This may seem a bit off topic, but I think it’s very important. For people who want to start communities or folks who want to know why they can’t keep people in their commune, I believe that no one will be interested in a community or stay in one if their needs aren’t being met.
I have my own blog, which I have mentioned before, and which is now being neglected while I focus on Commune Life and commune building in New York City. I have thought about the concept of needs for a long time and, just a bit more than ten years ago, I wrote a post that inaugurated a series that lasted four months and involved something like forty-five posts, all focused on human needs.
I began by using, as a framework, psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs. Even though Max-Neef made his list in opposition to Maslow’s Hierarchy, I saw the two lists as compatible and created my own list, combining them, listing categories beginning with physiological/subsistence needs and finishing off with artistic and creativity needs, identity needs, and freedom needs. I followed this with forty-three posts, each talking, in some detail, about what might be needed to meet each of forty-three needs. I think this all is important to try to think about what the needs of each person in community might be and how to meet these needs. As I said in my wrap up post, these were all real needs and did not include things the advertisers claim you need. There is no human need for SUVs or McMansions.
Since then I have encountered two other ways of looking at needs that I think are worth mentioning, from the perspectives of Nonviolent Communication and Permaculture.
One of the concepts in Nonviolent Communication (aka Compassionate Communication or NVC) is the difference between needs and strategies. An example is that I come from Boston and live in New York City. Most of the people I love are still in Boston. If something happened to one of them, I might have a real need to get up to Boston. (A need not on any of the lists, but a need just the same.) If I came to you and said that I needed to borrow your car, that would not actually be a need. It’s a strategy. I could get to Boston by bus, train, ship, plane, biking, walking, hitchhiking, and on and on. There usually dozens, if not hundreds of strategies to meet a need. When needs seem to be in conflict, NVC claims that it’s often really about conflicting strategies.
Where Maslow and NVC look at needs from a psychological and often individual perspective, Permaculture looks at them from a system perspective. In permaculture, they look at “elements” in a system, which could be plants in a garden or people in a commune. Each ‘element’ has both needs and products or behaviors or yields or, I would say, gifts. The system part goes beyond the individual needs to looking at how one person’s gifts can meet another person’s needs, and with things in right relationship, the whole community can meet everyone’s needs. I love thinking about how person A’s needs can be met by person B’s gifts, and person B’s needs can be met by person C’s gifts, and then person C’s needs can be met by person A’s gifts. (This is oversimplified, but hopefully you get the idea.)
Maybe someday, the communes will figure out, not only how we can each meet other member’s needs, but we can do so effortlessly. Truly then we would have something that could transform this society.
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The Cotyledon community is focused on, among other things, food justice and urban agriculture. We are connected with several related organizations in western Queens, including Hellgate Farm, the Queens Action Council, and Just Soil. We do our principle work, however, with a small community garden/urban farm called Smiling Hogshead Ranch (also known as SHHR, Hogshead, or the Ranch).
I first met gil when he was organizing a fundraiser for SHHR called the Hogshead Hoedown. I was impressed with all the people involved and how gil kept telling everyone what a great job they were doing.
Later, through gil, I met DNA. The three of us began talking about creating a commune but we also tried to start a composting business at the Ranch. I was living at Ganas on Staten Island and it took me two hours (each way!) to get to Hogshead, whether by train or by bike. One of the main reasons we chose to build Cotyledon in Queens was to be near the Ranch.
Gil was one of the founders of SHHR and is a director there. DNA has been working there for many years, building things and gardening. Recently, gil and DNA have been organizing young people at the Ranch, working with the Youth Leadership Council. I am a faithful composter there and, a couple of weeks ago ended up teaching small groups of third graders about snails, as part of Smiling Hogshead Ranch’s educational mission.
None of us get paid for the work we do at the Ranch. Rather, we see Hogshead as one of the main ways we can promote what we believe to the world. Smiling Hogshead Ranch isn’t the only thing that Cotyledon does, not by any means, but we see it as one of the most important.
East Wind was founded on May 1st, 1974 by a small group dedicated to the principles laid out in our bylaws and inspired as such to grow the communities movement. A part of this group had been living at Twin Oaks, which was founded in 1967 in Virginia. Twin Oaks is also a founding member of theFederation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC). This pioneer group was motivated by what they had learned about living in community at Twin Oaks and aimed to start a differently structured communal experiment. The small contingent picked up more members in Vermont and later in Massachusetts, and settled on two different farms which they hoped to make into the new community’s base. Neither of these arrangements proved suitable and it was necessary for the group to move to Boston in order to earn money to purchase property. A scout was sent to find land and the rest of the group held down city jobs to save money.
The Ozarks was chosen for its attractive land at modest prices. The founders of East Wind learned from their observations of how Twin Oaks operated and sought to create a less rigid governance structure that would suit their needs. All FEC communities have distinct governance structures that attract different types of people that in turn create different cultures. Diversity lends itself to resilience and prosperity and each new community that joins the FEC is unquestionably unique.
East Wind’s Story
When the original founders arrived in the spring of 1974 the land had only an old farmhouse, a barn, two small outbuildings and a well. The community’s population jumped from eleven to over thirty in a small amount of time and construction quickly became an imperative. First, a small showerhouse was built and immediately expanded upon. Then a ten room dormitory dubbed Sunnyside for the street in Boston that the first members lived on. The old farmhouse, called Reim, was used as a sleeping quarters, kitchen and dining space, as well as an office. In 1975 East Wind’s largest dormitory, Fanshen, was built with twenty one rooms. At this point, East Wind’s membership was approaching forty and the facilities provided by Reim were no longer enough to feed such a number. Work began on a new kitchen, dining hall, and lounge area and by 1976 Rockbottom (RB) was completed. RB is a hub of social activities with people commonly hanging out on both floors of the building.
In 1974 East Wind’s first industry began – crafting handmade rope hammocks. Three large tents were erected for hammock weaving, woodwork, and storage. Under these conditions, through the hot sweaty summer and cold winter, the first 6,000 hammocks were produced. In 1976 a 3500 square foot industrial building was built to support an expanding business. This building provided quality space for hammock production and part of it is used to make hammock chairs and Utopian rope sandals today. We also use the space for recreation, commie computers, and our business office.
As membership continued to grow, work began on a third residential building, Annares – by 1978 one dozen bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom were completed. The common area here includes a room with couches and chairs as well as a large community library that anyone is free to browse. The last dorm to be built, Lilliput, was dedicated as the children’s building in 1992 and currently houses many young families.
In 1981, East Wind began what is currently its most lucrative business – the making of high quality nut butters. East Wind Nut Butters provides a high standard of living and resources to allow for other areas to grow. East Wind Nut Butters supplies all natural and organic peanut, almond, and cashew butter as well as tahini to restaurants and retail outlets nationwide. Nut Butters has given East Wind financial security and respect in Ozark County as a local company and large taxpayer.
Currently, East Wind is home to approximately eighty people living, working, and playing in relative comfort and harmony. We are a diverse group brought together by a common ideal: that we are all equal. We struggle with many of the same issues everyone faces. We may argue and disagree sometimes, but we do so with respect. Living in community is engaging and can be challenging, but we are invigorated by being a part of a radically alternative and constantly changing communal experiment.