The Gasoline Altar

from the East Wind Community Facebook page:

To appease the Gods of Insurance, our Gasoline Altar is complete. Though we’re always seeking to be more self-sufficient, East Wind is still reliant on the system. For the foreseeable future, our agricultural and cooperative systems are made possible by our successful business, East Wind Nut Butters. We drive cars and use tractors. Hopefully one day we won’t need to.

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This was re-posted on the Commune Life Facebook page with the comments:

Lots of people are drawn to community by the dream of living sustainably and autonomously. East Wind Community does better than most at actually actualizing these ideals. But the state is pervasive, as are fossil fuels, and neither can be escaped entirely. So sometimes you gotta build a gasoline altar to appease the insurance gods…

The Gasoline Altar

What If We’re All Doomed?

by Raven Cotyledon 

This isn’t going to be an easy post to read, but I believe it looks at some important questions. 

At Cotyledon right now, three out of four of the folks living here (basically everyone except me) are involved with the Extinction Rebellion. Wesley, the newest person in our house, is very heavily involved. 

Wesley describes himself as a farmer but he came to New York City to help out with the Extinction Rebellion, which he sees as our last best chance to save the planet. He is not optimistic. It’s discussions with him that inspired this post.

If anyone still doubts that climate change is real, look at the record breaking temperatures in Alaska, along with the accompanying wildfires.  (Which inspired someone to dub the state of the state, ‘Baked Alaska’.) Wesley said that he never expected to be a ‘prepper’, but given what he knows now, he is headed in that direction. 

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Photo sent to me, captioned: Walgreens, Anchorage, Alaska, July 5, 2019

So what are the communes doing to cope with climate change? And what is any of this worth if we really are doomed?

Wesley pointed out to me that the most likely first major catastrophe is likely to be disruption of the food supply chain. One statistic I have seen tossed around is that stores only hold about a three day supply of food. Fortunately, most of the rural communities grow a significant portion of their own food. Not true of Cotyledon in urban New York, but we are associated with the Ranch and have an urban farm (Hellgate) only a couple of streets away.

Unfortunately, if the food supply did run out, there would be lots of very hungry people who would not care who the food technically belonged to. Also, dumpster diving would be pretty useless in a food emergency; if there was no food in the stores, there wouldn’t be any food in the dumpsters.

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Empty Stores 

Many communes and other communities are also pioneers in off the grid living, which may be essential in a climate emergency. But the real thing that communities offer in any crisis is support and companionship and large doses of cooperation. If you are living in a community, you are not alone and isolated, and this is even more true if you are living in a commune. 

This was brought home to me the morning after Donald Trump was elected. This was not something most of us were expecting, and many of us were in shock. If I had been living alone, I would have had to deal with this all by myself. I was living in Ganas and we had a community meeting that morning (as we did most mornings) and we talked together about how we would deal with this. 

Communities are built to do things together and income-sharing communities even more so. We have far more collective intelligence and creativity and strength in community than any one of us has alone or even just a couple has together. As the challenges pile up, it makes more and more sense to me to figure this out communally. 

But, and here’s the horrible question I began with: what if we are all doomed?  First of all, I don’t think that is a given and I believe that the collective intelligence of communities makes our survival more likely. But it’s a possibility that I think we must consider.  And if we need to consider it, then I think that we need to think about hospice care for the human race. When a person is dying, we try to make them comfortable, we try to figure out how to help them die well.  I think that we may need to consider this for us all. And I cannot think of any better place to do this than in community where we have always focused on taking care of each other. 

I don’t want to end on a down note, and I do believe that it is an honest question whether we will survive or not, but I think that either way, communes and communities are an important part of the process of either making it through or leaving the planet gracefully. 

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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

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks! 

 

What If We’re All Doomed?

Sustainability at the Communes

by Raven Cotyledon

Last week our community, Cotyledon, sponsored a talk by a researcher from the Czech Republic.  It’s been a strange few weeks at Cotyledon, with Swedish and Czech and Australian visitors coming one after another.

Our Czech visitor, Jan Blažek, gave a presentation on Eco-communities in Europe at a local artists space for us.  We decided to have some of the NYC area communities get a chance to respond to his talk and have representatives from Cotyledon (me), Ganas, and Arc38 (which is in the countryside a bit north of the city) there to react.

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Jan Blazek

This set me to thinking about how the communes that I know of approach sustainability.

As I said in my part in the discussion following Jan’s presentation, Cotyledon began with a focus on food justice and urban agriculture. I have written about our relationship with Smiling Hogshead Ranch. Even though we are embedded in New York City, we are clear that we are concerned with working with nature and growing soil, plants, and food.  We have also become increasingly involved with the Extinction Rebellion–a movement to take radical action against climate disruption.

And we are one of the more urban of the communes.

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The banner for the presentation

The rural communes have even more of a focus on agriculture and food production. I have seen the crops growing at East Brook, Twin Oaks, Acorn, Mimosa, Sandhill, East Wind, and Oran Mor. There are major dairy programs at Twin Oaks and East Wind and both Acorn and Rainforest Lab used to have lots of goats. (Sadly, both of these communities had to give up their goats.) While few of these communities are fully self sufficient, they grow a large amount of their own food. Most of them also dumpster, as do the folks at Compersia in DC and us at Cotyledon. Dumpstering takes food out of the waste stream.  I believe these things are also true at the Mothership and Rainforest Lab and Ionia, but I haven’t been to any of them. (Although there is a sweet video about making grape juice at the Mothership.)

The communes in Virginia helped set up Living Energy Farm, which is a demonstration site for fossil fuel free living. Cambia community also spends much of their time demonstrating ecological living, with many teaching exhibits and a passion for reaching out to young people.

At its core, the radical sharing involved in all communal living, creates sustainability by its very nature.

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Kale at the Ranch

I see the communes as models for the sustainable world that we need to live in. Communities give us the chance to try things and see what works.

We may not survive climate change, but if we do, our learnings from the communities will be essential in recreating the planet.

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eCo from Arc38 with Jan

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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

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

Sustainability at the Communes

Will your community survive an Exodus?

By Paxus of Cambia Community

exodus people walking.jpgOne of the interesting new workshop topics for this years Twin Oaks communities conference (over Labor Day Weekend) is the Exodus Panel, which will be moderated by Taylor Kinniburgh, a member of the Baltimore Free Farm:

Panel Discussion on Surviving Exodus
Sunday, 9:30-11:00am, Registration Tarp

How can intentional communities survive a membership exodus? This workshop will carve out space for community members to share their experiences, learn from other communities, and develop strategies to overcome the challenges of member- ship overhaul. The panel will consist of experienced community leaders that have dealt with exodus to varying levels of success. Failure to deal with member exodus can lead to the collapse of a community, but it take more than recruiting new
members to take on this problem. Communities need to be self reflective about why the exodus took place and this panel hopes to guide participants in how to do that analysis.

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Come with me on a thought experiment.

You knew it might happen.  In the worst case the conflict within your community could blow things up seriously.  Now several of your members are leaving and the future of your community is in doubt.  Often people within the communities movement say “No one is indispensable” as a secular mantra for communities shifting to cover important jobs left vacant when an important member leaves.  But when several people leave?  Well, this is likely no longer a true maxim when the number departing is larger than one.

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When people leave en mass, the group changes and perhaps dies

Certainly, some part of the response of the group left behind must be soul searching.  “What did we do that was wrong?  Could we have taken better care of the group?  What have we learned from difficult circumstance and can we create new policies and practices to avoid it happening again?”

But after this important self reflection is completed, there will likely be a need to re-assess if the mission of the community is still the same after the exodus.  It is possible that the new group of members have a somewhat (and potentially quite) different vision of the future community.  While difficult work, this can be very satisfying and healing to the group remaining.

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The Baltimore Free Farm, Acorn Community and Twin Oaks have all experienced an exodus of members and survived.  Other communities we will discuss did not survive.

There is still time to register for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference over the labor day weekend (Aug 31 thru Sept 2) in central Virginia, 45 minutes from Charlottesville and 55 minutes to central Richmond or RSVP on Facebook

Will your community survive an Exodus?

Ecovillage Design – An experts perspective

We are lucky to have some very talented folks presenting at this years Communities Conference.  In the coming days there will be several workshop highlighted on this blog.

If we are going to change the way relate to our environment, we are going to need to build new types of buildings and entire ecovillages.  Fred Oesch has been doing exactly this for years now.

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Charlottesville Ecovillage Design Proposal

 

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Acorn/SESE Seed Office design

This is the workshop Fred is offering at this years Communities Conference.

Ecovillage Design – Principles and Practices

Presented by Fred Oesch of Oesch Environmental Designs and Openworld Villages

We now have significant experience designing ecovillages both in rural and urban settings and this workshop will take stock of what has been learned over the last 30 years.  There are sustainability elements, aesthetic aspects and design components connected with high degrees of sharing which all go into making a high functioning ecovillage. In many cases these are not elements which are taught in architecture school.  We will explore conversions of existing non-ecovillages as well as designed from scratch solutions. The workshop will start with presentation and then go into question and answer.

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Fred Oesch – Architect/Ecovillage Designer

Fred Oesch is a licensed architect who designed the seed building at Acorn and lives in Schuyler VA.  He has also been involved in several ecovillage projects, both urban and rural as well as new builds and conversions.  He serves on the Ecovillage Charlottesville Board and throws a mean quarry party.

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Site of ecological design and excellent parties

Some of what is covered in the workshop is Principles of Regenerative Environmental Design:

1] Design as a Way of Life.

2] Reflection of Evolving Regional Society, Tradition, Culture, and Religion

3] Utilization of Indigenous Technology, Materials, and Labor Skills

4] Direct Response to Microclimate / Seamless Site Integration

5] Minimum Inventory / Maximum Diversity Systems

6] Direct Designer / Builder / Inhabitant Participation

7] Net Resource and Energy Production

8] Self-Regenerating ‘Living’ Systems

 

It is still possible to come and participate in the Twin Oaks Communities Conference on August 31st thru Sept 2.  You can RSVP here in Facebook.  Or simply register for the Communities Conference

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Acorn/SESE Seed Office Actual

 

Ecovillage Design – An experts perspective

We Build Community by Building Community

By Thumbs  from Cambia

“Work is love made visible”

                          The Prophet, Khalil Gibran

           This Spring a team of colorful communard builders convened for a secular barn raising.  Even though everyone came for different personal reasons, the shared goal was clear, make an old sheep barn more hospitable for commune members.  One would assume that a simple, tangible goal would lead to a predictable week, but jumping to that conclusion would skip all the flying fish and cornucopia of magic that happened in-between.

           Within the Federation for Egalitarian Communities (F.E.C.) this type of trip is called a LEX, and it’ as culturally far from the norm as East Brook is from any major city.  With each turn down another unmarked country road, you are taking another deviation from the cultural norms around work, leadership, and purpose. Officially a LEX, short for Labor Exchange, is a time based currency used between participating members of the F.E.C. through which community members can help their fellow communities, and expect equitable hourly return of help at their own community   Yet, the culture of LEX goes far beyond any quantifiable market exchange, and unlocks a culture of radical generosity that questions cultural norms most people take for granted.

           While driving down Country Highway 22, the first intersection I had to make a turn at was “Construction projects need clear blueprints in order to be productive.”  It seemed obvious that would be a right turn, but I was wrong. On the first day of the build, the travel weary crew was introduced to a small warehouse of materials and an even smaller dilapidated barn, with the general guiding principle being, “The more of these new building materials that we can refurbish the old dilapidated barn with, the closer we will be housing more communards.” One week later 1,000 square feet of insulated flooring was installed, two new walls were built, two doors were installed, and the ceiling was made watertight with a glistening new roof, and yet I didn’t see a single blueprint drawn.  Not even a back of the envelope sketch was made. This whole project was a streaming interplay of experimentation, action, teaching and rethinking.

