ecovillages tend to have various forms of actions, explains Andra. Omrači came to the realization that the most suitable model for them is to exchange ideas and work together from several points in the region, trying out also something new. Like today, when in the great room a gathering is organized by friends, acquaintances and other creative people as well as people from like-minded societies. Sometimes they are loading the car with tea herbs, sauces, vegetables, and other raw materials and driving somewhere to tell and show everything that can be gathered and prepared.

One of the sites is the association "Undine" Fairy-tale house in Jūrmala (see www.undine.lv), where Ingus and Andra nurtured the ecovillage idea, while acting in the eko-society conditions. The land has been gifted by the Seņkāni family.

In summers “Ecovillage” organizes camps for children and adults, where all walk through the nearby meadows and study the wealth of plant world. For a knowledgeable one, meadow is both a repository of medicinal plants and the vegetable bed. It was a discovery for Andra that you can gather so many edible plants in wildlife, such as dandelion, nettle, piston, thistle etc. Therefore without doubt one of the Omrači paths of actions will be environmental education.


Fight with gray alder

Andra is a certified Baltic philologist, former Riga inhabitant. Live in Sece rather because of stubbornness – wanted to try to create something from the site, which is overgrown with gray alder, a mud ditch instead of the road and buildings – dilapidated. Gradually they started to slowly navigate the territory and understand where once the meadow was and where – forest. “There are a lot of difficulties, but also no shortage of benefits – clean air, water, animals,” states the ecovillages hostess.

Some time has passed to accustom to natural wealth. “How I was afraid at the beginning in the night, when swan was setting off, because I did not know that it happens with such a huge noise,” the horrors experienced in Omrači she now remembers with a smile. Before getting more familiar, part of the local villagers were calling ecovillage people sectarians.

Step by step Omrači have recaptured the road, several meadows and a patch for the garden from gray alder. They even discovered 1,5hectare quince field. Around 20-year-old plantation was overgrown with bushes, they cleared it a few years ago and quince has brought a good harvest this year. Now they just need to manage to cut and dry to mix with herbal teas and sell in the local shop in Aizkraukle.

As commonly in ecovillages, Omrači are growing vegetables for their own consumption themselves. “At harvest time we can provide with 50% of the necessary food,” Ingus proudly states. There is a shortage of time to weed the garden as for a family occupied with children, but it is acceptable by the principles of permaculture. There is no cattle, as they are not allowed to be fed on their organic pastures.


Not recruiting helpers

While confectionery experiments are taking place in the crafts house, in the recently cleared nearby house, volunteers are helping to cut quinces and clear up the old barn. “It has not been cleaned for a long time,” Arturs Auziņš sighs, for whom this is the first experience in ecovillages. He came here because he wanted to work in the countryside, to relax from the city stress. He has not been thinking about a permanent life in such an environment. “It is not bad here, but I am also interested in television and the Internet,” says the young man.

However, Anete Ozoliņa could imagine living in a rural environment – as long as material resources would allow for it. She came to Omrači to learn about the environment and to rest from the hustle and bustle of Riga. There are so many opportunities, she says enthusiastically, almost like in a paradise!

“Here you can try out rural life, people who do not have their grandmother in the countryside or the money to buy the land, or who are not yet ready for this step,” encourages Ingus. Ecovillage is welcoming new members, but with a prior arrangement.

“Initially, we were agitating to come here to live, but then realized that one needs to mature for that, one must have a very strong inner motivation; otherwise we have had cases when invited people are asking – but who will pay money to me there?” says Andra. She has chosen to live in Omrači to live in an unpolluted, not chemically treated environment. I would like to have more people around, but it is not their goal. “We do not waste time figuring out slogans to attract someone better – if it will be meant to happen, we will meet those people,” states Andra.


It is difficult to jump out of the comfort

Ingus is a permanent resident in the ecovillage since April. “Now I can call myself one of the best tractor drivers among cultural managers,” he is slightly ironic on the change of duties. Until now a director and cultural work manager, he was going to Sece rather to talk about ideas and theories. He was helping those who struggled to realise the ideas described in the books of one of Russia's ecovillage ‘fathers’ Vladimir Megre. When he saw the collapse of the original idea of the ecovillage “Zaķis un citi zvēri” not far away, he began to think that the writer's theories work well as long as the enthusiasts are sitting in the city in front of their computers and reading smart books. Once in the wild, the countryside, some doubts started to appear whether Megre himself has ever been in Siberia? “Although the Latvian reality is thousand times more delicate compared to Siberia, even then you often want to cry, but it makes no sense to do so, because it is of no help,” Ingus tells the harsh knowledge and adds that in this world there is something wrong with the human need for comfort – it is very hard to jump out from it.

Once ‘burned’ themselves a bit, Omrači have not lost idealism – it is still stated in the Articles of the Society that they want to develop a whole Latvia into an ecovillage, and, if possible, the whole world. “It's not megalomania,” hastens to explain Ingus Zālītis. He thinks that in Latvia the ecovillage idea is the most feasible because of relatively few people and a lot of wildlife, but for all humankind it is the most humanly option of existence. After all, Omrači in Sece has already managed to create a "paradise for themselves."


Images credit, written and translated by Ilze Pētersone, “Latvijas Avīze”, 28.10.2015 (see original by Ilze at www.la.lv/ekociemats-civilizacijas-glabins/)