Monday, May 28, 2018

Commune Dramas

I often joke that all these utopian communities that I’ve heard folks dream up would work great if they didn't need to be filled with people. When someone can't figure out why it’s so hard to start communities or why so many fall apart, I want to just say, “It’s people!”  Communities are made up of imperfect people. It's the only kind of people I know of.

We recently had a visit from a leader in the communities movement. He and I spent a couple of hours going over some of the turmoil roiling through various communities. He made some remark about all the ‘commune dramas’.

Even more recently, I was on call with members of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. (The good news is that our little commune, Cotyledon, is now officially a Community in Dialogue with the FEC. It was approved of with Guinea Pig noises. I’m not making that up! Who says that communards don't have a sense of humor?) We spent more than a half hour of that call talking about just some of the conflicts and problems that were going on at a member community dealing with some serious issues. When it was finally decided that we had talked through stuff as much as we could and figured out what kind of support the FEC could bring to the commune in question, we decided to turn to other business and the woman facilitating the call announced to a completely different community, “I should make you a certificate for being the ‘Community with the Most Problems, Spring, 2018’.  You could put it up on your wall.” (Again, humor. Very necessary.) We then launched into a discussion about some of the many difficulties that this other community was dealing with.

Commune dramas happen (and dramas happen at co-ops and cohousing communities, although not as often and intensely since people at those communities aren't as intimately involved) because you have lots of very imperfect people trying to work closely together to do some really tricky stuff.

On top of that, even the most isolated communes have lots of people going in and out and these people bring all of the problems of society (competition, scapegoating, racism, patriarchy, privilege, homophobia, intolerance, sensitivity, judgement, etc) in with them. Communes are always struggling with the question of who they will accept and who they won't and when to ask someone to leave and what behaviors can be tolerated (or not).  If you limited communities to only people who have it all together, they would be empty. As a result, there is lots of struggle and lots of drama at the communes. Given that, it's amazing, when you think about it, that a community like Twin Oaks could last more than fifty years (and it's still going). I think that’s an an incredible victory.

I have little illusions that  communes are all wonderful utopias.  I see the myriad problems that they deal with. I’ve seen the dark side of communal living.  It comes with the territory.

So, when you hear me go, “Rah! Rah! Community!”, know that it's because I believe strongly in what they are trying to achieve. Yes, in many ways they are poor vehicles for social change. But I don't know of anything better.

Quote of the Day: “Folks have found their own level after the first years of being overwhelmed.  Some of them have been disappointed with the lack of emotional intimacy, while others, especially teens, have felt uncomfortable living in a fishbowl.
“At times, most of us have probably asked ourselves, ‘What am I doing here?’--a question, I believe, that arises from a complex calculation of time and energy spent and one’s tolerance for conflict.  Sometimes I’ve asked myself, after a difficult confrontation, why I should put so much of my life energy into something that seems, at the time, to give back little. Yet I’m sure that at other times each of us has surely declared: ‘I can't imagine living anywhere else!’--a response to the very personal exchanges that make living in community so rewarding.” - Roberta Wilson  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Difficulties, Tragedy, Complexity, and Kindness

I generally try to be optimistic. Optimists live longer, for one thing. And they are more likely to be listened to, for another.

I know a man who launches into a tirade about mass extinction on very little provocation. It doesn't make others want to do anything about climate change; it makes others want to avoid him.

But, as much as I want to be optimistic, I try to be realistic as well. The world isn't going to be the way that we want it to be, the world is the way that it is and it is very complex. There are a lot of wonderful things going on and a lot of worrisome things going on and one doesn't negate the other.

I try to keep a fairly positive tone in this blog but lately I have been thinking about some of the difficulties with social change (social change being the focus of this blog) and I think it's important to talk about them.

As much of a communities booster as I am, communities are far from perfect and acknowledging that and pointing out the pitfalls and difficulties is part of showing what real community (not an ideal utopia) is, warts and all. Knowing the problems with communities doesn't make me want to give up on them, but it makes me appreciate even more how difficult building them is and some of the limitations of communities as vehicles for social change.  I will write more about this in my next post.

Even more difficult to look at is climate change and the ways we are destroying the earth.  This, indeed, is tragedy. The man I spoke of could be right, we could be headed for extinction, or, at the very least, one poisoned planet. And we need to look at that as well--and I intend to in a future post.

And then there's population, which I want to talk about.  And the slow pace of social change, which I may also devote a post to.

There are just so many problems in the world.

I don't plan on tackling all of them in this blog, but I will say that I am grateful for anyone working on any of them.  I do want to acknowledge three in particular that I don't intend to write a post on at this point, but I think are particularly difficult and troublesome.  These are racism, male domination, and economic inequality.

More than fifty years after the civil rights movement began, black men are still being shot by police, and being incarcerated at horrendous rates.   Recently, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks for asking to use the restroom and, even more recently, three African-American women were stopped by the police as they were moving out of an Airbnb because a white woman in the neighborhood saw them and was afraid there was a burglary in progress.  It turns out that there was also a white woman with these women, but she wasn't seen as “suspicious”. Unfortunately, I see articles like this on a regular basis.

