The Pandemic in the other Louisa Communities

The last two days we have been looking at the response of Twin Oaks to the pandemic. There are actually six communities in Louisa county (Twin Oaks, Acorn, Living Energy Farm, Mimosa, Cambia, and Little Flower–which is a Catholic Worker community). Today I will look at how Acorn and some of the other FEC communities dealt with the challenges of the coronavirus.

Acorn went into rather drastic quarantine early–one of their founders is still living there and dealing with cancer, so to protect her, they took rigorous measures. Acorn, being Acorn, didn’t document this. Instead, they looked at the effect that COVID-19 had on their business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Basically, when people realized that we were moving into a pandemic, everyone wanted to buy seeds.

Here’s how it happened. It starts with this note on a seed order:

Theresa pointed out:

The comments to this point, especially from Rejoice, further elaborated.

Southern Exposure was forced to put up this notice:

And, in the midst of this, Acorn celebrated Land Day (their annual holiday to commemorate when they were actually able to move onto the land). There was the usual big bonfire. But this year the celebration was a bit different.

Theresa’s note:

And then another invoice from SESE:

The person who was most in the midst of this is Rejoice, a former Acorn member now living at Mimosa, who everyone trusts, and thus became the courier between the communes as well as carefully bringing things back and forth to and from the outside world. To do this job, Rejoice had to resort to extreme measures:

SESE continued doing a brisk business and began putting out information about their business, both before and during the pandemic. The article is linked here.

The start of it says: “As most of you probably know, we’ve been inundated with orders this last month. We’re thrilled that folks are looking to our seeds during this challenging time but we’ve also had trouble keeping up. We’ve had to suspend taking new orders several times now while working to get seeds packed and shipped. We thought this would be an appropriate time to take a look behind the scenes at Southern Exposure.”

Then they posted an article on Seed Saving for all those folks that suddenly realized how important seeds were.

Commune Life also dove into this intercommunal attempt to teach seed saving during the pandemic.

The survey is still online if you want to take it.

Tomorrow, the non response from East Wind.

The Pandemic in the other Louisa Communities

Coronavirus Responses from the Communes

I’m interrupting the Questions republication, to publish some of the posts from around the internet that show how the communes are dealing with the pandemic.

From the Twin Oak’s Instagram account:

From the Commune Life Instagram account:

This is from Boone Wheeler’s Facebook page via the Commune Life Facebook page. The caption we wrote on our Facebook page was: “Boone Wheeler shared these photos of ‘Social Distancing’ at East Wind:”

And finally, although it was published in my piece on Communes and the Coronavirus, I am reprinting it because it is such a classic piece. This is a customer from Acorn’s seed business putting a personal response in the comments line on their order. It reads: “Everyone laughed at me for spending money on seeds, but WHO WILL BE LAUGHING WHEN I HAVE FOOD AND TRADER JOE’S IS STILL A WARZONE, KAREN?”

Coronavirus Responses from the Communes

Consensus 101

by Raven Glomus

One of my commune mates asked me to write this in preparation for work that we are doing on our decision making process. This is just the basics of achieving consensus. There are nuances you learn as you go along.

Consensus is a process of discernment, involving listening to each person that is affected, in order to reach a decision that everyone agrees with or, at minimum, can live with. Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean total agreement, but it means everyone’s concerns must be heard and everyone must feel that they can abide by the decision.

The first step in the consensus process is that someone brings a proposal to a meeting.  The proposal is discussed and concerns are heard. The proposal is usually modified to meet the concerns.

Eventually, when it feels like the proposal has reached a point where most people’s concerns have been addressed, there is a call for consensus.  There are three possible responses that can be made: agreeing, standing aside, or blocking.  

Agreement means that you are in favor of the proposal as it is by the time it has gone through the process or at least can go along with it.  

Standing aside means that you still have concerns but you are willing for the process to go forward.  Usually the concerns of those standing aside are noted. If more than one or two people feel that they need to stand aside, it is usually a sign that consensus hasn’t been reached and the proposal may need to be further modified.

