With the onset of farming season, we have been busy at LEF. We expanded our seeds operation by about a third this year. Our seed crops are mostly looking great. The orchards and new berry plantings are also in good shape, though it is an effort to keep them watered. The ducks, the bees, and the humans inhabiting our land all seem to be doing well.
Our goal at LEF is to put together a package of tools and techniques that can sustainably support a village, and to do so at a minimum of cost and complexity so our model can be more easily spread. This year we planted wheat and oats to add to our food supply. The intent is not to simply produce a small amount of grain. It is to see how producing food fits into our zero fossil fuel economy. Can we grow and harvest our food running woodgas or turpentine tractors? How complex or expensive is such a proposition? We have not made much progress with the woodgas tractor in the last couple months, owing mostly to a frustrating succession of mechanical breakdowns. Though we are still doing heavy tillage with fossil fuel, we have started harvesting our grains. We cut our wheat field with scythes and threshed the grain with a shredder (like people use for shredding leaves in their yard). Then we ground the grain into flour with our solar-powered grain mill, and Deb baked a most delicious and satisfying bread in our solar oven. Though the whole process is not what one would call efficient, it has been instructive and fun. We learned that we can grow good quality wheat for making bread. We learned that a small shredder (which could easily be powered with direct-drive solar electricity) works for threshing. But we lost a fair amount of the grain in the harvesting and cleaning process, and it was slow. So we have spent quite a bit of time looking into old American combines. In China and India, numerous companies are making combines the size of riding lawnmowers. Perhaps, if all goes well, we can make progress in the next few years in figuring out how to run small tractors and harvesting machines sustainably at the village level.
The question of how much food can be grown with organic, sustainable methods is a large one. Each year as we grow bountiful, organic grains and seed crops, we feel more confident that organic farming can feed humanity better than industrial chemical agriculture. Last year we grew Florianni Flint corn. The harvest was fantastic. This year we are growing Kentucky Rainbow, an heirloom dent corn. Industrial agriculture using hybrid GMO seeds is enormously productive under ideal conditions. But under difficult growing conditions, heirloom seeds may actually be better. The old dent corns (like Kentucky Rainbow) are famous for their drought tolerance. Sure enough, we have been having a dry growing season, and we have watched the neighbors’ hybrids shrivel while our Kentucky Rainbow looks like a lush corn jungle. (See photo.) Most of such building energy as we might possess at the end of the farming day has been going into repairing and completing various parts of our main house and surrounding infrastructure in preparation for bringing more visitors onto the land in the coming months. We have had a few leaking pipes and broken solar gizmos that got left behind in the push to make our main house livable. Now we are fixing those issues. If all goes well, we should be ready for doing open-houses and other promotional events in the fall.
I’ve lived in Ganas community for thirteen years now. It’s amazing how one year folds into another. I still feel as if I have so much to learn, and my friends will agree with me that I don’t always know when to speak and when to listen. I’ve improved much since I’ve arrived thanks to certain ways in my current community that encourage whoever is interested in getting feedback and change habits one prefers to alter.
I grew up in Israel in Kvutzat Kinneret, the second kibbutz on the land. We were about seven hundred sixty members. We had one member’s meeting a week, besides the scheduled committees. One could get lost in the multitude in those meetings. The person who wanted to speak had to get up and reach the mic. Those meetings seemed to lack intimacy. The interactions among members were minimal in order to keep the order. There was little emphasis on problem resolution and conflicts were not always addressed during the meeting. What wasn’t said was still present in the room.
I also spent seven years in East Wind Community in Missouri. It’s an established, colorful place that handles its meetings by counting majority vote. In this country it sounds sensible, but after living in Ganas I recognize that each person is a universe. Whenever a majority wins, there is a minority that didn’t get their way. Sometimes they are only slightly smaller than the people who got their wishes. If they feel strongly about their case, they will attempt to get the majority of votes. It is a see-saw system, where hardly anybody is satisfied with any decision for a long term. In Ganas we talk and listen till everybody is okay with the decision, and they choose not to block the process. Then we decide. Most decisions in Ganas take a long time to come to fruition, but we try our best to put the people before the bottom line.
Ganas is not an Egalitarian Community, but it has a lot to show. We treat people according to their needs, and encourage our members to contribute according to their ability. It amazes me how much communities have in common, whether they are egalitarian or not. We know that what we stand for is larger than the sum of the people.
For example, members are encouraged “to do dishes” once a week. That means, cleaning up after dinner. Usually it’s a team of five people and it takes less than an hour. It can be a bonding experience, and very energizing since some of the people want to go home as soon as possible. Some other folks enjoy the experience so much they prefer to sit down, talk and work leisurely. In the end, the ones who want to finish early go home after the short shift, and the rest stay to hang out. But not everybody does dishes. Some people work outside of the community in the evening, others are not fit enough for this work. There are no consequences either way. People do what they can, and it’s okay.
Living in community can be practical and loving at the same time. In Ganas we meet five days a week for ninety minutes to talk about anything that comes up. One may need a ride, or somebody needs to mention a person who is interested to join us. At times people bring a conflict to the morning meeting. We value active listening in our community. Both sides listen to the different points of view, and the facilitator makes sure they all heard each other. Often the parties don’t change their views, but understand the other better.
‘No punishment’ is a value in Ganas. There are consequences to people’s behavior, but it is not to make them feel bad. If someone leaves the stove on, they may be asked not to use the stove again. It is not to make them feel bad, but to make sure they don’t cause a fire.
We are a community in progress. We strive to learn how to live together and grow in ways we wouldn’t be able to experience on our own. I bet you do too. I wonder if you use the tools of ‘no punishment,’ the one of ‘one case basis’ instead of the one of ‘one rule for all.’ When you are in conflict, do you listen to the other person’s point of view and let them know you do it?
Certain behaviors can smooth up the complexity of living in community. I’m sure you have tools that can enrich our life here. I’ll be happy to hear about them.
Keegan and adder are joined by fellow commune dad Ezra Freeman to talk about raising siblings on the farm. We tend to say that age peers at Twin Oaks are much like siblings, but is this really the case? What advantages and challenges above those of friendships do kids experience? We are also joined by commune kid Lily to chat a bit about her experience as a sibling-less child.
The Fed Is Best Foundation Encourages Mommy Guilt Through Bad Science (blog post) bit.ly/2pGd7vr
Sustainability is a hot topic in communal living, but I think that there are several different types of sustainability. I’d like to take this post to explore some various levels of sustainability.
The first level is what many people think of when they talk about sustainability, what some people call ‘eco-sustainability’. Living Energy Farm is an example of a commune focused on eco-sustainability, as is the Stillwater Sanctuary, but even Twin Oaks, which has never tried very hard to be eco-sustainable, has a very low carbon footprint. With the climate crisis we are in now, this type of sustainability is very important.
But it isn’t the only level of sustainability in the communes. Twin Oaks is a model for a very different type of sustainability, the ability of a community to sustain itself, which Twin Oaks has done for fifty years. Not only has Twin Oaks lasted, but it has provided a model that has influenced other long lasting communes (some of which have been around now for twenty to forty years) .
There’s also a third level of sustainability to community living. Dancing Rabbit (which is not an income sharing community but is an interesting model for community living and sustainability on many levels) refers to this as ‘inner sustainability’. It is not enough to live ecologically sustainably and to sustain the community. It is also important to sustain the individual members of the community.
There are many tools to do this. Two that are practiced at some of the communes are Transparency Tools and the Clearness process, but sometimes people use things like meditation, Nonviolent Communication, and Re-evaluation Co-counseling as well. Some of this shades into interpersonal sustainability, where forms of conflict resolution are often helpful as well. Good communication is an important part of sustainability.
So in community, we have the opportunity to learn to sustain ourselves as well as our interpersonal relationships, and the community as a whole as well as living in a way that is ecologically sustainable. And this is how we create a sustainable world.
Stocking a kitchen that serves the needs of over seventy people requires a lot of space for food storage. Steps away from Rock Bottom (our community’s main kitchen and dining hall) we have two stand alone buildings for food storage: a walk-in refrigerator (‘the walk-in’) and dry storage. East Wind now enjoys a newly constructed dry storage building thanks to the helping hands of many community members.
Beckie, a member for over twenty years, planned and led the construction of the building from demolition of the old structure to completion of the new. The biggest challenge for her was preparing for and executing the pouring of a large concrete slab that was required to support the new building, which is more than twice the size of the previous dry storage structure.
Pouring of the slab, to the left you can see the ‘walk-in’ (walk-in refrigerator) and to the right is Rock Bottom (kitchen and dining hall)
The pour went well and the concrete provides a large thermal mass that helps to passively regulate the temperature along with the high ceilings and wall vents. Beckie, having decades of experience in construction and building maintenance, and the skillful hands of JR and Wild Horse were able to finish raising the walls and roof in short order.
With the actual construction of the building finished there remained the electric, laying out the interior, and all the little finishing touches. Beckie’s son Wes, born and raised at East Wind, along with his grandfather Ed ran all the electric lines. Boone and Tony put in place shelving and a large rack of drawers. Winter painted the exterior walls to match Rock Bottom’s forty year old aesthetic (custom color tin was ordered for the roof for this same purpose). The small details are still being worked on to beautify the space and make most efficient use of it.
The new dry storage offers ample space for two freezers and yards and yards of shelf space. Everyone is free to take what they need, but don’t forget to close the door behind you! In addition to this facility, two new shower houses are currently under construction, this is certainly a building year for East Wind.
Now that’s one gigantic pantry! A big thank you to Beckie and everyone who put time in on this project!