SESE and Quercus

by Junior and Quercus

Quercus SESE 1

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has played a large part in the development of Quercus, providing an income stream that  encourages the community to expand. A focal point of that experience is the willingness and ability of established communities to help newcomers onto the stage.

Quercus SESE 2

Late this Spring Quercus set up shop in the Main office of SESE to bundle and ship Sweet Potato starter slips. This is the primary source of employment for Quercus in the month of June.  SESE has been a reliable source of work for Quercus since the community began in October 2015. Something we’re grateful for. Instead of being subject to some dark, corporate overlord – our labor goes directly towards supporting our friends and local co-operative business.

Quercus SESE 3

This particular worker cooperative can trace its roots to Twin Oaks. The original designers of the worker co-op community run industry model in this area.  Utilizing the skills of a group of people and allowing them common access and input cultivates an engaging, yet efficient work space that can even rival the old puritanical systems of hierarchy we’re so willing to subscribe to otherwise. And we’re not alone…

Quercus SESE 4

The massive co-operative businesses Mondragon corporation explores collective cooperation on a global scale. The relationship Quercus has to SESE is only a small component to a larger consciousness.

Quercus SESE 5

And together, we’re changing the world, by changing what it means to cooperate.

SESE and Quercus

In Search of a Better Way of Life

by Megan McGee

Five years ago, a small group of people purchased a piece of land just outside Louisa, VA, intending to form a community, education center and farm with a mission: to demonstrate that it’s possible to live happily and healthily without the use of fossil fuels. Today, that vision has manifested as Living Energy Farm (LEF), an income-sharing community and organic farm that runs on sustainable technologies such as photovoltaics, green building, and the vital “technology” of cooperative living. Its members have begun efforts to make those technologies, and the skills to use them, accessible to low-income communities worldwide.

“The goal is to produce our own food and energy, instead of serving the one percent,” says Debbie, one of the founding members of LEF. LEF produces all of its own electricity with photovoltaics, uses solar cookers and a rocket stove for cooking, and uses solar for space and water heating. They are working to convert their tractors to run on a biofuel called woodgas, which does not compete with humans or animals for food. And the community grows the majority of their own food, preserving the harvest by drying and canning.

“Food has been a bigger part of it than we expected,” Debbie explains. While most of the vegetables they eat are picked right before use, they plan to build a root cellar for food storage,  as well as a solar ammonia loop ice maker, a technology developed for the third world, which makes a block of ice on a 24-hour cycle without electronics or moving parts.

One of the most important aspects of the project has been creating a system that can be replicated all over the world. “We wanted to figure out what is a sustainable lifestyle that everyone can afford,” says Debbie.

LEF 2

A lot of the technologies LEF uses have been designed for third-world countries. In the third world, people understand the importance of depending on each other, which is at the heart of making sustainable technology work. Debbie explains that solar energy is not truly cost-efficient on the individual or industrial level, but on the village level. “For this technology to work, it needs to be shared,” she says.

Getting out this message has been a challenge for LEF, as being dependent on others is not a popular idea in the U.S. “In America, it’s seen as a sign of weakness,” says Debbie. “Success is having your own house, you own car.”

LEF hosts interns and volunteers who want to learn the skills necessary for modern sustainable living. One of those volunteers is Nick, who is currently visiting the United States from Kenya. Back home, Nick runs a nonprofit organization called Africa Transforming Lives, which focuses on providing children with the financial assistance they need to go to school. He came to America to find new financial new partners, and has now come to Living Energy Farm to learn about organic farming. By sharing these skills with families in Kenya, he believes he can give parents the self-sufficiency necessary to send their kids to school.

“It’s about re-finding Kenya’s communal heritage that was depressed by colonialism,” Nick says.

Of all the places he has visited in America, Nick says LEF and other intentional communities are most similar to the communal culture in his country. He has been impressed by the kind of energy they use and how it involves working together. Along with members of LEF and their new project known as Living Energy Global Initiative, Nick aims to create a replica of LEF in his village. His first goal is to build a training center there where people can learn about sustainable technologies and acquire the skills to use them. For example, Nick explains, the rocket stove LEF uses is more energy efficient than the open fires people use in Kenya. In fact, one idea he has for people to become financially self-sufficient is to help them start businesses building these stoves.

