A Healthy Alternative To the Fast Life in the City? On Lifestyle and Community-building in an Eco-village.
Updated on April 15th, 2023
February 28th 2022
This text was fully written by humans.
SUMMARY / KEY TAKEAWAYS
In the post-pandemic world, the job market has become even faster and mental health problems have become global.
In this article, we discuss a possible remedy — living in semi-independent eco-communities in the countryside, on the example of Grzybów, a small Christian eco-village in close proximity Warsaw, Poland.
We list the main activities run by the community, and introduce silhouettes of the founder, Ewa Smuk-Stratenwerth, as well as a few inhabitants of the village.
We also introduce the possibilities of getting actively involved in the community.
Table of Contents
- Looking For an Alternative To The Fast Big City Life.
- The Solitude of Remote Life.
- Community Is The Answer!
- The Modest Beginnings of the Christian Eco-village and the Ziarno Association.
- What The Co-habitat of Christian Eco-village and Ziarno Association Offers Today.
- Who Are The Ziarno's Inhabitants?
- Tomasz & Michalina.
- The Ziarno Community As of Today.
- Are You Willing To Participate in Building The New Eco-Economy?
Looking For an Alternative To The Fast Big City Life.
Fast life in the city and competitive careers in large organizations used to be synonyms of the American dream. You grind every day, sweat, and persevere, and in the end, you outlast everyone else no matter the personal cost – it used to be the path of the hero to the generation of our parents.
However, the new generations slowly taking over in the job market of today – Millennials and the Z-generation – think differently about professional success or career management. Today, a good work-life balance is a synonym for success, to the same extent as social status. In recent years, mental health and balanced life have come to the spotlight as factors for professional – and life success.
Millions of professionals switch jobs, looking for more purpose, more respect at the workplace, and more harmonious life, rather than chasing after higher paychecks or more prestigious positions.
Even more so; for many people these days, walking away from “traditional” career paths and lifestyle becomes plan A rather than plan B.
As described in the Paul Millerd’s best-selling book “The Pathless Path,” for millions of professionals, breaking out from the system and living independent life, taking risks and seeking fulfillment more than status or money, has become the synonym of professional success.
Today, most professionals declare a preference for a hybrid model of labor that allows for at least partially remote work, providing obviously good employee qualities. And, most employers adapted to the new reality.
Subsequently, we can observe a major movement of labor away from the city and towards the countryside, primarily in the US. Today, people seek not only more affordable real estate but also, more ecological, slow life in harmony with nature.
The Solitude of Remote Life.
Although the possibility to work online brought lots of personal freedom to white-collar professionals, it also generated a brand new difficulty. Namely, it increased both physical and mental distances between people.
Due to the algorithms used by Google, YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms, we get more and more content that suits our tastes. This makes us more and more radical in our opinions (as also described in our article “Online Mental Hygiene, Part 2: How To Stay Objective Online?“).
At the same time, we have fewer and fewer opportunities to confront our opinions with others face to face, to build close bonds in our daily lives and less motivation to go to work every day. There is only so much you can achieve via screen!
Community Is The Answer!
In this new situation, a new trend started slowly emerging. Namely, professionals of the new wave search not only for peacefulness, nature, and harmony but also for the community.
After over a hundred years of industrialization, globalization, and the growth of metropolises, the opposite trend of moving towards small, village-like communities that live and prosper together, has emerged.
In this article, we describe the story and inner workings behind one of such communities, the eco-village Grzybów, located 90 kilometres toward West-North from Warsaw, Poland.
The Modest Beginnings of the Christian Eco-village and the Ziarno Association.
The Ziarno community was established by Ewa Smuk-Startenwerth who grew up and used to live in Warsaw Central (to be specific, one of the busiest arteries of Warsaw Central, the Marszalkowska Avenue) before she moved to Grzybow.
She couldn’t imagine living in a village back then! Her family belonged to the middle class in a socialist Poland. They forgot about their roots and took pride in living in a city; living in a village would be a shame for them.
The other day, Ewa resigned from going on some fancy vacations with her parents and went hiking in the mountains instead. She bumped into local villagers who showed her their lifestyle. They even taught her a few skills, such as how to make a rope.
She was fascinated and she felt it was a different life. At that point, she was scared to take a punt and move out of the city, afraid of becoming an alien in the new place.
