I am based in Poland, in a rural area and community which created the initiative called Kooperatywa Izerska (website: http://kooperatywaizerska.org/), but at the same time I’m doing a Phd in alternative management, with permaculture management. I’m close to my field of study, which is the dispersed community living in a rural area in Poland. It’s rather a case study than a general theory on how to introduce the people to rural areas.
In this area there is a lot of new immigration from the cities - from Warsaw, Wroclaw, and from different countries, not only from Poland, because the land for the past years was quite cheap to buy. There was this fashion/trend to have an old stylish house in the rural areas. It goes also with the food sovereignty movement and trying to keep the quality of food in this area, and preserving the traditional ways of cultivating the land and keeping the seeds, creating a food bank for them.
Even though it’s called a cooperative, the community has very diverse activities, also cultural ones.
The group is very fluent, it depends what the initiator of the activity is: for example - someone working with seeds gets help with harvesting by other people. We have maybe 10 active people who initiate activities like this, managing the cooperative to not lose the contact with farmers…
In the session about bringing back human potential to rural areas, there was one question about how do you convince people about the rural alternative.
I can say how ‘I convinced’ - you cannot do much, there is a mix of factors which attracts people. In this case, in my region, a lot of base work was made by cultural organisations, the first ones which landed here, and even after the collapse of communism 30 years ago. They were looking for an alternative to the official culture, and they found an old railway station and were stubborn to renovate it. They also created the Laboratory of Social Eco Village, very small in the beginning and very unwelcome by the local community. Then slowly, by organising bigger festivals, by making living in the village trendy, they showed different ways of understanding the village. They attracted a lot of artists that are currently living here, and people who would go to the festival as volunteers, and were the kind of escapists looking for a meaning in living. This gave a nice vision of the future, to have a community nearby.
I am also part of the researchers of this organisation: they have a lot of declarations of ecostyle, but it’s more hippie culture, not ecological in a strict sense. As they started to attract people, there was a snowball effect, and a lot of people interested in the ecological movement were looking for land, so now it’s a mix. We organised two local sovereignty forums which were dedicated to making a lively community around seeds, and local farmers - there aren’t a lot of them left in the countryside.
What attracts people is an already settled group and a good marketing of this group: if you come, you don’t have to feel like a total outsider, with a lot of gossip around them as new settlers. We still have a cliche idea about new settlers, that are not part of the ethos. Before, it was Germany, and after the II world war there was a complete replacement of the existing population with newcomers from very different parts of Poland, as well as from the present-day areas of Ukraine and Belarus, which had previously been Polish and had a largely traditional Polish population. This resulted in the loss of the local identity to a large extent, the circumstances required to find oneself in a difficult climate, completely different from the previous one. So this place is absorbent like a sponge when it comes to new cultural trends.
Summing up, it’s a particular case, but I think it is important to have the leader group (not a person) that is updated with the local law; and permaculture which is gaining popularity are important. We also have good local government here. The person who landed in the hippie festival is now a mayor of the town. It’s like a happy ending, he’s organising open circle forums and attracting new settlers to do something active here, by facilitating cooperation with local institutions…