It is busy season.
Most of my days start the same way. Jah and i find each other somewhere between his blueberry pancakes (he often does a breakfast shift, despite the fact we have no agreement anyone will cook breakfast) and the smoke shack at Acorn. We go into the seed picking room and stare down a huge collection of orders. Then, we sort them, taking the smallest ones (typically 5 items or less) and put them in one pile the rest in another.
Now our dance begins. Jah and i spin around the seed picking room, grabbing orders and dodging each other. The sounds system is pumping Soldier or Michael Franti or Marley. Jah is especially good with large orders, strong solid picking. The nature of small orders is that you are running around the room a bunch and (if you are like me) trying to fill several orders as once, so you can avoid doubling back.
Jah is the elephant knocking down huge trays of seeds. I am the bee, buzzing around him and flying around the room. We move with haste, people get bumped into occasionally and brushed up against all the time, it’s is just what is happening in the busy seed picking office early in the morning. We are regulars, but there are lots of people in the picking room these days. The late night crew picked orders at 2 AM this morning. Aster, Sunshine and Jah were part of that. Para and Lola were in this morning with us. Picking seeds for orders is the beginning of our order fulfillment process.
Anyone who has worked in the tofu hut (or has studied industrial engineering) knows that the first step of the assembly line is the heartbeat of the entire process. The full line can’t go any faster. And the speed of the first step often drives the speed of the entire line. We want to pick everything that comes in during the say the same day. This insures that the shippers (who make custom bundles for mailing of our picked orders) are always busy, if there is anything for them to process. Jah and i are determined to keep the picking room heartbeat thumping right along.
Sales are up. We are picking and packing much faster (in part because some packing is being done by the new seed packing robot, which some of us are referring to as HAL) than previous years. Almost all the varieties are in stock. Ken and Irena and Charlotte are making sure all varieties are packed and ready for us (which is why there are so few numbers on the daily Unpickable Seeds sheets depicted below). It feels like a well oiled machine.
And it feels like an anarchist Utopian dream. Almost all the workers are self assigning almost all the time. There are people, like Irena, Ira, Ken and myself who almost always have tasks which people can help with. Sometimes we are approached, other times we approach people. And especially during this season, when everyone is hustling, almost everyone says “yes” most of the time when asked if they can help. [Ken points out that accountability of task work also helps us maintain quality. At each step the worker records what they did so that workers further down the chain can gently inform folks earlier in the process about mistakes they made. ]
The structure is almost as flat as it can be. It is trust based, so there are no time clocks. It is trust based, so no one is telling you to work faster or longer. It is trust based, so you need to do your own quality control. It is trust based, so for most people the only person who really knows if you are doing your share is you. And it all mostly works.
People work because it is clear there is lots of work to do. People work because we make most of the money the community needs and uses in these few months. People work because the work is super pleasant and relaxed and better than any light physical work than anyone ever had before they got here, and there is this distant fear that if we don’t all do our parts here, some of us might end up back there in jobs which were considerably less wonderful. People work because they can stop when they like and switch jobs when they want to. People work because they want to show up in community as a contributor to this thing that they believe in.
Turns out the money thing is not all it is cracked up to be.
Here is a curious pair of statistics. Louisa County Virginia has 33K people in it. It also has four income sharing intentional communities (Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sapling and Living Energy Farm). NYC has 8.4 million inhabitants. NYC has only one secular partially income sharing community (Ganas) though there are rumors of another in Brooklyn, we are investigating.
What is going on here?
My theory, which is certainly disputed, is that the foundation of community is trust. Here in rural Virginia we have it pretty easy at least materially. Crime is low, we are practiced in being civilized, fair and pleasant to each other (though we don’t always succeed). Building trust feels good, so we build it.
One of the first thing you are taught by the natives arriving in NYC is “trust no one”. The city is dangerous and looking for suckers. Not just financially, but emotionally and if you swing that way spiritually. It can grind you up and spit you out if you don’t protect yourself from its wiles.
Beatrice disagrees. Her experience is that the (non-residential) community she experiences in NYC is deeper and richer than other parts of the country. Beatrice is part of Point A, a guest writer for this blog and is a world class networker. She is also certainly much more experienced with the city than I am and I often defer to her wisdom.
There are other factors as well, of course. Exceptionally high rents and real estate values means there is less room for social experimentation. There is also in my mind a “role your own” mentality in NYC, where everyone seems to cobble together a housing/work/social situation which addresses the pressures of the city. Generally, there is not much room for others in these ingeniously and carefully crafted arrangements.
