East Wind Dairy

 

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.

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The dairy barn in summer, 2016.

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.

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Liuda puts the milking machine onto Jackie Brown as Shannell brushes her.

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.

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Ish strips Marmalade to get her ready for the milking machine.

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).

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The milk from each cow is weighed and recorded every shift.

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.

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Ish moving the electrified lines used to create defined paddocks for the cows.

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.

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Liuda herding the cows from their paddock into the dairy barn yard.  The small white cylinders on the ground are plastic protectors for the trees that were planted fall of 2016.

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).

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Jackie Brown (left) and her mother, Marmalade (right), munching down during the Winter.
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Heifers Mary Jane (left), daughter of Marmalade, and Loretta (right), daughter of Jackie Brown, in the dairy barnyard.

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.

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Liuda, Ish, and their daughter Narayana

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!

Post written by Sumner

Pictures by Sumner, Ish, Liuda, Jude, and Virgil

East Wind Dairy

A Brief Communal History

by Raven

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.

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The grounds of the Oneida Community

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.

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The Oneida residence at Twin Oaks

Twin Oaks was 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 community was 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’s a 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.

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A scene from Compersia
A Brief Communal History

Betty Crocker’s Famous Commune Recipe

By Telos, adapted from a zine I once made called “Betty Crocker’s Tiny Commune Cookbook.” A printable copy of the cookbook can be found here.

A good commune is like marinated tempeh. It’s like spicy peanut (or even cashew) sauce, or deliciously chewy fruit leather. A good commune is like a pig roast. Or maybe it’s like a beautiful bunch of asparagus, made better by the fact that it was recovered from a local dumpster. When well prepared, an income-sharing community can meet your life needs- dietary and otherwise.

While there’s a lot of room for variation, there are a few common elements that make communes an especially scrumptious dish…

They meet each member’s needs: You don’t want a muffin where all the blueberries are concentrated in one spot. Likewise, you don’t want a society where all the wealth is concentrated in one spot! When income is shared, resources are distributed roughly equally, or according to need. Excess is enjoyed together, reinvested, or shared with the wider community. Everybody gets blueberries in their muffin!

They reduce collective expenses, through resource sharing: Part of what makes communes delicious is that they reduce consumption. By collectivizing resources, communes avoid the need for everyone to buy their own car, tablesaw, bike, etc. Collectivizing labor also allows income-sharing communities to meet more of their needs in-house, by growing their own food, for example. The resultingly reduced consumption translates to lower expenses and a smaller ecological footprint. Yum

They make all work valuable: Income-sharing decouples the value of labor from the income it produces, because each member has equal access to resources, no matter how much money they individually earn. This separation of “value” from money makes it easy to appreciate all types of labor, even so-called “women’s work” and other labor that is chronically underpaid. Income sharing is as tasty for those cooking, cleaning, farming, and answering phones as it is for those running businesses.

They make life well-rounded and interesting:  Income-sharing usually eliminates the need to work for pay full time, making it possible to pursue a variety of work, instead of just one type. The resulting freedom to nourish a diversity of skills and passions gives life a well-balanced flavor profile. Communes help create well-rounded people, who are more versatile and interesting to be around.

The Recipe messy

Communes are not an easy recipe to attempt, and it’s an unfortunate truth that many of them come out either burnt or undercooked. They often turn out tough, and it’s difficult to get them to rise properly. Still, this should not discourage the cook, because a well-prepared commune is perhaps one of the flakiest, juiciest, most delicious dishes there is to be tasted.

Part of what makes communes so difficult is that there’s no sure-fire recipe that will guarantee success. Still, there are certain ingredients that pretty much all communes will need. If you have experience living or working cooperatively, many of them may already be available in your pantry. Make sure to include a healthy portion of each ingredient listed below. Mix well, marinate, adjust proportions as needed, and add copious amounts of tenacity and mutual trust- starting a commune is a commitment that requires hard work and persistence.  Prepared properly, commune life can strengthen your relationships, create a deep sense of belonging, provide an exit from industrial capitalism, reduce your carbon footprint, and more.

Membership Process Chips-Membership

Who will be in the commune? How will membership be decided? It’s important for new communes to have a group of founding members with a strong shared vision and the commitment to manifest it. Once off the ground, they will need a process for determining which new members to accept into the community. Making this process fair and equitable is an important and challenging task. Strive for a process that does not discriminate on the basis of race, class, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc, even in subtle ways. Still, the membership process must also ensure that accepted members are able to contribute fairly to the community (in whatever way they do), that their needs can be met by the community, and that they will not be destructive to the community.

IncomeCream-Income

In order to share income, you’ll need…income! How much money is required to meet the commune’s needs? Will the community buy most necessities, or will it find ways to meet some needs without money (by growing its own food, or by scavenging, for example)? Once members determine how much money they need to collectively earn, they need to figure out where it will come from. Will they pool the income from jobs outside the community? If so, do all members need jobs, or do some members make enough money to support others? Or should the community launch a cooperatively owned business that all members can work in and share income from? What type of business? Does the commune have other income sources available until the business begins to turn a profit? Launching a cooperative business will affect the tax status that best fits your community, as well as other legal details, so don’t forget to do your research!

