The ideas of veganism and sustainable living are interlinked. The Vegoa co-operative has taken this idea to bring like-minded people together in what will, ultimately be, a community living experience with minimal impact on the wider world. The growing group already has worldwide ambitions and has already completed the acquisition of Vegan Hills in Algarve, southern Portugal. Tanya Weghofer very kindly answered my questions in order to gain further insights in a project which combines veganism, entrepreneurship and creativity.
Who are the Vegoans?
We are an ever-increasing number of people who, apart from being committed to a vegan lifestyle, are very diverse in age, nationality, hobbies, backgrounds and beliefs. The members include singles, families, students, and entrepreneurs. What we all have in common is the desire to create an example for ethical, sustainable and cruelty-free living.
What are the driving principles behind the project?
A shared set of ethics centered around veganism and the desire for sustainability is what brought the members of the project together.
We want to show the world that we can all lessen our impact on the environment and turn it around by actively contributing to the positive change we want to see in the world. Our goal is to be an example for others and show that you can not only live but strive in an ethical and sustainable way.
How many people are currently involved?
At the moment, the association counts for 34 members but our numbers are constantly growing, with some families set to join us in the coming months.
Why was it important to form a community of people and not just remain individuals doing separate projects?
Firstly, we are stronger together and many hands make light work!
The whole idea of our Vegan Hills project is to do exactly that, to create a platform and a safe space where our individualities can thrive. In practical terms that might mean interesting projects of your neighbors you might want to get involved in and vice versa.
There are many alternative/sustainable communities that start out with good intentions but that fall apart over time. What are some of the main reasons for this and how will Vegoa be different?
A large proportion of communities fail due to lack of funding, finding the right land, and of course, structural conflict. We have had some blessings in disguise that have equipped us to deal with these challenges early on, and have shown us where to adjust our sails in order to move in the right direction. As a result of our learnings we are practicing Sociocracy which has proven a valuable tool in paving our way forward.
What we believe differentiates us from other communities is the fact that we are humble enough to realize that there are many things we don’t know and we recognize the lack of a perfect system. Therefore, we created a very flexible structure so that people might shape the structure and not everything around it.
You’ve recently acquired land in Portugal to start the Vegan Hills community. What can you tell us about that?
The land of Vegan Hills is 103ha of a lush green, hilly landscape that offers both hilltops and valleys, forests and open spaces and most definitely lots of space to realize projects. It lies in the South of Portugal, in the Algarve region, and has two beaches in the surrounding area, the closest one being only 8km distance away.
The soil is very fertile and healthy and in recent years has only been used as grazing ground for cattle which is one of the reasons why we plan to reforest the whole area. Another fortunate aspect is its richness in clay which can be used for building shelters and various other things.
What challenges do you/have you faced with setting this project up and making it sustainable?
Indeed there were quite a few initial challenges we had to overcome. One of them being the changes in members and trying to find the right blend of personalities to make Vegan Hills the place we all want it to be, and of course raising the money to purchase the land. Each one has been a learning experience and has helped us hone our processes and procedures into the cohesive team we are today.
What would the average day of a Vegoan look like?
This is quite hard to say as one of our core values is freedom, so nobody is obligated to do anything. However, we are fortunately a very diverse group of people with very different hobbies and practices. So, some might then want to incorporate an early morning yoga or meditation session, others head out to the beach for a surf at midday and again other members might make a routine out of a lengthy walk through endless nature in the evening, while others will be tending to the land and will help moving us towards self-sustainability. Every skill is welcomed and each person can contribute to the community in the way they want to.
What obligations do Vegoans have to the rest of their community?
In order to find a common ground that everyone agrees to live by, we created a manifest for both the Vegoa association and the Vegan Hills village.
Both state as their first principle that each member has to live a vegan lifestyle, according to the definition of the Vegan Society, and that every member is obligated to respect the rights and freedom of other Vegoans which, of course, includes the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Concerning the land, we strive to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible, whilst making every effort to achieve self-sustainability wherever it’s attainable.
All in all, however, we want to promote freedom instead of implementing obligations and restrictions.
What can others do if they want to get involved?
If anyone wants to know more about the project, please visit our website at https://vegoa.org/
If any questions are left unanswered or if people want to get in touch or join one of our regular open hikes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, you can find regular updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.
Anything else you’d like to share?
As you read this, our land is taking shape, as a friendly group of committed vegans are making the necessary adjustments to create a new way of life, away from the fast-paced consumerist society that many of us have become accustomed to, into a slower paced, more ethically minded lifestyle.
At the moment, we are still looking for members who are willing to create this world with us. Until the 15th March, Vegan Hills is open for everyone, no matter if you have experience with off-grid living or not. We can share the knowledge we have and support each other!
After this day, however, we will specifically focus our search for members on vegans with particular skills that are needed to achieve our goals.
In order to assist those who are interested, we organize open guided hikes, group Skype calls and occasional Meet-Ups in various cities. The information is available on our Facebook page.