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.


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.




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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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

A Cargo Net in the Forest

by Maximus
Humans are strange creatures. It’s not enough for us to simply “be” in the forest – we have this odd fixation on having “a purpose”. We know that it’s good for us to go hang out with the trees, but we won’t usually do it unless we have an explicit reason. So…A Cargo Net. 
It’s like a hammock, but bigger. It fits all your friends. 
We set up a cargo net in the forest because we want to live in a world that feels like a playground. (and also a world where you can Be in the forest without getting a twig up your pants) 
In all seriousness though, we set up the net because it’s a symbol. It’s a statement to the world about the way that we want to relate to space, and the way that we want to relate to each other. It’s not a statement that can be made with words – only with rope, and leaves, and dappled sunlight. 
A Cargo Net in the Forest

What Does it Mean to Build a Pond?

written by ella sutherland, cambia community

cbPond1Cambia’s pond today, before the addition of the creek.

There are many reasons to build a pond. Here I’ll talk about all of Cambia’s reasons, the design and function, and how it relates to community.

When we were beginning to build our new common space, ‘the Barn’, we decided to create an earthen floor for the main room. This meant digging up quite a bit of clay to mix with sand and straw. But we also knew we wanted to have a pond. A small pond, for relaxation in the summers, for storing rainwater, for demonstrating the way plants can clean water. So we dug out our clay for the floor in a shady little nook across from the new building. Close enough to easily wheelbarrow over the clay, close enough that the pond would serve as part of the communal yard of the house.

cbPond2Starting the pond dig, last summer 2016. The clay here was dug to use for the earthen floor of the barn.

cbPond3Finishing the dig. Removing the last of the clay pile from around the pond.

The pond is about 10 feet in diameter, and three feet deep. It has a ledge all the way around it: one half for sitting, and one half for plants. The water flows in a cycle. Rainwater washes down the metal roof of the barn, flows through a gutter into a smaller pond. This smaller pond is in the sun, with lots of gravel and plants for filtering the water. The water then travels down a ‘creek’, lined with pond liner, gravel, and plants, and finally into the main pond. Fish eat all the mosquito larvae, frogs and toads moved in almost immediately, and birds are loving the new place to drink.

cbPond4The smaller sunny pond that is filled with rainwater from the barn roof. The creek will connect the two ponds.

The plants provide many functions. They help to clean and filter the water while at the same time providing a beautiful, serene place to relax. The water hyacinths, when they grow larger, will provide shade to the larger pond, keeping it cold in the summer. Their long roots uptake the excess nutrients in the water.

We built a deck around the pond, using the scrap redwood from a deck that Twin Oaks disassembled. The deck is low, so you can sit on the edge and put your feet in the water. We lined the other half of the pond with flat stones that were unwanted at Acorn. This demonstrates the sense of abundance and mutual support between the local FEC communities. Both are a beautiful and essential addition to the pond.

cbPond5The pond and deck, with the wood-fired hot tub in the background. The solar panel will power the water pump, which will cycle the water. We’re using the bilge pump from our landlocked sailboat house (more about that another time).

In the development of our educational non-profit, we are planning to use the pond to demonstrate to the children and their families who attend our programs the ability of biological systems to clean and filter water. It is a physical, intuitive, and hands-on demonstration of these scientific concepts: aeration, nutrient cycle, photosynthesis, the function of aerobic bacteria, providing habitat for the local fauna, while providing ourselves with a source of clean water.

cbPond6The next step is to also set up a slow sand filter called a Biosand Filter. This is a filter that uses aerobic bacteria in a barrel of sand and gravel to make the water clean enough to drink. It is used in many countries where access to a well is limited. We built one in California, in the previous community where we lived, because we did not have well water and this filter produced much cleaner water than can be stored in rainwater catchment. It worked well for a number of years.

In hot Virginia summers, it is crucial that we have a cool place to sit and relax. It brings people together, slows us down, and help us to appreciate the beauty of the land we live on and the plants that keep us thriving. Although the creek is not yet finished, we started using the pond almost immediately to cool down when the afternoons are too hot.





What Does it Mean to Build a Pond?

A Cornucopia of Communes

Pictures of most of the communities featured in Commune Life over the last year.  (All communes are in US states unless otherwise noted.)

Acorn, Mineral, VA:


Baltimore Free Farm, Baltimore, MD:

Cambia, Louisa, VA:

Cambia 4

Compersia, Washington, DC:


East Wind, Tecumseh, MO:


las Indias, Madrid, Spain:


Living Energy Farm, Louisa, VA:


Oran MórSquires, MO:

Summer OM5a

Quercus (disbanded), Richmond, VA:

Porch music jam on our snazy palette-finished porch

Rainforest Lab, Forks, WA:


Sandhill Farm, Rutledge, MO:

Sandhill 1

Sycamore Farm, Arcadia, VA:


The Common Unity Project (TCUP),  Gitxsan Territory, Hazelton, BC (Canada):


Twin Oaks, Louisa, VA:





A Cornucopia of Communes

Radical Sharing

by Raven

Sustainability is important to many people. Some of the newer income sharing communities, such as Living Energy Farm and the Stillwater Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance, focus on reducing their carbon footprint, but Twin Oaks, a large, older communities, has never been very concerned with this, and still uses almost 20% of the resources of an average American.

The reason is that Twin Oaks embraces what Paxus refers to as ‘Radical Sharing’.  Twin Oaks has 17 cars for nearly 100 people.   (To compare, a hundred average Americans probably have 67 cars.)  They share tools and bikes and even clothes, not to mention books and musical instruments and, of course, income.


Truly, most communities, even co-housing communities which are sort of at the other end of the spectrum from income sharing communities, do some degree of sharing.  However, most of the income sharing communities, by their very nature, do much more sharing than simply income.

Car sharing board at Twin Oaks

Acorn also shares cars and bikes and tools and clothes, as does East Wind.  And at new communes such as Cambia and Compersia the work of building the community is shared.

Car key cabinet at Twin Oaks

I have a button that I wear sometimes that says “Consume Less, Share More.”  In the communes this type of radical sharing is a daily reality.



Radical Sharing

Cambia’s Barn: 4 months later

By Telos Cambia

A while ago, at the end of October, we shared some photos of our work on a new building at Cambia. At the time, we had the building framed and were getting started creating an earthen floor. Work has continued since then, despite the lack of photos, and now we have something starting to resemble a complete building!

Here’s the barn! It’s a two room structure with live-edge poplar siding. The room on the left is a common gathering space, and the one on the right is a bedroom. We’re getting ready to add an awning to the left side that will act as a tool shed- we just dug the post holes today!  Josie, one of the newest Cambians is out front propagating plant cuttings.
We’ve made the door handles out of various interesting and beautiful branches we’ve found.
Here’s the earthen floor of the barn’s main room. In the center, we have a pit of pea gravel that will be used to sit on in a circle. The entire floor is set up to be heated from below by tubes carrying hot water.
The earthen floor of the main room extends part of the way up the walls, creating a bowl that contains the occupants. The rest of the walls will be finished with oak panels. Currently, you can still see the (freegan- saved from the landfill) styrofoam insulation.
We shaped candle holders into two corners of the cob wall!
The floor even extends over the bottom of the tall windows on the southeast side of the main room.
Here’s a view from the loft of the main space. These boards will be removed once everything is done, but for now we use them to get around to various places we need to work.
And here’s a view from the back of the barn, featuring the previously mentioned tall windows.
This is the bedroom attached to the mains space. It’s already finished, complete with skylights and beautiful oak walls. Scott and Josie, the newest Cambians have made themselves at home!
Josie rigged this counterweight that keeps the front door close without a latch! Maybe we will add a similar one to the main space’s door…


Did we mention that the barn has a matching chicken coop? In the foreground, you can see our two ducks, Squiggles and Schmoo.




Cambia’s Barn: 4 months later