Monday, July 1, 2013

Nine Communities, Many Thoughts

As of the moment, I feel like I'm done my community touring for a while.  I started off, as you might remember, at the Communities Conference at the beginning of last September.  I went right to the Acorn community after the conference, to begin a three week visit.

Now, ten months later, while I still intend to end the year with another Communities Conference, I feel like I'm done otherwise.  At this point, I've checked out nine different communities, two of which are barely up and running (the community I visited in Pennsylvania and Living Energy Farm), one of which had just ended before I got there (Skyhouse), and six up and functioning communities (from the six year old Still Waters Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance to the forty-six year old Twin Oaks--not to mention Acorn, Dancing Rabbit, Red Earth Farms, and Sandhill).

I did three-week visits at Acorn and Dancing Rabbit and two three-week visits at Twin Oaks. I spent nearly five weeks in Pennsylvania with the couple trying to build a community there and I've done three work days at Living Energy Farm.  I've done tours of Sandhill, Red Earth Farms, and the Still Waters Sanctuary, and I talked with three different people involved with Skyhouse about it (and ate several meals in the building, which is still around).

What have I learned from all this?  First, that community comes in all sizes and flavors--from the hundred folks at Twin Oaks and the seventy at Dancing Rabbit, to midsized communities like thirty-person Acorn, to smaller communities like Red Earth Farms, the Still Waters Sanctuary, and Sandhill.  However, small communities can have it rough--the community in Pennsylvania hasn't really started because it's just the couple that are starting it and Living Energy Farm hasn't really got going because it was also mostly two people (with a bunch of interns).  Similarly, a good part of why Skyhouse fell apart was because it shrank away.

Most of the communities that I visited were rural communities but I have a soft place in my heart for urban communities like the one in Pennsylvania.  (In the nineties I started an urban community that lasted five years.  It also fell apart partly because of the small number of people involved.)  Twin Oaks, Acorn, and Sandhill are all income-sharing communities, as was Skyhouse and hopefully Living Energy Farm will be.  The Still Waters Sanctuary runs on a 'gift economy', Dancing Rabbit has various forms of entrepreneurship (or, as I put it, reinvented capitalism), and Red Earth Farms is homesteads that all run individually.  The folks I visited in Pennsylvania were also trying to do things on the gift economy.

Each community had it's own tale to tell and lessons to be learned from it.  From Twin Oaks I learned if you grow a community large enough, it can last fifty years or more. (At this point I'm sure it will be going strong for its fiftieth anniversary.  It could fall apart--as could anything--but I think it would take a while if it did.)  I also learned that over that time systems will evolve in their own way and may not turn out as anyone would have intended--but may work very well anyway.  From Acorn I learned the importance of persistence (they were down to a couple of folks at one point, but one of them--Ira Wallace--wasn't willing to give up) and the importance of community support (the other thing that got them through was having Twin Oaks nearby).  From Sandhill I learned that persistence can pay off unexpectedly.  After hanging in as a very small community for over twenty years, they persuaded Dancing Rabbit to build an ecovillage near them--and eventually they had a community of communities grow around them.  Likewise, from Dancing Rabbit I learned the importance of building where there was already a community, and Red Earth Farms is even stronger for having two communities nearby. Living Energy Farm is also benefitting (as they struggle to build) from having two large, well functioning communities nearby.  (In spite of their problems, I'd be surprised if they didn't succeed with Twin Oaks and Acorn supporting them.)  The location far from any other communities is one of the difficulties that the crew in Pennsylvania is struggling with, and I'm not clear whether the Still Waters Sanctuary is close enough to the Rutledge communities to really benefit from them.  On the other hand, Skyhouse had Dancing Rabbit all around it, but without the internal connections that wasn't enough.  (In fact, Dancing Rabbit ended up taking energy away from Skyhouse.)

The biggest lesson I've learned is that there's many different kinds of communities out there and communities can be quite different and still function very well.  There's also many wonderful people in those communities and I'm glad that I got to know some of them.  (These were in the communities that I did three week visits at--Acorn, TO, and DR--and obviously not the ones I had just had brief tours of.)

I'm glad I visited these nine communities.  Now I want to live in a community.

Quote of the Day:  " long as I can remember I've had a desire to make some difference in the world.  But the world is one great, big, hard place to make a difference.  Community is a small enough chunk that you can make a difference.  And it also is a good place from which you can, from time to time, try to make a difference in some bigger subset of the world." - Ira Wallace

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