This article is an amalgamation of interviews with current dairy managers Liuda and Ish as well as the author’s own experience milking cows three times a week for the past year at East Wind.
In the past ten years the ever changing cultural landscape of East Wind has been shifting in many ways towards a focus on self-sufficiency. The obvious starting point in the path to self-sufficiency is food production. Large gardens, an orchard, beef herd, pigs, chickens, and deer hunting are all important ways the community gets nutrient dense calories. One of the most successful food production ventures has been the current dairy cow program which started five years ago with the construction of the dairy barn.
The dairy barn, small by any commercial standard, has a stanchion that can hold three cows at a time. Marmalade and Josephine were the only two dairy cows on the farm upon completion of the barn. Currently, there are five milking cows and two heifers (both currently pregnant). A great number of people have shaped and influenced how the dairy program developed and made it what it is today.
Ish (‘Ishmael’) and Liuda have been involved in the dairy program for years and have been the elected dairy managers for the past year. Liuda graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2012 with a bachelor’s of science in Animal Sciences. As she was weighing her options between going to grad school and looking for a job a friend invited her to visit East Wind. Liuda took her friend up on the offer and did a visitor period. She was impressed with how things had changed since she lived at East Wind in the early 2000s. Seeing an opportunity to pursue her passion for working with animals she decided to stay. Ish came to East Wind around the same time as Liuda and desired to get away from the city of St Louis to learn about producing food. He initially spent most of his time working in the gardens before taking a more focused interest on the dairy program. Both Liuda and Ish continue to learn an immense amount about cow health and pasture management through their first hand experience, reading, and consulting vets, farmers, and the local university extension office.
Ish and Liuda’s biggest goals are to establish a line of hardier milkers (Red Poll and Jersey mixes) and move away from grain to a near 100% grass fed diet for all the cows. Of course, there are the day to day challenges of managing both the cows and the people on each milking shift. Liuda recalls how early on the turnover in milking shifts could make things difficult with so many new people needing to be trained. Currently the milking crew is well established and milking shifts are sought after by many in community, especially newcomers. There are two milking shifts a day and each has two workers usually called ‘milkers.’ Shifts can take from about an hour up to about two and a half hours at the longest, depending on how many cows are in the milking rotation. The raw, unpasteurized milk from each shift is brought up the hill and refrigerated. Milk is commonly used for cheese and yogurt production as well as being available to refill the milk dispenser in the kitchen (of course, the rich cream is available for coffee drinkers and cooks).
The diet of a dairy cow is the key component in determining the quality of the milk she will produce. Cow’s milk is going to directly reflect whatever is fed to the cow. The East Wind dairy has moved away from store bought dairy ration and now produces its own fermented ration from oats (and any used beer grains if available), sunflowers, molasses, water, and yeast. The fermented grain is a cost effective solution for non-GMO food that is more digestible, has a higher protein content, and food based fats and minerals (as opposed to the common practice in industrial operations of synthetically adding animal fats to dairy ration). Since undertaking this transition it has been observed that the cows put on weight better and their milk is richer due to an increase in the butterfat content. The milk also tastes a bit sweeter due to the new fermented diet. Organic peanuts and peanut skin ‘waste’ resulting from peanut butter production in East Wind’s factory are also used as feed supplements.
The ultimate goal concerning the cows’ diets is to move away even from the fermented grain whenever possible and have the cows be primarily grass fed. Ish is the most involved in rotating the cows. He wants to lower the stocking rate (the number of animals per acre) and allow paddocks to grow taller. With taller grasses the cows will trample more grass, but this process builds humus and allows cool season grasses to extend their season because the soil doesn’t heat up as quickly as bare ground. Pasture maintenance is a huge responsibility that is shared by both the dairy and ranch programs. In the past five years a plethora of plant varieties have been introduced. Several different types of clover, three different orchard grasses, and most importantly an ‘endophyte friendly’ fescue that was specifically bred to promote cow health have established well. There are seven warm season grasses and five cool season grasses in total. Shade is also of vital importance for the health of the cows and therefore milk production. A big effort has been made to plant hundreds of trees to establish tree lines and ample shade in all the pastures. Through this experience a deeper understanding and appreciation of the whole system has developed: from the microscopic flora and fauna of the soil to the element of human interaction. Ish is mindful of being efficient with labor inputs and seeks to foster the beneficial organisms which aid cow health.
All the current milking cows are Jersey mixes. Jersey lines were bred for high milk production, but these lines can encounter serious health problems such as ketosis and milk fever. Ish and Liuda are running a breeding program, started by previous managers, to mix the hardier Red Poll cow breed with Jersey. Bullet, East Wind’s registered Red Poll bull, has been bred into both Marmalade and Jackie Brown. Marmalade is thought to be a Jersey-Swiss mix and Jackie Brown is her daughter, being conceived by a pure Jersey line artificial insemination (AI). Their daughters, Mary Jane and Loretta, both received Jersey AIs and are expected to calve this coming Spring. The idea is to create a line that has decent milk production from low maintenance cows. Also playing into this system is that East Wind has a beef herd. By timing the calving of both the beef and the dairy cows at the same time a milker calf can go onto a nurse cow. This avoids the need for bottle feeding which has shown to be not in the best interest of the cow’s health (even when bottle fed with their mother’s milk).
