San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘Intentional Community’ Offers Safe Haven

PURISCAL – For some people, thenew community planned for these hills isabout forest reconstruction; for some it’sabout creating refuge when “peak oil” hitsand destroys the world as we know it; andfor others it’s just about finding a peacefulplace to live.With its own currency, a governmentinspired by North American Plains Indians,electricity production and sustainable agriculture,the community is more than thelatest suburban development. Communemight be a more appropriate word.Founder Roy Lent calls it an “intentionalcommunity.”“Most communities just happen,” hesaid, but not this. “Every move is coollycalculated… for sustainability and self sufficiency.”TODAY, the rough terrain outside themountain town of Puriscal, southwest ofSan José, stands as a blank slate for thisdream. It is reached by a steep, bumpy road,impassable by cars when it rains.Pastureland covers most of the 105 hectares,home to a herd of cattle that grazes amongthe streams, and a handful of ancient treesthat have escaped being chopped down.Few humans are afforded the stunning view,which on clear days reaches the Pacific.But if things go according to plan, justover a hundred families will soon call thesehills home. The community will includeexpected facilities such as a school, stores, alibrary and a bank, but it will be unlike anyhome its residents have ever known before.Lent and fellow founder Ivar Zapphope to begin construction of the developmentwithin months.WITH no religious or dietary regulations,Gaiasana, as the community will beknown (Gaia for the ancient Greek goddessof earth and sana for “health” in Spanish),will be unlike the typical commune, or similarprojects already existing in Italy,Scotland and India. The community is simplyabout sustainable living with a focus onphysical and mental health and reconstructionof the native forest, Lent explained.A $75,000 investment will buy a 100-year renewable lease of a 1,000-squaremeterlot, a $30,000 home (people canbuild more), and an equal share in the companythat owns the land, the agriculturaloperation, the utilities and the commercialoperation of the whole community.Of the 105 hectares, 10% will be residential,40% will be for farming, utilitiesand a commercial center, and 50% will bededicated to the community’s raisond’être: forest reconstruction.The idea of Gaiasana was preceded bya desire to reconstruct – not to be confusedwith reforest – the native forest strippedbare by cattle ranching.“They are healing the earth that is poisonedwith chemicals and herbicides,” saidRigoberto Campos, who now owns theproperty.Campos continues to raise cattle on theland, but understands it is an unsustainablepractice and longs to change the destiny ofhis family’s land.Forty years ago, more than 50 families,including the Camposes, lived on this land,growing beans, corn and other crops. Coffeeand tobacco later overtook the terrain, neitherof which could compete with productsfrom other national and international locationswhere production was cheaper.Most farmers have abandoned the hills,leaving the land to a handful of cattleranchers like Campos.Zapp and Lent seek to return the land toits natural forested state – not just reforestationwith random trees, but a methodicalprocess that will take at least 200 years.They did not have the funds to buy the entireproperty, so they came up with the idea ofGaiasana in order to fund the forest, live in itand protect it from future destruction.THE community has already drawninterest from people in the United Statesand Costa Rica, but the founders expectresidents to come from all over the globe.“A lot of people are worried about climaxingoil,” Lent said. “In that case thingsare going to go out of control fast, so theywant to be in a sustainable community,where if things do go out of control, theycan survive and still be comfortable.”Climaxing oil, or peak oil as it is betterknown, is a point at which oil cannot beextracted as fast as it is being consumed.Some people say the world reached thispoint years ago; others say it will in thenear future. Either way, the repercussionscould be devastating, according to Lent.Insufficient oil could mean the collapseof currencies, health systems, pension systems,tourism, the plastics industry, and theway of the world as it is known, explainedSteve Friedman and Paula Kat-Friedman,former owners of Genesis II Cloud ForestPreserve and Wildlife Refuge, south of SanJosé. They’re interested in living in Gaiasana.“It is going to happen in our lifetimes,and the more we get ready for it, the better,because it is going to be very difficult,”Kat-Friedman said.“If you wait until the last moment, everybodyis going to be looking for resources,”Friedman added. “There are conspiracy (theories)where we think the authorities arekeeping the true seriousness of the situationfrom the population… because everyone willpanic. We intend to insulate ourselves.”ALTHOUGH Gaiasana will beplugged into Costa Rica’s electricity grid,any collapses would have a minimalimpact on the quality of life within thecommunity because self-sufficiency willbe possible in food and energy production.“Our whole concept here is cyclic agriculturewhere there is no real waste material,because any material that is consideredwaste is raw material for another step inthe cycle,” Lent said.Human, animal and agricultural wastewill be cycled through a biodigestor toproduce energy and fertilizer for the community’sfarm, and animals will be fedonly food produced on the farm, explainedLent, a botanist.Furthermore, currency devaluations,as feared under peak oil, will not bringruin because Gaiasana will have its owncurrency, the universal value unit (uvu),based on an eight-hour day of labor in thecommunity, Lent explained. However,members will not be forced to work andcan sustain themselves on pre-existingcapital or work outside Gaiasana.“WE are trying to come up with thesmallest amount of rules, because we don’twant to plan the lives of future members; itwill be up to them to create the communitythey want,” Zapp said.These decisions will be made through agovernment of consensus voting. If the communitycannot make a decision through consensus,a vote is taken. Each family, or stockholder,is given one vote. When a decision ismade through a vote, the issue is voted onagain every year until consensus is reached.“The idea is that if something isn’tworking, it will be rejected, through consensus,after a year of people seeing itdoesn’t work. If it is working, it will beaccepted, through consensus,” Lent said.This type of government is borrowedfrom the Plains Indians, Zapp said.“Every law the (indigenous) communityagrees to only lasts four years. Afterthat, they figure the new generation hassomething to say,” he said.WHILE Gaiasana will be based onself-sufficiency, sustainability, and providingstability in the face of a world collapse,should that collapse not occur, Lent andZapp hope the area’s forest will become adestination for both tourists and scientistsstudying its reconstruction.“If (peak oil) doesn’t happen, what’sthe worst thing? We will be living in abeautiful place,” Friedman agreed.For more information, contact RoyLent at 228-9733.

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