Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Top Four Learnings

So what have I learned from all these communities?

If I was going to build a new community (and I do hope to build a community here in NYC soon), I would love to have a place that combined the Radical Sharing from Twin Oaks, the No Blame Philosophy of Ganas, the Clearness Process that they use at Acorn, and the attitude of Openness to Experimentation that seems to hold at Dancing Rabbit.  I think that using these four things could help start an awesome community.

I know that there’s lots of other useful stuff on these lists, and I’m not sure that’s all that I’d use in creating a new community, but that’s where I’d start for community building.

I hope that you’ve found these lists useful as well.  As I said, each of these communities has been around for over twenty years (and in the case of Twin Oaks, almost fifty), so I’m sure there’s a lot that can be learned from each of them

As far as I’m concerned the most useful part of this exercise was focusing what I could learn from each community rather than worrying about what didn’t work.  Every community has some things that don’t work but I think it’s important to focus on what we can learn from each one. It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives of a situation, and not notice all the good things that are being offered.

Quote of the Day:   "The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well." - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dancing Rabbit: Ten Learnings

I was only at Dancing Rabbit for one three week visit, but there were a bunch of things that impressed me.  Here’s my list of things anyone could learn from DR:

  1. Commitment to Ecological Living Everyone at DR follows six Ecological Covenants and they’re pretty strict about it.
  2. Openness to Experimentation They have a wide variety of housing from immaculately constructed strawbale and earth-bermed houses to fanciful domes and old school buses and grain silos.  They talk about the fact that they are “housed in a variety of living arrangements, eat a variety of foods, and work on varied projects.”  They also talk about being flexible, and they are.
  3. Land Use Planning  I attended a workshop on their land use planning (see my post on Land Use Planning, 5/31/13) and it was fascinating.
  4. No Flush Toilets At least no water based ones.  Although almost all of the toilets at DR are humanure (see my post on Humanure, 1/10/13), the The Milkweed Mercantile (see #10) has a more conventional looking toilet that is actually a composting toilet.  At DR nothing goes to waste.
  5. Skill-Based Classes in Visitors Program  The numerous workshops (see my post on Thoughts as I Leave Dancing Rabbit, 6/14/13, for a list of them) were all focused on things you need to learn to build an ecological community.  Great for anyone who wants to become a member there, but also really good for anyone interested in building community anywhere.
  6. Women’s and Men’s Groups  Important and helpful.  I participated in a men’s group while I was visiting DR and found it very useful.  I mentioned this in my post on Some ‘Software’ Tools, 10/23/15.
  7. Work Parties  In addition to all the skill based classes they hold for visitors, they also have work parties where, in addition to practicing skills, you help build needed stuff there.
  8. Four Communal Cars  That’s it.  Four.  For 70 people.
  9. Connections with Very Different Local Communities It’s cool that Dancing Rabbit, an ecovillage with a variety of lifestyles shares the small town of Rutledge, MO, with an agricultural income-sharing commune from the 1970s (Sandhill Farm, see my post of 6/8/13) and a community that is basically a patchwork of homesteads (see Red Earth Farms, 6/4/13).  The three communities cooperate and work with each other and they are only 40 miles away from another, quite different community: the Still Waters Sanctuary (also known as The Possibility Alliance, which I wrote about on 6/11/13) which they also occasionally cooperate with.
  10. Ecological Inn  The Milkweed Mercantile is a strawbale constructed building powered by solar and wind with a cafĂ© and general store and a couple of very friendly inn-keepers.  Since Dancing Rabbit hopes to eventually be a small town, this inn is one of their early businesses.

Next: My top four learnings from this series…

Quote of the Day:  “Dancing Rabbit is an intentional community. That means that we are a group of people working together toward shared goals. … The communities movement is a rich subculture, emphasizing creative approaches to living, cooperative systems and culture, and deliberate consideration of the impact on others (and often the planet) in how we live our daily lives. - from the Dancing Rabbit website

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Acorn: Ten Learnings

I’ve been to Acorn several times during the last three years, for two or three weeks at a time, and I’m always impressed with the energy and creativity of the place.

