Sólheimar is an eco-village in Iceland and is renowned for its ecological, artistic, and international community ethics. Its current population size is about 100 people. The village of Sólheimar locates in the south-western part of Iceland, the municipality of Grímsnes- og Grafningshreppur. It is a community where people with or without special needs live and work together. Sólheimar is a pioneer of practicing organic farming. In Sólheimar there is an organically certified greenhouse, forestry, arboretum and egg production. Other environmental-friendly projects in Sólheimar includes geothermal energy and recycling.
Sólheimar (Sunworlds) was founded on July 5, 1930 by a pioneering woman: Sesselja Sigmundsdóttir (1902-1974). She was a pedagogical innovator who was specifically interested in caring people with mental challenges as well as organic horticulture. In 1930, when Sesselja moved to Iceland, she kept in contact with other pioneers in organic farming and anthroposophy around Europe as the preparation to create a physical space where childcare could be achieved in a self-sustained community in a land with streams, hot springs and other natural surroundings.
On March 31, 1930, The childcare Committee of the Church of Iceland, purchased the land known as Hverakot for isk 8,000. Sesselja leased the land and founded Sólheimar, that started out as a fosterhome on her 28th birthday, the 5th of July 1930 with the arrival of the first five foster children and at first they all lived in tents In the fall of 1931, five children with mental challenges arrived to Sólheimar, while the first building, Selhamar, was constructed specifically for the developmentally disabled children in 1932 and 1933 with the support of Parliament. After World War II, besides Sesselja's foster children and the summer children, nearly all the children in Sólheimar had disabilities.
Today all activities in Sólheimar are based on Sesselja's lifework and visions: what started out as an isolated and primitive settlement in 1930 with around ten small children has now become a modern, self-supporting eco-village with organic farming, thermal and solar energy and with a thriving cultural life. Inspired by the theories of Rudolf Steiner, Sesselja’s focus was the interaction between the individual and the environment. She was a passionate advocate for integrating children with and without disabilities, and it was here in Sólheimar where this vision was brought to life. She made a home for children in Sólheimar and focused her work on organic horticulture (the first in the Nordic countries), healthy food and artistic expression. Many of these ideas sparked controversy with the authorities because at the time, it was perceived that “healthy” children should not play with those with special needs. It was also viewed that the high-vegetable diet promoted by Sesselja was, in fact, not healthy for the children. Although Sesselja's proactive ideas were hard to be accepted, such disagreements have faded into history and the Sólheimar community continues to support a healthy lifestyle for everyone in the village.
The Ideology of Sólheimar
The heart of the Sólheimar ideology is to give all individuals a fair chance and to maximise their potential. By focusing on individuals' possibility instead of their limitations, Sólheimar aims to create the space for each resident to take every opportunity that arises for each person to grow and develop. Versatility is the strength of Sólheimar so people with special needs that reside here will always be the centre of the community. This works through the idea of reverse integration: those without special needs adapt to the abilities of those who do thus they can work together to make their community one of an equal and sustainable one. The foundation of the ideology of Sólheimar derives from the visions and lifework of Sesselja herself. Her life was strongly influenced by Icelandic reality in the beginning of the 20th century, the anthroposophical theories of Rudolf Steiner and Christian values.
Today, Sólheimar is no longer a children’s home but a community where the goal is to give every individual an opportunity to live in a sustainable society. In total, more than 100 people reside in Sólheimar while the village provides home and work to 43 individuals with special needs. The aim of Sólheimar is to maximize the potential of each individual. This community is internationally renowned for its artistic and ecological atmosphere and prides itself on its varied cultural, social, and sporting activities. Short and long-term volunteers mostly from EVS have worked in Sólheimar for much of its history. Study-abroad programs organized by Center for Ecological Living and Learning and other internship vacancies also draw people to Sólheimar every year. Their input into the community continues to promote sustainability and welfare. There are approximately 30,000-35,000 guests visit Sólheimar all year-round because it has become a popular tourist destination to learn about sustainability through community.
