Critical Mass

by Raven Glomus

When I was compiling the responses to the questions about communal size for last Friday’s post, I started thinking about the issue of how small was too small and the brittleness of very small communities.

This is not just a theoretical issue for me.  Common Threads, the commune in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that I helped start in the nineteen nineties and loved dearly, broke up when membership dropped down to four adults and then one of the founders decided to leave.  And Cotyledon, my most recent attempt at building a commune, was ended by mutual consent, but my primary reason for deciding this was that it had never grown, in terms of primary members, beyond the three of us, through our more than four years of working on it.

The crew of Cotyledon

As I said on Friday, I don’t think of three people as being a community.  You need at least four adult members with, hopefully, some of them not being in relationship.  And it needs to be real, full time members.  Two adults (generally a couple) with any number of interns, visitors, guests, wwoofers, etc, does not make a community.  The FEC recently (in our Assembly last December) decided to require full FEC member communes to “Have, at minimum, five adult full members who have been in the community a minimum of six months, understand the community systems, and have access to equal participation in the community’s processes.”

I think that four people can be a nice intimate community, but as I said with Common Threads, having only four members makes you very susceptible to falling apart.  Skyhouse was an income sharing community at the Dancing Rabbit ecovillage in Missouri that lasted seventeen years.  It was a small, close group of four folks, but when two of them (a couple) decided to leave and another person also decided to depart (to attend school in another state), it left Tony to decide whether to try to rebuild it from scratch or give up and focus on the ecovillage as a whole.  (I talked with several people about this, including Tony.)  Apparently he tried once and couldn’t duplicate the lovely little commune that they had and, having a lot of responsibilities for Dancing Rabbit as a whole, decided to turn the building into a simple housing unit.  It was a story that resonated with me, given how Common Threads ended.

The Skyhouse building at Dancing Rabbit

So, my question is, what constitutes ‘critical mass’?  While I don’t think that any community is “too big to fail” (although it would take a lot to bring down Twin Oaks–which recently had been bemoaning dropping down to less than seventy folks, which is still bigger than almost any other of the FEC member communes), I think that there is safety in numbers.  (Acorn at one point was down to six members and at another down to two, but they had Twin Oaks nearby to support them until their numbers could be built back up.)  Kat Kinkade, who I will have to admit I admire a lot since she helped start three communes, all of which are still around and doing well, apparently said that she believed in growing communities rapidly, to quickly get past the brittle period.

As I think about it, I would say I think that seven is a minimum number for safety.  Four and five are the fragile numbers–lose one or two people and it feels like it’s over–and often is.  Six might work but it feels too close to four or five.  So I am going to say seven, but I would also say that having nine or ten feels even stronger.

Until recently at Glomus we were six or seven folks (we lost one in the last few months), but we’ve recently gotten three new members (okay, they are saying that they are seasonal, but they are all communal veterans and they feel committed) and the difference for me is large.  It definitely feels more like a thriving community with nine people actively involved here.  

The current line up at Glomus

Having seven or even ten folks doesn’t guarantee that you won’t fall apart, but it certainly makes it less likely.

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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! 

Critical Mass

Mixing It Up

by Raven Glomus

We are creating an unusual model of community here at East Brook Community Farm.  We have started a small income-sharing community (Glomus Commune) which we are embedding in a larger, more diverse community (which we are calling Glomus Community).  In the larger community we have long-term income-sharing members, long-term non-income-sharing members, long-term part-year members, and seasonal members, all of whom work together and all of whom are valued members of the community.

Glomus income-sharing group: Raven, Cicada, Theresa, and Rachael

I wrote a post last fall about Associate Status.  Rin (aka Ryn) has an Associate Status at East Wind community, which allows them also to spend part of their time with us.  Another member here at Glomus is pursuing a dual membership status with Twin Oaks. We are intentionally creating a space where people can really be here while they are here and still come and go (when there isn’t a pandemic occurring).

We are also creating an income-sharing community where people don’t need to share their income.  We have a status we call residential members. In many cases, this is a temporary status, from when someone is accepted as a provisional member to when they join the income-sharing group, but we also have the possibility of  a person continuing on as a long-term residential (non-income-sharing) member, and still be an equally valued member of the larger community.

Monica, a long-term Residential Member

This kind of flexibility allows us to offer several different options for possible membership to the people who come here: full-time, part-time, income-sharing, non-income-sharing.

I love the idea of creating a large, diverse community which offers a variety of possibilities to attract a variety of people.  This is our path toward growth and economic stability.

____________________________________________________________________________

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! 

Mixing It Up