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Snowing on the last day of April, normal doesn’t happen at East Brook Farm (from left Nina, Rebecca, Ananda, Rachel, Skylar, Keenan, Becky, Thumbs, Mittens, Denise)

          The next crossing on the road was across the train of thinking that says “successful projects need leaders”, which I expected to be a mandatory stopping point, but instead we rolled right passed it.  While gaining labor credits through LEX was a periphery benefit to some of the builders, the majority of us came with the intention to gain more confidence in our building skills. Keenan and Nina have decades more building experience than the rest of us, but I’d be surprise if an observer would have been able to discern this.  Both of them held space for learning in the egoless way a graceful mentor let’s you flourish in the skills you already have while opening the door for you to lean into your learning edge. It wasn’t that we were leaderless, but more accurately it was that each of us lead ourselves to show up the responsibilities we could fearlessly accomplish.

EBCF Three Gals under the ceiling
Step aside patriarchal norms of men leading construction, this is an egalitarian team of communards (from left Becky, Mittens, and Nina)

            Now that the previous turns had lead me to unfamiliar territory I knew to turn the other direction when I arrived at the assumption that “efficient productivity needs schedules”.  One of the experiences of commune culture that has profoundly changed my life is the experience of abundant food, beauty and friendship without the sweaty palm anxiety of fiscal scarcity putting you a couple paychecks away from being homeless.  This separation of work from pure fiscal survival, to making work a voluntary choice to celebrate ones gifts within their chosen commune family, is rarely more alive than at a LEX build. From 6 a.m. till 7:30 p.m. there was a steady stream of workers gracefully picking up the hammer where the last person left off.  Slipping away for a nap or meandering down to the stream to get lost in the glistening water where so common that announcing you were taking a break felt unnecessarily formal. We all trusted that everyone was giving as much as they felt called to, and our love for each other dwarfed the importance of renovating a barn, so we skipped planning our day in the morning, and instead celebrated our accomplishments in the evening.

EBCF Last Nail Dance Party
Mandatory dance party initiated by Becky after the last screw of the floor was finished! (from left Becky, Thumbs, Nina, and Keenan)

            I knew I was close to my destination when I was faced with the assumption that “hot tubs are expensive indulgences for wealthy people” and I turned the other direction to arrive at East Brook.  Communes tend to be wealthy in “resource yards”, sometimes called junk piles by other Americans, which are often stocked with a variety of metal tubs. These bulky containers are as hard to find a use for as they are to get rid of, so they tend to become vernal pools for mosquitoes.  However a few of us had experience turning these treasures into fire heated hot tubs, lovingly referred to as Hippy Stew pots. With juvenile enthusiasm we tinkered and toiled until the old barn was outfitted with the makings of a hot tub. Granted it took a few kettles of water boiled in the kitchen to nudge the temperature up to the point of indulgence, but the sensation of winning at life was authentic.

 

EBCF Tractor and Hot Tub
Moving the insulated cow trough into position to be the new Hippy Stew pot! (from left Skylar, Keenan, Thumbs, Ananda, and Grant)

          Now that all my assumptions on people’s relationship with work had been inverted, I was hardly surprised when fish began raining from the sky.  We were cautiously enjoying a hot afternoon, after a couple days of snow in late April left us suspicious of the order of the seasons, when an epic toil of prehistoric ferocity began in the sky above us.  An osprey resolutely clutching a fresh fish catch from the adjacent brook was blindsided by an eagle that mistook the osprey for a food delivery service. The two toiled hundreds of feet above the ground, claws and feathers rolling through the sky in defiance of gravity, until the still squirming fish slid out from the talons and came plummeting towards us.  With a crash it landed gasping for water on the metal roof. Maximus and Rachael swiftly collected, gutted and fried it. That night I ate flying fish, and when I tasted it, I realized that to be abundantly wealthy is to be grateful for all that I have already been given.

 

EBCF Sky Fish Fry
The bounty of East Brook feed our souls in so many ways!

 

We Build Community by Building Community