Governance SystemFlour-Governance

Life is full of decisions. How will the commune make them? In an egalitarian community, it’s important to have a governance structure that allows decisions to be made in a timely manner while ensuring that all voices are heard and that no individual or faction is allowed to exercise constrictive power over others. The most popular model for egalitarian decision making is consensus, in which proposals are continually modified until all members can agree upon a course of action. Most forming communes use consensus, but many forms of collective governance are possible. There are communes that use supermajority vote, some that delegate responsibilities to various managers, and some that elect committees or empowered to make certain decisions.

Labor SystemWhisk-Labor

Starting and maintaining a commune takes work! Each commune will need a labor system ensuring that each member contributes equitably and is accountable to others. Some members might contribute by working an income producing job, or in a collectively owned business, while others might garden, keep community facilities clean and repaired, cook meals, or build community infrastructure. Are a set number of work hours expected from each member, or will accountability come from conversation, instead of numbers? Is work assigned, or self-determined? How is it ensured that each member contributes effectively and has the opportunity to be fulfilled in their work?

Communication and Conflict ResolutionSpoon-Communication

Sharing income is a big commitment, and it’s important for each commune to have a healthy communication culture. Communities function best when everybody is on the same page, not just about responsibilities, but also about relationships. There are many ways to facilitate effective communication among community members, like providing a space in community meetings to discuss interpersonal dynamics, or hosting regular meetings exclusively for this purpose. Another very useful tool is “clearnesses”- regular one on one meetings between every possible pair of community members, providing space to address any clutter in their relationship, and kill gossip. Consider these various forms of regular communication as “interpersonal hygiene.”  When it comes to serious conflicts, it’s important to have a plan for dealing with them before they arise. Don’t wait to design a conflict resolution process until you need it!

Legal and financial details Egg-Legal

If you want your commune to be recognized by the government as a legal entity (and not just a band of weirdos), then you’ll need to set up a tax and corporate identity for the community. Different tax and legal statuses will place different constrictions on what a community can legally do, so research thoroughly and choose according to your community’s needs! Communes are commonly listed as non-stock, non-profit corporations with a 501(d) tax status, but there are several options that may best meet a community’s needs. Besides tax and legal status, it’s important to familiarize yourselves with zoning regulations for the area where the commune will be located, financing options for the purchase of land, and other relevant legal details.

CultureCulture-Governance

It’s probably safe to assume that those interested in starting communes want to live differently than most people do. In what specific ways? Are there cultural taboos that you would like to normalize, like female toplessness? What about “normal” behaviors that we’d be better off without, like conspicuous cell phone use? What do members of the community do for fun? What is the community’s shared sense of purpose? How will your commune rewrite the social code? Each commune has it’s own culture, whether or not it was intentionally adopted. Take the opportunity to redesign culture in a healthy way!
*Never consider your commune finished, or it may stagnate and spoil. Serves roughly 5, potentially up to thousands. Never to be enjoyed alone.

Betty Crocker’s Famous Commune Recipe

Commune Dads Episode 3 – Tech, Kids, and Moderation

Commune Dads Episode 3 – Tech, Kids, and Moderation

Compersia’s first birthday!

Last Friday Compersia, the first commune birthed with the help of the Point A Project, turned one year old. It’s been a year filled with joys and difficulties and a few close calls. Recently, responding to our frustration with the gap between our reality and our vision and the stubbornness with which some big important items seem to stay on our to-do list, Courtney, one of our members, gave us some perspective by noting that the commune is a living thing and only a year old. If it was a human we’d be thrilled at this point if it wasn’t pooping on itself and had mastered the art of eating solid food and crawling around. From that perspective, we’re doing pretty well, thank you very much. We’ve got our foundational policies written, we’ve added some new members, we’ve got money in the bank, and we’re building some deep and resilient relationships. And, much like a baby, the commune demands a lot of attention and care and not always at the most opportune times. But as it grows and develops we can see more and more clearly how awesome it will be when it’s fully grown and how all our hard work parenting it will pay off.

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Some highlights from our first year:

  • Started the commune! Set up a legal entity, set up a group bank account, started pooling our income, our labor, and our resources.
  • Modified one of our member’s houses so it could fit most of us and our vital functions, host events, and host guests. It made a wonderful crib to hold us in our delicate first moments.
  • Started a video editing and media coop that currently supports one member and will hopefully grow into a multi-member commune business.
  • Another member started a handyman business.
  • Took on two new members to add to the four founders.
  • Had a couple weekend long retreats to work on plans and policy.
  • Hosted dozens of guests.
  • Hosted jam nights and game nights.
  • Started connecting with cooperative lawyers to lay the groundwork for a project to create an easily replicable model for urban communes.
  • Pursued and started negotiating on several potential buildings to buy.
  • Stayed sane.
  • Stayed fed.
  • Stayed solvent.
  • Stayed together.

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Now, on the eve of our first birthday, and with a recently expanded membership, we’re moving all six adult members and all four kids into a new house and setting our sights on a new set of goals. But we’re doing it with the knowledge that we’re only a year old and if we don’t accomplish all our lofty dreams we won’t be that hard on ourselves. As long as we’re growing and thriving, learning and maturing we will beam with pride at our bouncing baby commune.

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Compersia’s first birthday!