Levels of Sustainability in Community

by Raven

Sustainability is a hot topic in communal living, but I think that there are several different types of sustainability.  I’d like to take this post to explore some various levels of sustainability.

The first level is what many people think of when they talk about sustainability, what some people call ‘eco-sustainability’.  Living Energy Farm is an example of a commune focused on eco-sustainability, as is the Stillwater Sanctuary, but even Twin Oaks, which has never tried very hard to be eco-sustainable, has a very low carbon footprint.  With the climate crisis we are in now, this type of sustainability is very important.

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Old fashioned sustainability at Twin Oaks

But it isn’t the only level of sustainability in the communes.  Twin Oaks is a model for a very different type of sustainability, the ability of a community to sustain itself, which Twin Oaks has done for fifty years.  Not only has Twin Oaks lasted, but it has provided a model that has influenced other long lasting communes (some of which have been around now for twenty to forty years) .

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There’s also a third level of sustainability to community living.  Dancing Rabbit (which is not an income sharing community but is an interesting model for community living and sustainability on many levels) refers to this as ‘inner sustainability’.  It is not enough to live ecologically sustainably and to sustain the community.  It is also important to sustain the individual members of the community.

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Sharing time at Dancing Rabbit

There are many tools to do this.  Two that are practiced at some of the communes are Transparency Tools and the Clearness process, but sometimes people use things like meditation, Nonviolent Communication, and Re-evaluation Co-counseling as well.  Some of this shades into interpersonal sustainability, where forms of conflict resolution are often helpful as well.  Good communication is an important part of sustainability.

So in community, we have the opportunity to learn to sustain ourselves as well as our interpersonal relationships, and the community as a whole as well as living in a way that is ecologically sustainable.  And this is how we create a sustainable world.

 

 

Levels of Sustainability in Community

New Pantry

from the East Wind Blog, July 10, 2017

Stocking a kitchen that serves the needs of over seventy people requires a lot of space for food storage. Steps away from Rock Bottom (our community’s main kitchen and dining hall) we have two stand alone buildings for food storage: a walk-in refrigerator (‘the walk-in’) and dry storage. East Wind now enjoys a newly constructed dry storage building thanks to the helping hands of many community members.

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Beckie making a cut at the site of the new building

Beckie, a member for over twenty years, planned and led the construction of the building from demolition of the old structure to completion of the new. The biggest challenge for her was preparing for and executing the pouring of a large concrete slab that was required to support the new building, which is more than twice the size of the previous dry storage structure.

EWP2Pouring of the slab, to the left you can see the ‘walk-in’ (walk-in refrigerator) and to the right is Rock Bottom (kitchen and dining hall)

The pour went well and the concrete provides a large thermal mass that helps to passively regulate the temperature along with the high ceilings and wall vents. Beckie, having decades of experience in construction and building maintenance, and the skillful hands of JR and Wild Horse were able to finish raising the walls and roof in short order.

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JR to the left and Wild Horse on the right installing tin roof

With the actual construction of the building finished there remained the electric, laying out the interior, and all the little finishing touches. Beckie’s son Wes, born and raised at East Wind, along with his grandfather Ed ran all the electric lines. Boone and Tony put in place shelving and a large rack of drawers. Winter painted the exterior walls to match Rock Bottom’s forty year old aesthetic (custom color tin was ordered for the roof for this same purpose). The small details are still being worked on to beautify the space and make most efficient use of it.

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Wood burned signs to be placed on each spice drawer

The new dry storage offers ample space for two freezers and yards and yards of shelf space. Everyone is free to take what they need, but don’t forget to close the door behind you! In addition to this facility, two new shower houses are currently under construction, this is certainly a building year for East Wind.

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Now that’s one gigantic pantry! A big thank you to Beckie and everyone who put time in on this project!

Post and photos by Sumner

New Pantry

Hello from Mimosa…

by Aurora DeMarco

I am down here in Louisa helping to start a new community called Mimosa. Mimosa was formerly known as Sapling but when my friends Sapphyre, Edmund, Kaya and Ponyo moved in, we decided to change our name to Mimosa.