The activity in Sólheimar is versatile. In the village, there are a wide range of workshops and businesses that help to keep Sólheimar a sustainable village. This includes:
- Sunna - one of the largest producers of organic vegetables in Iceland
- Ölur - the only organic forest nursery in Iceland, established in 1991.
- Sólheimar Guesthouse - There are two guesthouses in Sólheimar: Brekkukot and Veghús. With approximately 30,000 visitors each year, Sólheimar is able to welcome visitors to explore and appreciate the village.
- Nærandi - food production in Sólheimar. Though it is relatively new, it provides a wide range of baked food to not only the village but also to stores in Reykjavik.
- Vala and Græna Kannan - the local shop and cafe in Sólheimar
- 6 main workshops - candle-making, weaving, organic soap-making, art, ceramics and woodwork
Each individual of the community takes a part to work in these businesses or workshops each day in order to keep them sufficient, sustainable and continuous. It not only provides revenue to the village but also gives each resident an opportunity to work routinely. Residents of Sólheimar are all able to cooperate with each other to help improve each business/workshop and in turn, they learn how to be part of a sustainable community.
One will also find a church, a sculpture garden, an arboretum, a sports hall, a gym, a swimming pool, a music garden and an art gallery. During the summer and winter, cultural festivals will take place which involve music, fine art and theatre and bring the Sólheimar community together. In April 1997, "The Global Ecovillage Network" proclaimed Sólheimar the first sustainable village of the country. One of the goals the Sólheimar community strives to is to create a self-sustained society, relying on organic production and improving the harmony between human and nature. In 2002 a completely self-sustained house, Sesseljuhús, was built in Sólheimar. It functions as an environmental education centre and the house itself is the most significant example to substantiate the concept of sustainability - a blueprint for this sort of buildings that are built without negative impacts on the environment.
On the 70-year anniversary of Sólheimar, July 5, 2000, Siv Friðleifsdóttir broke ground for the construction of Sesseljuhús, and announced the government's decision to provide 75 million ISK for the construction of the building. The project was completed on July 5, 2002, 100 years after the birth of Sesselja Sigmundsdóttur. The Sesseljuhús Environmental Centre acts as an example for sustainable buildings. It was designed and constructed with the goal of environmental sustainability, which took into account the origin, the production, and the recovery of any materials, specifically to Icelandic conditions. Nowadays, Sesseljuhús is wooden with a turf roof. Sesseljuhús is working in collaboration with national and international groups for environmental education and employment. In addition, the house is used as a community space (i.e. watch films) for the residents of Sólheimar.
The founder of Sólheimar, Sesselja H. Sigmundsdóttir, was far ahead of her times in sustainability. Even day, Sólheimar is built to work on her ideals. The community emphasis is placed on organic farming and the use of natural and recyclable materials in work places. Sesseljuhús has an auditorium that could bear 100 people. It holds educational meetings, conferences and seminars on environmental issues for the public, schools, businesses, institutions, and unions. Sesseljuhús may also be rented out for public meetings and workshops.
- 100 people,http://www.solheimar.is/index.php?msl=english
- Nordic countries
- organically certified greenhouse, forestry, arboretum and egg production, http://solheimar.is/index.php?msl=english
- On March 31, 1930, the Childcare Committee of the Church of iceland purchased the Hverakot land for isk 8,000, http://solheimar.is/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=324&Itemid=195
- Sólheimar, a place in the sun, Bertine Krol, http://static.rnw.nl/migratie/www.radionetherlands.nl/documentaries/051012doc-redirected
- Organic gardening and forestry activities in the Sólheimar Ecovillage http://www.volunteerabroad.com/listingsp3.cfm/listing/26306
- A Trip to an Eco-Village, Páll Hilmarsson, http://www.grapevine.is/Home/ReadArticle/A-Trip-to-an-Eco-Village