Blocking is a way that any person can stop the decision from being made.  Blocking is very serious and should only be done for principled reasons. Caroline Estes (a consensus teacher) claims that if you have blocked for six times, you have used up your lifetime quota. If a person continually threatens to block decisions, that is usually a sign that the person probably shouldn’t be part of the group, since they disagree so strongly with everything.

Generally it is said that blocking can only legitimately be done for two reasons: the proposal goes against the basic principles of the group or the blocker believes that the proposal going through would destroy the group.  I will add a third reason that only occurs during a membership process: that you feel that you would not be able to live with the person applying for membership. 

Consensus has been the decision process at Acorn for many years, is usually used by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in their meetings, and has been used or considered by many other communes.  Glomus Commune is now considering it as our method of decision making.

Two resources for more information about consensus are: On Conflict and Consensus by C. T. Lawrence Butler and Amy Rothstein and ”Consensus Basics” by Tree Bressen.

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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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda Schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman 
  • Raines Cohen 
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Consensus 101

Communes and the Coronavirus

by Raven Glomus (with assistance from Theresa Glomus and JB East Wind)

The subject of this post will probably not surprise anyone. In one way, I hate to add to the constant drumbeat of coronavirus stuff.  It’s all our news feeds are filled with and it gets tiring–to me, at least. On the other hand, I think that it’s important that folks know what the communes are doing about this pandemic. 

In some ways, the communes are great places to ride out the pandemic. At this point, they are all rural and a bit isolated. It’s fairly easy to disconnect from the social world and you don’t need to feel isolated, since you have other people who are just as isolated with you.  It’s perfect–until someone somehow gets the coronavirus. 

This is the downside of the communes. We share income, we share a mission, we share our stuff. We also share germs. Once someone in a commune gets the coronavirus, everyone is probably going to get it.  There is also more back and forth between the various communities than there is contact with the outside world. That means there is also the likelihood of it rapidly spreading from commune to commune.

So what are specific communities doing to deal with the coronavirus?

Twin Oaks had been talking about quarantining sick folks in one cabin and only allowing caregivers in and out.  The caregivers would not be allowed to eat in the dining hall, to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Now, as of Saturday, Twin Oaks is in full quarantine/locked down mode.  No visitors are allowed except for essential services, such as UPS. Members leaving the property without the consent of the Planners won’t be allowed to return until the pandemic has abated. 

They have cancelled visitor periods for March and April and all Saturday tours at Twin Oaks have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

At Acorn, they quarantined themselves early. They have instituted thorough sanitation procedures in every area of the community. These include thoroughly wiping down surfaces that people interact with, and even nearby surfaces that might not be interacted with.  For off farm business trips, members have been instructed to wear gloves during the entire trip, to drop off items at designated areas and sanitize priority items, and then discard gloves in designated trash areas and sanitize hands with hand sanitizer immediately.

Acorn further instructs that if a person is having difficulty breathing, they should have a designated emergency person take them to the hospital. That person should prepare to shower upon returning to Acorn and put the clothes they wore immediately into a washing machine (with hot water), sanitizing all surfaces of the washing machine. 

Anyone at Acorn who feels sick or shows symptoms of the Coronavirus, has been told to stay in their own room. They have been instructed to stuff a towel under their bedroom door, keep a window open as much as possible, have a designated person bring them meals, and have a stock of snacks in their room. If they need to leave their room, they should wear a mask and sanitize all knobs and surfaces that they come in contact with.

Read the center gray bar

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Acorn’s business) has posted the following on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/SouthernExposureSeeds/posts/10156779388296254 

At East Wind, they have had two community meetings to discuss the Coronavirus. They have stopped visitor periods for April and have effectively made a prohibition on guests.  They say that they have a solid amount of food and could be well situated to weather the pandemic.

Economically, their nutbutter business has been impacted with a drop in sales to those who use our product as an ingredient in their manufacturing (some examples are juice and snacks). On the other hand, the distributors that they work with are experiencing large spikes in sales. It seems unclear if they will lose money due to the virus but it is definitely a possibility.

