Sunny Hill Association

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Društvo Sončni grič
Logo-sg2.png
PredecessorSustainability Park Istra Institute
FormationJanuary 3, 2017; 4 years ago (2017-01-03)
FoundersManja Vrenko, Nara Petrovič; Maks Pipan
Founded atHrvoji, Slovenia
TypeNGO
Legal statusAssociation
PurposeEco-community
HeadquartersTopolovec 29
Location
  • 6272 Gračišče, Slovenia
Coordinates45.4623936,13.8165313
Region served
Slovenia, Europe
Official languages
Slovenian, English
President
Nara Petrovič
Secretary
Manja Vrenko
Main organ
Assembly
Websitehttps://sunnyhills-istria.eu/
From the top of the hill, the view extends to all sides.

Sunny Hill is an eco-community in Slovenia, based on permaculture and ecovillage principles. While the community has a strong local focus, it is also well connected regionally, nationally and internationally. Areas of activity since the start in 2014 are community building, local development, eco-construction, organic farming, land and water management, education, hosting events and facilitation.

Overview

Sunny Hill is a small eco-community in Slovenian Istria, consisting of 10-12 people. It is situated in the hamlet Hrvoji right at the border with Croatia, some 30-minute drive from the municipal capital Koper. Remoteness influences the character of the community and interactions with both locals and visitors. Sunny Hill is well connected with the local community and it occasionally engages in projects with them.

At the location of the community, pioneering eco-solutions are applied in daily life: rainwater use, water recycling, composting, dry compost-toilets, urine use for fertilisation, regenerative grazing, local food production for self-sufficiency. In the renovated community house, more than twenty eco-construction practices are showcased.

Diverse projects and events bring hundreds of visitors and guests annually. There are international events such as meetings of EU project teams, youth exchanges and workshops, and smaller events, such as hosting NGO annual gatherings, permaculture and transition seminars, team-buildings, community workshops etc.

Sunny Hill is a member of ECOLISE, GEN and Plan B for Slovenia network. It had a strong involvement in shaping the model of community incubation, called CLIPS (Community Learning Incubator Programme for Sustainability).

Purpose of Sunny Hill Association

Sunny Hill showcases sustainability in practice, luxurious simplicity, and community living while working towards revitalising a remote rural area of Slovenian Istria. Sunny Hill exchanges knowledge, sustainable innovations and best practices with similar organisations in Slovenia and abroad. Sunny Hill explores combining modern and traditional solutions for social and environmental challenges.

History of Sunny Hill Association

The origins of Sunny Hill go back to 2012. At that time, the founders lived 25 km away near the village of Pomjan at the community initiative called Naravice. That venue was less appropriate for further growth so they looked for a better location. The exploration brought them to the villages of Močunigi and Hrvoji. In 2013 they organised a series of events with a group of people interested in creating an ecovillage. In 2013, the core team of seven people made the first vision and plan and in May 2014 they came to the current location of the community.

Renovating the community house in 2014.

In the second half of 2014, they started renovating the former rectory that they bought from the Slovenian Catholic Church. Hundreds of international volunteers supported the pioneering steps of the community in that year and in 2015. They learned how to organise on an ecovillage tour they made in 2013, when they visited Schloss Tempelhof, Schloss Glarisegg and Damanhur.

The lessons learned led them to decised to have two legal entities: a cooperative (initially called Močunigi Cooperative) to own the real estate and an association (initially Sustainability Park Istra) to do activities and host events. Both organisations were founded at the beginning of 2014 by six founding members.

Močunigi is the name of a hamlet where ecovillage was supposed to start, but due to legal complexities the Cooperative was unable to pursue the hamlet and instead remained in the hamlet where it started, called Hrvoji.

