Pictures and captions by Reynaldo
written by ella sutherland, cambia community
Cambia’s pond today, before the addition of the creek.
There are many reasons to build a pond. Here I’ll talk about all of Cambia’s reasons, the design and function, and how it relates to community.
When we were beginning to build our new common space, ‘the Barn’, we decided to create an earthen floor for the main room. This meant digging up quite a bit of clay to mix with sand and straw. But we also knew we wanted to have a pond. A small pond, for relaxation in the summers, for storing rainwater, for demonstrating the way plants can clean water. So we dug out our clay for the floor in a shady little nook across from the new building. Close enough to easily wheelbarrow over the clay, close enough that the pond would serve as part of the communal yard of the house.
Starting the pond dig, last summer 2016. The clay here was dug to use for the earthen floor of the barn.
Finishing the dig. Removing the last of the clay pile from around the pond.
The pond is about 10 feet in diameter, and three feet deep. It has a ledge all the way around it: one half for sitting, and one half for plants. The water flows in a cycle. Rainwater washes down the metal roof of the barn, flows through a gutter into a smaller pond. This smaller pond is in the sun, with lots of gravel and plants for filtering the water. The water then travels down a ‘creek’, lined with pond liner, gravel, and plants, and finally into the main pond. Fish eat all the mosquito larvae, frogs and toads moved in almost immediately, and birds are loving the new place to drink.
The smaller sunny pond that is filled with rainwater from the barn roof. The creek will connect the two ponds.
The plants provide many functions. They help to clean and filter the water while at the same time providing a beautiful, serene place to relax. The water hyacinths, when they grow larger, will provide shade to the larger pond, keeping it cold in the summer. Their long roots uptake the excess nutrients in the water.
We built a deck around the pond, using the scrap redwood from a deck that Twin Oaks disassembled. The deck is low, so you can sit on the edge and put your feet in the water. We lined the other half of the pond with flat stones that were unwanted at Acorn. This demonstrates the sense of abundance and mutual support between the local FEC communities. Both are a beautiful and essential addition to the pond.
The pond and deck, with the wood-fired hot tub in the background. The solar panel will power the water pump, which will cycle the water. We’re using the bilge pump from our landlocked sailboat house (more about that another time).
In the development of our educational non-profit, we are planning to use the pond to demonstrate to the children and their families who attend our programs the ability of biological systems to clean and filter water. It is a physical, intuitive, and hands-on demonstration of these scientific concepts: aeration, nutrient cycle, photosynthesis, the function of aerobic bacteria, providing habitat for the local fauna, while providing ourselves with a source of clean water.
The next step is to also set up a slow sand filter called a Biosand Filter. This is a filter that uses aerobic bacteria in a barrel of sand and gravel to make the water clean enough to drink. It is used in many countries where access to a well is limited. We built one in California, in the previous community where we lived, because we did not have well water and this filter produced much cleaner water than can be stored in rainwater catchment. It worked well for a number of years.
In hot Virginia summers, it is crucial that we have a cool place to sit and relax. It brings people together, slows us down, and help us to appreciate the beauty of the land we live on and the plants that keep us thriving. Although the creek is not yet finished, we started using the pond almost immediately to cool down when the afternoons are too hot.
Spring in Ozark County has arrived with the thunderous roar of hail and heavy rain. The rainfall has caused a record shattering high water crest for Norfork Lake and has heavily damaged a number of bridges including Tecumseh Bridge which is only a few miles from East Wind. Some plants and trees have sustained hail damage, but the bigger issue has been the long periods of overcast and rain that don’t allow for sufficient sunlight and warmth for good growth as well as making it more difficult to work in the beds and prepare for transplanting all the summer crops out of the greenhouse. May is usually the busiest time of the year in the garden and hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants will need to be transplanted in the coming week.
Veteran Garden Managers Richard and Petey are leading up the 2017 season. First visiting East Wind within one month of each other these greenthumbs have been members for just under a decade. Richard has held an affinity for identifying trees and observing plants since he was a child. Petey has a passion for holistic gardening and a fondness for the living world. Sharing a desire for nutrient dense homegrown food this duo, with the support and help of many other East Winders both past and present, established the Lower Garden and effectively doubled the size of East Wind’s gardens. In combination with the seventy foot hoophouse built in the fall of 2015 East Wind’s vegetable production has increased greatly in the last five years. Homegrown tomatoes are now available year round (including canned, of course). Homegrown potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, okra, sweet peppers, and strawberries are all available at least six months out of the year.