  1. The Clearness Process This is related to but different from the Quaker process.  At Acorn this is a way to make sure that people are ‘clear’ with each other by checking in with every member.  I think it’s pretty effective.
  2. The Seed Business  Acorners run Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which is a company focused on selling heirloom seeds and ecologically grown seeds.
  3. Young Energy  While there are some folks there in their forties, fifties, and sixties, there is a significant clump of folks in their twenties who bring a lot of ideas and enthusiasm and willingness to try new things.  
  4. Consensus Decision Making  I’ve heard folks complaining that consensus is difficult to do in groups larger than a dozen and that it’s not done in newer communities (they’re talking about anything not formed in the sixties and seventies).  Acorn has thirty members and was formed in 1993 and makes all decisions by consensus--and has done very well with this.
  5. The Rec Collective  A cute little building where someone put six bunks on the wall to house short term folks.  (See my post on Becoming MoonRaven, Sleeping Submarine Style, and Other Tales from the Communes, 3/21/15.)
  6. The New Seed Building  This houses SESE and has all the offices and packing and picking facilities.  Plus it has a gorgeous mural that was created with help from members of the Little Flower Catholic Worker house. I think it’s a great looking building (and the photo shows the building, mural, and a bunch of Acorn members).
  7. Goats & Pigs & Chickens & Dogs & Cats & Rabbits  If you like animals, they have them at Acorn--all of the above plus a lonely cow that wandered into the place and they house with the goats.
  8. Using Bamboo  They planted bamboo as a privacy screen and it got out of control (as it often does).  As a result, they’ve used bamboo to create all kinds of structures, from canopies above stages to bike sheds.
  9. More Options for Non-Members   Where most places just have visitors, and Twin Oaks has two categories: Visitors (who are in a structured visiting program) and Guests (who are people hosted while they’re there by members), Acorn has both of these plus Interns (who stay for longer periods) and Associates (who are semi-members that are at Acorn part time)
  10. More Open to Non-Member Involvement  Acorn is also more flexible about what non-members can do.  For example, at Twin Oaks, only members are supposed to be able to use ‘Commie Clothes’, but at Acorn, it’s open to visitors, guests, etc.

Next, ten learnings from Dancing Rabbit

Quote of the Day:  "An egalitarian, income-sharing, secular, anarchist, feminist, consensus-based intentional community. Supporting radical sharing, positive communication, compassion, consent culture, sustainability, and anti-oppression activism. Living free of hierarchy and coercion." - Description of Acorn Community from their website

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Twin Oaks: Ten Learnings

I’ve been through two three-week visitor programs at Twin Oaks and then guested there for nearly a month.  I’m almost always inspired by all that they’re doing.

Here’s ten things I think any community could learn from Twin Oaks:

  1. The O & I Board This is a set of hanging clipboards which is one of the main methods of communication at Twin Oaks.  Someone puts out a proposal and other people comment on it.  Members read these faithfully to know what’s going on and these highly influence decision making.
  2. Radical Sharing  If it can be shared, Twin Oaks will try to figure out a way to share it.  Income, cars, tools, workshops, musical instruments, clothing, bicycles, among other things.  
  3. Public/Private Options   For clothing and bicycles at least, TO allows you to share or not share.  If it’s public, it’s maintained by the community.  If it’s private, you need to maintain it.
  4. Separate Building for Visitor’s Program  At Acorn and Dancing Rabbit, I stayed in tents when I was visiting.  TO has a building (Aurora) just to house visitors, so all visitors stay together in comfortable quarters
  5. Visitors as Small Living Group  The visitors all arrive together and are encouraged to see themselves as a little mini-community.  Many of the houses at Twin Oaks are thought of as ‘Small Living Groups’ (and a couple of the houses have two different SLGs), so TO suggests visitors form a temporary SLG while they are there as a way to experience community.
  6. Lovely, Big Dining Hall  TO has a spacious central dining facility known as Zhankoye (or ZK).  They also use it for parties and celebrations.  It’s a focal point for connection at the community.  They try not to do too much business stuff there and have one table devoted to having fun conversations (also known as ‘the fun table’).
  7. Diversity of Businesses Unlike Acorn (with its seed business) and Ganas (with their thrift shops) TO has a true diversity of ways they bring in income: hammocks, tofu, tempeh, indexing, ornamentals, wholesaling seeds for Acorn, and contracting services (and probably a few I’m not aware of).  They started off dependent on hammock but have really decided not to put all their eggs in one basket.
  8. Music!  TO also supports member’s creativity.  As far as music goes, I mentioned that they have public instruments anyone can practice on.  They also have many bands and groups, including lots of rock bands, singing and choral groups, and (until recently) even had a community klezmer band.
  9. Organized gardening  The community has many greenhouses and gardens and has regular gardening crews.  They grow a large percentage of their food.  Pam (the garden manager) has written a book on Sustainable Market Farming.
  10. It’s the oldest, most successful secular egalitarian income sharing community in the US  I often start talking about TO by mentioning the myth that all those communes from the 60s are long gone.  Started in 1967, they have around 90 adult members and 15 children and a waiting list to get in.  I think they are an example of what a community can look like after nearly fifty years of evolving.

