It is a tricky issue to tackle.
If a group of people are ever lucky enough to have established an ecological garden or farm in which, environmentally speaking, all activities and processes are largely sustainable, how do you then approach the thorny subject of social sustainability?
By this, I mean, what is the social dynamic for the project? How are decisions made?
This is a subject that I have encountered in my research on low impact developments and community garden projects all over Wales and Bristol, and perhaps more than any other factor, it can be the downfall of a project. If people are unable to organise themselves in a way in which everyone can happily do their bit, the land will suffer.
It is a discussion I had recently with a fellow volunteer working on an organic farm in Extremadura, Spain. I was interested to know whether the project would have been more successful if it had a more permanent volunteer base, rather than the relatively high turnover rate that it had at that moment (each volunteer tended to stay for around a month). We concluded that although a more permanent volunteer base may at first seem more appropriate, this then brought into question the subject of community living and the problems that can arise with this.
Later that day, the same volunteer came and offered a new perspective. The farm was currently run by what my friend described as a ‘saintly dictator’. All the decisions were largely made and tasks delegated by Javier, the owner of the land, and whilst our voices and ideas were certainly heard in terms of what we might have had to suggest, we otherwise happily followed instruction.
People tend to stay well clear of any form of top-down governance in these situations, but maybe on a small scale such as this it is appropriate? Perhaps this can be put forward as a potential alternative to the general model of democracy and consensus-based decision-making taking place in most communities living off the land at the moment?