However, life put her to the test. At one moment in 1991, while working on setting up the first organic market in the city of Warsaw, she met Peter Startenwerth, a Swiss farmer who happened to have a little piece of land in Grzybow, a village nearby Warsaw.
They decided to move in together. Ewa was divorced and with four children at that point. They decided to move to Grzybow instead of staying in Warsaw as it sounded more logical and convenient.
Living in the village in the nineties was not easy — especially while having as many plans and ideas for the eco-village as Ewa did. The village mentality was very different from what it is now and dominated by apathy and reservations.
Namely, the locals didn’t want any rapid changes to their lives and to their surroundings. For worse, Ewa and Peter heard some gossip speculating about “the real motives” behind developing the farm. To sum up, the beginnings were hard.
However, Peter happened to have a very good way of coping with this apathetic reality. His empathetic, humble, and likeable personality made people around him and accept him as a local, even though he is a foreigner. And slowly, day after day, things started changing.
What The Co-habitat of Christian Eco-village and Ziarno Association Offers Today.
Now, thirty years later, Ziarno has grown into a vivid place hosting a multitude of activities.
1. Organic Farm.
The little yet diverse farm is the pride of Grzybów. From cattle, via herbs, to vegetables, the farm serves as a source of organic food for the community. This is the first certified ecological farm in Poland!
Technically speaking, the Ziarno community is not fully independent without importing products from the outside world. However, it can self-sustain itself by selling its products and services, and barter exchanges with the members of the local community.
The Ecological and Cultural Association Ziarno organizes a wide range of activities, from cultural events, through excursions for kids and families, to vocational training for adults. The Associated Country Ecological University offers semestral stationary courses in ecological farming for students.
3. Bakery and Cheesery.
The community produces the traditional Polish Hruby bread as well as cheese according to a Swiss recipe. Next to Grzybów, the products are available at the organic ecological market at the former Norblin Factory in central Warsaw, Poland, and in a number of small bakeries and shops around the country.
Who Are The Ziarno’s Inhabitants?
Interestingly, many of Ziarno’s volunteers and inhabitants are PhD students, former PhD students, and PhD graduates.
Dr Bernadeta Gołębiowska came to Grzybów from Warsaw where she had been studying Psychology and then Economics. Most of her work was dedicated to science back then.
However, for the whole 12 years spent in the capital, she had been dreaming about moving to the village, and in particular, an eco-village. She was looking for an eco-village in Poland, preferably close to her hometown. She found Grzybów online and decided to visit the place.
It wasn’t all that easy as it was during pandemics and lockdown — but she came nevertheless, and fell in love with the place. Grzybów turned out to be so much more than what she was looking for! It was not only a center building lots of projects around ecology, farming, and education but also the heart of the local community. It was a place from her dreams!
Today, Bernadeta works at Ziarno as a project coordinator. She is responsible for managing funds, and investments, and organizing courses and events. She is also involved with helping with the farm and bakery.
She enjoys her involvement in education at Grzybów as a coach. She always finds the motivation to work harder and harder as an educator.
The local school of ecological farming, the folk high school, introduced the policy of learning by doing and covered many important aspects of life. The teachers serve as mentors who accompany students in their journey toward organic farming rather than as examiners.
Dr Sebastian Wojtysiak is a professional elementary- and high school teacher and graduate with a PhD in Chemistry. He also came to Grzybów from Warsaw.
He got invited to visit the community in the middle of the lockdown, in March 2021, when he was exhausted as a teacher after the whole year spent almost solely on online teaching. He needed some change in career management. After arriving at Grzybów, he was most happy to see vivid, noisy children face-to-face again.
He initially had no plans to stay around, but he soon fell in love with this place. It was a brand new way of living to him — he felt like he was in a family, yet still, independent.
Sebastian felt synergistic with the place in the sense that the place could benefit from his skills, and he could benefit from the community at the same time. He still needed some time to think and he gave himself ten weeks to make the final decision on whether or not he should move to the village.
In the end, he decided to propose his involvement as a teacher. It soon turned out that he clicked with Ewa, the leader of the community, and they shared their vision of education.
Today, he provides education on farming for children and education on climate for adults, conducts vocational training in the community, handles excursions from schools, and takes many other tasks around the village on his plate.