According to the Global Healing Center, “Traditional Chinese Medicinal practitioners have long revered the bark, leaves, and flowers of the Mimosa tree for its potent health benefits. The Mayan people of Central America also revered the plant, and commonly used it for aiding trauma injuries and burns. And while little modern scientific research has been conducted on the qualities of this plant, time-tested ancient wisdom has long praised this herb as an important therapeutic tool.

“Usually, for health applications, the bark of the tree is shaved and dried and used in tincture and capsule forms. The leaves of the plant can also be dried and used as a tea. One of the most important applications of the dried/powder form of the bark is its use as an ancient mood enhancer. Known in China as the ‘Collective Happiness Bark,’ the Mimosa tree was given to people who needed a ‘spiritual uplift or cleansing.’ Mimosa tree bark is also used as a common remedy for generalized muscular discomfort and swelling.”

Mimosa

Coincidentally there was a lovely Mimosa tree in my yard when I was growing up. I spent a great deal of time in that tree trying to make sense of my chaotic life. I think it is more than possible that this tree helped me feel hopeful about my future despite living in such a dysfunctional environment.

Fast forward 40 years and here I am trying to build a community dedicated to healing trauma and building cooperative culture. Though it is a great deal of work, I never question the meaningfulness of the work I am doing. It is all for the betterment of the whole. My first project is putting siding on a new 3 room agricultural building that is about half way done from completion. We are working together as a community and it feels good to be in a place where many hands make light work.

But beyond the tending to the “hardware” (the structures of community) building the software (how do we build healthy relationships?) is time-consuming, yet rewarding too. We spend a lot of time getting to know each other and thinking through how to deal with things as they come up. Luckily we are all committed to self-growth and looking at conflict as an opportunity rather than as an obstacle. I feel pretty psyched about this new community dedicated to honest, trauma healing communication. So much of what I am reflecting on is the idea of how people fear being judged and that judgment in itself is not a real threat.

If you go to the FEC website you will see that we are 4 adults and 1 teenager living on 3.5 acres of land. We are surrounded by woods and agricultural land owned by other communities and ex-community members.

We hold egalitarianism, environmentalism, cooperative living and resource sharing as core values.

As a manifestation of our values, we plan to retrofit our recently-purchased mainstream manufactured house and recently denuded landscape into an energy efficient, low carbon footprint homestead over-flowing with beautiful gardens, happy animals, and awesome communards.

We believe this reflects as important a concern as preserving the environment: restoring what has already been destroyed and altering what already has been built to fit a sustainable paradigm.

Our primary income area is organic vegetable seed production as well as building up Common Wealth Seed Growers to become income-producing for us.

As part of our mission, we are especially interested in cultivating native endangered woodland medicinals.

So there you have it, the hardware and the software of Mimosa.

 

Hello from Mimosa…

Commune Dads Episode 07: Grandparents . . . Again!

from Commune Dads, 13 April 2017

Grandparents again! Keegan and adder take another look at the role of grandparents. They are fun and helpful, but the hosts seem to have missed last episode some of the wisdom and love that grandparents bring to the table. Also, research on the effects of grandparents and depression, a listener email about veganism, and talk about sick babies.

Mentions:
Strong grandparent-adult grandchild relationships reduce depression for both (article)

Alasdair MacIntyre – Catholic Instead of What? (talk)

NoseFrida Snotsucker

Arrival (movie)

Stories of Your Life (short story)

Max Richter on the nature of daylight (song)

Opening Music: Commune Dads Theme – Nick Paoletti
Closing Music: Warmer – Andy G Cohen

 

Commune Dads Episode 07: Grandparents . . . Again!

Community lifecycle

by Gil Cambia

Intentional communities are a strange creature, they can be only as strong as their weakest link, but in other ways they could be greater than the average or even the sum of their parts. I’m referring to the various ways of decision making / agenda setting in a community. At least in theory, the larger the community the greater range of ideas and knowledge and therefore the greater possibilities for excellence. However, I think it mostly depends on the age of the community both in physical years, and in spirit, and not necessarily the share number of members.

When Cric House was a young community, just like a young child, it was very playful, spontaneous, social, optimistic and even adventurous.

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It wasn’t very coordinated, organized, or thoughtful, even though many of its members, individually were much more “together”, the “super organism” that it created was clearly young.