In 2014, the Cooperative cleaned and started renovating a former rectory next to a small church. The intention was to lease it, but the church preferred selling it so the Cooperative bought the house and renovated it over the next two years. The investment was covered with 20,000 EUR of individual shares of 6 cooperative members (120,000 EUR in total), 50,000 EUR of voluntary shares, almost 30,000 EUR of donations and thousands of hours of voluntary work. The community building was renovated with the support of a few companies and donors, but mostly with private funds of the founders.

The community hosted the first events in the unfinished house, such as the annual meeting of Umanotera Foundation in 2015, GEN National Network gathering in 2016 and 2019, a Slovenian Social Entrepreneurs' gathering, two Slovenian Ecovillage days etc.

In 2016, tensions forced the founding members to split their pathways. As two of the founding members left the community, the cooperative remained with the real estate, while the members who left inherited the Park Istra Institute and the entire Park Istra brand. They continued their work in a newly established charity volunteer center at the former barracks in the village Kastelec.

The new association, called Sunny Hills Association was established in January 2017. The cooperative changed the name and statues in March 2018, going from Močunigi Cooperative to Sunny Hills of Istria Cooperative to bring both of the names closer.

The remaining four founding members inherited memberships in the abovementioned international organisations. They continued with what Sustainability Park Istra Institute had been doing between 2014 and 2016. They added more ecological farming, buying and renting additional real estate, further connections with permaculture and ecovillage movements as well as with ECOLISE network. In 2018, another of the founding members left while the three remaining cooperative members kept the community running.

Narrative of change

Read more about the concept of narrative of change

Scope of Sunny Hill Association

Sunny Hill consists of three overlapping entities:

  • Sunny Hill Association
  • Sunny Hills of Istria Cooperative
  • Sunny Hill community

Each of these entities plays specific roles to support the community, its members, partners and affiliates.

Community

Community members and guests at open days.

Visitors' first experience of Sunny Hill is usually through the community. In essence, that's the organisation of everyday life in the house and on the land. The core of the community are the Cooperative members, then come longer term inhabitants and finally shorter-term guests, visitors, volunteers etc. Newcomers are quickly integrated with daily routines and activities. The number of people varies a lot through the year, but rarely drops below 8 or exceeds 15. In 2020, the average occupancy was 11 people; the minimum was 4 and the maximum 22. (The Cooperative keeps the log of presence.)

The 300 m2 of house space in two houses consists of shared rooms such as kitchen, bathroom, toilets, storage, toolshed, heating room, community room and attic. One room with three bunk-beds is for volunteers and short-term guests. Three rooms, with two to three beds each, are for longer-term visitors (mostly approaching members and volunteers), and one tiny room is for a single person. Two rooms are private rooms of cooperative members. An apartment is commercially rented and provides some income to the Cooperative.

The daily routine revolves around meals and the weekly routine around community meetings, which take place once a week. Community members rotate in making lunch and dinner and doing the dishes, while members take care individually of their own breakfast in the shared kitchen.

Daily activities depend on the season and entail work in the garden and fields, taking care of goats, preparing wood for heating, house maintenance, eco-construction, clearing farmland from bushes, work for projects etc. Members of Sunny Hill are well networked with other projects in the region of Slovenian Istria and they volunteer with them for the exchange of fruits, vegetables, olive oil and other produce. An additional resource is foraging for wild edible plants, herbs, fruits, chestnuts, rosehip berries, mushrooms...

Cooperative members manage administrative tasks for both legal entities, the Cooperative and the Association, and have full or part-time jobs for personal income. They contribute to the community in the remaining time, take care of provisions, house maintenance, renovations, investments, garden planning.

House rules outline what's expected of inhabitants. Alongside some standard rules, such as night silence and cleanliness, house rules call for ecological awareness: saving water, electricity and heat, separating waste and proper use of compost toilets. There are additional rules for the maintenance of machines and tools.

Cooperative

The community house and garden.

The Cooperative owns and leases real estate (land and houses) and manages it. In 2020, the cooperative owned two houses, which it renovated in 2016, and a ruin that is to be renovated by 2022.