What is both tiresome and exciting about the place, is that every day here is different and cannot be planned. There is no room for the typical, Western way of planning the agenda in a predictable way.
It is a form of a fluid organization in which almost nothing is planned, and people need to communicate their needs on the fly every day, yet things work — for 26 years now. So, one needs to stay flexible and keep in mind that things can change quickly. And sometimes, you’ve got to be the one who says: “OK, let me do this!”
Mathieu Delandmeter is a Belgian PhD candidate in Agroecology, studying at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech and Université de Liège who first came to Ziarno as a volunteer in 2018.
Back then, he got attracted by their ecological farming practices. It struck him how, despite quite a small organic farm, the farm can produce high-quality products by taking the advantage of the diversity and heterogeneity of the farm.
He then chose to return to the village in 2021, this time because of the nice, welcoming community. At Grzybów, people with many different backgrounds share values and beliefs, and the will to change society — not only from the ecological point of view but also because of the way they see education. Today, he is convinced that he will return to this place many times in the future.
Tomasz & Michalina.
Tomasz and Michalina Kaczmarek are a young married couple who prove that marrying family life on a farm with developing a professional career is possible.
They built a lovely little house on the soil that belongs to Peter, which doesn’t require official permissions in Poland for as long as the property is smaller than 37 square meters. Tomasz works remotely as a software developer from here with a strong work ethic and they raise a young daughter, Maria, together.
This story is a great example of trust in the community. Would you build a house on soil that belongs to someone else? Not many would dare to take such a step – yet Tomasz and Michalina did. And, they have lived here happily ever after, cultivating Christian traditions and surrounded by nature.
The Ziarno Community As of Today.
Today, Ziarno is the place where two worlds meet. The visitors from big cities come to get familiar with the farm life, while the locals have a chance to admire the beauty of the local landscape that they take for granted.
This encounter of rural and city culture gives really good results — although many visitors leave the village after learning how much work farm life can be!
Ziarno is a Christian community. Next to working, living, and eating together, the inhabitants of the eco-village also attend common prayers and reflect on the Bible together on Sunday afternoons.
The founder of the community, Ewa Smuk-Startenwerth presents a strong work ethic and admits, “I feel that I am not the main manager of this place. I just help out. As a believer, I can say that I consult with the boss every time. And it’s not that the boss gives me concrete answers… Sometimes, it takes a bit of time and we see that it was not a good solution, and try again.”
Especially after the Laudato Si encyclical by Pope Francis was released in 2015, young believers started visiting Ziarno more and more often. Some of them decided to occasionally visit the place, while others decided to stay.
Importantly, Ziarno is not a standalone place full of strangers, but rather, it is embedded in the local community and welcoming to anyone who is willing to join. The door is always open to the neighbors here, and there is always an extra plate on the table.
Although the most of the Ziarno’s inhabitants were raised in big cities, they respect the habits of the locals and are well accepted despite their initial reservations from 30 years ago. The locals work at Ziarno’s bakery, Ziarno organizes workshops and activities for the locals and helps out if there are any issues.
Are You Willing To Participate in Building The New Eco-Economy?
The mission of the community is not only to promote banter between different working cultures but also, to promote ecological life.
As Ewa Smuk-Startenwerth likes to say, “our era was called Anthropocene for a reason — as humans, we really change the environment at a fast pace! We need a new philosophy of life, a new economy. My motivation now is to share this message and to encourage people to be involved in our mission.”
Due to recent European grants for development, the staff of Ziarno can not only produce more ecological products but also launch new training programs and educate visitors and students on how to live more ecologically and how to run ecological farming.
The Ziarno community is open to volunteers from all around the world — especially those who would like to stay for longer and get actively involved in developing the eco-village further. You can complete there some next steps in your career management.
To learn more about the community, and especially the personal story of the community founder, Peter Startenwerth, please watch the documentary by Ramsey United.
Would you like to visit or support the eco-village Grzybów? Please find the contact information at www.grzybow.pl.
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Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2022, February 28th). A Healthy Alternative To the Fast Life in the City? On Lifestyle and Community-building in an Eco-village. Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/a-healthy-alternative-to-the-fast-life-in-the-city-on-lifestyle-and-community-building-in-an-eco-village/
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