Growing Cotyledon

by Raven Cotyledon

Right now, Cotyledon has a strong core (DNA, Gil, and me), and two fabulous folks (Lacey and Matthew) who plan to be with us just a little bit longer. As we said in our late December post, we are looking for more folks to join us.

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This is an exciting time for us. We are starting our second year, and we are working on creating agreements. We are currently finishing up a membership process that will go all the way from someone arriving to becoming (a year or more later) a full, income-sharing, decision making member. Because we named ourselves Cotyledon and because the three of us are all involved in urban agriculture, we are naming the steps involved with terms like Seed, Radicle, Graft, Sprout, and True Leaf.  It’s fun but it also reminds us that we are growing in many ways: as people, as a community, and growing plants for food, for medicine, for beauty, to help pollinators, and to heal the earth and ourselves.

img_0118I think that the world needs us.  Sharing income and living collectively, carefully, and compassionately in New York City. What a concept.

And it’s difficult, especially in New York City, where it’s pretty expensive as well. But we are committed and persistent.  Now all we need is others to join us in our efforts to create a different way of being.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Bryan Utesch
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft

Thanks!

Growing Cotyledon

How to Start and Maintain a Micro-Revolutionary Project

“Hold my hand I need you for courage.
We become who we are together,
each needing the other. Alone is a myth.”
~Gunilla Norris

The beginning of Kommune Niederkaufungen illustrates that a group of engaged people can bring a new way of living once they meet and share their dreams. Over thirty years ago, a group of idealists created a different life for themselves, an alternative economic system and lifestyle within a commune. This strategy for changing the system contrasts with the tendencies of modern social movements that choose short-term mobilization and loose networks. It is interesting to study the example of this successful commune to explore collective action, self-organizing, and social change.The result is impressive: an egalitarian commune of about 60 adults and 20 children sharing income and resources according to one’s needs. They apply consensus in the decision making instead of majority voting system: discussions last until a satisfying solution has been found. In exceptional cases, veto of 4 members can block a decision.

How Did the Project Start?

In 1983, 12 friends started to work on their dream. Soon they became 20 and other 20 people joined, friends of friends. They wrote a manifesto. They organized information meetings. They started an information campaign and searched for funds. Over 3 years of campaigning and preparing the inception of the commune, about thousand people came into contact with the group. 28 adults and 10 children moved together to try out communal living and sharing resources. Women and men circles fostered building trust and self-awareness to prepare for challenges of communal living.

At the end of 1986, 17 adults and 3 children moved to the house that was bought with collected resources. They renovated the building, which was too big for the group at that time. Since then, they acquired other buildings, two summer houses, and land for agriculture. They dispose of 2000 square meters of living space.

Life in the commune

Living in the commune feels like a school class or a big family with many siblings. There are 16 flat-sharing entities in the commune. They use together library, office space, laundry consisting of 3 washing machines, garden, ping pong table, cinema room and other spaces. They also share cars. Part of the food is provided by agriculture collectives. They produce vegetables, meat, fruits, and cheese. They eat together. Food is prepared in industrial kitchen.

Members either work outside or contribute to the work collectives, commune’s enterprises. Work collectives decide about the organization of work among themselves. There is no labor quota to be fulfilled but the economic survival of the enterprises imposes effort and organization. Some of the enterprises hire people from outside because of the lack of skills and willingness to work in a particular professional domain. Child rearing and service to the commune is valued as a work contribution. Even political activities outside of the commune can count as a contribution. Members who want to take time off or spend much time on other activities need to arrange it with their colleagues from work collectives. Non-parents can also contribute to child rearing. Every adult also contributes to cleaning communal spaces and cooking.Work in the commune has a different character because private and professional lives are merged together. It is easier to find solutions that would will accommodate needs because work collective members know each other very well. They may decide to reduce working hours when someone needs to cope with other challenges However, such an intensity may be also exhausting. Some interviewees talked about a difficulty in finding a distance and balance between private life and community participation. Being surrounded by people all the time overwhelms some members.