In 2020, the Cooperative had around 3 ha of land leased, most of it from Farmland and Forest Fund of the Republic of Slovenia, some from the Slovenian Catholic Church and a few plots from the neighbours.

The Sunny Hills of Istria Cooperative was established in January 2014 as Cooperative Močunigi, but it changed the name and statues in March 2018. Močunigi is the name of a hamlet where ecovillage was to start, but due to legal complexities, the Cooperative was unable to pursue the hamlet and instead remained in the hamlet where it started, called Hrvoji.

In 2014, the Cooperative cleaned and started renovating a former rectory next to a small church. The intention was to lease it, but the church prefered selling it so the Cooperative bought the house and renovated it over the next two years. The investment was covered with 20,000 EUR individual shares of 6 cooperative members (120,000 EUR in total), 50,000 EUR of voluntary shares, almost 30,000 EUR of donations and thousands of hours of voluntary work.

Members of the Cooperative pay no rent for 12 m2 of personal space (a room) and lower rent for additional space, as outlined in the cooperative price list. Approaching members go through a one-year trial period and can choose between staying approaching members with some benefits or becoming full members with full benefits, for which they have to be confirmed by the General Assembly of existing members and pay a 15,000 EUR share.

Planting tomato seedlings in the late spring.

All the farmland that the cooperative uses was rented from the church, the government and the neighbours. In the first year, 1/4 ha of a garden provided some vegetables and was used for a fresh cherry orchard. Over the years the land expanded to 2.5 ha with more vegetables and by 2021, over 160 new fruit trees. In addition to this, cleaning the densely overgrown areas around the house lead to saving more than 30 mature plum trees, two fig trees and some vines. In 2020, an old vineyard with over 200 vines (4 different sorts) was cleaned of bushes with the intention to reestablish grape production for food and potentially to make wine.

The Cooperative earns money to maintain its property and invest in new real estate by collecting rents from guests and visitors. In the summer, one room and a small apartment are rented through Booking and AirBnB.

Association

Sunny Hill Association runs projects, networks with other organisations in Slovenia and abroad, formally hosts volunteers and organises events. In 2020, the Association had 2 employees and 6 other members, active as volunteers.

Sunny Hill Association is a member of ECOLISE, GEN, Plan B for Slovenia and Local Action Group LAS Istre.

Membership

The most committed members are full members of the Cooperative and the Assocation.

The membership share in the Cooperative is 15,000 EUR and it gives members certain rights and privileges but entails duties and commitments too. Financial input is not the only condition for membership. Aspiring members need to undergo a one-year trial period and be confirmed by the General Assembly.

Aspiring members have to undergo a three month period to get their status. The status brings them discounts in rents and decision-making power in their domain (work-group or role). This type of membership is not time-bound and accommodated those who don't want to fully commit.

Cooperative and community members are expected to become members of the Association, but that is not strictly enforced.

Membership in the community is informal. The community consists of the core of Cooperative members and the varying number of other inhabitants who can be volunteers, friends, family members, long-term tenants, short-term tenants and tourists. Even the people who come for a short visit become part of community activities.

Iniatives in numbers

Some quantitative facts about the community (in 2020):

  • 7 years of existence
  • 300m2 of built space (and 170m2 more to come in the new house)
  • 1.5 ha of farmland
  • 90% self-sufficiency with vegetables (except potatoes)
  • 80% self-sufficiency with fruits
  • 300,000€ is the value of built real-estate
  • +200 fruit trees
  • +20 events each year

Locations

The community is located at the top of a hill in the hamlet called Hrvoji in the heart of Slovenian Istria, a few hundred metres from the Croatian border. The climate is mild, Mediterranean, despite the altitude of 450 m. 70 years ago, there was hardly any forest in Istria, but soon after the II WW the peninsula saw high emigration to Trieste, Ljubljana and other cities. Since the 1950s the area covered in forests grew from 20% to 60%. Today Istria is one of the most forested Slovenian regions, and thus very appealing to environmentally conscious groups.

