Whilst browsing one of my favourite blog writers Lucky Jimm I came across reference to a 25 year old community in Tuscany (Italy) in the Valle degli Elfi (Valley of Elves), where people live as we used to, helping each other, not reliant on external resources but sorting out what needs to be done and mucking in together. Furthermore the community is accessible only by forest tracks and there is no electricity.

Now I, in response to my aging and the weariness with which I approach my 50 hour working week (even though I predominantly enjoy what I do!) have long dreamed of living ‘off grid’ in something like a yurt or maybe a log cabin and tilling the soil and rearing chickens and pigs for meat. My paternal great grandfather Zaccheous (what a biblical name!) was a sheep farmer in South Wales, but left in the 1890s to seek his fortune in London.

This phenonmenon was repeated throughout the country (and ultimately throughout the Western world) as the Industrial Revolution promised to offer a better life in the cities. What happened instead is that people, instead of working in communities, worked in factories, owned by Industrialists, for six or seven days a week and became defined by what they did rather than having the broader range of skills that were necessary in an agrarian economy.

I will readily admit I don’t understand economics, but given recent events I’m not sure bankers or economists understand much more! What I do know is that now, we make very little as at first, imperialism and then globalisation sought cheaper and cheaper costs of production and moved to countries where labour costs were much lower (because they are primarily agrarian too). This ultimately, surely, is unsustainable as won’t we ultimately end up running out of sources of cheap labour? And is it right? Isn’t it just imperialism dressed up as global economics? And how good is it for the overall society of the country that loses these jobs? We can’t all work in service jobs, surely we have to make something and grow something. I despair to hear of communities  in the UK that once were miners, steelworkers, car makers where now three generations of families have never worked. Ever.

In the West, we grow less and less of the food that we eat and again I can’t fathom how sustainable this can be, so maybe the community in the Valle degli Elfi is a sort of model for the future and that industrialisation proves to be largely, in social terms, a failure. I know I want to live a life that is not wasteful of the world’s resources and supports local producers of both goods (where possible!) and food.

There’s not much in English about this community on the web, but there is this account from someone who visited it which I reproduce here.

“At Valle degli Elfi we could stay at the part that is called Aldaia. Around 15 people (small and big) live here in two houses, a wooden hut and a yurt.
Further more there is communal garden with vegetables, a shed for the cow, a hen house and a fenced area for the geese. All around are trees who at this time were dropping lots of walnuts and chestnuts.

In one of the houses there is daily a school for the smaller children (primary school) where in turns some of the adults of the Valle give classes. In the other house there is a kitchen/living room that functions as a social meeting space where lots of people gather to cook, eat, talk, play, read, make music etc…. Around lunch and diner time people come together to share a delicious cooked meal. Especially at diner time it is sometimes really crowded with happy and chaotic children, adults, cats and dogs running around (sometimes the geese, chickens and even cow Brigitte try to take part and sneak in….).

During our stay there were always other visitors around and since the moment we arrived we were welcomed as part of the family. It was sometimes difficult for me to really take part in conversations as the main language is Italian. Anyway I could help out in daily activities and in this way get to know the people, animals and area. The surroundings are amazingly beautiful: in the mountains, Forrest everywhere and almost no roads. Most settlements of the Valle are only reachable via little forest roads by foot. Most of the materials and foods are collected and grown locally or brought by wheelbarrow or carried by hand.”

I know that I would miss the Internet. And health care. And central heating. And my 3 hour commute to work (NOT!) 🙂