Next, ten learnings from Acorn.

Quote of the Day: “Bumper Sticker for an Income Sharing Community:  ‘My other car isn't mine either’ “ - From the Twin Oaks website

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ganas: Ten Learnings

This list was the start of this series.  I was thinking about what positive things you could learn from Ganas (after living here for a bit over six months) and without thinking too much about it I came up with ten things.  Here they are:

1)  Openness to Dealing with Conflict and experience doing it Conflict is going to happen at any community but I’m impressed with the fearlessness they have about dealing with it at Ganas.
2)  A No Blame Philosophy Ganas likes to think about problems and solutions to them, rather than trying to figure out who’s to blame in a situation
3)  Abiding by just four rules On the Ganas website they claim: “Since we deal with problems daily in open discussion, we are able to limit ourselves to only 4 rules:
1) Non-violence to people or things; 2) No free rides (everybody is required to work productively or pay their expenses); 3) No illegality (including illegal drugs); 4) This rule requires that people bring their complaints about the community or people in it to the group, where the problems can be discussed and resolved with the people involved. The reason for Rule 4 is that the community suffers when negativity is presented as non-negotiable fact in private or public venues.
People breaking one of these rules will be asked to leave.”
4)  Visitors Dinner  Every Friday night they invite visitors to come and talk about themselves and ask questions about Ganas
5)  Residents Dinner On Wednesday nights, Ganas holds a forum during dinner where people can talk about issues.  They often use a ‘question bowl’ where people write down a questions they have and one is pulled randomly from a bowl and discussed.
6)  Regular Birthday Celebrations  This is a major fun activity at Ganas.  When it’s your birthday, you can design the festivities and Ganas will try to accommodate.  (Limitations apply, naturally.)
7)   Food Chain  Every Tuesday night dinner is interrupted by this community building activity.  It makes me really feel part of a cooperative effort.  (For more on this, see my post Food Chain! on 4/27/15.)
8)  Courtyard/Gardens/Inter-house Layout  From the street, the Ganas buildings don’t stand out, but there are non-obvious walkways between them in the front and a big shared yard and gardens behind them.  It’s very well done.
9)  Businesses  The clothing, furniture, and book stores are all pretty different from one another and yet very similar.  As someone pointed out, these all focus on recycling as they sell donated and used items.  The businesses are part of the commercial area of the ‘North Shore’ of Staten Island, and so connect Ganas to the larger community.
10) Most successful community in NYC New York is the largest US city and while it has many little collectives and cooperative households in it, as far as I know this is the largest, longest running secular community in the city.  They’ve been here 35 years, have more than 70 folks, have a long waiting list, and seem to be going strong, all in a challenging urban environment.

Next, ten learnings from Twin Oaks.

Quote of the Day:  “Our purpose is to bring reason and emotion together in daily problem solving, in order to create our world, with love, the way we want it to be.” - from the Ganas website

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Community Learnings, an Introduction

In my last post, Some 'Software' Tools, I wrote that I was focusing “on tools used at Twin Oaks, Acorn, Ganas, and Dancing Rabbit because these are all places  I've spent some time at and all of them have been running 20+ years and all  seem to be going strong.”  Having spent a bit of time at each of these places, I’ve been thinking of what I could learn from each of them.

Part of my thinking is that it’s easy to be critical and look at what’s wrong with places (and I could find fault with any one of these, or any place else for that matter) but I think it’s more important to look at what works.  Part of this is a follow up from my last series, again focusing on what works at successful communities as a source for people building communities to think about.  And one of my inspirations was something Paxus talked about long ago when he was considering starting a new community.  His idea was to use what he called Best Practices.  In a sense I started thinking about the Best Practices at each of these communities.

I started with the community I’m now at, Ganas.  I sat down one afternoon and without thinking hard I came up with a list of ten useful things I think any community could learn from Ganas.  Then I went on and listed ten things for Twin Oaks, and Acorn, and Dancing Rabbit.  

So my posts for the few weeks will be these lists.  Since they’re already written, I promise they will come quickly.  (Not my current weeks or months.)

Quote of the Day:  “The human condition is that we are individuals in relationship, and there are tensions between individuality and relatedness.”  - Jone Johnson Lewis