Being one of the most rural communities, East Wind has yet to see the full extent of impact it will face. As things change, they may start taking more serious actions, but of the various communes, they think they may be in a pretty good place in terms of being prepared and isolated.

Here at the Glomus Commune at East Brook Community Farm, we are smaller and are looking at people coming here on a case by case basis. We have told people who just want to visit not to come.  With other people, who are planning to come here on a long term basis, we are checking on their health status and whether they are coming from a high risk area before giving them permission to come. As with all the communes, things are changing daily. 

Communes are semipermeable and still quite connected with the larger society. We are all going to have to see where this pandemic goes. 

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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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda Schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman 
  • Raines Cohen 
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Communes and the Coronavirus

The New Steel Building

by Raven East Brook 

Back in March of 2013, when I was visiting Twin Oaks, there was a snow storm which knocked down power lines and both Twin Oaks and Acorn were without power for several days.  Acorn got their power back sooner than Twin Oaks, but it came with a price.

From a blog post I wrote on my own blog at the time: “…when the power went out, someone ran into one building to rescue some baby chicks that were being kept warm by an electric heater and apparently moved the heater to the wrong place. When the power came back on it started a fire that turned into an inferno that destroyed the whole building.  Very fortunately, this wasn’t a building anyone lived in and no one was hurt–but there was thousands of dollars of damage, including their communal clothes supply and there was at least one automobile nearby that the heat of the fire literally melted the bumper.”

This was a building at Acorn called The Steel Building and it was basically a Quonset Hut.

1200px-Building_built_of_corrugated_steel
Not the building at Acorn but a typical Quonset Hut

What was left after the fire was a steel shell, basically the curved roof/walls.  Somehow it kept its shape in spite of the extreme heat. It leaked when it rained but the community still used it to store stuff, often covered with tarps.

Last year Acorn tore the shell down and apparently they sold it for scrap metal.  In its place they put up a new building, made of steel (bright blue steel) but hardly a Quonset Hut.

IMG_0190

It has lovely details, like a spiral staircase going up the outside:

IMG_0191

What I was told was that they were still in the process of moving things into the building, and it was just beginning to be used.

IMG_0193

It will be used for many purposes, much as the old steel building was, and has a wide door on one side so it can be used for automotive.

IMG_0195

Here’s the final side.  

IMG_0197

When I visited Acorn last year, there were lots of new things there, but the new steel building stood out.  I think that this lovely bright blue structure is a definite improvement on the old dull gray building they tore down. 

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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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

The New Steel Building

Associate Status

by Raven

I was talking with Ryn, who had been staying here at East Brook Community Farm for several months but is also an Associate member of East Wind. East Wind is one of a few communes in the FEC that has an Associate status. I know that Acorn used to have Associates (and may still have them) and they are considering creating this status at East Brook.

Ryn sent me a copy of the East Wind policy on associate members. East Wind has had Associates for a long time, perhaps dating back to the 1980s.  Basically an Associate member is required have a room at East Wind for at least 60 days during any given year and to be away from the community for at least 60 days during a year. An associate member is therefore a part time member in a community. Being part time at one of the communes allows you to spend significant time at other communities.

spring-2016-29-of-152-1024x685
East Wind’s membership in Spring 2016

Associate members at East Wind can own their own cars and vehicles and they can hold jobs outside the community, something that full members at East Wind can’t do.

Being an Associate member gives you a lot of freedom to go back and forth between various communities and therefore Ryn believes that it creates the “social glue” that can hold the communes together.  Associate membership allows you to hang out for decent periods of time with people from different communes and get and spread the news about what is happening at various other communities.

Ryn pointed out that when there was at least one member that went back and forth between East Wind and Acorn, the two communities grew closer together, and when that communard settled into one of the communities and dropped membership in the other,  there seemed to be more tension between the communities.

Nov-18-Group-photo
Acorn’s membership, November, 2018

I am always a believer in creating more options for people.  Living part time in several different communities is an important alternative that some of the communes offer.   It’s not for everyone (I wouldn’t want to live part time in several places) but I think that it’s an important and useful option that benefits not only the people who take advantage of it, but the income-sharing communities at large.

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks! 

Associate Status

Bonfires, Mushrooms, Cats, and Cults

Autumn at the communes.

From the Commune Life Instagram account

Bonfires, Mushrooms, Cats, and Cults

The Art of Maintaining Good Vibes

The Art of Maintaining “Good Vibes:” lessons on practices and skills from two egalitarian communities

from the P2P Foundation

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Egalitarian communes create an alternative to capitalist individualist lifestyle and values. The add communal organization of life and sharing living space to the self-managed enterprises that they operate to generate income. Living in such setting means agreeing to be challenged and confronted with the conditioning of modern upbringing. They developed practices that help to create an alternative to the socialization in the capitalist system. Maintaining “good vibes” does not come naturally as we may assume but requires structure, regular practices, and group effort. In a community, a two-person conflict is a community affair because the entire community may be affected.

Creating an alternative economy and organization of production implies a transformation of the relations and ways of inter-personal functioning that have been inculcated into hierarchy culture and the capitalist system. The following analysis will give some insights into intentional ways of creating a new culture that can serve as an inspiration for the organizations that want to create an alternative to the mainstream. We can learn from these advanced forms of cooperation for other co-operative projects.

I 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 Kummune Niederkaufungen near to Kassel in Germany (consisting of 60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016). Egalitarian communities constitute a more advanced version of experimenting with alternative economy than ecovillages. They share labor, land, and resources according to one’s needs and everyone contributes in a chosen way to reproductive and income-producing endeavors. They apply the principle of consensus to their decision-making.

How the communes maintain good vibes?

In both communities, there are weekly meetings to discuss and make decisions. They are also an occasion to get updates on the lives of individual members and communal affairs. In Niederkaufungen, there is a general meeting once a week and working groups that discuss specific topics meet according to their own schedules. In Acorn, another weekly meeting is scheduled to discuss a proposed topic with a moderator. This may serve as a preparation for decision-making during weekly General Assembly.

In both communes, all kinds of conflicts, all kinds, including romantic breaks-ups are seen as a communal affair. There are several people who volunteer to be mediators in such cases and help the conflicted to communicate. One of Niederkaufungen’s enterprises is a training center for non-violent communication (it is a method and theory developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg1). Therefore, the community has experienced trainers and many of the members are familiar with the method. This, however, does not mean that there are no conflicts. Some people have not talked to each other for years as a consequence of a conflict. Some resentments are held for a long time, which is often caused by not knowing and understanding the other. 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.

Living in a commune is not easier than in the mainstream society – it is challenging in a different way. It involves a lot of talking: in assembly, in smaller groups, informal exchanges. Gossiping is a form of dealing with frustration. Talking seems to be a crucial factor in maintaining togetherness and self-insight.

Both communities recognize that being closer and more inter-dependent than it is usually the case in the relationships outside one’s family is a challenge. The communes have developed their own ways of maintaining community spirit and good relations among communards.

Acorn:

  • regular personal updates, so called “clearness process” : “This measure consists of weekly check-ins – short sharing of how one feels during a weekly meeting, presenting one’s wellbeing and plans towards the community once a year, and obligation to talk with each community member in a one-on-one conversation at least once a year. The latter one is reported during the weekly community meeting. For example, someone shared that the obligatory conversation made her realize that she had a lot in common with someone she hardly talked to all the year.” (Gajewska 11 October 2016)
  • principle of no “withholds”: “The principle of “no withholds” bases on the premise that long-term frustration may result in explosion or bad atmosphere. Members schedule an appointment to share their frustration. The addressee of this revealing is supposed to abstain from responding during certain time and integrate the feedback.” (Gajewska 11 October 2016).

Niederkaufungen:

  • therapy groups: Some members choose to meet regularly in meetings, for example, men’s group, to provide each other support and more insight. There is no leader or expert. Meeting and exchanging in the group aims at therapeutic effect.
  • individual therapy: Some of my interviewees participated in individual psychotherapy sessions during their stay in the community. One of them reduced working hours to allow time for processing the insights from the therapy. They considered it to be helpful to change their functioning in the group. One of my interviewees observed that thanks to individual intense therapy, which was made possible by lowering work load for this period, this person started to perceive other members differently, with less projections and blaming others.
  • practicing non-violent communication: the members that I interviewed seemed to have internalized the principles of Rosenberg’s method. They process their emotions and ask what is behind a conflict. Also other members may step in to talk about a disagreement and help conflicted parties understand their needs better.
  • rules regarding the use of mobile phones and similar devices: they are allowed only in private spaces and they shall not be used in the common area such as communal dining room.

Cultivating communal skills in the mainstream world

Creating an alternative reality to the one imposed by neoliberal agenda requires capacity to organize, be part of a group, commitment to collective efforts. These skills are a base for cooperative enterprises, consumer self-organizing, and other forms of collective autonomy. Many of my interviewees mentioned that work is different in their communes because they can show up the way they are. There is less pretending. I am convinced that culture can be shaped despite our conditionings. It is an interesting human adventure to look into the mystery of inter-personal relations. Many of the communards that I interviewed revealed intentional personal and group work on this very aspect. They undertook practical steps to make it work. So can we.

Short description of Acorn and Niederkaufungen

Acorn community is a farm based, anarchist, secular, egalitarian community of around 32 folks, based in Mineral, Virginia. It was founded in 1993 by former members of neighboring Twin Oaks community. To make their living, they operate an heirloom and organic seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (“SESE”), which tests seeds in the local climate and provides customers with advice on growing their own plants and reproducing seeds. They work with about 60 farms that produce seed for them, which they test for good germination, weigh out, and sell or freeze for future use. The seeds are chosen according to their reproduction potential so that gardeners can reproduce seeds from the harvest instead of buying them every season. The enterprise conducts and publishes research on the varieties so that customers take less risks when planting them. Acorn is affiliated to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, a US network of intentional communities that commit to holding in common their land, labor, resources, and income among community members.

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. Meanwhile other income-sharing communities have been established in the region of Kassel. 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, 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. The commune is a member of German network Kommuja. To read more about the commune, see: https://www.kommune-niederkaufungen.de/english-informations/

Authors’s articles on both communities (you can find references included in this article)

  1. Gajewska, Katarzyna (Autumn 2018): Practices and skills for self-governed communal life and work: examples of one US and one German egalitarian community. Journal of Co-operative Studies 51(2): 67-72.
  2. Gajewska, Katarzyna (25 June 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
  3. Gajewska, Katarzyna (2017): Kommune Niederkaufungen – jak się żyje w 60-osobowej wspólnocie. [Kommune Niederkaufungen – on living in a 60-person commune], quarterly Nowy Obywatel [New Citizen].
  4. 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/
  5. Gajewska, Katarzyna (11 October 2016): Egalitarian alternative to the US mainstream: study of Acorn community in Virginia, US. PostGrowth.org http://postgrowth.org/egalitarian-alternative-acorn-community/ , first published in Bronislaw Magazine
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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 spontanous, 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
    This is a shortened and modified version of the article : Katarzyna Gajewska (Autumn 2018): Practices and skills for self-governed communal life and work: examples of one US and one German egalitarian community. Journal of Co-operative Studies 51(2): 67-72.
    This article contains excerpts of already published texts in Creative Commons and is under Creative Commons licence.

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar, workshop leader, and transformational guide. She has published on alternative economy, universal basic income, non-digital peer production, collective autonomy, food and health. You can contact her at: k.gajewska_comm(AT)zoho.com.
List of publications here
Facebook: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar

1 Marshall B. Rosenberg was the founder and director of educational services for The Center for Nonviolent Communication.

Header image: “The Poop Deck is a humanure toilet with two seats. The sign adjusts that way in case you want company while you do your business.” – The picture was taken in Twin Oaks egalitarian community. Picture and picture description by Raven Cotyledon from Commune Life (creative commons)

WRITTEN BY Katarzyna Gajewska

Katarzyna Gajewska is an independent scholar and a writer. She has a PhD in Political Science and has published on alternative economy and innovating the work organization since 2013. She is also interested in preventive health and emotional and psychological aspects of economic change. You can find her non-academic writing on such platforms as Occupy.com, P2P Foundation Blog, Basic Income UK, Bronislaw Magazine and LeftEast. For updates on her publications, you can check her Facebook page or send her an e-mail: k.gajewska_commATzoho.com. If you would like to support her independent writing, please make a donation to the PayPal account at the same address.

The Art of Maintaining Good Vibes

Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution

Full title:

An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution

by Katarzyna Gajewska

from P2P Foundation

In this article, I will present egalitarian communities, mainly Acorn community in Virginia, to examine whether the postcapitalist mode of production in the physical world can be introduced by establishing intentional communities. It should be noted that the opinions presented here are not necessary those of the founders or members of the community where I have done research. I interpret my findings with regard to their significance for this economic change and their reflection on the postcapitalist mode of production. Acorn community does not define itself as a peer production project so the following analysis is not an evaluation of the implementation of peer production theory into practice. It is instead an extrapolation from the practice to how peer production organizations in the physical world could operate in the current system and in the future.

acorn_01

The term peer production refers to various ways of organizing production that are distinct from the state and market logics. The main characteristics of this form of production are: 1) Self-selected spontaneous contribution of participants in the production process;1 2) creation of use value rather than exchange or market value, which results in free access to public goods;2 3) non-delegation and distributed coordination, in contrast to hierarchical state and market providers. While much is known about peer production in the domain of creative and intellectual work – both of which require a high level of intrinsic motivation – it is not obvious that physical work could be organized in this way.3 In this article, I will examine how these principles can be translated in production in the physical world. What kind of adjustments are needed to make this logic happen in the current capitalist system? What are the chances of expanding the model of peer production through a strategy of self-organizing from below? In this article, I will analyze one element of peer production in Acorn community, namely the self-selected spontaneous contribution of participants. What are the consequences of organizing work as voluntary, spontaneous involvement, and freely chosen self-selection?

External boundaries

An intentional community is usually exclusive in some way. One can only become a member of Acorn after a one-year trial period, for instance. Besides that, even if a community has a very inclusive policy regarding membership, as is the case in Longo Mai (a network of European intentional communities, similar to Acorn) where one can simply drop in and stay, being a live-in member of an intentional community requires a radical change in one’s lifestyle and often requires moving to a remote place, which is not an option for all. Most of the communities host visitors who can contribute to the work of the community without permanently changing their lives. However, one cannot simply drop by at Acorn or East Wind or Twin Oaks. Contrary to online production projects, physical world production imposes a certain degree of exclusivity by its nature. Especially when the working and living spaces are merged, allowing spontaneous contributions from a broader community seems difficult. Considerations for safety and the personal well-being of community members may impose exclusionary practices. Acorn community has low tolerance for loud people (according to an interviewee) and those unable to respect the personal space of members (BB’s post on their blog that cannot be retrieved anymore). If someone is unable to work for an extended period of time without a clear reason (such as a medical condition) it can lead to upset and resentment on the part of other members. People who have not worked have often decided to leave without being expelled.

A framework for spontaneous contributions

While currently it is difficult to implement peer production logic in the physical world, the question can be posed whether inside the boundaries of an intentional community it is possible to organize production so that it is based on voluntary, spontaneous involvement, and freely chosen self-selection. Acorn does not have many regulations regarding work involvement. The community agrees that currently members should work 42 hours per week on average. However, the actual number of hours worked are not carefully tracked or recorded and individual members are free to choose from a very broad collection of work areas to satisfy their labor obligation to the community. Acorn’s seed business and agricultural work have their own seasonal rhythm and members adjust their schedules to accommodate the needs of the business and the garden. The definition of work within the community, which evolves through long term community conversation, also determines the range of activities that can be undertaken as work. For instance, one of the interviewees wanted such activities as riding a bike (and thus saving fuel) or artistic creation to be counted in the labor quota. Some of the interviewees took the 42-hour work week seriously and resented those who do not do the quota, whereas some others saw the labor quota as a flexible measure for orientation only. Some members I have interviewed did not support the labor quota concept at all and many defined the ideal amount of working hours to be thirty hours per week. So while a frame for work is defined (the 42 hours per week labor quota and what is considered to be work) a spontaneous, self-chosen contribution is possible within this requirement. More on the labor quota at Acorn can be read here: http://funologist.org/2013/04/28/tell-him-it-is-labor-creditable/ .

Usually members undertake a couple of projects to which they are committed and the rest of the working time, they help out with the projects of others. Some tasks are announced by a person in charge of a project to which everyone can contribute spontaneously, such as preparing seeds for shipping or weeding in the garden. There is a dry erase white board where domestic tasks like cooking or cleaning can be signed up for in a weekly chart. Many of my interviewees enjoyed the time flexibility at Acorn a lot. Office work, for instance, can be pursued in a fragmented way. Some like to start working in the seed office very early in the morning and some prefer working in the evening. In this way, a lot of work in the community is organized in a decentralized system composed of short blocks of time on which contributors work at a chosen time. This is considered to be a particularly inclusive way of organizing production according to the peer production theorists.4There are some constraints to the spontaneity of involvement that are imposed, for instance, by the dates of events that the business attends or by deadlines for shipping. Taking care of animals also imposes certain time schedules. However, even business tasks that impose time schedules are completed in a voluntary and spontaneous way.

Some obstacles for full inclusion

The personality of a (self-appointed) project leader may define the inclusivity of participation. For instance, I liked to do prep work in the kitchen as my work contribution but not every cook would want me to help and I would not want to work with every cook. These little differences cannot be regulated. Some of the interviewees observed that some people once they decide to work in a certain area do not want to include others in their work. For example, the seed storage is organized in a way that is difficult for others to understand. The person in charge has been involved in this domain for a long time and knows it very well. It is also knowledge that is difficult to transfer quickly because of the huge number of varieties stocked by the business.

Expertise and finding one’s way takes its time and can be discouraging for the newcomers. One of the interviewees found it challenging at first to find her areas of activity. Before joining Acorn, she was employed in a very structured working environment. It took her one year to define her contribution to the community, learn to be an active member, and pursue her interests within the labor quota. Two newcomers still were not self-confident in their work contribution and in taking initiative after their first six months. One of them meets regularly with a more experienced member to get coaching. A welcoming atmosphere and tolerance for mistakes constitute community culture at Acorn. One can acquire various skills being in the community and perfection is not expected. For instance, another member mentioned that it [gender-neutral form chosen by the interviewee] did not know how to cook when it came to the community but it wanted to work as one of the cooks. Other members complained when they did not like its cooking but it continued to cook and learned from others to improve. This exemplifies a different relation between consumer and producer than in the employment system. It seems for this that if the peer production model were a dominant one, we would have less quality assurance but more voice in the production process.

To recap: the organization of work and production as a spontaneous voluntary contribution is possible within an intentional community and is practiced at Acorn. The labor quota and the resentments towards free-riders limit the true spontaneity in the contributed work. Similarly to digital peer production, the inclusiveness may be limited in some aspects of production that require expertise and experience. Another limiting factor may be the personality of some of the co-producers. If this organization were to be generalized in the physical world on a wider scale, it would require a culture of understanding and patience on the side of consumers so that peers can learn by doing. Whether labor quotas are necessary is not evident and needs further testing.

What is Acorn community?