All the people involved in the dairy program appreciate that the size of the program allows for compassionate and individualized care. For example, an animal that might be labeled as a cull cow by a veterinarian is given the extra attention they need. Liuda feels good about making decisions that are in the best interest of the cow’s health without the need to consider profit (as any commercial dairy operation is constrained by). Both Ish and Liuda can recall staying up all night in the dairy barn to help newborn calves recover from an ice storm. The cows in both the dairy and beef herds are socialized and friendly. Working with small numbers of cows and knowing their names allows each milker to establish bonds with ‘the girls.’ It is a great feeling to personally know the cows that your milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese comes from.
Having met at East Wind about five years ago, Ish and Liuda have recently started their own family here. They live with their daughter Narayana and their dog Harvey at their house, Gitchigumi. The author of this post, being a milker of three shifts a week for over a year, is excited to watch the dairy program continue to evolve and continue to learn about one of humankind’s greatest friends, the cow. The dairy program is what it is today because of the involvement of many East Winders, both past and present. Thank you to everyone who is and has contributed to the success of the East Wind Dairy!
When I was in eighth grade (it was probably 1965), one of the nuns teaching us declared that the Apostles were the first communists. I doubt (as I’ll show) they were the first, but it seems that they really did try to live communally. From Acts of the Apostles (4:32,34-35): “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. … Nor was there anyone among them that lacked, for all who were possessors of land or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the feet of apostles’ feet; and they were distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Gideons International, New King James Version) It sounds pretty communal to me.
However, Marx and Engles reference hunter-gatherer tribes as Primitive Communism, citing Lewis Henry Morgan’s discussion of the communal living arrangements of the Haudenosaunee (or ‘Five Nations’ also called the Iroquois). Wikipedia points out that “Egalitarian and communist-like hunter gatherer societies have been studied and described by many well-known social anthropologists including James Woodburn, Richard Lee, Alan Barnard and, more recently, Jerome Lewis.” Human beings are tribal animals. I’ve written about this on my personal blog. I think that communal living is an attempt to recreate tribal societies, where everyone shared what they had.
The nineteenth century was filled with attempts at creating “Utopian Communities” and many of them were rather communal. The Oneida Community (according to Wikipedia) “…practiced communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions)…” It lasted thirty-one years (from 1848 to 1879). The Amana Colonies were founded in 1856 and (again according to Wikipedia) “They lived a communal life until the mid-1930s.” Wikipedia also notes, “The Amana Society, Inc., corporate heir to the land and economic assets of communal Amana, continues to own and manage some 26,000 acres (105 km²) of farm, pasture and forest land. … Because the land was not divided up with the end of communalism, the landscape of Amana still reflects its communal heritage.”
Las Indias has given us a bit of communal history in their essay on “Communal Postcards“, starting with Fourierism and going onto the early Kibbutz movement.
The Bruderhof is a group of Christian communities, founded in 1920, in Germany, and currently comprised of “more than 2,700 people living in twenty-three settlements on four continents.” They take biblical sharing very seriously. “…at the Bruderhof, we believe that sharing our lives and finances in Christian community is the answer to all that is wrong with society today. Here we are building a life where there are no rich or poor. Where everyone is cared for, everyone belongs, and everyone can contribute.”
In the US, a second wave of communalism occurred with the commune movement of the nineteen sixties and seventies. (Probably starting just about the time that that nun was pointing out apostolic communism.) While many of these attempts were communes in name only and most of them are long gone, at least four of them are around in one form or another.
Twin Oakswas founded in 1967 and turns fifty this year. They have been sharing income since their beginning. Unlike many of the communes of the sixties, it is around and going strong. The Farm, in Tennesee, was founded in 1971. While at its beginning “…Farm members took vows of poverty and owned no personal possessions other than clothing and tools…”, this changed. “In 1983, due to financial difficulties … the Farm changed its residential community agreement and began requiring members to support themselves with their own income rather than to donate all income to The Foundation central corporation. This decollectivization was called the Changeover, or the Exodus.” (Quotes from Wikipedia.) While The Farm is still around, it is no longer communal. East Wind communitywas founded in 1973 by some folks from Twin Oaks. As they say on their website: “We hold our land, labor, and resources in common.” It continues strong and communal. And, finally, there’s Sandhill Farm, a small community founded in 1974, where they are still farming and living communally. (Here’sa brief history of Sandhill.)
And communes (income sharing communities) are still being formed. Compersia, a new commune in Washington, DC, just had its first birthday. Communal history is old, at least if you believe that tribal societies were communal, but it is still being written. You can read the latest dispatches from those living communally on this blog.
The 67th annual (previously biannual) Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) assembly was hosted by East Wind this year. In 1977, the very first FEC Assembly was held on East Wind’s land and forty years later both institutions stand as a testament to the durability of income-sharing and communal living. In mid March FEC delegates and people interested to visit East Wind traveled from Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sandhill, The Midden, and Sapling communities to review the state of the communes and plan for the upcoming year. Communities that wish to become full members of the FEC (known as ‘Communities in Dialogue’) that were in attendance included Stillwater Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance (La Plata, MO), Oran Mor (Wasola, MO), The Mothership (Portland, OR), Rainforest Lab (Forks, WA), Cambia (Louisa County, VA), Le Manoir (Quebec, Canada), and Ionia (Kasilof, Alaska). The Assembly consisted of five days of meetings, land tours, and social gatherings in the evenings. A number of topics were discussed, ranging from financial goals and better ways to support Communities in Dialogue to mediation workshops and how best to communicate the benefits of income-sharing.
The Assembly agenda flowed smoothly and a lot of ground was covered. The budget required a lot less time to finalize than last year and everyone was grateful for it. A new addition to the budget is ‘mini-grants’ which is a program that allows any member of a FEC community or Community in Dialogue to make a requests for small amounts of money ($50-$300) to make travel, education, and outreach opportunities become reality. The existing budget for full member scholarshipswas also approved and Joston of East Wind is receiving the first $500 grant for the budget year for an intensive permaculture training he will be attending next month right here in the Missouri Ozarks.
The FEC’s annual budget is paid for by member dues equal to 1% of net income for each full member community. In addition to access to the FEC funds for promoting the ideals income-sharing community, inclusion in the FEC also allows communities to become members of PEACHwhich is the catastrophic health insurance fund for East Wind and its sister communities.
The Assembly isn’t all meetings, of course. A tour of Oran Mor and a land walk at East Wind were some highlights of this year’s Assembly. Oran Mor is a Community in Dialogue that is about forty minutes from East Wind. They value living a low consumption life style and avoiding the use of fossil fuels. Last year, when East Wind ended its goat program the remaining goats were gifted to Oran Mor and they are healthy and happy. This year, in return, Oran Mor gifted East Wind with some of their ducks. Thanks Oran Mor!
This year the FEC accepted Compersia as a full member community. Compersiais an urban commune based outside of Washington DC. Steve, Compersia’s ever energetic and upbeat delegate, is excited to participate in outreach by getting people interested in income-sharing and communal living. He emphasized the fact that people with careers in an urban setting can mutually benefit from income-sharing and that communes don’t have to manifest in the form of ‘back to the land’ rural arrangements such as East Wind and Twin Oaks. Also during the assembly, Davi of The Mothership finalized a purchase of a neighboring house in Portland. They are interested in expanding and having the infrastructure for population growth. Urban and rural communes unite!
The Assembly was a great time to meet new people and strengthen the bonds between the FEC communities. Everyone can agree that East Wind was a generous host. Thank you to all the East Winders who served up delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners each day and made all our visitors feel welcome! As usual, the quality and abundance of food found in East Wind’s meals amazes everyone who visits. And of course, upon departure copious amounts of nut butters were distributed to be enjoyed by all of our sister communities. All in all, hundreds of pounds of almond, cashew, peanut, and sesame seed butter left East Wind’s warehouse to be consumed by our fellow communards across the continent. East Wind is grateful to be able to share such bounty. The next FEC Assembly will be held in Virginia on Acorn‘s land. Looking forward to it!
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.
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.
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.
Responsibly managing one thousand acres of land is a big task that requires a community sized effort to do well. Winter is the key time for big forestry and ranch maintenance projects. Last week a controlled burn was executed on two areas, about one acre in total. The day was calm and below freezing for the most part, with just enough wind for an effective and safe burn. Jeremiah led the burn, his third at East Wind. Plenty of communards were on hand to keep an eye on the fire and direct it as necessary.
Fire, whether man-made or natural, is important for various ecosystems such as prairies and forests to maintain health and diversity. This controlled burn was intended to clear brush and recycle crucial nutrients back into the soil. Burns promote diversity by favoring species adapted to fire such as wildflowers. These fields will also warm up faster in the spring time, due to the ash and soot on the ground, which will kick start microbial activity in the soil.
Once the fire break was established it was time for the field to be set alight. Buckets of water, running hoses, and hundred of gallons of water hitched to a tractor were readily available just in case the wind picked up.
All in all the day went perfectly, without a hitch. The fire never became dangerous and the burn plan was executed as intended. Thank you to everyone who came down and helped out!