Sunflowervillager's Blog

Growing into community

Simplify! Flow charts help! Find the Milestones! October 22, 2017

Over the last month, I’ve made real progress on the business plan with support from the board, my advisor, and an architect! This post is primarily on what I have been learning through the process of developing the business plan. The short short version is: Simplify! Consult the experts. Flow-charts (even miniature ones) help table conundrums, and figure out your project Phases & Milestones!


The conversation started with Market Research. I had been focusing on the intentional community movement and how Sunflower Village is different from other communities. My advisor helped me realize that this section needs to be much more powerful, and I can do that by clarifying what are markets are and who our competitors are in those markets. With the help of the board, I realized that our main markets are housing, tiny house placement, and intentional community. Housing, especially affordable housing is a major issue in Southern Vermont. People with tiny houses are looking for places to put them, and people want their lifestyle to deeply incorporate community. My advisor also pointed out that focusing on the term “intentional community” may not be helping us. We draw on audiences who may not be familiar with the intentional communities movement, and they do not need to be in order to appreciate the benefits of Sunflower Village. I still include it in the marketing section as people with an interest in cohousing and intentional communities may find what they are looking for in Sunflower Village, but we need to avoid having language that feels exclusive.

My advisor also suggested removing much of the philosophical language and putting it in a “Paper Basket” or aPhilosophy document. I am finding this helpful as I kept feeling like I had to explain the why for everything. I think this is a useful thing to have available, but I want the Business Plan to be focused on the logistics of how Sunflower Village will work, not arguing why they should be that way. Shortly after this discussion, I went on a weekend retreat with my extended spiritual community. I came home with a fresh perspective on building community and some of the core principles of Sunflower Village. Combined with the discussions with my advisor, I realized that I needed to drastically simplify my approach in other ways too. I saw that the Triad approach to governance is ridiculous for a very small group, which Sunflower Village will be at the beginning. Essentially I came back (again!) to David Grant’s point about the life cycle of organizations. I need to figure out how Sunflower Village will work for each phase if I am going to give prospective Villagers and investors any meaningful understanding of what I am asking them to be involved in.

I also saw that the idea of having each board member be a key person for the different components of the buisness plan was not effective, as some members were waiting for clarification on earlier pieces before they could make any significant progress. At our October Board Meeting, I proposed that, once I pulled out some of the philosophy parts and work on developing phases, we can go through the sections together, using Google Docs collaboration tools to edit, comment, and make suggestions as a conversation between us.

Consult the experts

On Monday, I had a great meeting with Aviva. She is a friend of mine and an architect who has worked on developing cohousing communities. We talked for three hours on dinner about planning for common houses, community social dynamics, the importance of site plans, least expensive ways to place tiny houses in keeping with building code, and a little bit about kibbutz. Overall, my conversation with her was full of key insights and useful reminders, including components I had researched some years ago.  For example, Aviva reminded me that existing land trusts can be useful not only in obtaining land, but in doing some of the ground work research, negotiating with towns, and finding funding. It was an inspiring conversation, and it bounced around my mind throughout the week.


The Common House Conundrum.

I got stuck yesterday. Blocking out Phase one was easy for me, but as I tried to dig into the rest of them, I was having a hard time figuring out what would happen when between the beginning five years of Sunflower Village and the ideal Sunflower Village I imagine. I knew there was a lot to do and grow between those places, but I struggled to break it down. I found that a contingency was holding me back: the land. What kind of property will Sunflower Village look for? Undeveloped property open to shape according to our needs, or a place with a building? Aviva had pointed out to me that cohousing communities have to decide whether to build a Common House from the beginning or later. If they build it later and focus on individual dwellings, they often do not have the funds or plans for it later. She also said that it is generally harder to try to fit an already existing building to the needs of a community and can require remodeling which can ultimately be just as big a project as building a Common House. I liked the idea of finding an existing property because it will already have space and utilities, offering the opportunity for people to live there while they construct tiny houses. I basically created a little flow chart for myself on the issue, and that let me refocus on developing the phases.


Phases & Milestones

One of the great questions Aviva had for me was “How will you know when it’s time to transition to the Triad?” That was a great thing for her to ask me! This question helped me when I was feeling stuck in making progress on developing the phases of Sunflower Village yesterday. It reminded me of some of the tools from my Outcomes and Evaluations class at Marlboro. In particular, I needed to incorporate Results-Based Accountability. This tool was developed as a way to help organizations with social missions measure their impact, and I love its directness. It asks people to answer three questions:

  1. What did we do?
  2. How well did we do it?
  3. Is anyone better off?

I developed a variation of this in future tense to help me think:

  1. What are we doing?
  2. How will it show that we are doing it well?
  3. How will we know if Villagers are better off?

Using these questions to inspire my thinking, I dug into the social & economic components, and finally got a flow going. I now have a draft of  three phases that includes for land, governance, social, and economic  milestones. I believe that having these phases outlined will clarify the whole business plan! I certainly feel a lot more clear!





Productive in the World July 7, 2011

I went to DELA (Don’t Eat Lunch Alone) in Springfield for the first time. I found out about it through the Pioneer Valley Local First group on Linkedin. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, