Sunflowervillager's Blog

Growing into community

Summer Realizations & the Business Plan September 21, 2017

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A tiny sunflower from my porch garden. Grad school while working full time makes it hard to keep up with a garden!

This summer was the last term of classes required for my Master’s of Business Administration program. One of the courses I took was Nonprofit Law & Ethics. Over the course of the term it became apparent to me that 501(c)3 status might not be the best option for Sunflower Village. The primary reason for this is the issue of inurement, which means that people who are the board of directors of a non-profit cannot financially or economically benefit from it. This is a major issue, because I believe that a crucial aspect of the concept of Sunflower Villager is that people can develop systems to address the challenges that face them, rather than just having solutions handed to them from someone else. This includes participating in leadership roles such as the Board of Directors.

If Sunflower Village is not a nonprofit, what is it? After reviewing some of the options together, the Sunflower Village Board of Directors has decided that the designation of L3C seems most appropriate.  L3C stands for Low-Profit Limited Liability Corporation. This type of organization is a business that intentionally limits its profits to shareholders so that it can support a social mission. Such an organization lacks the restriction on board members benefiting from its work, while still being able to pursue a variety of sources of funding, including those which are project based and oriented toward social enterprises.

So now what? This fall, I am finishing my studies at Marlboro College’s with my Masterwork Project, and for this project with the support of the Board and several advisors, I am writing a business plan for Sunflower Village! Throughout the next several months, we are digging into the details of just how Sunflower Village will work. As I do so, I plan to write here about the process of developing a business plan, including challenges, realizations, and shifts.

Sunflower Village focuses much more on economic issues than most intentional communities: among other things, it is intended to be a mixed-income community that promotes economic stability through increased economic integration. Because we draw on multiple economic strategies, some of the biggest challenges are figuring out how exactly we plan to use those strategies, and how those different aspects of this community will work together. We already have a lot of great ideas! Some of them we have flushed out quite well, like the dynamics of tiny houses and a community center. Others, like the income and labor exchange need a lot of deep consideration, clarity , and detailed planning.

Fortunately, this focus on the business plan is already helping with that! Just a couple of days ago, I was reflecting on David Grant’s lesson about the life stages of an organization I realized that it might be easier to think about the income and labor exchange if we started with how much it might cost to pay for a mortgage, utilities, and taxes, and then consider how much income would have to be generated per person working an external job for someone to be able to work 20-40 hours a week at Sunflower Village. The calculations I did around this have me beginning to tie the income and labor exchange much more closely to the beginning phase of the community, specifically the number of people we will have. It seems to me like 5 “tiny” households of 1-3 people each is a great start for the fledgling community, so I am playing around with that.

In a couple of months when the business plan is mostly complete, I will hold an information session to overview Sunflower Village and the business plan! Space may be limited, so if you would like to attend, let me know! I’ll post more details here when I have them. In the meantime, mark your calendar for Saturday, December 9, when I will be presenting this project at Marlboro College!

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Kickoff Meeting + Mystery Seeds! May 3, 2017

We had a great board kickoff meeting today! Four of us met this evening. It was cool to have three awesome supporters meet each other at last. We discussed where things are with Sunflower Village right now. We’re working on our strategy to apply for nonprofit status, and we’re looking for people who are interested in Sunflower Village, whether they’d like to think about becoming a villager or just have an interest in intentional communities, economic justice, sustainable living, or tiny houses.

Our next meeting is in June, but we’re already planning the conversations we’re going to have between now and then, about nonprofits, organizational structure, and sustainability.

On an earthy note, yesterday I finally got my hands in the dirt and did some planting. I have seeds set for basil, Purple Cherokee tomatoes, Brown Berry cherry tomatoes, coriander, and dill from the landlord I had in Amherst. But best of all are the mystery sunflowers. I saved the seed on the head of a sunflower I grew in 2015, but I have no idea which variety it was. I’m excited to see how they and all the Sunflower Village seeds I’ve been planting since then bloom this year. Mystery Sunflower Seeds planted 5-2-17.jpg

 

Sunflowers in February  February 12, 2017

Filed under: sunflowers — Saera @ 10:30 pm

The original plan today was to join my friends Adam and Allison for an art making session. The heavy, long snowfall today nixed that, but they encouraged me to create something anyway. So after playing in the snow, I made this:

saeras-watercolor-sunflower

I’m very happy with how it turned out, especially the orange, a feature of my favorite varieties of sunflowers. It’s about time the Facebook page had a new image too!

 

Treasured iterations February 10, 2017

Filed under: geography,Southern Vermont — Saera @ 9:59 pm

I had a lovely snow day yesterday, and after a gorgeous wander in the white-crested woods of Southern Vermont, I came back ready to do some work. Sometimes I forget just how long Sunflower Village has been my dream, how much it’s infused my life. I finally unboxed my notebooks from the last 12 years today. In flipping through them, even briefly, I found thoughts and ideas about it infused throughout everything else. Working with Joy to make sure she has access to work I’ve done so far, I’m rediscovering things that I created along the way that I had forgotten about. Not all of the things I made will show up in this iteration of Sunflower Village, but all of them helped get me to this point. It’s kind of amazing to me to see how much I have grown and how much my ideas and understanding have evolved. It’s also amusing… one of the original ideas for a name, back in 2006 was “The Vibrant Order of Passionate Action”. Was I a young idealistic hippie with a love of fantasy or what? Oh wait….

winter-in-dummerston

 

 

New Perspectives January 24, 2017

Filed under: geography,nonprofit development,organization — Saera @ 11:03 pm

I haven’t posted for far too long. Shortly after my last post, a lot changed in my life. Throughout the autumn of 2015, there were long conversations and rounds of trying to figure out things before I parted ways with a former long-term partner that December. I found an awesome new job as a development coordinator at a local nonprofit in November 2015, which has given me a host of new skills and opportunities. It also has resulted in a much deeper understanding of how non-profits work. As I have grown personally and professionally and held dialogues with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances over the last year and a half, the core ideals of Sunflower Village have remained steady, while my understanding about how to manifest this dream into reality have been refined, clarified, and re-imagined.

One of the critical developments has been my learning about the roles of boards of directors in non-profits. During the discussion groups of 2015, I imagined that the board could simply be comprised of all of the villagers. There are three reasons I have moved away from this:

  • 1)The role of the board is more extensive and ongoing than I previously understood.
  • 2) I realized that some residents may not have the capacity or enthusiasm that is critical for an engaged, working board
  • 3) Sunflower VIllage needs the perspectives and expertise of non-residents who are passionate about the mission

As I have come to better understand how boards work, I have somewhat redesigned the organizational structure that the group created in 2015. I also further worked out detail on sharing labor and money.

Another shift is the decision to base Sunflower Village in southern Vermont. This region is conducive to the creation/development of this kind of intentional community for multiple reasons: the relative affordability of land in the quantities desirable, the cultural values of the region, the agricultural climate, the abundance of natural resources (such as land, fresh water, firewood), and legal policies and practices conducive to a community of tiny houses.

Vermont is a predominantly rural, low-population state, which still has a tradition of small-scale agriculture and gardening. Many of the towns are small, and like so many rural areas, are experiencing challenges of a shrinking and aging population as young people seek education and opportunities that rural areas presently struggle to offer. While being somewhat removed from large urban centers such as Boston & NYC, can access both of these centers via the I-91 highway, meaning it is only about 2 ½ -3 hours to Boston and 3 ½ -4 hours to NYC.

A third major development has been the addition of Joy Auciello to the Triad. I met Joy as a fellow student at Marlboro College. Many people have contributed to Sunflower Village over the last 10 years. Joy is one of the few to take her own initiative in furthering its manifestation, as she is presently doing through her research and projects in as she completes her MBA in Managing for Sustainability at Marlboro College’s later this spring. I am very excited to have her working with me. Joy does a lot to deepen and expand my thinking, and we are getting practical things done to get things going.

I am starting to reconnect to people to share the present vision for Sunflower Village, understand what concerns and interests people, and how people want to become involved, whether as Board Members, founding resident Villagers, or Supporters (who don’t presently wish to live at Sunflower Village, but are otherwise interested. Feel free to share here what you think at this point!

Thanks for reading!

 

To all those in the arena August 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saera @ 4:26 pm

Recently shared with me by a good friend:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Theodore Roosevelt (Via Goodreads)

And yes, I know Roosevelt wasn’t always exemplary, but I really appreciate this quote. I find it really encouraging as I stumble and reach for the future I want, for me and for you and for everyone who also wants it. I’m taking on a lot right now, and trying to think through how I’m going to do it all. I think the most important thing is for me to put myself out there and try my best.

 

Summer 2015 August 13, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saera @ 1:38 pm

This summer has seen significant growth for the Sunflower Village. I’m excited to tell you all it!

First of all, a new group of us have been meeting since January, about once a month. I admit I was a little hesitant to write about it here at the beginning. I was scared. I was afraid that it would fall apart again. But it hasn’t. I learned a lot from my previous attempts. I’ve been polishing my strengths and I have new tools that I’ve been learning through working on my Master’s at Marlboro Graduate and Professional Studies.

The school is on a trimester system, and I took a course this summer called New Venture Creation. In it, I developed a business plan for the Sunflower Village. It still needs work flushing out more of the details, and research to get better financial predictions, but I learned a lot from doing it, and it helped clarify how some things in the village will work. One of the parts of it I am most proud of is a model of our economic & governance system. I made it as clear as I could, then shared it at our most recent meeting. I was delighted at the results. Not only did we agree to try the model out for governing ourselves, we improved the model, and decided how things would be decided for each part of the model. I’ll be writing about that in detail soon.

Another component of the village that developed a lot this year, particularly this summer, was the role of tiny houses in the village. The idea of small, customized houses was always part of the Sunflower Village idea. But Nick and Yani helped us make a solid connection to the tiny house movement. The two of them had already done some research, and Nick has been investigating ways to make them even more affordable.

There are about twelve of us in the group now. We’re a mixed bunch: single, partnered, and in families, and it’s great to see how we’re making this village together, one discussion at a time.

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