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?


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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

Lessons on Starting a Community

by Gil from Cambia

Let me confess right away that it was never rewarding. Unlike having my own child, fixing my own car, or building my own house, where I might have an inkling of accomplishment or other forms of ego stroke, starting a community (which I have done a few times) was never anything that I wanted to do, and I never really enjoyed it.

Then why do it over and over again? Simply put, I really wanted to join the community I was founding rather than be a founder; the problem is that the community I wanted to join wasn’t around (at least near by) so I had no choice but to start one.

Why over and over? Because they fail over and over. But just because death is guaranteed doesn’t mean life isn’t worth at least trying.

CRIC4

Here are some stories of why and how I started these communities:

The Refugee Co-op
During graduate school I was living with friends in a student co-op in California. We had a new member join whose level of obnoxiousness was fairly unprecedented. Several of us in the Co-op announced that we were going to leave if she stayed. The response of the other members was, “We really wish you guys could stay and she could leave but we don’t know how to get rid of her.” So we left. We rented a house, and had a bunch of our friends join us. It was fantastic; we had art on the walls and in the yard, we had gardens, we were dumpster diving every day, our driveway had solar ovens, we had a biodiesel station, fruit drying racks, and a mattress. Yes, our neighbors loved us and hated us. We would go to interesting talks together at the university, gleaning expeditions, parties, or just adventures. We had built a sleeping room for everyone and an innovative clothes dryer. We had the cheapest rent in the whole town, and it included utilities and food.

I’m still not sure why everyone left. The new people that came were just looking for a cheap place to live. I think there might have been a funny dynamic of people wanting to join a group that is growing; people can have a lot of fun together, but unless they feel like the place provides a real and continued personal growth avenue, they all end up leaving to expand their own horizons. So it crashed and we had no intentions of trying to resuscitate it.

CRIC House
After feeling fed up with my job and living in a big city, I decided to move to a real community and finally live my dream. So I moved to Green Valley Village in northern California. Huge gorgeous property with lots of growth potential. But when I got there I realized a few things about its dysfunction. I noticed things like their fantastic huge barn was completely filled with somebody’s stuff and therefore was unusable. There was no common space or facilities, there were no common tools, there were infrequent and weak work parties, and many of the people living on the property were there because it was the cheapest place they could find.

So with my life partner (at the time), we decided to start our own community inside of GVV. We made our own website (quite to the dismay of GVV) and attracted a lot of attention. Initially we only had borderline homeless people applying. It felt futile. We couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. “Where are all the local anarchists???” we wondered. We gave it just long enough to find two awesome people and we were off to a great start. We relentlessly worked on projects together, had wwoofers and visitors join us, started to create our little empire in this strange old house in an abandoned lumber mill. We were making so much money from rent. People were clamoring to live in their vehicles or tree houses, or any way they could join us. We started leasing an adjacent building just to keep up with demand. We were the coolest anarchist collective ever with all our permaculture projects and close-knit relationships.

Maybe we got too big. Maybe we brought the wrong people.  Maybe we had no structure (surprise, surprise) for getting together to connect, work, repair, etc. and we ended up with members on our fringes. Some members stopped coming to meetings, some members stopped eating together, and some members weren’t sure exactly what they thought was so fantastic about us 6 months ago when they joined.

Personally, I was witnessing that some major cracks were forming and conflicts weren’t resolved but in fact were creating larger and larger rifts. My personal conflict with one of the members (my ex life partner and co-founder) was too large for the community to handle. People wanted to go on with their days and have things resolve themselves. So I moved away, with a new partner to the forest and started another community. CRIC house has since folded gradually and the property was sold.

Praxis
Praxis was a new project creating an all off-grid natural building hobbit village on a forested hilltop. Unlike CRIC House this community didn’t have much draw. It lacked the student co-op funky energetic feel and with a newborn, limited water and power, and no road access, it stayed pretty small although it was a fantastic place to live and I still miss it dearly. It was a magical place with good people; we didn’t have to work as much with outside jobs to pay rent so we could spend more time creating beauty and playgrounds. We moved away because we could never own the land and would forever live in fear that one day code enforcement or our landlord would kick us out.

Cambia
Now we are here in central Virginia. We’re creating an income sharing community among several other communities of the same persuasion. Starting this one is dramatically easier and more secure. No code enforcement issues, no fires, droughts, real estate speculations, or vineyards. And, unlike California communities, these communities have a high degree of mutual support such as sharing parties, paid work, equipment, applicants, advice, membership, and labor. I believe being leftist islands in a generally bright red state helps with the clearer boundaries. Boundaries that do not really exist in northern California with its highly liberal general population.