The commune has also a flexible attitude to spending. Individual salaries and income of the enterprises operated by the commune goes into the common budget. Members can spend money according to their needs, which is an alternative to capitalist redistribution. Their estimate is that the difference between least spending and most spending member is one to ten. Personal decisions on spending and awareness how others spend communal money was considered by some interviewees as a part of personal growth that living in a commune stimulates. Purchases for over 150 Euros need to be made transparent to the community. Members may ask about the reasons for spending or give advice. Although there are no rules regarding what one can spend money on, transparency may have a regulating effect. There are unspoken rules or taboos around using plane and going to far places. This is probably why some members wanted to hide that they went to Majorca.

Together despite diversity

Thinking about living in a commune, many fear that differences between people may make such a project impossible. The example of Kommune Niederkaufungen shows that it is possible to live together without agreeing on everything. Some animosities are expressed in an indirect way. For example, people who work more or their enterprises bring better earnings may mention it in passing to others. Some people do not talk to each other for years after a conflict. They may avoid the resented person and gossip. Some people feel frustrated because decisions and changes in the life of the commune take such a long time. Discussions in groups to understand different standpoints on an issue causing a conflict also may take time.Relations between members are sometimes difficult. There are initiatives in the commune to improve them. For example, a third party – a mediator – may step in to help people communicate. Many informal exchanges take place. However, in some cases resentments are held for a long time, which is often caused by not knowing and understanding the other. Some members participate in group therapy or individual therapy. Conflicts and confrontations were appreciated by several interviewees as a tool of self-inquiry and personal growth.

***

Living in a commune is not easier than in the mainstream society – it is challenging in a different way.


NoteThis is a shorter and changed version of the reportage originally published in Polish:

Gajewska, Katarzyna (2017): Kommune Niederkaufungen – jak się żyje w 60-osobowej wspólnocie. [Kommune Niederkaufungen – on living in a 60 – person commune], in quarterly Nowy Obywatel [New Citizen].

Kommune Niederkaufungen consists of about 60 adults and 20 teenagers and children. It was founded in the late 1986, after three years of preparing and campaigning. They are a left wing group, with positions that range from radical and social feminist, through green/ecologist standpoints, over Marxism and communism, to syndicalist and anarchist positions. Many communards are active in political groups and campaigns in Kaufungen and Kassel. Nowadays, they are economically autonomous. Their enterprises include elderly daycare, child daycare, training in non-violent communication, a seminar center, catering and food production, and carpentry. Some members are salaried outside of the commune. To become a member, one needs to give all the property and savings to the commune. However, it is possible to negotiate a sum of money in case of exit from the commune to start a new life. To read more about the commune, see here.

 

Other publications on egalitarian communities

Gajewska, Katarzyna (May 2018): Practices and skills for self-governed communal life and work: examples of one US and one German egalitarian community. Paper for Co-operative Education and Research Conference 2018: Skills for co-operators in the 21st century.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (9 October 2017): Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration. Post-Growth Institute Blog http://postgrowth.org/raising-children-in-egalitarian-communities-an-inspiration/

Gajewska, Katarzyna (9 June 2017): Exploring Abundance as future: Questions inspired by the experience of an egalitarian community, Acorn. P2P Foundation Blog, https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/exploring-abundance-future-questions-inspired-experience-egalitarian-community-acorn/2017/06/09

Gajewska, Katarzyna (September 2016): Egalitarian alternative to the US mainstream: study of Acorn community in Virginia, US. Bronislaw Magazine, http://www.bronislawmag.com/78-16/kg_eco.php , reposted on PostGrowth.org: http://postgrowth.org/egalitarian-alternative-acorn-community/

Gajewska, Katarzyna (21 July 2016): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of Post-Capitalism. P2P Foundation Blog: https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-i-work-as-a-spontanous-voluntary-contribution/2014/12/27