This season’s garden plan is similar to last season’s in terms of amounts grown. The hoophouse has early slicer tomatoes, three varieties of heat resistant broccoli hybrids, Romanesco broccoli, early cauliflower, and a number of cabbage varieties in the ground and beginning to bear fruit. Cucumbers and sweet peppers are also coming along. Lettuces, arugula, and salad turnips have been produced continuously via succession planting through the Winter into Spring. The hoophouse’s crops were completely protected from the 3/4 inch hail East Wind experienced recently.
Out in the Main Garden and Lower Garden peas, carrots, beets, turnips, lettuce, potatoes, garlic, onions, bush beans, cucumbers, zucchinis, and parsnips are all in the ground. The first strawberry of the year was picked in mid April and the expanded patch promises to be very productive this season once we get some warmer and dryer weather. Richard is pleased to find that chestnut trees he began planting in 2010 have started to produce. The onion patch is located in the Lower Garden this year and transplants of onions planted in late Fall out of the hoophouse are off to a strong start compared to onions started late Winter in the greenhouse. Unfortunately, during the heaviest storm water saturated the ground of the greenhouse and this was just enough for one table of tomatoes to fall over. Only one or two plants were destroyed immediately and many are damaged, but the survivors should recover just fine. The increasingly erratic climate in this warming world is one more thing that needs to be expected and planned for.
All in all it looks like another great garden season for East Wind. Petey is excited to have more storage areas like our new dry storage building (blog post coming soon, stay tuned!) and a small climate controlled insulated storage room. More produce, more storage, more wholesome food throughout the year. The enjoyment of gardening goes hand in hand with the enjoyment of eating fresh picked homegrown vegetables. A big thank you to everyone who helps out in the garden!
Post and pictures by Sumner
Folks at the Compersia Community were kind enough to send us pictures of their new home. Here’s a few with comments from some of the community members.
As if in greeting, these trees burst into bloom the week that we moved in.
The kids enjoying a sleepover in the basement.
No FEC commune is complete without a Twin Oaks hammock.
Our yard backs up right to Rock Creek Park and we are visited nearly every day by a pack of deer and a pair of foxes making their rounds.
GPaul dances for baby Emma’s amusement.
Jenny in a pile of children.
Meren enjoys the climbable surfaces of the new house.
Barnaby and commune friends Gabi and Jenne face off at light saber point.
Games night at Compersia. Nerds of the world, unite!
Courtney performs at Art-o-matic, an area community arts event.
In trying to create communities, it’s important to learn what works and also what doesn’t work. There’s a lot of pieces on this blog from communities that are up and running, many for over ten years, and one for a full fifty. There’s a lot we can learn from them about what works.
We also hope to hear from folks who have tried to start communes that didn’t go anywhere, about why they didn’t work. (One good piece on this is Gil from Cambia’s Lessons on Starting a Community. Other folks who’ve dealt with difficulties in community building have promised to send their learnings.) This is important because difficulties are the reality of commune building, and hopefully, anyone trying to start a commune can learn from them.
The Totally Utopia Community that I describe here is not a real community. However, I am well acquainted with three real communities that are nearly identical to what I describe. The important thing for me is that if I just happen to know three different communities (in three different states) that are so similar to the Totally Utopia Community, I strongly suggest that there are probably dozens more like this. I can’t believe that I just randomly found the only three communities like this.
The folks behind the Totally Utopia Community are a couple that I will call Adam and Eve (no relation to the biblical couple). These are very bright folks, well versed in farming, construction, and all types of eco-sustainability. Adam is especially capable and competent.
I’ve talked a little bit about community hardware and software. Adam and Eve are very good at the hardware. What they have difficulty with is the software–the relationships.
Adam is a charismatic, alpha male. He is good at attracting people. He is also very worried about climate change and is very demanding of himself as well as other people. The problem is that no one outside of he and Eve matches up to what they want. While they don’t have trouble finding people, no one seems good enough–and since no one ever matches up, I suspect that they’re not going to find anyone who will stay–and so they will never create real community.