Through the use of organic farming methods, Nick says people in his village will be growing food free from chemicals, making them less likely to get cancer. By using LEF’s system for electricity and pumping water, they will not be contributing to climate change, an issue about which Nick is concerned.

Debbie and other members of LEF plan to help Nick fundraise for his training center by presenting slideshows in Richmond, VA and other nearby cities. Nick hopes to have volunteers from other countries come to Kenya to help build the center, and eventually to help teach once the center is operating.  To learn more about this or to find out how to donate to the project, visit Nick’s website at  http://africatransforming.wix.com/africatransforming.

LEF 1

Right now, Living Energy Farm is at work building infrastructure for more members. Once they have completed the living quarters currently being built, they will have eight bedrooms in addition to the cabin on the land, and will have room for two or three families and a few single people. “We’re probably gonna stay pretty small,” Debbie says. Once they have a core membership, they want to focus on using their experience to help low-income communities in the United States and beyond build sustainable infrastructure, rather than making LEF bigger.

They are also focused on the seed business which is the main source of income for LEF. This involves growing vegetables and selling the seeds to companies invested in providing gardeners with non-GMO seeds. Debbie explains that these seeds are very important for local self-sufficiency, as a lot of the seeds farmers currently use have not been adapted organically and need chemicals in order to grow. The companies for which LEF grows test for GMO contamination, and the community’s seeds have tested GMO-free for several years.

Debbie believes income sharing is extremely beneficial to making communities like Living Energy Farm work because there are so many ways each person can contribute in such a system. “While some people do farming,” she says, “someone can watch the kids and someone else can cook.”

In Search of a Better Way of Life

On the limits of anarchy

by Gil from Cambia  (previously published on the Cambia site , 7/20/2015)

I’m writing this section with deep appreciation for anarchy, but with some realizations about its limits, at least in the way we tried implementing it.

in founding cric house (culture rehabilitation internship center) we wanted to create a real experiment in anarchist utopia. we posited, that some people are ready for anarchy because they don’t need any external system of authority or incentives. and in general, when you trust people to operate out of their best selves they would rise to the occasion.

I want to talk about the way we failed but not without analogies.

Picture
the mud room
why do we have mud rooms and not just muddy entrance to the house? the mudroom is a “liminal space” in anthropological terms. it means its in between places, where both muddy boots and clean socks are welcomed. in the house no muddy boots are allowed, but the mud room enables the transition. if a muddy entrance was allowed it would be continuously extended into the living space until its all muddy and nobody takes off their boots.

I am speaking from experience as I’ve seen this happen in public spaces in my community. people want to take their boots off but they don’t want to step where mud from other boots is on the floor. so they take a step further in to take them off. sometimes, just a line drawn on the ground or a carpet can create that 

Picture

Meetings are not compulsory, so people attend them at first and one by one find something they would rather do than attend. or they might do other things symultaneously, or move in and out of the meeting, or chat at the same time. after a while people stop coming and only ask “what did you guys discuss at the meeting?” down to “was there anything interesting at the meeting?” down to “did anyone go to the meeting?”

Picture

Oh sleeping together, what radical cuteness. I get so nostalgic looking at these pictures. but guess what, it doesn’t last. with time, people get more in tune with their sleep schedule and some people like to stay up late and some like to get up early, and they end up needing different sleeping spaces. since its anarchy, and no “bedtime”

I wonder if I’m ironically trying to hold on to a favorite part of a song by pausing it when I wish we could just keep loving one another and want to be together to the point, where it doesn’t matter what we do, just being together is so fun, that we stay together wherever we go. maybe its just a honeymoon phase and it can’t be sustained.

as time goes by relationships solidify and start to form cracks until the community all falls apart. but how?


Picture

we aren’t bad people, just like communism, we were too optimistic thinking we could be our best acting from our best intentions. but even the completely “rational” players in economic models can act to shrink the economy under certain conditions.we failed the way many couples fail to grow their love to one another and end up keeping parallel lives. imagine how much harder it is when its way way easier to leave the relationship.

love and intentions are just not enough. there needs to be designations of time, of space, and a forum for investment in relationships. love needs maintenance and maintenance needs a schedule.

in our new community good things will be scheduled, like celebrations, gratitudes, art, intimacy, work, education, snuggles, even orgies if necessary.

there is a basic fallacy here:
we think love is something we feel towards people for who they are. its actually what we feel towards people for what the relationship is. we think the value we experience towards community is the sum (or average) of its members. but its not. not at all. its the square sum of COORDINATED love everyone expresses at the same time.