Gajewska, Katarzyna (10 January 2016): Case study: Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communities. P2P Foundation Blog, http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-ii-creating-use-value-while-making-a-living/2016/01/10

Gajewska, Katarzyna (27 December 2014): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontaneous, voluntary contribution. P2P Foundation Blog, http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/an-intentional-egalitarian-community-as-a-small-scale-implementation-of-postcapitalist-peer-production-model-of-economy-part-i-work-as-a-spontanous-voluntary-contribution/2014/12/27

 

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar, workshop leader, and transformational guide. She has been publishing on alternative economy, non-digital peer production, universal basic income and collective autonomy since 2013 and is mainly interested in psychological and emotional aspects of transition to a postcapitalist society. She interviewed dozens of members of two egalitarian communities (also called communes), rural Acorn community in Virginia, US (consisting of 30 adults and one child at the time of research in 2014) and suburban Kommune Niederkaufungen near Kassel, in Germany (consisting of 60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016).

You can contact her by e-mail (k.gajewska_commATzoho.com) or Facebook for public speaking, workshops, consulting, and research collaboration.

Publication list can be found here, for updates and events see here.

Citations:
When citing this article, please use the following format: Katarzyna Gajewska (2018). How to Start and Maintain a Micro-Revolutionary Project. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). http://geo.coop/story/how-start-and-maintain-micro-revolutionary-project
Publication Date:
Monday, June 25, 2018
For updates on my publications: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar
My publication list (selection): https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Katarzyna_Gajewska
If you would like to support my writing, please, use my donation page:

How to Start and Maintain a Micro-Revolutionary Project

Skyfish Mid-Process

by Raven Cotyledon

Thumbs has already detailed the story of the early construction work on Skyfish, at East Brook Community Farm, including how a fish actually fell from the sky and thus named the building, in an earlier Commune Life post.

I visited East Brook Community Farm on my way to the FEC assembly and toured the farm.  I was intrigued by Skyfish.

From the outside it looks finished:

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Skyfish from in front
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The side of Skyfish from the hillside next to it

The back of it is especially colorful:

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The back of Skyfish
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A closer look

There are some lovely details:

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Left door
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Window in door from inside

But inside the building is a different story:

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Sarah from East Brook and unfinished interior
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Work bench
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Insulation
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Ceiling and vents

Sarah told me that they hope to finish Skyfish this spring and it will provide housing for new community members.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Bryan Utesch
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft

Thanks!

Skyfish Mid-Process

The Economics of Cooperation

The Economics of Cooperation

by Boone

At East Wind we reap the benefits of cooperation. Because we work together, we are able to achieve a lifestyle of leisure and comfort while spending far less money than the national average. Let’s get right into the numbers (the following numbers are based on our fiscal year 2016-17, specifically July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017. As far as expenditures go, this year is representative of East Wind’s operating costs.)

Population:

It is probably impossible to come up with an accurate average population count at East Wind. Members leave East Wind and drop membership to pursue other opportunities, and new members are constantly joining. Members often leave the farm, sometimes for extended periods. At the same time, there are pretty much always non-members – visitors, and guests of members – on the farm whom we are feeding and clothing and who may or may not be contributing labor. To avoid even attempting to address this problem I will be using our population cap, which we were at for the year in question, of 73 members as our population count. This is slightly misleading as we do not have 73 full members and there are benefits such as full health coverage that only full members receive, but fairly accurate as most of the benefits of living at East Wind are shared by everyone living here.

Labor:

Click here for a full description of East Wind’s labor system. Something not mentioned there is the many vacations we East Winders enjoy. While our weekly labor quota is 35 hours per week, once a month we have a holiday, and quota is reduced by 8 hours for the week the holiday falls in. Members also get the same 8 hour quota reduction for their birthdays. Every year members get three weeks worth of hours (105) on their anniversary as a ‘paid vacation.’

