I have written here about Shooting Stars, members of community who come through for a while on their way to other adventures. The trick with shooting stars, is that you need to appreciate them when you have them close, and let them go gracefully, because you never really could hold them anywhere.
It was just this last winter that Thumbs joined Cambia and updated our notions of astrophysics. Thumbs is a peripatetic communard. A person with a mission (in his case the promotion and construction of yurts) who travels from place to place educating and demonstrating. When i told him he was a shooting star, he corrected me and said he was more like a comet, swinging back to the places he loves.
And he is coming back. To do two workshops for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference and the Cambia Labor Day workshops. At the Twin Oaks event, he is presenting on being a traveling communard and the sacred economics of it. Here is a description of that workshop:
I live a vibrant life of travel, adventure, and spend copious amounts of time working on my invigorating passions, yet I make almost no money and am figuring ways to move money out of my bank account. I would like to host a workshop educating others on how to use the unorthodox wealth of communities to liberate themselves from the drain of personal expenses and dedicate more of their time to their passion projects. Communities are a unique place to explore gift economics, MOU’s that don’t entail USD exchange, and alternate currencies. In doing this people will not only benefit themselves but may serve the communities movement by connecting communities and finding out in what ways each of them are abundantly wealthy and how they are in need. Movement Games, heart shares, and intellectual discussion will be involved.
At Cambia on Labor Day he will be doing his yurt thing, which is describe as such:
Forget everything you know about conventional western architecture, and prepare to learn the genius of ancient nomadic design. The lifestyle of traditional peripatetic cultures demanded the invention of structures that could endure the harshest climates in the world, both barren deserts and -40 degree winters, yet still be packed up on livestock and transported thousands of miles! The Mongol Empire, the world’s most prolific nomad culture once spanning the largest land empire in the world, designed the ingenious collapsible home known in the west as a Yurt.
This workshop is a comprehensive and experiential study of yurt building that you will walk away from with the skills needed to build beautiful yurts for any climate and out of any materials you have access to. The skills you’ll be learning to build these artistic structures like wood bending, mortise and tenon, dynamic knotwork, and textile pattern design will also unlock new creative potential in your other building projects. We will also be talking about how these structures are part of modern culture, from the current state of nomadic Mongolians, to how you can avoid building codes with small, collapsible yurts.
For many people in the West, who value sedentary homes that sit in place for hundreds of years and private ownership of small plots of land, the lifestyle and architecture of nomadic people is an invigorating new perspective on what it means to call a place “home”.
There is still time to register for both of these events. We may have lost some shooting stars, but this comet is coming back and shining bright.
Immediately after the Twin Oaks Communities Conference in Central Virginia, less than 2 miles down the road is a set of three workshops at Cambia Community. These are happening on Labor Day, September 3rd. These workshops are:
- Yurts: While these inexpensive dwellings are applicable in many settings, they are especially appropriate for intentional communities because of their DIY nature and their flexibility citing and mobility.
- Sustainability Exhibits: Intentional Communities are by their nature demonstrations of sustainability. Cambia’s museum trail and demonstration site is an access point for the public to interact with the why and the how of communities leading the way for sustainable future.
- Business Plans: Intentional Communities need to make money to survive. If you want to start your own worker coop there are known successful steps, including business plans.
Let’s go into some more detail about all of these Workshops
Theoretical and Applied Yurt Construction
This workshop is a study of yurt building that you will walk away from with the skills needed to build beautiful yurts for any climate and out of any materials you have access to. The skills you’ll be learning to build these artistic structures like wood bending, mortise and tenon, dynamic knot work, and textile pattern design. We will also be talking about how these structures are part of modern culture, from the current state of nomadic Mongolians, to how you can avoid building codes with small, collapsible yurts.
This single day workshop has two parts. The shorter morning session will focus on the theoretical side of yurt history and design. The longer late morning and afternoon session will get participants out building different aspects of a real yurt on site.
Sustainability Education Exhibits and Experiences
This workshop harvests key accessible sustainability principles and presents them in fun and interactive exhibits. We will tour our outdoor museum trail and participate in a hands-on workshop focused on natural building, passive solar design, and alternative building technologies. You will learn key sustainability concepts, get your hands dirty mixing cob or clay plaster, balance your carbon footprint and use fun gadgets.
This workshop is for anyone interested in sustainability, but especially educators, curators of sustainability presentations, and people interested in building their own homes.
Worker Coop Business Plan Review & Clinic
Worker Coop Business Plan Review & Clinic. Business plans will either be submitted in advance or developed over the previous two days at the Twin Oaks event. This workshop will review briefly each of the business plans which are being worked on both by the facilitator/experts leading the workshop and by the other start up designers. Based on this input a collection of recommendations will be made for how to improve the business plan, what kinds of support possibilities (financial and technical) exist and how to connect with them and what the best next steps might be.
You can attend these events for an additional $50 if you are going to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference. Register for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference normally and then after you select your ticket the Cambia event will appear as an additional option.
If you want to attend these events without going to the communities conference, the stand alone ticket costs $80
I want you to come to this years Twin Oaks Communities Conference. Not just because I am one of the organizers and we would love for attendance to be high, but because there is some excellent content at this years event and I would love more people to get exposure to it.
One of the threads I am most excited about is communities creating worker co-ops. The nature of community changes dramatically when you have your own income engines. You become more flexible. When members of your community have to work outside jobs they are pulled away from community life everyday, their work issues are separated from the collective life. When you build a collective business, you are working with the people you live with, your bonds deepen, your flexibility increases, your motivation for work improves.
But starting businesses are fraught with mishaps and hazards, which is why we have brought in experts to help guide those who wish to attempt this noble quest and increase your chances of success. Below is the description of one piece of this thread.
Communities building Cooperatives – C2C
3 interlocking workshops for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference
And the Cambia Labor Day program
Intentional Communities and Worker Owned Cooperatives are sister initiatives, which can certainly cooperate more. The 2018 Twin Oaks Communities Conference (Aug 31 thru Sept 2) will have a theme of how intentional communities can initiate and expand worker coops and how collectively controlled businesses can spark and support residential communities. The Cambia Labor Day program (Sept 3) will focus on reviewing co-op business plans with an eye towards revising or polishing them.
These different collective ventures both require building trust between members and effective group decision making and visioning. Intentional Communities which embrace starting cooperative work environments strengthen their financial foundation and expand the options for their members.
This three day program will develop new ideas into proposals and then format them as draft business plans. Some of the different workshops in this theme are described below:
Sept 1: Visioning a co-op inside your community. You already live together, what would it take to work together? Is it possible for your collective to agree on a shared income generating venture and what are the deal makers and breakers for your members? What type of time frame makes sense for this venture? Who are the in house champions that are going to prioritize this venture, including shepherding it thru community process and hopefully consensus.
Sept 2: Drafting a Business Plan. Worker co-ops are businesses. For them to succeed they need to be economically viable and serving a real need. Real startups require business plans and new co-ops have some special extra considerations when crafting their business plans. This workshop uses the Business Model Canvas technique to represent the key elements in developing a new venture and directing further research. It will also use PEST Analysis: Political, Economic, Socio/cultural and Technological considerations in refining the draft business plan.
Sept 3 (Cambia Labor Day program) Worker Co-op Business Plan Review & Clinic.
Business plans will either be submitted in advance or developed over the previous two days at the Twin Oaks event. This workshop will review briefly each of the business plans which are being worked on both by the facilitator/experts leading the workshop and by the other start up designers. Based on this input a collection of recommendations will be made for how to improve the business plan, what kinds of support possibilities (financial and technical) exist and how to connect with them and what the best next steps might be.
- Register for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference
- Register for the Cambia Labor Day Program
- RSVP on Facebook, either going or interested to get regular updates.
I am one of the moderators on an interesting Facebook group called the “Intentional Community Discussion Group“. A very typical posting is “I just bought X beautiful acres, and I want to start an intentional community. What should I do next?”
My answer is “Find a time machine and unbuy the land.”
This feels deeply counter intuitive to many. If you want to start a community and you have the capacity to buy land for your potential group, won’t it help the process along if you start by acquiring the land and then offer it to the group?
Sometimes it does, mostly it does not. The deal with starting a community, lots of people think they want to do it, but they don’t have all the friends and allies they want to do it with, so the accessible starting place looks like buying land. But as soon as you buy the land it stops being “We are starting community” and it becomes for everyone else “Should we join this existing project?”
Starting community is a fragile time. Some huge fraction (perhaps over 90%) of new communities fail. Most forming communities never get passed the “We are talking about it” stage. People want different things from community. And many people have huge hopes that community will solve a myriad of problems for them. “I will find my tribe.” “I won’t have to cook every meal myself.” “I will be able to live off the grid.” “I’ll have less stress.” “I’ll live with people who care for me.” “I will reduce my carbon footprint.” And dozens more. Starting community is an anti-gravity project.
The process of harmonizing the different needs and desires of prospective communards is the most important conversation you will have in your forming community. If one of the desires of a member you love is ” I want to reduce my time commuting”, then you have almost certainly chosen the wrong place if you have already purchased land. If their need/desire is “I want swim everyday” then your lack of stream or pond in your land purchase might be a deal breaker. If someone needs for their cat to roam free outside and you have chosen a beautiful piece of land near a coyote refuge, then you have already scuttled their participation.
The key point here is when you are starting up a community the most important thing is to build the group. And one of the most important decision for the group is which piece of land/buildings should you start with. If you make this decision for the group, the forming community loses one of it’s most important identity forming choices.
The morning after the super bowl more than half of Twin Oaks woke up without knowing who won the big game. You might correctly assume that since these people live in this egalitarian, rural, income sharing ecovillage commune they might not prioritize this national event. But this is not the whole story. Quite a number of these members who don’t know the result are actually very excited about the game and are looking forward to watching it. Let me explain further.
Twin Oaks has a long-standing “no live television” norm. There is no place in the community that you can just flick a switch and suddenly view broadcast television (or even live cable television). There is, however, a whole subculture of television and cable watching members, who draw from our huge archive instead of watching things live.
But sports are somehow different. People mostly want to watch sporting events as they are actually happening. I’ve never completely understood this. I will leave it to some sports enthusiast to enlighten me as to why this is important. And Oakers want to watch the Super Bowl; they want to watch it in their home, they want to watch it with a bunch of other Oakers. So to get all of these things a few years back we stumbled onto a solution. Watch the Super Bowl a day later.
This clever fix has its own problems and at the top of the list is that there are a couple of dozen Oakers who do not want to wait. They visit outside friends or nearby communes which don’t have such restrictive norms around the television. And basically, the whole rest of the community agrees that they have to keep the game a secret for one day and especially not say who wins.
Back in 2004, we were less into sports. I remember walking into the Morningstar kitchen and asking the dozen assembled people “If I were to say ‘Janet Jackson’s left breast‘ how many of you would know what I was talking about?” No one did. Perhaps I got lucky that morning, perhaps the commune has become more accepting of major sports events.
Architecture shapes culture, so a guiding principle of Cambia is, if we can make it beautiful, we do. Architecture is unique as an art form because it integrates function with form. This includes landscaping and outdoor play spaces.
Stepping stones are interesting because they have multiple functions; for example. they can protect clover, especially in the winter. The form also affects our local culture: when you walk on stepping stones, you are called to a child-like stance.
You can walk with your hands hanging down by your sides, and what tends to happen is that your arms raise up to maintain your balance. The stepping stones can draw you into being playful and childlike. As your hands go up, you are more likely to skip and as you start to skip, you are more likely to smile.
Cambia also boasts a trampoline. The trampoline draws kids from the surrounding communes. We recently replaced our broken one, in an assembly effort which was guided by a gaggle of giggly kids.
The German modern architect Mies van der Rohe is famous for two sayings, both of which are applicable. “Less is more” is the argument for minimalist architecture to achieve simplicity, using white elements, cold lighting, large space with minimum objects and furniture.
The second aphorism is “God is in the details“, expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly because details are important.
Cambia is a handcrafted commune, in sharp contrast to the grandmother commune, Twin Oaks, just down the road. Twin Oaks is a large place which includes industrial spaces, warehouses, tofu production facilities, rope machines, gang drills, and sawmills. All the spaces are closer and on a more human scale at Cambia. Some of the art is tiny and temporary.
Handcrafted means focusing on details: doorknobs from twisted branches, floors of pebbles and clay, tiny signposts, salvaged redwood around the hot tub and hyacinth pool. It is these and dozens of other tiny aspects that makes this stepping stone commune so precious.
Other Blog Posts about Cambia:
I’m lucky. My upbringing was affluent and comfortable and basically trauma free. I come from an advantaged class background. I am white and male in a world which has been designed to privilege these attributes. I have a low maintenance body and fairly good genes. I went to fancy schools and learned how to play some of the games which support the existing power structures and inequitable distribution of wealth.
So if one cares about fairness, how do you justify this unfair advantage? Some of my peers, like Sara, do anti-oppression work. Decoding their class privilege, calling out racism, classism and sexism where they see it. I’ve done a small amount of this work, but it is hardly my focus. And sadly, I am aware because of regular mistakes, I am still not getting this stuff.
Instead what I try to do is to look at this set of gifts as set of obligations. If I have been lucky, much of my work should be focused on giving back to others. Early on this drew me to activism. I selected anti-nuclear activism because it requires a certain unlikely combination of attributes. You need to be able to argue with people who come from these advantaged class backgrounds about technical and financial things. You need to be able to pour energy into long campaigns, which you are almost certain to lose and then you need to not get discouraged and keep on doing it, and even encourage others to join you.
One of my gifts is optimism. It is easy to have it, given my background. And the obligation (in my thinking) around this gift is taking on nearly hopeless causes. Not because you want to waste your time, but because there is social and cultural value to fighting the good fight in a world where the bad guys often win.
Some of the Point A folks went to NYC recently. It was quite an educational trip for me. And at first on it I was quite discouraged. If seemed like the idea of starting urban income sharing communities was nearly impossible.
On one hand you had the real estate developers. Especially in New York City, real estate prices are so out of control this often unsavory profession takes on especially monstrous dimensions. They have money to invest, tremendous motivation and their eyes everywhere for a bargain or opportunity.
On the other side you have the ugly force of gentrification. This is where often well meaning folks looking for inexpensive space inside the urban environment set up their artist’s lofts in economically disadvantaged areas, only to make these areas desirable and trendy. This in turn raises property values and ultimately they get themselves and, more importantly, their poor neighbors kicked out by the real estate developers described above.
I did not see a way around these vexing forces when we started talking with folks about the Point A project. And while I am nothing like confident we can figure this out, I am now feeling more optimistic about doing something we can be excited by and proud of.
[This was written over 3 years ago, since then the Point A project has made quite some progress in finding real anti-gentrification allies. More on this in my next post.]