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.
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.
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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Membership processes are often in flux. Below is the membership process document for East Brook Community Farm, as of February 2019
Below is an outline of the process which begins with you not being a member and ends with you being an income sharing member.
Step 1: Introductions
You learn about East Brook, and then ask to come visit for a short period of time (can be a day, a week, or a month).
You come visit for this short period.
Step 2: Formal request to begin the membership process
You write a letter to East Brook asking to live with us for a long but finite amount of time (between 6 months and 1 year), as a residential member.
This letter should describe why you want to live here and what kinds of things you want to do with us.
We respond. Possible responses include:
Yes! Lets live together for that amount of time!
We need more info! We are interested in what it would be like to live with you, but don’t know you well enough yet to commit to a multi-month stay. Why don’t you come back for a few weeks or a month and we’ll get to know each other better?
No! We don’t think East Brook and you are a good match right now.
Step 3: Roles and Goals
After your residential membership request has been accepted, you write up a roles and goals document. This should happen either before you move in or within the first month of living together.
This document outlines the roles you see yourself playing in the community during your residential membership period, and describes the goals you have in those roles by the end of the period.
Your roles and goals arrangement may include a stipend for you, or it might not. Either way, at this stage, while we live together, we make most decisions together but you do not share income or make long term financial decisions with us.
Once the roles and goals document is written, we have a meeting to talk about it. Changes to the document might be suggested, and consensus is reached. General excitement is had. We live with you now! We will definitely live with you until your residential membership period finishes!
We schedule your membership check-in meeting, which will happen about ⅔ of the way into your residential membership period.
Step 4: The Membership Check-in meeting
Near the end of your residential membership period, we schedule this meeting to review how your time here has been, and what the future might look like.
If you want to continue living here, you bring a revised copy of your Roles and Goals document to the meeting, and we discuss what it would be like to live with you as an income-sharing member for the upcoming year
You may decide to remain a residential member of East Brook and not move forward into income sharing with us.
This meeting should be celebratory, not judgmental. We appreciate our time together and collectively imagine a path forward.
Step 5: Income-sharing membership consensus
The current income-sharing members meet without you and reach consensus about if we want to live with you and share income with you.
This meeting may happen before Step 4 in some circumstances.
Possible decisions include:
Yes! Lets live together for another year and share all our income!
We need more info! We are interested in what it would be like to live with you more intimately, and share our incomes together, but some concerns have come up during your time here and we need more experience living together before we explore the income-sharing path. Let’s revise your roles and goals to fit the next 6 months, and then after that we’ll check in again and re-explore income-sharing membership.
No! After living with you for the last several months, we’ve decided that it is not best for the community to continue to live together. We ask that you find somewhere else to live after your residential membership period is complete.
Step 6: Income Sharing
Once we have reached consensus on income-sharing membership, the details of the income-sharing agreement need to be worked out.
Income-sharing agreements at East Brook are modular, and tailored to the needs and resources of each individual. Our income-sharing agreements have four parts:
Financial disclosure – this part describes your savings, material possessions, and expected income over the next year.
An explicit agreement that all the money you make in the next year will be shared with East Brook, and all expenses you might incur in the next year will be paid by East Brook.
A budget – This part details how the money you earn will be allocated by East Brook, and how East Brook will meet your needs.
An exit agreement – some amount of your income is allocated towards exit savings, so that you have resources should you choose to leave. We make arrangements for cars and other material possessions to facilitate amicable leaving.
Once this agreement is made, next we take actions to implement it. Actions might include:
You get access to East Brook bank accounts (either by being added to the account or getting a credit card which East Brook commits to paying)
Any paychecks you receive from outside income are designated to be deposited into East Brook accounts.
Any regular bills you have are designated to autopay from East Brook accounts.
Once income sharing is implemented, you are now an income-sharing member for the next year.
Step 7: Following Up
Income sharing members are members “indefinitely” but their membership is subject to regular conversation and exploration with the other members.