As a community we worked 101,798.9 hours for this year. Bear in mind that the following does not truly reflect our average working week but instead is a rough approximation based on the idealized population of 73 members. As mentioned above, East Winders will leave the farm for sometimes significant amounts of time. Furthermore, outside of the winter months we always have visitors and guests here who contribute labor to our community. These caveats noted, our total hours divided by 73 members and 52 weeks works out to 26.8 hours per member per week.

Food:

I cannot even begin to describe how well we eat here at East Wind. Every night at 6 our cooks put out dinner for community. The deliciousness and variety is continually amazing. Our cooks serve all different styles of meals: Thai, Southern, Mexican, Indian, Italian, barbeque, or just good ol’ meat and potatoes. Lunch is often put out at noon, usually consisting of leftovers and maybe a fresh dish or two. We are also free to cook whatever we want for ourselves at any time. During the summer there’s fresh produce from the garden, and there’s always cold raw milk on tap and freshly baked bread to eat. We buy things to eat that we don’t produce ourselves such as avocados, pasta, fruits year round, and chocolate chips. Desserts often just appear on the serving counter at night. You have to eat here to really understand, but I’d say we eat better than just about anybody. And we do it while spending way less on food per person than just about anybody. Our successful ranch, dairy, garden, and food processing programs contribute greatly to this low cost, high quality food.

Food Costs for a year:

Buying food: $81,138

Kitchen Supplies: $3,770

Food Processing (meat and veggie): $2,362

Garden: $5,639

Ranch & Dairy: $25,005

Water: $207

Total: $118,121

Total food cost per person per month comes to $134.84

We are able to keep our food costs so low because we provide a good chunk of our food for ourselves, outside of the money economy. And we of course do all our own preparation. The following breaks down how much time we spend growing, preserving, and preparing our own food.

Kitchen = 12,826.3 hours

Food processing = 4,381.2 hours

Garden = 5,677.2 hours

Ranch & Dairy = 11,178.8 hours

Meal Preparation:

One of my favorite things about East Wind is that every single night I get to enjoy a delicious, fresh, home-cooked meal. Before living at East Wind I would cook for myself, but with hardly any variety because I am a lazy cook. Cooking for one or two just always seemed so inefficient. Here that’s obviously not the situation. If we say that East Wind prepares about eleven community meals a week (seven dinners and four lunches) then we only spend .3 hours per person per meal. That level of efficiency is only possible in cooperative living. I guess you could pop something in the microwave and have it be ready in less than 18 minutes, but there is absolutely no comparison between our freshly made, many-dished meals and frozen microwave dinners. This .3 hours per person per meal also includes cleaning and all the ancillary chores associated with maintaining a kitchen like stocking and ordering food (which would be shopping for those in the mainstream).

Food Production:

I asked our incredible Food Processing manager if she had any numbers on our food production for the past year, and boy did she.

Veggies:

The following list is what we put up from our garden production in 2016. We certainly consumed much more than this, but there’s no way to know how much. A key thing to keep in mind is that the following was produced by our gardens and food processing kitchen. Our veggies are of the highest quality. We use completely natural methods here at East Wind, and you cannot get any more local. We use nothing artificial; no fossil fuel fertilizers, no pesticide, no GMO seeds, etc.

  • 100 gal. Tomato Sauce
  • 25 gal. Pickled Peppers
  • 10 gal. Roasted and Tomatillo Salsas
  • A small chest freezer’s worth of Strawberries
  • Two large chest freezers’ worth of Corn, Okra, Pesto, Sweet Peppers, Eggplant, Summer Squash, and more
  • 100’s of lbs. of Beets and Carrots
  • 3,000+ lbs. of Squash and Sweet Potato
  • ~2,000 lbs. of Potatoes

Dairy:

We have a fantastic dairy program here and milk 3-6 cows twice a day, every day. Our cows are treated extremely well, and like our garden, are natural. They are grass fed and we don’t use hormones. This year, they produced ~34,000 lbs. of raw milk (~4000 gals.). We drink a good portion of this. What we can’t drink we turn into butter, cheese, and yogurt. In 2016, we made ~150 lbs. of the most delicious butter I have ever had. Our butter is a rich yellow, so different from what you can find in stores. We also produced ~1,500 lbs. of all different varieties of raw cheese. In our processing we use no pasteurization, which maintains all the healthy probiotics native to raw milk.

