by Ella Cambia with an addition by Gil Cambia
Every community, like an evolving organism, is informed by its genetic past and adapted to its current environment. Such is Cambia, a newly formed income sharing community in Louisa, VA.
Why start community when there are so many already? When some of those communities aren’t even full and are looking for members? There is a niche to fill in the ecology of community, and without it, the ecosystem is not as resilient. What is this niche?
To some degree, we have not wanted to define Cambia. We have wanted to let her slowly develop her own vision. We have also been focused on how we are being together, not just what we are doing together. We want the how to be as important as the what. But slowly, with the help of offsite members and supporters, Cambia’s vision is becoming more and more clear. It is our hope, however, that Cambia will continue to be flexible and evolving, using our collective values to guide us rather than some end goal.
So what part of Cambia’s vision is developing this clarity? For one, Cambia hopes to become a permaculture education center. It will be a hands-on, interactive, and inspiring day camp for children or novices to learn about permaculture in the most intuitive, practical and enjoyable way. And we don’t just mean gardening. We mean incorporating permaculture principles into the whole of the natural ecology, as well as the social and cultural ecology. We mean taking a design science and applying it, while also encouraging and inspiring others to do the same, in their own home, community, city, rural land. There are ways in which a widespread application of permaculture could mean supporting all the inhabitants of the earth in a healthful and sustainable way. There are ways that permaculture can help to remediate decimated ecosystems and slow global climate change. Although we are working on this locally and not globally, the long term and overarching goal is to affect some change in this direction.
The education center (which we are calling the Living Systems Exploratorium) is an answer to the question of how to have a business that has a strong symbiotic relationship with the community. The more Cambia grows into her full self, the more her business would naturally thrive, and the more the business thrives the more it would support the community becoming her full self. The business is still in its infancy as well, but will hopefully grow as does Cambia. Currently, we are hosting workshops and work parties to allow people to come and experience natural and alternative building, and will continue to host workshops as we develop.
Applying permaculture principles to garden and landscape seems simple (read Gaia’s Garden to get an idea of how that works, if you are unfamiliar with the concepts). It isn’t simple, it is incredibly complex, but the basic ideas can begin to be worked with and applied easily. In comparison, social permaculture is incredibly elusive in application. But here we are, at Cambia, trying this as well.
One basic principle of permaculture is stacking functions. Community is already efficient in that just the act of sharing reduces negative environmental impact (use of fossil fuels, etc.). We are interested in more than that. Living communally answers a need many of us feel for meaningful relationships that are held together by the day-to- day experience, not separate from it. So if we are going to live together, we might as well stack functions and be good friends. (This may seem obvious if you haven’t lived in community before, but it isn’t always how it works.) So we are intentional about the time we spend together, whether in work, play, dance, meditation, or focused conversation. We value stretching our own interests to support each other’s passions, to be inspired by one another. And this is one niche that sets us apart from some other intentional communities: bringing intention into our relationships acts as a community glue that keeps the community from stagnation or collapse.
Another permaculture principle is “the problem is the solution.” This is applicable to our view on families and children. Some communities might view children as a burden. They can only accept a certain number of children because of the labor load the children require, and most people aren’t seeing the benefit. Well what is the benefit? We love kids. We are inspired by their curiosity. We are teaching them to be good people. In some ways, everything we are doing is for the next generation. Of course it is for ourselves as well, but we are working hard to provide a better world for our children. We want to incorporate them into our work. We want our work to be fundamentally understandable to children. Shelling beans, planting seeds, drying fruit, chopping firewood, building with clay and caring for livestock. Many of these jobs are too tedious or boring for grownups to do, but can be challenging for kids, and much more fun when doing them together.
The particular gift of children is that they “force” the adults to slow things down, to explain things, and even to celebrate more, get in the kiddy pool, jump on the trampoline, etc. Another benefit is that it gives a real job to the teenagers or to visitors of your community. Whereas teens might feel disinterested in the workings of grownups or constantly want to escape into the virtual social world, they generally do not neglect their babysitting duties, and often have more energy and playfulness than grownups do. Visitors are often enchanted by the degree of independence, maturity, and knowledge of community kids, and gives the kids a chance to shine and impress the visitors, while the visitors get to offer real help by watching over the kids.
In wanting Cambia to be an ever evolving community that tends towards its goals of social harmony and positive ecological impact, we are brought to our third goal. We are forming a research institute for the study of intentional communities. We are gathering academic affiliations and intentions to create a working group and a conference place to focus scientific research that could help us understand the basic question of: “If communal living is so obviously the natural and good way to live then why is it so hard?” We are hoping the further research of this subject will help to inform Cambia as well as any other forming or established intentional community.
So what are those values that are informing our direction and vision? We do value work, insofar as it brings our ultimate goals of creating the homes we feel good about and the educational center that brings us ideological fulfillment. But more, we value the relationships between people, our children, art and creativity, spiritual practices, and supporting each other’s passions. Sometimes it is all too easy to focus on work and progress, but in doing so, we might forget our other values. Cambia is intentionally creating space and time for these values to be held and nurtured, for creativity, ritual and love to be cultivated. And yes, we have to finish the barn. But yes, we will also devote time to making puppets and telling stories.
You may be skeptical and would like to say: “Sure you state these intentions but what’s to prevent Cambia from eroding its values and gradually turning into just a poorer version of the mainstream? After all, just because Congo is called a ‘democratic republic’ doesn’t mean it isn’t ruled by a dictator, gangs, and multinational corporations?”
My answer: With democracy as with science and as all of life, there are mechanisms in place to encourage evolution or at least prevent decay. Without those mechanisms, intentions might not be sufficient. So here at Cambia we put in place social and cultural mechanisms for our success.
Cambia seeks to provide ever evolving answers to the question of what the mechanisms are.
That’s right, no specific answers. Answers can turn into dogmas.
So what is Cambia? Cambia community is fundamentally about growth and evolution. An ever evolving community with strong values and ideology, where we grow as individuals and as a collective, just like the cells that make up the cambium of a tree: inherently life-giving and flexible. The most life happens on the edge. Between xylem and phloem, between bark and wood, between work and play. Work brings the slow, steady rooting and strength, play brings the nutrients, energy, and light.