One year after you become an income-sharing member, we all meet and once again review and revise your roles and goals document.
This is a time to reassess your experience in community. Is it living up to your expectations? Are there things about your life or your relationships which you would like to work to change? How can we improve things? Might it be time to leave soon? Do you want to change your roles? Did you achieve the goals you set? What new things would you like to accomplish in the next year? How can you be supported in personal growth?
Unlike the first check-in meeting, there is no follow-up meeting after this one where all members besides you are present. (Unless someone wishes to trigger our expulsion process, which should almost never happen). However, this meeting is a time for everyone to seriously consider how our lives are affected by living together, and to explore all options available to us to continue to support each other and the community we live in. The meeting should encourage discussion of radical changes to our roles and relationships, if they are needed. (Default is you continue to live here, this is just a chance to explore your options and figure out if your life is on a path you truly want blah blah blah etc.)
The meeting concludes with consensus on your updated roles and goals document. Then we schedule your next check-in meeting for a year or two from now. This process repeats indefinitely.
Living in an intentional community can be a deeply rewarding experience. Many people are realizing the shortcomings of consumer culture and are searching for a better way to live. Living at East Wind offers the opportunity to be your own boss and pursue work that truly interests you, to develop a deeper connection with the natural world, to share your day-to-day life with an extended family of like-minded people, and to be a part of a movement to create a better quality of life for everyone in your community. East Wind isn’t the place for everyone, but some of our current members consider moving to community to be one of the best decisions of their lives. If we desire something better than ‘the American dream’ for ourselves and for future generations, we must develop alternatives and set an example for others to follow. So take some advice from Mohandas Gandhi and “be the change you want to see in the world.” That’s what East Winders do every single day. Leading an autonomous life is an incredibly empowering experience. You will certainly be amazed as your innate potential reveals itself.
Those interested in joining East Wind are welcome to inquire about arranging a visit. Contact us first at email@example.com, as dropping in unannounced is not accepted. After completing a three week visitor period, visitors can apply for either provisional membership or associate status at East Wind. Provisional membership is somewhat of a trial membership, and is a year-long process to becoming a full member. You can click here to read all legislation pertaining to membership and visitors.
East Wind is self-governed through direct democracy. All members and visitors are welcome to participate in our political processes and speak in community meetings. However, visitors, provisional members (those during their first year of membership), and those with associate status are not granted a full vote. Provisional members receive a half vote in community ballots after three months of membership, and can vote on all issues except for those that deal with membership. Visitors and individuals with associate status have no voting rights, but may still attend community meetings and share their opinions. All full members have an equal vote and equal access to utilize the established processes. Only full members can sign and pass petitions.
After one year, provisional members are subject to a vote on their membership—if they receive a simple majority of yes votes, they are awarded full membership, full medical coverage, and a full vote in future ballots. However, if they receive a majority of no votes, they will be asked to either extend their provisional membership by six months before undergoing a second vote or to leave community. If this sounds like a lot of pressure, please keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of membership votes are in favor of the new member. This process is designed primarily to keep out individuals who do not do their fair share of work or make current members feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
All full members are equal owners of our land, our businesses, and our assets. Full members can only be expelled from community by the action of two-thirds of full members through petition or vote. Expellable offenses include failure to do fair share, physical violence, theft, violating the community’s property and income codes, and deliberate attempts to destroy or disband the community. The decision to expel a member for these or other offenses is made by full members of the community on a case-by-case basis. Though problems do occasionally arise, we are usually able to resolve issues amongst ourselves and expulsion is extremely uncommon.
East Wind offers a home to those who want to help us in our mission to create a sustainable and egalitarian communal lifestyle. If these values are important to you, please consider visiting us in the Ozarks and getting involved.