There is an interesting mix of continental growth on Northern slopes of hills, versus Mediterranean growth on southern slopes. This diversity is ideal for exploring permaculture solutions in a rich natural environment. The aim of Sunny Hill community is to rely on climatic diversity learning traditional practices and skills as well as modern ecological approaches.

Through interactions and exchanges with other groups, families and individuals, Sunny Hill is active across Slovenian' Istria's hinterland, nurturing best connections with Eco-camp Supot in Koštabona, some eco-farmers from Soil and Sea Cooperative and some small nearby local farmers.

Links to key examples

Numbers of people involved, and indirect beneficiaries

Impacts of Sunny Hill Association

Renovating a wall using the dry-stone technique..

At Sunny Hill, many sustainable practices can be experienced:

  • organic farming for self-sufficiency
  • smart water use
  • dry compost toilets
  • preservation of the architectural heritage of the dry-stone building
  • eco-construction with natural materials
  • educational programmes
  • shared use of resources and economy
  • economic heating system
  • producing and using biochar
  • involvement in the local community
  • networking on municipal, regional, national and EU level

All these practices come together in a living community model based on values of luxurious simplicity, community,

Ecological impacts

Household water consumption at Sunny Hill, is 20-25% (35-30l) of the national average (150l per person per day).

This is mostly due to dry compost toilets and economical water usage. Approximately 80% of the water used in the household is rainwater, collected from roofs and stored in an underground reservoir.

Wood is gasified at 600-700°C with low/no oxygen. The controlled burning of gases with added air takes place in a compartment below at 900°C. The heat is stored at the hot water storage tank. At the beginning of the chimney the heat never exceeds 160°C.

Wastewater from kitchens and bathrooms is cleansed in reed-beds and collected again in a reservoir to be used for watering the garden. So the household water is used twice.

To avoid harmful chemicals polluting the soil, only organic products are allowed for doing the dishes, laundry and personal hygiene.

Compost toilets collect all the faecal matter in buckets and urine in canisters. The faecal matter undergoes a process of hot composting and is used as fertiliser after 1.5 to 2 years of composting.

The urine is used directly as fertiliser with certain vegetables. We use some of it to activate biochar and spill some around the edges of the garden to repel animals.

Gasification boiler is used for heating with locally sourced wood. With appropriately dry wood the boiler reaches +90% efficiency and has very low emissions. Hot water is stored in a 1650l storage tank that has two spirals. One spiral brings additional heat from the secondary heating system with solar collectors. The other spiral heats the water for household use: the kitchen, showers etc.

In the summer kitchen and shower, the water is heated up by passing through a coiled black hose.

Eco-construction entails renovating old dry-stone built houses, avoiding cement, instead of using wood, clay, lime, natural paints etc.

Social impacts

Living closely together as a compact community calls for good organisation and communication.

Everyone present in the community premisses, including guests, has lunch and dinner together every day. Work is shared among the members and volunteers on a weekly basis. Depending on who is present, there can be morning yoga, hikes, concerts, festivals, movie screenings, musical evenings, games and other lay activities.

Rich exchanges create a healthy social environment. This does require learning new social skills to be able to integrate into the community.

Economic impacts

Living together means having less individual space and more common space. Voluntary simplicity at the individual level makes room for collective abundance. At Sunny Hill, living expenses are much lower than the Slovenian average.

A lot of the economy is internalised through the community's high self-sufficiency with food, water and wood for heating. Members of the community can have a good life even with a low wage.

An outside source of income comes through hosting events and renting rooms to tourists in the summer.

Impacts in other dimensions

Between 2014 and 2016, the Sunny Hill community was involved in a civil initiative called Revival of Istria, leading to a deep reform in the Local Action Group (LAG), LAS Istre.

Research on Sunny Hill Association

Bibliography

References