On the limits of anarchy

Instant commune! Just add people.

by Telos

It should be clear that the authors on this blog agree that communes are pretty great. Indeed, the Commune Life Blog is a shameless promotion of communal living, a way of excitedly sharing our dearly loved and little documented way of life. We hope to be inspiring some of the same excitement about communes in our readers, perhaps enough to have them wondering “How do I start one of these things?” It turns out that some of us are already working on an answer to that question, so read on if you’re curious.

To be clear about what we mean when we say “commune,” we’re talking about collectives that are income sharing, which is not quite the same thing as expense sharing. Expense sharing is when a group of people, for example a housing co-op, decides to split the cost of some shared resource, like a shared tool or bulk food. Groups sharing expenses determine the cost of what is being shared and splits it, then each member pays an equal share of the expense using their own money.

Communes, which are income sharing, pool their money before costs appear. No matter how little or much money each member makes, it is put into a collective pool, out of which the group’s expenses are paid. We who share income think doing so is important for a lot of reasons: it allows those without or without as much access to income to live as good a life as everyone else; domestic work can be valued equally to money-making work; it creates a family-like sense of solidarity among a community; sharing resources allows better living with less money, which in turn allows us to work less for the same level of material comfort.

Box 1

If you’re still wondering how to start one of these things, we’re glad, because the world has lots of room for communities striving toward sustainability, compassion and connection. The world could always use more communes, if you ask us. In theory, the answer is simple: find a group of people and start pooling your incomes. Easy, right? Though simple in theory, starting a commune is actually a very complicated endeavor, requiring a lot of planning, trust and plain hard work. Where do we find a group of people we can trust enough to share money with? How will the shared money be earned? How will we decide how to spend it? What are the tax implications of pooling income? What happens when we don’t agree with the people we are financially bound to? The question of how to start a commune has suddenly split into a multitude of questions, and we’ve opened a can of worms.

Recognizing that starting a commune is easier said than done, some of us at the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and its Point A Project are working to answer the question: “how does one start a commune?” Since “just get out there and do it” isn’t a sufficient answer, we’re creating something of a “commune starter kit” that seeks to guide communities toward successful income sharing as smoothly as possible. Our mission is to distill the essence of what makes a commune work, create a collection of wisdom, reflections, flowcharts and encouragement, then fit it in a box. Introducing the “Commune in a Box!”

Box 2

The endeavor to start a commune inevitably raises certain questions, many without definitively correct answers. For example, each income sharing community will need some amount of income to share. Should it come from jobs that members work, or should the commune start a cooperatively owned business? How does one start a community business? Likewise, every commune will need a decision making system. Most communes use consensus, some prefer direct democracy, and Twin Oaks uses a planner-manager system based on Walden Two, a utopian novel by B.F. Skinner. None of these governance systems is “correct,” but they are different, and they make for different types of communities. The list of questions a forming community will encounter continues: what will the membership process look like? How will labor be divided? How will members get access to health care?

Box 3

Our task is to identify these questions that forming communes commonly encounter, reflect on the implications of different answers, and offer a (non-exhaustive) list of possible ways to meet each important need. To do this, we’re bringing together the scattered body of knowledge that already exists on communal living; collecting the wisdom of long-time communards and those who have tried (and sometimes failed) to start communes; and comparatively studying communities that have addressed these various needs in different ways. By highlighting needs to meet, rather than prescribing solutions to them, we hope to create a widely applicable resource, relevant to communities with a variety of visions and circumstances. We’re packing the Commune in a Box with interviews of community founders, history of the communes movement, and a blooper reel of mistakes communards have made in the past that forming communities need not repeat.

Needless to say, this is a lot to fit in a box, but we’re committed to stuffing it in there. We’re working with several forming communities as test cases, and using their feedback to create the most practically useful resource we can for them. Once clinical trials are complete, we will release the Commune in a Box as a wiki-style online resource and (hopefully) physical guide seeking to bring some level of ease to the arduous task of starting a new commune or transitioning an existing community to income sharing. We hope it will accelerate the world’s momentum toward utopia and make income sharing more accessible to those thirsting for a different human narrative. A toast to those creating a more compassionate, sane and sustainable future!

If you’re curious about the project, know of well hidden resources on communal living we could draw from, or would like to be notified when we release the Commune in a Box, you can get in touch with us by sending an email to  in.a.box@thefec.org

Instant commune! Just add people.

Labor Brainstorming

By Rejoice

From the Acorn Community blog, March 26th, 2015

A few weeks ago, we decided to have a Thursday meeting on the subject of labor. To get it started, I rolled a piece of paper across the entire living room and invited people to write down what kinds of labor we do at Acorn, with a couple categories I put in, and left a note encouraging others to write MORE BOXES, MORE WORDS.

I left the poster out for several days for people to add to it, and at the end, although it was useful to us in other ways, I thought it might be useful to new people to get an idea of the kinds of things that we do at Acorn.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is our biggest labor area. From growing seeds to winnowing, germination testing, receiving orders, tracking inventory, printing seed packets, packing seeds, picking orders, shipping orders, customer service, troubleshooting… and more.

Domestic work is mostly work that people outside of community don’t count as work. At Acorn, an hour of domestic work is just the same as any other hour of work, and includes cooking, food processing, laundry, childcare, taking out the trash, keeping the woodstoves running, baking bread… and most importantly, “cleaning special areas,” which is anywhere special enough that you decide to clean it. Almost everyone does domestic work of some kind, and some people specialize in it to some degree.

Landscaping and Perennials includes a large portion of mowing grass, but also includes our trees and bushes, which we plant, water when they’re new, mulch, and prune. Our shiitake mushroom logs also go under this. Killing poison ivy is an important component of this category. Every garden-oriented person looked at this chart and said that they would like to do more of these things until Acorn was a beautiful permaculture landscape, but that the garden takes up too much of their time.

Garden work is for vegetables and herbs for kitchen use, as well as seed crops and trials for the business, and includes the normal direct sowing, transplanting, weeding, mulching, harvesting, seed processing, and pest control that you would expect, as well as greenhouse work, irrigation, keeping our tools organized and in good repair, soil testing and amending the soil, and prioritizing work and throwing work parties so people know what to do.

group_allium_liberation

Auto is mainly routine maintenance, keeping paperwork up to date, troubleshooting car and tractor problems, and driving cars to the shop when they’re out of our league to fix. Currently, we don’t have the skills or tools to effectively fix complex car problems, although our neighbor John comes over to fix our tractors. This labor area also includes biking to displace car usage.

Accounting includes a lot of bookkeeping, such as entering the numbers from trip, checkbooks, credit cards, bank deposits, and business. Auditing and making sure things are credited to the correct accounts, and also nagging people is an important component of this (turn in your trip accounting! who made this credit card charge?!) Annual taxes is also in here, which includes sales tax for the business as well as personal 1099 tax forms and state taxes for each of the communards. Annual financial reports are made so that we can make our budget are made once the fiscal year’s bookkeeping is complete.

Visitor category includes answering e-mails at info@acorncommunity.org, talking to potential visitors on the phone, and scheduling, which is done by mostly the same three people. Giving tours and orientations is done by lots of people, and having a “visitor buddy” and checking in with them is also considered labor-creditable work.

Forestry is a neglected area, which is partially because all of our accessible forest land has been sustainably harvested about as much as it’s capable of sustaining. We either move into cutting down trees in the swamp, or buying firewood…

Livestock includes our chickens, pigs, and goats. The broad categories are daily feeding and watering, fencing and housing concerns, taking care of babies, slaughtering and meat processing, and some specific bits were added: trimming chickens’ wings and goats’ hooves, and milking our dairy goats.

Acquisitions is typified by the town trip, where a single person goes into town and buys everything people asked for on a sheet of paper (or two or three). It also includes city trips to get special things, going dumpster-diving or searching thrift stores for things we need while you’re out, and picking up large loads in the cargo van such as our favorite free food connections or livestock feed. I also included trash disposal here, although it doesn’t exactly fit, but someone does need to drive our entire trash trailer to the landfill sometimes.

Recreation is, in fact, a labor and budget area that is collectively important to us. This includes party planning and music preparation, set-up and clean-up. There’s also the organization of craft supplies and hosting recreative activities (like group read-alouds or yoga or jiu jitsu classes), and the very important job of lighting the fire under the hot tub when it seems like a good hot tub day.

Personal Responsibility is important. Not all personal responsibilities are considered labor-creditable, but everyone agrees that going to the doctor and dentist is important and you get labor hours for it. People can claim two hours of personal exercise a week as labor-creditable. Two important entries on the chart are “putting shit away” and “cancellation of personal entropy through cleaning,” which are highly valued traits in communards.

Finding Shit is its own category. Everyone spends lots of time doing it.

Computers/IT is largely handled by the same two people. They build computers, install new programs, monitor the server, make server upgrades, and manage our disk space and backups. They keep our business database software and metrics running despite their constant desire to die, update the databases, write new queries and modify old ones. They shop for new computer parts and research new technologies, and try to expand, improve, and fix services they have like our new accounting software, the internal Acorn Wiki, the project manager and test manager. And, of course, they vacuum dust out of our hardware and fix things as needed.

Maintenance involves noticing missing or broken shit and taking steps to repair or replace it. Big areas people mentioned include building maintenance, cleaning gutters, chimneys, and furnaces, and maintaining our bike fleet, but of course there are many things on the farm to be maintained.

Electrical requires us to pick up and entertain Milo. Occasionally people have learned electrical things from him, but our roving electrician solves most of our problems.

Plumbing was summed up by “digging and working in a muddy hole,” which is some of it, but it also includes unclogging drains, installing new plumbing or fixtures, and keeping water coolers full for buildings that don’t have drinking water.

Interpersonal Process includes scheduled things like attending (or facilitating) weekly meetings, and doing your required clearnesses. It also includes mediating between two people, or being an advocate for someone in an official capacity, or serving on a care team for someone who needs extra help.

The Federation of Egalitarian Communities is exactly what’s in the name, a collection of other egalitarian, income-sharing communities. We have an annual assembly and monthly conference calls for our two FEC delegates. One of our delegates writes the Dirt & Dreams internal newsletter, and another of our members has been re-creating the FEC website. FEC work also includes LEX (Labor EXchange), the most exciting part of being in the FEC, where you get to travel to other communities without having to take your vacation time because you’re working for them while you’re there. Lots of people LEX at local communities including Twin Oaks, Sapling, and Living Energy Farm, and one or two times a year we go on long-distance LEX trips, like going to Missouri to help Sandhill with their fall sorghum harvest.

Activism and Movement Support includes our relationship with the local community and activities to support sustainable agriculture, intentional community, and egalitarian values. Major projects here include Plant-A-Row for the Hungry, a project we sponsor at the local food pantry along with the Louisa County Master Gardeners. Some of us have served on boards of organizations like the Virginia Association of Biological Farming and the Organic Seed Alliance. One of our members is developing websites for the FEC and FIC (Fellowship of Intentional Community). We have labor exchange agreements outside of the FEC with like-minded co-ops such as the Baltimore Free Farm and the Wingnut of Richmond. We have regular tours from CRAFT (Chesapeake Regional Alliance of Farmer Training) and have organized young farmer events. Point A is a big project that some of our members and others are working to promote urban income-sharing communities.

Research has one bulletpoint: “[See all other headings]”

Labor Brainstorming

Building a Commune in DC

Food Prep

Ira Wallace shares stories from a lifetime of learning to live together. We are eating, asking questions and making food for Acorn Communities Land Day celebration.

Menu

Shopping list on our kitchen’s chalk wall!

Steve and friend

Our dragon-master faerie-queen finds his natural spot, perched on our tallest communard.

DC Backyard

Dishwasher delivery – picked up on our bike trailer!

Backyard Discussion

Welcome to our backyard. Those are American Elm trees, a classic tree that has been ravaged by blight, but they are wonderful shade for our constant outdoor meals.

How to be FEC

We want to part of larger movement, and with this flowchart, we will be.

FEC Cat

As we get our new home fixed up, the cats begin crawling through the walls. The cutest kitten is definitely Ash, who is watching you from the ceiling!

Building a Commune in DC