Membership decisions are consistently one of the hardest aspects of living at Acorn. We can disagree about how much money to spend on a goat fence, or where to put a building, but when you’re talking about people, and the friendships formed, or the other social dynamics that develop, the stakes are much higher. After a string of difficult membership decisions that strained the social fabric of the community, we concluded that our old membership process was not serving us well.
The old process was that visitors would come for three weeks, do a round of clearnesses, which involved having a conversation with every member on the farm, and then we would try to come to consensus about whether to make the person a provisional member or not. If we made them a provisional member, there would be a year long period where they did more rounds of clearnesses and we would come to consensus about making them a full member.
When I first showed up in 2013, there was a stated norm that “if it wasn’t a clear yes, it was a no.” But in my experience, this was only a thing people said, and didn’t actually reflect how the decisions were being made. Probably this was true at one time, but as membership turns over, and the culture shifts, this norm fell by the wayside. Members could “stand aside” from a decision, indicating that they were not excited about a potential member but would be willing to live with them, but there was confusion about what that actually meant, and how many it took to be “not a clear yes.” Any full member could block the decision, rejecting the visitor’s membership, but since it only took one member to do that, there was no incentive for other members who also had reservations to “throw their social capital onto the fire,” which led to members feeling unsupported in saying “no”.
There were other problems too. The short amount of time to get to know someone well enough to make a decision was causing us stress. Even though a provisional member is “provisional,” a year is a long time, long enough for real connections , friendships, and romantic relationships to form. It became very difficult to say “no” at that point, and so we ended up feeling a lot of pressure to be confident in our initial decision, before we had enough experience with a person to actually feel that confidence. Clearnesses and the processing of emotions that leads up to them can be emotionally intense and taxing. The frequency with which we were going through that with the steady stream of new visitors was leaving us raw and without enough emotional energy to maintain our own relationships. To complicate things even further, over the years we had glommed on different mechanisms like the “Delta Maneuver,” which allowed visitors to stick around as interns until a membership slot opened up, which provided us flexibility to achieve the outcomes we wanted, but that was clunky and confusing.
So over the summer of 2017, we had a bunch of meetings where we talked about what a new membership process could look like. Most of us liked the sentiment of “if it’s not a clear yes, it’s a no,” but we needed a clearer implementation. A significant portion of the membership wanted to feel less rushed in their decisions, and like a provisional decision was actually provisional. We liked the function of clearnesses, but recognized that it was overloading us. So we wrote a bunch of words down and came to consensus on it, with the understanding that it will need to be re-consented on next summer after we evaluate how it is working for us.
One of the biggest changes is the actual decision making mechanism. Instead of consensus, we came up with something we called a “test for excitement.” In a test for excitement, every member present is asked to answer either “excited”, “accept”, or “have reservations”. A “have reservations” answer cancels out one “excited” answer, and if there are at least 50% “excited” answers, then the decision is passed. This gives people some room to express concerns without feeling like they are solely responsible for saying “no,” and it ensures that there is actually enough enthusiasm to constitute a clear yes. Any one member can still block the decision, so underneath it still functions like consensus decision making.
We also made the length of the visitor period flexible, up to six months. This lets us get to know people better, and even for them to get to know us better and make their own decision on if they want to live here. We put a test for excitement at one and three months, so there is a less emotionally intensive path to take when it becomes clear someone is not working out. Any time during the first five months of a visitor period, the visitor can ask to be considered for membership. We do a test for excitement here, which is really a decision to commit our emotional energy to doing a round of clearnesses with this person. This insulates us a bit from the emotional processing with people who there is a good chance aren’t going to work out anyways. If we invite someone to be a membership candidate, then they have the rest of their visitor period to do their clearnesses, after which we do another test for excitement to make them a provisional member. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, we have flow charts.
We’ll see how this works over the next year. It’s likely we’ll want to make some tweaks, and it’s possible it will crash and burn and we’ll have to come up with something else entirely. We’re currently looking for a few new members, so if you’ve been thinking about checking out a project like this and don’t mind being a guinea pig for our new process, now is the time to apply! Please see the information here about how to do that.
