Iris, 35 years old, and her partner Geoffrey, 32 years old, are participating in the construction of eco-hamlets in the department of Var. Fifteen households made the decision to live together in collaborative and ecological housing.
Iris, 35 years old, talks about her future neighborhood. She and her partner Geoffrey, 32 years old, decided to live in an eco-hamlet with their two year old daughter in Cannet-des-Maures, a village in the department of Var. The couple dreamed of an environmentally friendly home, however community involvement was just as important. Currently, all of the future residents are self-building together: they will create a common area, a workshop, a vegetable garden, and a laundry room. However in the meantime, they all live onsite in mobile-homes and trailers.
It started with Bernard and Nicole, a retired artist and a doctor, who wanted “a multi-generational place based on mutual assistance and solidarity, pooling together the skills and experience of each person.” They signed on the property owner of 2.5 acre plot of land. Twenty residents ranging from one to eighty-nine years old joined the project. Construction started in the summer of 2015. Their adventures are on the website l’éco-hameau du Bois de Brindille and on the Facebook page. They are currently seeking three more interested households …
Can you tell us about yourselves?
My name is Iris. I am 35 years old and an independent translator for TV5 Monde. I work from home, what is quite convenient. I am married to Geoffrey, who is about the same age as me. I am originally from the Netherlands, but I grew up near Cannes in the South of France with my parents. Geoffrey is from Belgium. We have a girl who will soon be two years old. I am pregnant with my second child.
Can you describe your living situation?
We live in Cannes-des-Maures, a town in the department of Var. In the summer of 2015, we began building an eco-hamlet, a collaborative and ecological residence with fifteen additional households. We have been living in an on-site mobile home since construction started. This is possible because of the beautiful weather in the South of France.
How did you come up with the idea of building an eco-hamlet?
We grew up in large European cities. We moved a lot. Everything was really ordered. At the end of the day, I took pleasure in thinking, " ah I was able to do everything I had planned today. ” The value of my day was measured by how much I was able to get done.
In 2011, we had the opportunity to travel to Australia for eight months, which was a total break from our former lifestyle. People tend to find comfort in routine. They tell themselves they are happy, that everything is ok, although in reality they are not really living their dream or how they would like to live. Breaking from routine forces you to ask yourself many questions. Freedom is a really important feeling when you travel. As are the people you meet: people who are leading different lives, and make you think “they have a great life.” For example, we met a Swiss family with five children who was travelling around the world in their little van. They designed the trip themselves and then wrote a book about it. And I thought to myself “in fact, it’s possible to do that!” When we returned from Australia, we started going back to the routine of our former life. Geoffrey and I realized that it would never really fulfill us.
What really decided it for me was when I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. I said to myself “we have to leave.” I could not picture my daughter growing up in an environment where the seasons did not change, where she could not be in nature. We decided to head to the South of France.
Moreover, I am very environmentally conscience. I am a vegetarian. Whenever possible I try to use locally produced products. We started looking for an eco-hamlet project we could join. We had a little bit of a hard time finding a community that fit us.
What is it like on the construction site today?
While some handle grocery shopping and cooking, others work on the construction site. It depends on the skills and expertise of each person. The roads and pipelines are finished. Soon we will start working on the landscaping. Things advance slowly. Communal living is not always easy. All decisions are made as a group and we do not all agree on certain things. Even more, the hierarchy in the hamlet is very horizontal. We chose not to have a leader in order to promote unity and equality in the group.
How do you balance work with the eco-hamlet ?
I telecommute from home. It provides me with more flexibility, because we are required to be present at the eco-hamlet at least part-time. The money I make telecommuting allows Geoffrey to stay really focused on construction. Even so, it is rather inconvenient. Television shows need to be aired at a precise time which often requires me to work at night.
How do you handle food?
We would like to become partially self-sustainable in terms of food. We have a project. I do not think we will be entirely self-sustainable, but we are going to put in a chicken coop, a vegetable patch and a garden.
What will you do for other food items?
There is an organic store nearby, five minutes by bike. We go there with our basket in hand. Moreover, we are invested in the circular economy. For example we work for a farmer in the area in exchange for vegetables.
In general we try to waste as little as possible. Ecce Terra, a cooperative restaurant in the village, organized a « gratiferia . » Each person brings an object they no longer need and in exchange is able to take other objects for free. People also give without taking, or take without giving. Exceptionally, I will go shopping if I need something in particular but in general I find what I need.
How do you get around?
We make all of our trips by foot or bicycle. The village is a kilometer away and it takes us ten minutes to get there. I go to the gym and do yoga there. The roads are not really adapted to bikes, unlike in the Netherlands. On the road I am scared of getting run over by a car and the Massif des Maures is hilly. It is difficult with my daughter. But if the infrastructure was better I would use my bike more often.
Do you ever leave the hamlet?
Geoffrey leaves very rarely. He will take a truck to look for construction materials in various places. We also have car. I take my daughter to daycare in town twice a week. I often drive there because it is hard for her to walk a kilometer. I also sometimes see my friend Pauline in Brignoles, thirty kilometers away, or other friends. We do not really like using the car but living in a commune with 1,500 habitants is isolating, especially since public transport is expensive and not very reliable. That being said, many of our friends already live in the eco-hamlet. We are a community. We share the same values.