We are having another event in NYC this very weekend. In Prospect Park if the weather holds (back at the Brooklyn BUZ if it is raining). If you are interested in forming community in NYC please feel invited. Details of where it will be in the Park will show up on Facebook. Or just email me at paxus at twin oaks dot org and I will hook you up. Please do RSVP on the Facebook page or in the comment section of this blog post.
Catalyzing Urban Communes Potluck Picnic
Come join activists, artists, communally minded, and friends interested in sparking intentional communities inside NYC. This lively somewhat structured conversation will explore how to form new communities in the city and what would it take for you to be part of them. We are also welcoming of people who aren’t interested in living collectively, or who are not seeking an urban setting, but still want to help these kinds of living solutions to exist and are willing to put time into helping or advising.
Share food, share ideas, share dreams, share each other
Prospect Park (exact location TBD)
rain location: Brooklyn Urban dZong
starts 1 PM – ends 5 PM Sunday May 11
bring a picnic dish, preferably vegan
bring your own plate/bowl/flatware/drinking vessel
|1:00-1:30||Opening Game and Potluck Feeding Frenzy|
|1:30-2:00||The Sharing and Solidarity Sermon (a focusing and inciting exercise)|
|2:00-3:00||Speed Dating Idea Factory: Pairs or small groups will talk to each other for a few minutes with different prompts relating to the Point A project and write down their best ideas on 3×5 cards which they leave behind when they switch partners to inspire and be added to by the next conversation.|
|3:00-3:30||Hot Idea Selection: Which of these conversations do we want to develop and work on further.|
|3:30-4:30||A Deeper Conversation: Medium size groups will coalesce around the selected hot topics for a longer conversation. Likely including a small group that wants to live in an income sharing community inside NYC|
|4:30-5:00||Sharing, Summarizing, Next Steps|
The Best Name Tags Ever: When you arrive you will be interviewed by a volunteer who will write you a descriptive name tag packed with relevant information.
The Churning: Facilitators will be collecting the 3×5 cards and flitting between the group conversations to collect ideas and reinject them back into the discussion and the ending session.
I would like to eliminate labor budgets. My community budgets over 200 areas from welding, to path maintenance, to bees, to fixing the phones and computers, to taking care of the kids distinct from educating the same kids, to tofu making, to going to the doctor, to political activism, to managing and organizing commie clothes, to fixing our bikes and cars, to doing performances for the community, to room assigning, to doing software development and many many more. We play a giant trade off game each year in hopes of getting these numbers right and balanced with our expected labor for the year.
The perennial question is “Would we get all this work covered if we did not use this budgeting system and the sister quota requirement?” Many in the community are clear labor budgets are necessary. That without the labor budgets and our quota system which check and balance each other many think we will not get our work done.
I want something else to be true. And i am willing to overlay any number of additional systems to take out this oppressive piece. What i was proposing on the morning of this charged conversation was various different flavor of work area labor collectives. Not to be confused with member group labor collectives like Bolo and Jack Vanzetti.
In my mythical structure, you might need to be in three or more labor collectives. Labor collectives would represent work areas in the community, like food, or community infrastructure or any of the cottage industries. So if Twin Oaks were modeled this way, you might need to be in one of our income areas:
- conference/workshop organizing
- outside work (construction and demolition, house cleaning, raising the JPJ floor, elder care, software development, customer support for accounting, etc – exterior contract work the community gets paid for).
Then you would be on one of the domestic collectives that dealt with any of a number of household and family issues. There could be an outreach council, which promoted the community and the communities movement (like our TOAST program does now), that does local community support, like the superhero bike riders do out at the Possibility Alliance, that writes articles about the community for publication and so on.
The idea is if you were in multiple councils which were meeting to satisfy their general and specific tasks on a regular basis. Collectives could distribute their work to where it was needed and the councils would track whether your work scene was sufficient for the needs and agreements of the community.
In this model, the social pressure of the group would be used to help ensure that there is a fairer (not to be confused with fair) distribution of work obligations to the community.
But the even larger heresy i want to commit, in this new community i am talking about starting, is eliminating the idea that you have a labor obligation to the community while you are gone and thus over an extended vacation, you get further in debt. I am looking to create a place that is thus likely more transient and flexible. More on this hot topic soon.