Women are finally being heard about the abuse and harassment and exploitation they receive from men, particularly rich and powerful men. Unfortunately, that continues as well. The #metoo movement is exposing a fault line in sexual relationships that has been needed to be looked at for a long time. The communes have been pushing consent culture even before this, but even in the communes, there are a great many problems. As long as men have more power than women, this is going to continue, and changing power dynamics is far from easy, especially when men don't want to give up power.

The point of income-sharing communities is to reduce economic inequality, but I don't see that changing in this society any time soon, either.  In fact, with the current administration, I suspect economic inequality will be increasing. And even if we got it under control in the US, our lifestyle causes poverty and hunger around the world.  And that's hard to change as well.

My question is always, what can we do?  At the very least, we can care. We can live simply and treat others well. Above all, we can be kind--to others and to ourselves.   It's not accidental that my first two Quotes of the Day on this blog were about kindness. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “There's only one rule that I know of… you've got to be kind.”

Quote of the Day: “Love and kindness are never wasted.  They always make a difference.” - Barbara De Angelis

Monday, May 14, 2018

Compost Tea

I made compost tea many years back (probably close to a decade ago now), after reading Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew. (See my post on RUST for a bit about the book.)  I was reminded of this a couple of weeks back when I arrived to do an urban agriculture work day and walked into a mini-workshop on compost tea. The woman providing the information gave the best summary I’ve heard for using compost tea.

“Think of it as probiotics for plants,” she said.

Compost tea is derived from compost but it is used differently.   The main purpose of compost tea is to build up life in the soil. And, depending on what kind of life you want to build up (fungal or bacterial), you brew it differently.   All this is explained in the book, Teaming with Microbes by Lowenfels and Lewis.  Both this book and Toolbox have good descriptions of how to brew compost tea.

On the other hand, the method for compost tea described by Stephanie Davis in her book, Composting Inside and Out, (I talked about the book in my last post) doesn't involve aeration and so it creates an anaerobic ‘tea’, what Lowenfels and Lewis call ‘compost extract’.  If you want the right kind of microbes, you need to aerate it. (For a detailed, fussy description of how to brew compost tea, see this page by ‘The Soil Guy’.)  One way to get aeration is to use one of  those pumps that you aerate fish tanks with.   That's what I used, so many years ago.

It's not something you will need all the time, but if you really want to add life to your soil, compost tea will do it.

Quote of the Day: “The simplest definition of compost tea is: A brewed, water extract of compost.
“Properly made compost must be used…  Compost tea is therefore, a ‘cold brewing’ process, allowing growth of the organisms extracted from the compost.” - Elaine Ingham

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Joys of Compost

I realized at some point that most of my favorite things in the world began with the letters C,O,and M--communes and community, naturally, but also compassion and communication, and,of course, compost.

I sometimes joke (but I’m more serious than you might think) that compost is my religion.   I point out that Hindus and Buddhists think that when you die, you are reincarnated, Christians and Muslims believe that when die, if you are good, you go to heaven, and I believe that, if I’m very good, when I die, I will be composted.

I’ve talked a bunch about composting in this blog, particularly in my posts, Compost Happens!  and Waste. And I’ve written about the reasons composting is so important in my post on Thinking in Circles. When we compost, we mimic the way that the world works.  And there are lots of different ways to compost.

In my “Compost Happens!” post I talked about there being two main ways of composting. I wrote that eight years ago, I wouldn't say that now.

I got out a book from the library called Composting Inside and Out by Stephanie Davis. The subtitle of the book is “14 Methods to Fit Your Lifestyle”.  What's strange is that, even though it also says on the back cover, “Step-by-step instruction for 14 different composting methods”, there is no listing in the book of the 14 methods.  I had to tease them out by trying to look at all the options she provides. As far as I can tell, the 14 methods are:
  1. Compost bins
  2. Tumblers
  3. Three bin systems
  4. Digesters
  5. Piles or heaps
  6. Barrel tumblers
  7. Bins
  8. Wire mesh
  9. Trench
  10. Lasagna
  11. Humanure
  12. Nature Mill Auto Compost Bin
  13. Bokashi
  14. Worm bins

The first eleven methods are outdoor methods, the final three are for indoor composting.  Also, numbers 6, 7, and 8 cover DIY ways of composting as opposed to several others where you purchase a finished product.

Smiling Hogshead Ranch, where I am now helping out, lists six different ways to compost in their explanation of what the compost committee does (you have to tap on the word Compost), saying, “How much do we love compost? Let us count the ways…”
  1. 3-bin system
  2. Windrows
  3. Leaf mold
  4. Vermiculture
  5. Bokashi
  6. Mushroom composting
(Vermiculture is using worms.  Worm bins basically.)

I’m sure that, even between these two lists, they don't cover all the different ways of composting. The joys of composting are endless.

And, best of all, for me, I get to do a lot of it.

Quote of the Day: “Compost has rewards beyond our imagination. We benefit specifically in our gardens and, less obviously, within our thinking.   … Can composting encourage you to see the world differently? Many compost converts have told me that it has done so for them, and I have to admit it has changed my perspective as well.” - Stephanie Davis