To a large degree, the Totally Utopia Community, as such, exists in name only. Two people and a rotating cast of interns and extras do not make a community. As I’ve said, I’ve seen this particular community process in action at least three times, so it’s popular, even if it’s not functional.
Lest you think this kind of situation is only restricted to heterosexual couples concerned about climate change, here’s a similar situation only with two gay men creating an agricultural religious community. The ideas are they have are interesting but, as they said, they weren’t perhaps the right people to implement them. I suspect they have similar problems to Adam and Eve.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy solution to the Totally Utopia Community’s problems. It would mean that these folks would need to change their behavior to get anywhere. Some thoughts that I’ve had is that Adam could, perhaps, learn how to be supportive and welcoming to people and, instead of deciding that they aren’t competent enough, try to figure out what they’re good at and how they could help build community. Changing his behavior probably wouldn’t be easy, particularly if he’s scared and feeling urgent about the climate emergency. Or, they could restructure things so that he isn’t in charge, but someone warm and welcoming and with interpersonal skills is running things and Adam can focus on the things that he’s good at, like construction and farming. Or (and I actually suggested this to one of these couples), maybe they should just stop trying to build a community, and have a small family farm where they could work together and wouldn’t have to worry about other people.
When someone tells me that all you need to do to create a commune is, build it and they will come, I think of Adam and Eve. In two of the three communities, I’m talking about, the couple is still out there trying to create the community. I wish them luck but I fear that no community will happen unless something changes.
I put this out here because I think this is a model of how not to build community–and a model that is still being used. For people who wonder why I’m so insistent on starting with getting the people and learning to work together, the Totally Utopia Community is a good example.
The Feminist Think Tank (FTT) group at Twin Oaks began in fall of 2015 in response to concerns about inter-community boundary-crossing issues. It’s gone through some changes since then and has recently re-formed. Originally, our process team was tasked with looking at the sexual assault and harassment response policy and organized a focus group meeting of women to help guide the process. This group continued to meet and ended up discussing all sorts of feminist issues at twin oaks, gradually inviting some gender-non-conforming folks and men to attend every other meeting. Over time, the group became more focused on events and activism in the community.
In our first year, we accomplished many things:
- movie showing
- play reading
- two consent workshops
- feminist dance party
- feminist creek walk
- reviving monthly women’s tea for female visitors
- two men’s meetings
- women’s (and mixed) tool-using workshops
- introducing the values oreo to the visitor program
- supporting racial justice at the Women’s Gathering
- supporting the “visiting our visions” program
- supporting the zine discussion group
- publishing an article in geez magazine about living and working together in community despite having differing individual philosophies of feminism
- sparking conversations with other communards
- ftt e-mail list to share additional resources, articles, etc
- bringing together folks from different social circles
- helping to increase focus on the bylaws on a community-wide scale
As with many regular meetings at Twin Oaks, the original group dwindled in attendance over time due to a variety of reasons (people leaving the community, scheduling conflicts, general attrition, interpersonal conflicts, political differences, etc) and so we decided to revamp the group this past fall 2016. The new incarnation of FTT now meets every two weeks and is open to anyone of any gender who:
- Acknowledges the patriarchy exists
- Identifies as a feminist or feminist ally, and
- Recognizes that patriarchy is at play at Twin Oaks and wants to do something about it
Since re-forming the group, we’ve organized another two consent workshops prior to the 2017 New Year’s Eve party, designed and distributed fingerbooks about consent expectations for the New Year’s Eve party, had several folks participate in the Women’s March on Washington, and have continued to discuss our sexual assault and harassment response policy.
Ideas we have for the future include a consent tea party, consent fingerbook for Validation Day, increasing men’s support around the Women’s Gathering, more feminism 101 programming and educational opportunities, better bridging of issues between Twin Oaks and the outside world, doing more outside activism in order to gain connections and resources, re-inserting Twin Oaks into radical circles, dealing with the perception gap between how men and women see feminism at twin oaks, a feminist discussion group, and more. While Twin Oaks is certainly less sexist than mainstream society, we’re definitely “not utopia yet” and need to continuously strive to improve our culture at twin oaks and the world at large.
Videopost for «Commune Life» blog on the 170th anniversary of the publication of «Allons en Icarie!», the first call for building an egalitarian community.