This video comes out of an ongoing conversation we are having at Cambia about minimalism and functionalism. The two ideas are not necessarily opposites, although sometimes a minimalist ethos can prevent things from being as functional as they could otherwise be. But is function always necessary? How much skill, and sophistication, and access to resources do we really need to live a good life? Perhaps, if we focus too much on function, we miss opportunities to connect with each other.
But, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we build our community according to minimalist or functionalist principles. Either would be fine. What matters is that we take the time to really listen to each other, and develop robust empathy for each other’s values. That’s what community is all about.
Point A was started by folks who realized that income sharing communities were flourishing in rural areas (there are now five in Virginia and four in Missouri), most people in the US live in cities and communal situations were not doing as well there.
The few urban communes have been struggling. Seattle’s Emma Goldman Finishing School stopped income sharing several years ago. The Midden, in Columbus, Ohio, just transitioned to being a co-op rather than an income sharing community. Quercus, in Richmond, Virginia, lasted less than a year. The Baltimore Free Farm currently doesn’t have an income sharing group (although there are people there that would like to have one again).
Washington, DC, is our big success story. Compersia has been up and running for over a year and folks are strategizing on what to do next.
I think that New York (where I’m working) is on the cusp of something. I’m hoping I’ll have more to report very soon.
Even though there isn’t an income sharing community in Baltimore, there seems to be a lot of folks there talking about it. I’ve heard of people from four different groups that are discussing the possibility and I’m not sure why they aren’t co-ordinating with one another.
As I’ve said, Quercus in Richmond is gone. I’m not sure what next steps, if any, can be taken there.
And there is a group in Newark, NJ, that is working toward creating a two fold community that would contain an urban portion and a rural farm portion. (An idea that always seems interesting to folks but seems very difficult to pull off.)
In addition, Point A has been going up to the Boston area (the place I’ve lived most of my life) and been giving workshops (as we will be doing this upcoming week), hopefully seeding the area for future commune building.
One US East Coast city (at least in the northeast US) that we haven’t done work in is Philadelphia. I think that it has great potential (New York and Boston are becoming increasingly unaffordable where I’ve heard that Philly still has a lot of lower cost housing stock–and the city has a history of movement organizing, including the group Movement for a New Society, which had a bunch of communal houses called the Life Center). Unfortunately, Point A’s resources seemed stretched to the limit these days, so it’s unlikely that there will be a project in Philadelphia anytime soon unless there are people there who want it.
If we can get a commune in NYC up and running, I think this could be a starting place for building more income sharing communities in urban areas. (I call this the Frank Sinatra theory of commune building from his line, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…”.) Hopefully if we can make it in New York, we can begin to build more urban communes. There’s a lot of cities on the East Coast alone, never mind in the country and the world.
We expanded our seed production this year. As is always true, some crops have done better than others. We had a drought for most of the summer. Our DC-powered irrigation system kept the crops well watered, but drought made the wild animals even more hungry than usual. As a result we suffered significant deer loss even in crops which the deer don’t usually eat, like watermelons. Even with such losses, overall the harvest looks good. In looking at LEF from a food-self sufficiency standpoint, we are making great progress in figuring out how to feed ourselves. Growing wheat has been really easy. We tried oats, and the rabbits devastated them, but we’ll try again. Our corn crop looks fantastic in spite of the drought. Our white potatoes and sweet potatoes are better than any we have ever grown at LEF, and we have a great crop of lima beans and peanuts. The beans, potatoes, corn, peanuts, and wheat, along with lots of veggies, eggs from our corn-fed ducks and venison from our corn-fed deer, put us very close to feeding ourselves without any industrial food. We are more confident than ever that the question of “can small scale organic agriculture feed us” can be answered “Yes!,” at least given the resources and climate we have at LEF.
There are still a few things to figure out. We need to figure out how to harvest small grains and peanuts efficiently. We will continue to grow our orchards, and eventually wean ourselves off of store-bought fruit. We want to put in a nut orchard (mostly pecans and filberts) so we can grow more of our calories on trees, and maybe cooking oil too. We still haven’t found the right biofuel to run our tractors. And most importantly, we need to how it all fits together. Modern environmental notions are so focused on energy production that the critical issue of how energy fits in the bigger picture gets lost. We get lots of advice about biogas, pumped storage for electricity, all manner of energy production ideas. The critical question for us is not how we maximize energy production, but how energy fits in with our village economy. What if biogas is easy (it mostly is), but takes too much time or feedstock? What if woodgas works, but only with really good feedstock and expensive equipment? How large of a woodland would it take to provide biofuel (wood for woodgas or pines for turpentine) to support a food self-sufficient village? What is the cheapest, simplest way to sustain a village — forever? Hopefully, we can answer some of these questions in the next few years.
LEF In the News (Again)
The magazine International Permaculture is one of the most detailed and extensive permaculture magazines in print. They recently did an article about LEF with a great photo spread. One either has to sign up for a free trial or buy a subscription to view the magazine. The article is an interview between Alexis and Simon Hursthouse. Simon lives in a traditional village in Hungary, where he is trying to blend modern permaculture ideas with traditional village and agricultural life. The website is https://www.permaculture.co.uk/
Now that we have all the permits complete for our main house, we are in a better position to pursue media attention, and thus to promote the LEF idea of wholistic sustainability. Starting around September 18, we will begin sending out press releases. Hopefully, we will have lots to report in the next newsletter.
A couple of weeks ago, Caroline (from the Midden) wrote on Commune Life about attending the Communities Conference and then visiting Acorn and Compersia. I also attended the Communities Conference and did some commune visiting. This is my report on the conference and spending time at the new communities of Mimosa and Cambia.
The Communities Conference is an amazing collection of people from various communities, people looking for community, and lots of workshops. My favorite part is the Saturday morning Meet the Communities event. This year there were lots of new communities that I learned about, many talking about income sharing, and some of which I hope that we’ll feature in upcoming posts.
After the conference, I hung out in Louisa. I’ve spent a bunch of time at Twin Oaks (and did more on this trip) as well as Acorn and have had several visits to Living Energy Farm. This year I decided to spend significant time at the two newer communities, helping out and learning more about them from being there. Here’s my report on them:
While we’ve had a lot of posts from Cambia before (herearethree), here is my take on what they’re about and a sense of what it’s like to visit there.
More than anything, Cambia is an experimental and educational community. This makes it sound a little like Living Energy Farm, but Cambia has a whole different flavor. Where LEF use unusual technologies to move past fossil fuels and demonstrate how we could move past their use, Cambia has set up a series of kid friendly (but adult interesting) hands on exhibits in their forest, to show things like how much land each American requires to live, how our carbon usage could be balanced, how the ground and water table work, and (on a very small scale) how to use various alternative construction techniques. (The last was in an exhibit called ‘Barbie’s Ecovillage’ which featured a timber framed doll house that you could create straw bale or cob walls for.)
The boat at Cambia
Cambia is a community that seems to attract academic types. Ella and Gil are lovely folks who are focused on how to educate others, especially children. (And they have one child, Avni, who also lives there.) Maximus, the newest member, is a grad student who is studying communities as an alternative to mainstream life, and using Cambia as a case study. And, former member Telos, was there visiting while I was there–and he is very interested in the social and political aspects of community.
The moderate summer is coming to an end and the height of the 2017 season is over. Although cooler than last year, this summer’s harvests were large and plentiful. The tomatoes are starting to wind down and the pepper’s are currently peaking. Honeybees buzz among the buckwheat while large carpenter bees dance around the smartweed.
Richard and Andrea prepare beds for spinach planting. Rutabaga and lettuce in the foreground.
In the Lower Garden, seven piglets are being rotated through the former potato patch. They are fed anything spoiled in the field (the tomato, melon, and pepper patches are a couple steps away) and act as our kitchen’s garbage disposal, helping to reduce food waste. As the pigs are rotated through cover crops are planted behind them (sunn hemp earlier and rye and vetch later in the season). Sunn hemp is an excellent summer cover crop. Drought resistant, a powerful weed suppressant, and fast growing. It can reach ten feet tall within eight weeks and adds a bounty of organic matter to the soil after it is cut back.
Mandar and Jaime have been managing the pigs in the garden. Sunn hemp can be seen in the foreground. In the background you can also see the hoophouse and the dairy cows in the pasture.
Just today we harvested all the dent corn. This corn has been carefully bred for suitability in our climate and soil by Richard for the past five years. Each year he saves seed from all good specimens. More seed is saved from the best specimens and fewer seeds are saved from the merely mediocre ears. Virginia White Gourd seed and Tennessee Red Cob varieties have been bred in at different times to augment desired traits. Richard aims to maintain a wide gene pool and is meticulous about selecting the kernels for saving himself each year. All the corn that is not saved is eaten. Richard, who regularly cooks community dinner once a week, enjoys making delicious corn tortillas from nixtamalized corn. Nixtamalization increases the nutritional value as well as gets rid of mycotoxins, among other benefits.
PT holds one of the better dent corn ears.
One great joy of late summer is fresh watermelon on a daily basis. Just about everyday someone brings a watermelon in to the serving counter and cuts themselves a slice. Although many of the melons are massive they are typically all eaten up within the hour. The watermelon varieties grown this year were: Crimson Sweet, Shooting Star, Orangeglo, Ali Baba, Moon and Stars, Quetzoli, and Strawberry. All these different varieties mature and ripen in different ways. Richard has worked with them long enough to know all the small clues to use to only harvest the watermelons at their peak ripeness and is happy to teach anyone curious and willing to help with harvests.
Most of the fall crops are all in. Carrots, lettuce, spinach, kale (Lacinado, Vates, and Red Russian) and rutabaga outside and zucchini, cabbage, and tatsoi in the hoophouse. Carrots have been thinned and there looks to be a bounty for this winter and spring. Thank you to everyone who labors in the garden and a big thanks to Melissa, Anthony, and everyone else who held down the garden while Richard, PT, and Andrea were mountain climbing in Colorado!