Being a new community, we are very vulnerable to new members who might not be a fit yet feel like they can shift things into more selfish and less communal directions. The advantage of being here is that we can draw upon applicants that are members of other communities without having to go through the exhaustion of rejecting applicants who are not a fit, or even worse accepting ones that don’t really want to or know how to live communally.

CRIC6

Below is a list of important lessons from the various communities including: the Refugee Co-op, CRIC house, Praxis, and Cambia. Lessons are given in no particular order, and um, you might want to forego the grain of salt and take these lessons with some water or plain rice, they are a little spicy and I’m not sure I completely agree with all of them.

1. You are not reinventing the wheel, nor are you unearthing a prehistoric wheel. You are yet another toddling community of the same species as many other communities that are trying to create a lifestyle alternative to the alienated and destructive world we live in. Granted, all communities are a little different from one another. But different in the same way that a business doesn’t need to state: “We are joyfully celebrating capitalism and finding a place in its vast network”, they just say: “We’re a business”, and the rest is obvious. Don’t get me wrong, what you are doing is awesome and essential; you are a superhero, but realize you are joining a movement and not spearheading a brand new one.

2. Intentions and vision statements are neither sufficient nor necessary. Read the following:

3. When people ask you “What is your vision?”, they might not know what they are really asking. Have you ever met a young couple who are about to get married and asked them: “So what’s your vision for your relationship?”  That would be pretty weird, right? A family is also (ideally) a cooperative unit that fosters love, sharing, and support among its members. To know whether a family is functional or dysfunctional you don’t need to read their vision statement; you observe the degree to which they foster sharing love and support. On a greater scale, to find out if a nation or humanity as a whole is functional or dysfunctional you don’t need to know its purpose; a civilization that destroys its own natural resources, subjugates many of its members, and doesn’t care about its future generation is a failure regardless of stated purpose.

4. So what are people really asking? I think people really want to know: “How passionate and committed are you to cooperative living?” I think they are wanting to hear how clearly you can articulate it, and how passionate you are when you speak about it.

5. Okay, there’s one more thing they really want to know: They want to know if the community you are founding will have a “theme”. Kinda like people want to know if a party will have a theme, or what the rules are of a game. They do not evaluate the game or party based on their rules, goals, or theme. But you can guess it would be a pretty boring party or game if they have nothing but “just people getting together to have a good time or whatever”–which granted is a necessary condition, but isn’t sufficient as a title or a purpose.

6. So should a community have a theme or a purpose? Absolutely! You can be a community devoted to performance art, plastic recycling, Sufi dancing, gender deconstructionism, animal rescue, compost innovations, or naked poi spinning. It doesn’t really matter, but you need a theme or a purpose, just like you need a name for your community.  It helps people to want to join the party.

7. How to recruit people? I don’t really know. It’s all in social media and potlucks, right? In my experience people do not want to join a community that is starting with one person and certainly not one that is starting with a couple. It really helps to have another co-conspirator that you are not romantically involved with to make people feel like “it’s a thing”. As soon as you are 3 people it should get much much easier.

8. Is it a good idea to use Craigslist to find new people?  In my experience, if you sound too weird nobody will be interested and you must have pictures or people won’t believe you exist. If living in your community is the most affordable option be ready to get all sorts of hobos contacting you. Have your contact information buried deep in the ad and use a different email address than the Craigslist one, that way you can filter those who read your ad or your site from those that are mass-emailing all the cheapest options.

9. Just because applicants are interested in gardening and friends doesn’t mean they are good for your community. Even if they can recite the entire Communist Manifesto and Gaia’s Garden. People can have the best intentions, but some of them, when they get upset, they get vicious. Reference checks, in all seriousness, and social media might be enough. And if you can meet applicant’s mom and see how they relate you can learn a lot about people’s emotional patterns. Though I don’t think you can make it a formal requirement. Oh, and consider approaching people individually.

CRIC5 10. Establish structure! It doesn’t have to be chore wheel, it just has to be a system of feedback and inclusivity. It can be that Tuesday is an all domestic work day and Wednesday we all go to the beach, or “Once a day at dinner everyone gives progress report of one sentence”, and Saturdays is open mic and fondue night. I suggest doing things together or near each other like “work in the yard together in the morning” rather than “make up your own schedule”.  You might find everyone is on facebook friending each other rather than actually being together and becoming better friends. Be ready to face opposition, and be ready to give into it. Americans do not tolerate being told when to do things, unless it’s by their boss, in which case they refer to it as a career and feel better about it.

11. Make the structure visible: Have a big project board, hang people’s poetry on the wall, have pictures of members placed into the “Today’s dictator is…” frame, provide special clothes for “don’t talk to me I’m busy” mode, etc.

12. Watch out for single moms running away from their boyfriends! Be especially weary when you hear that they’ve worked things out with their boyfriend and now he wants to join the community.

13. Be clear on what your role is and when it will change, like: “This car is my car, until a year from now, when the community buys it from me, and then it’s everyone’s,” or “I approve of applicants for the first year, until we establish new membership, and then I’m an equal voter to everyone.” Don’t be afraid of being the decision maker but don’t cement that role to yourself.

14. Identify your skills and identify your weaknesses. Everyone in your community might know that you are the most organized, but if you don’t declare: “I’m the organizer until we elect someone new,” many people would rebel against your assumed power, even if they want you to maintain it.

15. It’s fine to let provisional members choose new members, but let it be done one at a time. I have found that even wwoofers or visitors that are there for only two weeks can act in the best interest of the community when they are not receiving any direct benefit from their choices. They could very clearly identify who would be a benevolent decision maker for the community and who is wrapped up in themselves. But not always, not everyone. Unskilled people can still often make the right choices amongst several options, but by no means can they “generate” the right options if they don’t know how to do things. (e.g. I can be a good movie critic without being a good actor)

16. Always trust a little bit more than you probably should. Tell people: “I believe you can do this project and I want to support you if you need my support.” It would yield much better results than saying: “Be sure to run everything through me or someone who knows; you are obviously new and inexperienced.” Let people have access to the cashbox, but make them write down or announce what they spent money on and what money they made for the community. Feedback is more powerful than rules.

17. Have your goal for the community stated on the wall. Just because people know what it is, doesn’t mean that they are sure that everyone knows that they know that others know… infinitively. The stating on the wall helps prevent the unraveling of that infinitive chain.

18. If you don’t spend time having fun together, you will spend twice as much time trying to resolve conflicts together. But I still can’t figure out how to “legislate” or encourage participation in fun without going bankrupt on buying beer.
CRIC7

Lessons on Starting a Community

Every Eight Seconds


from the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) website Posted on by Aurora DeMarco

“The problems of aging present an opportunity to rethink our social and personal lives in order to ensure the dignity and welfare of each individual.” —Daisaku Ikeda

Every eight seconds, another baby boomer turns 65. Seven in 10 of us will need home care assistance at some point in our lives, due to disability or the simple process of getting older. Much of the time this reality is described in negative terms; the sentiment is “what a burden to society this will pose.” However, this situation can offer a great opportunity to once again advance the idea of communal living. Baby boomers spawned many social change movements that shifted our thinking on issues of personal freedom and choosing alternatives to the traditional nuclear family. Boomers may also be the generation to lead the way for changes in how we age in our society.

According to Caring Across Generations, a national advocacy organization to improve elder care in this country, we need to develop a comprehensive plan to make sure that we all age in dignity and are cared for. Currently, elder care is geared to those people who live in traditional families where there is a spouse and/or children who can provide and care for their sick and elderly loved ones. Often paid home health aides care for the sick and elderly in home-based care. Many also end up in institutional-based care settings such as assisted living or retirement homes or hospitals. Unlike the spirit of connectedness and caring of intentional communities, these institutions often strip seniors of their rights to self-determination and governance. Many arrive there as a last resort, frail and no longer able to provide their self-care needs. Many do not want to burden their family members and some have no family members at all.

Intentional communities offer an alternative to the isolation and loneliness that many seniors experience as they age and need more assistance. With fewer and fewer people coming from traditional families, now is the time to reinforce that intentional communities can be an antidote to social isolation and loneliness.

Every Eight Seconds

Fortunately there are existing models, like kommune-niederkaufungen, which generates income with its elder care worker collective (www.kommune-niederkaufungen.de/english-informations), and the Fellowship Community, whose elder “members” contribute about 35 percent of the community’s income in the form of different fees (www.fellowshipcommunity.org/our-elder-members.html). Furthermore, existing communities are carving their own paths towards care as members age and need care. My daughter is part of the care team for the elderly and disabled in her intentional community, which has built a separate building that offers care from birth to hospice when their members need it. Moreover, new communities are forming with the intention of offering elder care to their members.

At the 2014 Twin Oaks Communities Conference a group of us met to discuss how to provide elder and hospice care in intentional communities. We created a list of ideas for helping existing communities and for advancing the idea of intentional communities as a new model for senior living. It is by no means comprehensive, but rather a beginning of a much larger conversation about providing elder care in intentional communities.

1. Encourage communards to have advanced directives and co-caring agreements in case communards need elder/hospice care. These directives/agreements can help avoid conflict later on. This may be especially true for those who have families who may disagree with their choices. Many people have chosen to live in community because they have different values and lifestyle preferences than their family of origin or family of procreation. Advanced directives and co-caring agreements give individuals the opportunity to spell out clearly their wishes on medical interventions and how they wish to be cared for. One communard’s son called the police on her when she notified him of her choice of voluntary starvation and dehydration to expedite her dying process—a legal practice which does not contribute to suffering among the dying and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life. Having her wishes put in writing and shared with her family members might have helped her family members understand and respect her choice to die as she wanted.