Acorn community is a farm based, anarchist, secular, egalitarian community of around 32 folks, based in Mineral, Virginia. It was founded in 1993 by former members of neighboring Twin Oaks community. To make their living, they operate an heirloom and organic seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (“SESE”) (http://www.southernexposure.com/about-us-ezp-18.html ), which tests seeds in the local climate and provides customers with advice on growing their own plants and reproducing seeds. Acorn is affiliated to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (http://thefec.org/ ), a US network of intentional communities that commit to holding in common their land, labor, resources, and income among community members.

Information on sources

I spent three weeks in August 2014 at Acorn community in Virginia where I conducted interviews with 15 inhabitants of this community (accounting for about half of the membership). The interviews will be used in my book analyzing a scenario of a postcapitalist mode of production from a personal perspective. It will be published in Creative Commons license. My research trip has been co-financed by a Goteo crowdfunding campaign. Some inspiration comes from four public meetings with a member of East Wind community (http://eastwind.org/ ), which I organized in October 2014, in Strasbourg, France. In total, 47 people participated in these events.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my interviewees, Couchsurfing hosts, and Acorn community for their hospitality and their time. The following people have contributed to the Goteo crowdfunding campaign: pixocode, Daycoin Project, Olivier, Paul Wuersig, María, Julian Canaves. I would like to express my gratitude to these and eight other co-financers. I would like to thank for the editing and suggestions from Paxus Calta (http://funologist.org) and GPaul Blundell, both from Acorn community.

Further publications

Another article on a Montreal-based enterprise where I conducted interviews for the book in progress can be found here: “There is such a thing as a free lunch: Montreal students commoning and peering food services,” (http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/there-is-such-a-thing-as-a-free-lunch-montreal-students-commoning-and-peering-food-services/2014/06/30 ). A longer article on the same enterprise is published by a closed-access academic journal. Gajewska, Katarzyna (2014): Peer Production and Prosumerism as a Model for the Future Organization of General Interest Services Provision in Developed Countries Examples of Food Services Collectives. World Future Review 6(1): 29-39. http://wfr.sagepub.com/content/6/1/29

Please, do not hesitate to ask me for an electronic version at the address: k.gajewska_comm AT zoho.com

I have also published other articles related to peer production and unconditional basic income:

Gajewska, Katarzyna, “Technological Unemployment but Still a Lot of Work: Towards Prosumerist Services of General Interest,” Journal of Evolution and Technology, http://jetpress.org/v24/gajewski.htm

Gajewska, Katarzyna, “How Basic Income Will Transform Active Citizenship? A Scenario of Political Participation beyond Delegation,” Paper for 15th International Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network, June 27th to 29th, 2014, Montreal, Quebec, http://biencanada.ca/congress/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/BIEN2014_Gajewska.pdf

For updates on my publications, you can check my Facebook page or send me an e-mail to the above address to get updates by e-mail:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Katarzyna-Gajewska-Independent-Scholar/1424563094446010

About the Author

Katarzyna Gajewska is an independent (unpaid) writer and social activist. In her book in progress, she explores potential psychological consequences of transformation towards a postcapitalist mode of production in the physical world. Formerly an academic (precarious) researcher, she builds upon her scientific background in industrial relations and political science and incorporates other lenses in the analysis of a scenario of a potential future. She focuses on personal and daily life in order to stimulate collective imagination and democratic debate.

1Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Expanded Edition (London: Athlantic Books, 2008), 36. Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age (Random House, 2002).

2Michel Bauwens and Sussan Rémi, Le peer to peer : nouvelle formation sociale, nouveau modèle civilisationnel, Revue du MAUSS, 2005/2 no 26, p. 193-210.

3This is the subject of one book but the book does not describe or examine the implementation of the theory, see Christian Siefkes, From Exchange to Contributions: Generalizing Peer Production into the Physical World. (Berlin: Edition C. Siefkes, 2008).

4 Yochai Benkler, Practical Anarchism: Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State, Politics and Society 41 (June 2013): 213-251. Clay Shirky, Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. In Reformatting Politics: Information Technology and Global Civil Society, edited by J. Dean, J. W. Anderson, and G. Lovink, 35–41. (New York: Routledge, 2006). Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. (New York: Penguin Press, 2008).

 

Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution