The Midden

(Notes:  This report is rather out of date.  Also, it’s significant that we took something from Paxus’s blog, your passport to complaining,  this week because his blog was the main inspiration for this blog.  His blog has lots of stuff on communes, but also polyamory, nuclear power, political situations, and stories from his family and his life.  He got the idea he should have different blogs focused on different topics.  From there we talked about the idea of a blog focused on egalitarian income sharing communities that he and many other folks could contribute to.  That became this blog.)

from your passport to complaining, November 15, 2013

“Look for the place with the canoe in the front yard.” It is pretty safe to assume that another canoe was not going to make it into another yard in downtown Columbus OH on Halloween. And we were already warned that this was not going to be a “normal” visit.

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the dog is named burglar and all Midden pets are working pets

By most measures the Midden is a fantastically successful community.  And one key to their success is in their name.

A midden is an intriguing or marvelous rubbish heap. Pack rats and octopi make middens—so do ocean currents and human civilizations. We call our house The Midden because we make use of the artifacts (groceries, furniture, shoes) thrown away or overlooked by mainstream society. And all the while, we’re using this stuff to build more whole and meaningful systems to provide for ourselves. [All quotes from the Midden website]

We arrive in time for dinner. Much of the house is not here this evening. Some doing their political works, others touring, still others will be back later. The house is a lived in construction site, but most of the bed rooms look well lived in and are decorated with political posters and exotic art. We have arrived with the intention of working with them on our way back from NASCO, and we can already see that we will be working on blown cellulose insulation. I have a long love affair with insulation materials.

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clever protest art abounds at the Midden

We also love to care for each other, share our skills and ideas, and do what we can to confront systems of oppression that bring us all down. We’re eco-activists, prison abolitionists, housing justice advocates, writers and theater artists, adventurous human beings and more.

They are also charming, dedicated, sarcastic, spunky, counter culture kids who are the newest member of the egalitarian community movement. They were great hosts, embracing us not just as guests but as valued co-conspirators in making things better. The refrigerator rivals a suburban fridge for high end fare, the only difference is much of it made a brief stop in a dumpster first. Amazingly they have only spent $340 on food for all 7 of them since the first of the year (excluding coffee). The kitchen sink is a perfectly positioned bathtub.

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Midden Sink made of salvaged bathtub

We believe in things like: doing it ourselves, anti-authoritarianism, using (and re-using) our resources responsibly, friends and hanging out, dumpstering, caring for each other and staying solid. You can read more at http://themidden.wordpress.com/.

While a couple housemates tell me that all the members like and respect each other, what really holds the place together is their shared commitment to political change. We try to kidnap Cole and get her to come to NASCO with us. She wisely resists, thought she was tempted by the idea of doing her own guerilla skill share.

We’re solid. We defend space that is safe, secure, and reliable for ourselves and our friends. We know where we stand in relation to the neighborhood, the city and the community and we own and shape that position. We practice security culture. We protect ourselves (to the best of our ability) from crisis both within and outside the house. We hold practices and policies that keep us stable, effective and creative as individuals and as a group. By pausing to think about what we think, want, and need, we make ourselves resilient and able to adapt to change.

We do end up spending a day helping install insulation. Billy from the Baltimore Free Farm scrambles thru the crawl spaces pumping fire resistant paper into the hollow spaces between ceiling and roof. We put in a long day of insulating and shlepping the heavy blower machine to the third floor. And we are satisfied that the house will be much warmer this winter for our efforts.

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Jared, Paxus and blown insulation at Midden Circa Nov 2013

The Midnights (as I like to call them as a compression of Midden-ites) are game to guerilla workshop material to NASCO 2014. When I say we are going to run 24 new workshops, Alex instantly replies “We will do 6 of them.” We have met our partners in crime, and they live behind the canoe is Columbus Ohio.

The Midden

A Cornucopia of Communes

Pictures of most of the communities featured in Commune Life over the last year.  (All communes are in US states unless otherwise noted.)

Acorn, Mineral, VA:

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Baltimore Free Farm, Baltimore, MD:

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Cambia, Louisa, VA:

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Compersia, Washington, DC:

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East Wind, Tecumseh, MO:

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las Indias, Madrid, Spain:

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Living Energy Farm, Louisa, VA:

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Oran MórSquires, MO:

Summer OM5a

Quercus (disbanded), Richmond, VA:

Porch music jam on our snazy palette-finished porch

Rainforest Lab, Forks, WA:

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Sandhill Farm, Rutledge, MO:

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Sycamore Farm, Arcadia, VA:

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The Common Unity Project (TCUP),  Gitxsan Territory, Hazelton, BC (Canada):

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Twin Oaks, Louisa, VA:

ZK

 

 

 

A Cornucopia of Communes

A Year of Communes

by Raven

This is the one year anniversary of this blog.  It means that we’ve had a full year of articles, photoessays, and reprints, all centering on life in egalitarian, income-sharing communities.

Part of the point of this blog was to show some of the variety that exists among the communes, from Twin Oaks, which has almost a hundred people and is going to be fifty years old this year, to Compersia, which is small and just celebrated its first anniversary.

https://paxus.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/twin-oaks-community-sign.jpg?w=660
Someone recently said to me, “Egalitarian, income-sharing communities.  How many are there?  Eight?”  I’ve counted more like eighteen–world-wide–and I feel like that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I know of thirteen US communes, two Canadian ones, as well as one in Spain, one in Germany, and one in Australia–and I keep hearing stories of other ones.

She then said, “So what? Maybe twenty, forty communities world-wide?”  This is true, but the communes are at the far end of the communities movement.  There are thousands of communities of various kinds in the US alone, and perhaps tens of thousands world wide.  But we represent what is possible, the radical end of the sharing and equality spectrum for communities.  The fact that a community has been able to do this with a lot of people for fifty years and going strong, and the fact that there are a bunch of communities doing this with new communities still emerging is important.  Not every community needs to look like this (and it’s okay that only a small percentage do) and, of course, not everyone wants to or should live in a community, but we are showing the world what is actually possible.

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Unfortunately, not all of the eighteen communities that I’ve identified have been featured in Commune Life.  We’ve reached out to all the ones that we know about but sometimes we don’t get replies, or we get responses that they are too busy or they’ll send something “soon” (which probably means eventually).  Communal living, especially in the smaller, newer communes, is really busy and often folks don’t have the time or energy to contribute to this blog.

I am very grateful for all the folks who have taken the time and contributed with articles and pictures.

Also, part of the difficulty of community building is that is doesn’t always work.  At least one community that was featured here (Quercus) is completely gone and another one has moved and took over the land of a different, dying community.  I’m hoping that we can have their stories in here soon.  It’s important to look at what doesn’t work as well as what works.

On Wednesday, we’re going to feature photos from all the communities that have contributed to Commune Life.  I love the fact that we have so many different pictures of communal living.

Finally, Commune Life is also about the projects and organizations that support life on the communes, from the Federation of Egalitarian Communities to the Point A project.  I think it’s important to emphasize that you can find out more about any community or project or communal subject (from aging to the Transition Movement) by clicking on the three lines in the top right hand corner of this blog.  We want this blog to be a useful tool for anyone interested in any aspect of communal living.

I think the most important thing to note is that there’s real people doing communal living.  It’s not some pie in the sky fantasy, but an ongoing endeavor of many people around the world.  On this blog now is a year’s worth of stuff to prove it.
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A Year of Communes

Commune Dads Episode 04: Will Kids Ever Learn To Share?

(from the Commune Dads site)

Adder Oaks and Keegan Dunn tackle the challenges of teaching sharing to children on a commune, where sharing already abounds! Are the sharing habits of commune kids actually any different than those of the mainstream? Adder and Keegan ponder whether forcing kids to share is the only way to actually make it happen, or if a lassiez-faire approach results in more compassionate behavior. They discuss a scholarly article about sharing in children, the utopian novel The Dispossessed, and fill in with their own anecdotes about the hoarding behavior of, well, basically every kid they have met.

Mentions:

Commune Dads Episode 04: Will Kids Ever Learn To Share?

The Blogs of Twin Oaks

by Paxus

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I was surprised to discover that Winnie had a blog.  She is an amazing cook, so it should have not be a surprise that she blogs about cooking for 100 people at Twin Oaks.  Her blog called Sustainable Sustenance for Existence

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Winnie:  The baker is a blogger

It also begged the question:  What other blogs and social media presences are there in the community and shouldn’t i write a meta-blog about all of them?

Here’s the ones that i know of:

Also new to the scene is Reynaldo’s Dairy Instagram account, taking pictures of our most prosaic cows.

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It ain’t paradise, but on a good day you can see it from here.

Running in ZK is the name of the community’s unofficial blog.  It is ironically named, because one of the things you most often hear parents or primaries saying to our kids when they are in the dining hall (which is called ZK) “No running in ZK”.  About a dozen Oakers contribute to this blog, which has been running since May of 2013.

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Two of the Running in ZK contributors, adder and Keegan, have spun off on their own internet presence called Commune Dads which is actually a pod cast more than a blog site, but these things blur these days.  

commune dads

Commune Dads is up to its 6th podcast now (which is on the mixed blessing of grandparents).  And while the lessons are drawn from commune life experience, as with many of the things we find here, important elements are exportable to mainstream life.

Pam was the garden manager for 20 years.  She has written a book called Sustainable Market Farming and there is a blog site to support the book with the same name.

pams book cover

Last and certainly least is my blog, Funologist.  First off, it is only about 20% about Twin Oaks.  The other parts are on polyamory, the evils of nuclear power, Point A adventures to start new urban communities, impeding Trumps latest madness, or curious thought pieces on constructing super memes. This all said, I still get people who friend me on Facebook because they searched for communes and kept finding my stuff.

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Blogger and his muse

If Facebook is your preferred point of entrance to the world, we have several presences there, including:

Toms flowers

 

 

 

 

The Blogs of Twin Oaks

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