2. Put together a work exchange for people wanting to visit communities in exchange for helping to care for disabled/elderly communards. Volunteering time in exchange for room and board is a good way to travel inexpensively. Living in community offers opportunities to explore different regions, socialize, and be of service. Being part of a care team is one way to volunteer and could be a way for communities to have their labor needs met. Many people want to put their big toe in the intentional community waters and this may offer a clear way to volunteer and be of service, while also experiencing communal living.

3. Develop an exchange program with other communities who can send caregivers to help with hospice care/elder care when communities are in need. Often various communities send help to fellow communities when there is a need. One communard spoke about his wife’s end-of-life care. She was a beloved member of the intentional communities movement and when she needed end-of-life care a few members traveled from their home communities to assist her. This is a great way for communities to support one another.

4. Reach out to networks of retired nurses who may want to still practice nursing in the more pleasant settings that communities offer as opposed to the harsh conditions of institutional-based care. Most nurses I speak with say they love nursing, but dislike their workplace environments. In the community I live in, a long-term community member who is in her 90s is cared for by three home health aides. All three women are valued members of the community and enjoy the openness, kindness, and caring that my community is especially known for. During our Thanksgiving celebration a special word of gratitude was given to these hardworking caregivers.

5. Be aware that hospice is always paid for through Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance plans, and charity pools. Hospice care includes four hours a day of a professional home health aide, as well as the help of physician, nurse, social work, pastoral care, the training of nonprofessional caregivers, and pain relief, as needed. When I have traveled to intentional communities to talk about elder care, I am shocked at how many people are not aware that hospice is paid for and that it is an option that most people don’t know they have.

The beauty of aging is that it can be a time of life where the demands of work and family are behind you. Yet culturally people still follow a paradigm that may not work for them. Rather than retirement being a time of exploration and connectedness, many seniors feel depressed as a result of feeling unproductive, isolated, and uncared for. Many of these issues are explored further in the article “Communities and Old Age: Opportunities and Challenges for People over 50” by Maria Brenton (see www.ic.org/wiki/communities-old-age-opportunities-challenges-people-50). I would like to end with a quote from this article, because it captures the spirit that needs to be harnessed so that people over 50 can create communities that work for them:

“Being part of an intentional community in old age is a way to challenge the isolation and social exclusion that many older people experience in our youth-oriented western societies. Living in an intentional community is a way to maintain personal autonomy as well as add an active, vibrant, companionable dimension to one’s later life. While group living is not everyone’s cup of tea, if you are interested in it don’t wait until you are really old to explore the available options. Anticipate and take action to join or start such communities while you have plenty of drive and energy for new opportunities, challenges, excitement, and personal growth. Don’t wait for the future to be decided for you. Shape it for yourself. There are other people out there with whom you can share the experience.”

Aurora DeMarco has over 30 years of community organizing experience. She has written and published on various topics including health care, child care, migrant workers, parenting, women’s issues, and cyberbullying. She has worked with senior advocates pushing for Health Care for All and was successful in getting a single-payer bill through the New York State Assembly. Aurora is a Licensed Massage Therapist with a specialty in working with Trauma Survivors. She has worked as a Grief Counselor for Hospice of New York, and developed and presented workshops on working with trauma survivors in hospice settings. She most recently facilitated a workshop on providing elder and hospice care in intentional communities. She lives at Ganas, an intentional community on Staten Island, New York and is working with Point A, a collective dedicated to building more intentional income-sharing, egalitarian urban communities.

Every Eight Seconds

Herbs at the Oran Mór Community (Missouri)

By Desiree

We here at the Oran Mór Community have been busy harvesting herbs from the gardens and the wild for our cooperative community business. We call ourselves Rising Roots Collective and we are a group of herbalists, gardeners, carpenters, fiber artists, musicians, and primitive skills craftsman. The collective is made up of our communards at Oran Mór, as well as other local folks in the area who we work together with. Currently we have been most busy with plentiful plants! These are some of the plants we have been busy harvesting:

OM1

Motherwort

 OM2

 Red clover

 OM3

 Mullein

 OM4

 Comfrey

OM5

Valerian

 OM6

 Lemon balm

 OM7

 Chamomile

 We would love to have an herbal intern for the season to help with drying, harvesting, preparing herbal oils, tinctures, and teas, cultivating, and more! You will learn a lot about edible and medicinal plants of the Ozarks including identification, uses, and preparations. We currently have a room available and camping is amazing this time of year. Interested folks can email us at oranmor@speedymail.org or call 417-250- 9252, also check out our website www.oranmorcommunity.org

Herbs at the Oran Mór Community (Missouri)