We just loved doing shit together. Didn’t matter what it was. We invited tons of wwoofers and interns, and could not even tell the difference between work and play. Everything was fun and exciting. When money was needed, we found ways to make money, when work was needed we all got together to make it happen.

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But of course this phase didn’t last, Cric house got older and grumpier, lost much vibrancy and adventure. Though its earning potential and resources increased, the willingness of the members to give to the commons had shrunk in both social, monetary, and even artistic ways.

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In the same ways that kittens sleep in a pile but older cats just want alone time, the energy of a community can be young and compel its members, regardless of age, to need less personal space or autonomy, and more interaction and group expression.

Cambia community is only 2 years old. Some could say that it hasn’t fully been born yet because we have not had consistent membership. That is completely fair and I can’t argue against that, but still, at Cambia we adopt much more adventurous measures than some of the older communities.

We are currently known for the community that has a boat that won’t float.

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It’s kinda crazy, right? It was a huge project to get it here, to cut the lead keel, to build a deck for it, figure out the solar-electric and water system, and now we are thinking about how we are going to erect a mast and set up a windmill and a zip line from it. So it’s extra crazy, right?

Why does a small struggling community that has so little money, labor, or other resources invest in such a challenging form of housing? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to get a used camper or a single-wide trailer with some water damage for cheap?

Why spend so much work building a pond instead of a doughboy pool with some bleach from the dollar store?

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Why build a barn out of live-edge lumber instead of painted OSB? Now that’s really insane. Not just the cost, but the fact that every piece has to be chosen and cut to size. We also didn’t get a bushhog to carve a path into the forest, instead we went with hand-clippers and worked for hours on what a machine would do in a few minutes.   Furthermore, we continue to have to maintain such paths with the same slow tools that made it.

So the explanation for this insanity has to do with our age again. We are in some kind of teenage phase.  It’s a phase where we have to wear our identity externally so to communicate it with the world as well as internalize it more thoroughly.

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This is also analogous to cultural development. In small tribal societies, all over the world, it might seem to us as if a disproportionate amount of effort is spend on wearing one’s identity.

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It is completely natural and maybe even healthy to be in this phase, but when some people from Twin Oaks community came to visit, they were rather bewildered; we were asked “how are you guys able to accomplish so much when you have so little?” a more cynical questions could be: “why are some under-developed cultures wasting so much time on non-pragmatic things?”

So there is one other part to this answer that goes beyond identity expression: in a small community, there is a greater chance of people saying “yes!” to someone’s crazy idea. That craziness could be art, it could be environmentalist ideology, it could be implementing a new ritual, and it could even be a financially risky move.

In older communities there seems to be much more caution and pragmatism. Much more of an institutional memory of all the ways and which things have gone poorly before when people were irresponsible. But there is also something even deeper than that: there are disappointments and grief that simply don’t get worked out, they are old scars that never heal, and they manifest in the unwillingness to rejoice in someone else’s party, because one’s own party didn’t go so well.

So communities end up recapitulating the normal biological processes of aging by turning every injury into chronic muscle tightness around it. With age, flexibility is reduced and tensions increase, certain routine ways of doing things turn into deep grooves of wrinkles, and a general tiredness sets in.

This doesn’t mean death. And even death doesn’t mean death because communities keep on being reborn all the time. And members of community X that may have been grumpy and conservative might become much more liberal and open when they move to community Y after it falls apart.

But I’m not sure this is actually always true, and I’m even less sure that its inevitable. In the same way that tribal cultures and religions can be thousands of years old but maintain elements of inspiration and vibrancy rather than cold pragmatism, there must be a way for communities to be able to pursue this quality. By analogy, there are endless anti-aging products, services, and exercises out there. We need to figure out how to be able to apply these to community to keep it thriving longer.

There was a time when colonizers simply treated land as though its useful when its young but after it has been worked for a few decades it will be depleted of its vitality and new land must be acquired.

Everyone of us in the commune world knows a fair bit of what it means to give back to the earth so it can continue to sustain us. I think we ought to start thinking more of community as having similar depletion process if we don’t really know what the process of replenishing would be.

I would love to hear ideas!

 

 

Community lifecycle