Following is a graphical representation and the text of the policy.
Our membership decision making mechanism will be termed a “test for excitement” and will consist of members answering either “excited”, “accept”, or “have reservations” about a particular decision. A threshold of 50% of the members who were asked need to have answered “excited” for the decision to pass. An answer of “have reservations” will cancel out one “excited” answer. Any one member can also block the decision. In membership decisions where clearnessses are required, a block or “have reservations” answer will not count if the clearness did not happen and the member is at fault for not getting clear. The member is not at fault if they scheduled and showed up for two clearnesses. Blocks and answers of “excited” or “have reservations” will only be accepted from members who have attended all discussions. If a member is not able to attend a meeting but has a strong desire to block or have their answer counted, they can request that the discussion be delayed for up to two weeks until they return. The answers of individual members are confidential and should not be shared with the person who the decision is about, or any other non-members.
The discussions about membership decisions should at minimum consist of a go-around where everyone present at the meeting has a chance to speak. Space should be made for popcorn discussion to process anything that might have come up in the go around. If no one feels that there are any unresolved issues, then the test for excitement will be held. As long as anyone feels that something is unresolved, discussion will continue for up to one hour after the go-around. For visitor period extension and invitation decisions, the test for excitement will be held at the end of this discussion, regardless of whether there are still unresolved issues. For provisional and full member decisions, if there are still unresolved issues at the end of the one hour period, the discussion will be tabled until the next meeting, where another go-around and discussion will be held. Regardless of whether there are still unresolved issues, the test for excitement will be held at the end of this second discussion, which can go for a maximum of two hours.
Visitors can stay for up to six months. At one month and three months, the membership will evaluate how the visitor period is going and decide if we would like to extend it. At these points, the visitor’s process shepherd should put their visitor period as a topic for the member meeting. After a discussion, a test for excitement should be conducted with the members present. If we decline to extend a visitor period, the visitor will have some amount of time to get their next move figured out before they have to leave. During their first month, they will have one week to leave, and any time after that they will have two weeks. This time is not guaranteed and can be shortened by the group if there are concerns for safety or discomfort. Members are encouraged to give feedback to people whose visits have been cut short, but they are not obligated to do so.
Any time up to five months into their visitor period, the visitor can make a request to be considered a membership candidate by writing it on the member meeting agenda. The process shepherd should print out the interview questions to give to the visitor, to be filled out and put in the file folder with the rest of the member interviews before the meeting. At the next member meeting, there will be a discussion and a test for excitement among the members present on whether to invite that visitor to be a membership candidate. If we do not invite them, they will have two weeks to leave. This time is can be shortened or extended by the group. If they are invited, the membership candidate will then have until the end of their visitor period to complete a round of clearnesses. After the clearnesses are complete, the process shepherd should put the membership discussion on the member meeting agenda. At the meeting, there will be a discussion of what came up in the clearnesses and how people feel about making the visitor a provisional member. A test for excitement should be held at the end of the meeting, or be tabled for the next meeting if there are unresolved issues.
Provisional members can apply for full membership no less than a year after being invited to be a membership candidate (and after having been a provisional member for at least six months), and no more than two years after becoming a provisional member. Time off the farm such as for LEX or family emergencies will not count towards these time limits. During provisional membership, a round of clearnesses should be conducted every six months on the farm. The member should discuss their intention to apply for full membership in the clearness preceding their application. After they have completed their clearnesses, they should put their full membership discussion as a topic on the member meeting agenda. At the meeting, there will be a discussion of what came up in the clearnesses and how people feel about making them a full member. A test for excitement should be held at the end of the meeting, or be tabled for the next meeting if there are unresolved issues.
If the provisional member has not completed a round of clearnesses after one year, or two years has passed without applying for full membership, a test for excitement will be conducted and a decision made regardless.