Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Long, Strange Trip

This is the post I've been promising on my community plans. I know it's taken me a while but I haven't had anything in place until now, and there is still a lot of things that are shifting.

This will be a more personal post than I usually do. I hope that it may be useful to others searching for community as well as letting those who follow this blog know what I will be doing and why. Among other things (and this even sounds crazy to me) I'll be quitting my job, leaving my home, and traveling around the country. In otherwords, I'll be jobless, homeless, and I don't even like traveling.

In order to understand why I would do this to myself, you need to know that my goal in life (more or less for the last 25 years) has been to live in a community where people were connected and committed to building something together. I had this at least once when I lived in a community I helped build that lasted five years in the nineties. I've decided that I really want to live in a community like this somewhere in New England, if possible, or at least on the east coast.

My most recent attempt has not turned out to be what I wanted. There have been some parallels here with what happened with an attempt to build community in northern New England a few years back that made me realize that I need more than just my own willingness and efforts to build community. I need other people with the passion to do this and at least one with some real experience. I won't do it again without both those pieces--that's a public promise. At this point I'm looking for either a community to join or some people to build one with.

There are two wonderful communities in Virginia that are examples of what I want: Twin Oaks and Acorn (see my last post, Communities of Communities, for more information on them and other communities I mention in this post). Both communities require a three week visit to apply for membership. I knew that Twin Oaks had a long waiting list so I contacted Acorn, initially for a three week visit in July. They approved it but said they were very full and that even if I was accepted, it would be at least six months before they had an opening. (Note--in some ways this is a good sign; the fact that both Acorn and Twin Oaks are full with long lists means there are lots of people who want this kind of community.)

At that point I heard about an interesting community in the midwest looking for people and decided to apply there instead. Unfortunately, it turned out to not be a good fit. So now I am back to visiting and applying at Acorn.

And it looks like I will spend the fall traveling. I'm beginning with the Communities Conference at Twin Oaks on Labor Day weekend (hoping that there I can connect with some folks really interested in community) followed by my three week visit to Acorn nearby, now rescheduled for right after the conference. I will apply for membership there, but even if  they accept me, I won't be able to stay. So I will come back to Boston briefly before leaving to visit a very close friend in Oakland, California (and since I don't like flying, I will be going across country by train or bus, a four day journey in either direction). I will spend about a week with my friend sometime in October (and may stop to visit the northeast Missouri communities--again, see my last post for details on them--on the way back) and then I'm now trying to schedule a three week visit at Twin Oaks in November. I hope to be back in Boston for the holidays, probably staying with friends and family, and maybe by that time I'll have some idea what I'll be doing in 2013. My goal for next year is to either get into one of the Virginia communities (Twin Oaks, Acorn, Living Energy Farm, 'Chubby Squirrels', or something else that emerges) or be building a community in New England with committed people.

What makes this really difficult is that I'm now 60, and soon to be 61. But I know this is what I need to do. I believe in the social change ideas I talk about in this blog and, for me, the way to put them into practice is a community that models these ideas. If it takes me the rest of my life to find or build that community, well, that's what I need to do.

Quote of the day: "...hope is not an emotion; it's a way of thinking or a cognitive process. ... hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverence to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities. ... Toleration for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self are at the heart of hope." - Brené Brown

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Communities of Communities

I've written about the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in my post on Egalitarian Communities, 10/22/08, and about Twin Oaks in a post entitled Real Models 1:Twin Oaks, 9/30/10. What I want to write about here is what is happening in Louisa County, Virginia, where Twin Oaks is located.

Twin Oaks has been around for forty-five years as of this year and has a population of about a hundred people (adults and children). While this would be impressive enough, in 1993 some folks from Twin Oaks helped found a second community, called Acorn. (Yes, this is a spinoff reference.) Acorn is located in Mineral, a town over from Twin Oaks, and now has about 30 members. Last year, with help from Twin Oaks and Acorn, work was begun on Living Energy Farm.  This will be a community, education center, and farm which will also be a demonstration of how it is possible to live without fossil fuels. (For more on this see my series on life Beyond Fuels, starting with Beyond Fuels 1: New Living and Old Learnings, 11/23/11.) Twin Oaks and Acorn are members of the FEC and Living Energy Farm is a Community in Dialogue with them. All are located close to one another in Louisa County.