Meat:

Like everything else at East Wind, our meat animals are all natural and raised with love. We use no hormones or antibiotics, nor herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers on our pastures. Something that truly sets East Wind apart is our meat processing. We do everything ourselves. Our animals are raised, cared for, slaughtered, butchered, preserved (naturally, not artificially), and eaten all within a quarter mile radius. You cannot get more local.

We didn’t keep the most detailed records of our meat production for 2016, so the numbers that follow are averages.

6-12 Pigs @ 100lb. yield        900lbs. pork

2 Hogs @ 400lb. yield            800lbs. pork

3 cows @ 300lb. yield            900lbs. Beef

Eggs:

We have numerous egg layers in two mobile chicken tractors, and get an ample supply of farm eggs every day. The difference between our farm eggs and those we purchase is stark, the yolks of our farm eggs are a rich, dark, orange color, while those of our purchased eggs are a pale yellow. It goes to show that malnourished chickens produce malnourished eggs.

Medical Care:

East Wind provides medical coverage to the best of our ability for full members, including vision and dental. Our total medical expenditure came to $50,138. This works out to $686.82 per member per year. Compare this with the national average: “A 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that employer-sponsored family healthcare insurance premiums cost $17,545 annually, and the average worker contributed $1,071 for single coverage and $4,955 for family coverage per year.”

We also create a ton of our own medicine from herbs we grow in our herb gardens. These include salves, tinctures, tea blends, and more. Our healthy, active lifestyle further contributes to lower medical costs. Because we pay cash out-of-pocket for medical expenses we often get huge reductions in charges, as much as 40% off.

Energy:

Despite owning and running a nut butter business and factory, our per capita energy consumption cost is quite low. We heat a lot of our buildings with firewood which we harvest from dead standing trees. Only our business offices, factory, and certain member rooms (as well as hallways) have air conditioning.

Energy Costs for 2016-17:

Electricity: $35,571

Propane: $7,648

Forestry: $1,815 (2312.1 labor hours went into Forestry this year)

Total: $45,034

Total per person per month comes to $51.41.

Electricity consumption:

Total kWh for the year: 544,830

Per person per year: 7,463

National Average: 12,987 in 2014

Source: “Electric power consumption measures the production of power plants and combined heat and power plants less transmission, distribution, and transformation losses and own use by heat and power plants.“

It is worth noting that East Wind’s electrical consumption includes the energy consumed by our Nut Butters factory and yet we are still significantly below the national average. It is also worth noting that some of the buildings built here are not very energy efficient.

Nut Butters:

Our main community business, East Wind Nut Butters, made $630,000 in profit for fiscal year 2016-17. This amply covered our domestic costs. We put in 18,734 labor hours into this business, which works out to $33.63 per hour. Not bad for a bunch of hippies.

Total Cost of Living:

Factoring in the varied other costs that go into providing a high quality of life, we pay a total of $533.05 per person per month to live as we do. Included in that amount is each member’s Discretionary Fund, which is $150 a month. That number encapsulates every domestic expenditure: medical care, auto maintenance and gas, housing, food, energy, shopping, discretionary funds, phone and internet, etc. In short, we have an incredible quality of life for far less than most people spend.

Per capita, we each live on $6,396.58 a year, which is well below the national poverty line of $12,060.

Cooperation pays.

 

Post researched and written by Boone, lightly edited and formatted by Sumner. Pictures by Sumner and Fran.

 

The Economics of Cooperation