Paxus Calta who lives at Twin Oaks appears to be planning to organize another community, which he also wants in the area and in the FEC, which he is alternatively calling Dancing Squirrels and Chubby Squirrels. I normally wouldn't pay a lot of attention to someone who has an idea for a community, but given the size and stability of Twin Oaks and Acorn, with their help, this (and Living Energy Farm) will probably succeed. In fact, at this point, Twin Oaks and Acorn both have long waiting lists of people who want to get into them. The waiting list at Acorn is at least six months and I suspect the waiting list at Twin Oaks is a lot longer.

I find what's happening in Louisa County very inspiring. There's a growing community of communities there within a few miles of each other, backed by the durability of Twin Oaks (and now Acorn) and an apparent real longing for community, as evidenced by the waiting lists.

But what's really amazing is that Louisa County isn't the only place this is happening. In Rutledge, a small town in northeastern Missouri (population 109) there are also three growing, thriving intentional communities that are working together.

Sandhill Farm is the oldest, started in by four 24-year olds in 1974, now at maybe eight members. That may not seem impressive, but the fact that Sandhill was there and supportive encouraged a small group of students from California who wanted to build an ecovillage to settle there in 1997 (incidentally, the group began to converge in 1993, the same year Acorn started). Dancing Rabbit now has sixty-something members, residents, and children. They are talking about wanting 500 to 1000, but even having sixty now is pretty good. Among other things, Dancing Rabbit wants to have a "Society of Communities". One community within Dancing Rabbit is Skyhouse.  Dancing Rabbit isn't an FEC community but Skyhouse is (and so is Sandhill). Then, in 2005, Red Earth Farms, "an intentional community of homesteads" bought 76 acres of land adjacent to Dancing Rabbit. There's now about seventeen adults and children living there. From what I understand, there is a lot of traffic back and forth between the three communities--and a lot of support for each other. And, not far away, in La Plata, Missouri, is the Possibility Alliance, very interesting community of nine folks that has some links with the three Rutledge communities. In addition, some students from Colby College are making a film about the three communities called "The Rhythm of Rutledge".

Paxus, the blogger I wrote about above, has written a post called "The best parts of America"  where he talks about all these communities (except the one he's starting) as well as some of the other FEC related communities around the country. It's a nice overview of this process.

What is so exciting to me is the building energy in Louisa and Rutledge. Far from the urban mainstream, folks are gathering (about 130--so far--in VA and nearing a hundred in northeastern MO) and supporting each other in building communities. The long waiting lists for the communities in Virginia shows the hunger for this and the durability of the communities. The fact that Twin Oaks has also been running strong since 1967 is an interesting answer to "Whatever happened to all those communes from the sixties?" I think it's also significant that Sandhill has been hanging in since the seventies and has managed to attract and support two other communities in their small town. Building strong vibrant egalitarian community is possible, and even very successful, at least in two places in the US.

In my next post I'll talk about some of my own plans around community.

Addendum (6/12/12):  I finally found a piece of info that I was looking for.  I never really understood why the folks at Red Earth Farms decided to create something separate from Dancing Rabbit.  From Laird Schaub's (of Sandhill) blog Laird's Commentary on Community and Consensus  in a post labeled 'Culture Forming in Northeast Missouri':
"When some DR members were unhappy about the community's adamancy about maintaining a high population density, they started the spin-off community of Red Earth Farms, on 76 adjoining acres in 2007. Red Earth is based on a more agrarian, homestead model of land development."

Quote of the Day: "Why We Exist--Because we share so much, and because we are committed to a vision of community which transcends our individual groups, we have joined together to cooperate on publications, conferences, recruitment efforts, community support systems including health care, and a variety of other mutually supportive activities. Our aim is not only to help each other; we want to help more people discover the advantages of a communal alternative, and to promote the evolution of a more egalitarian world." - from the FEC website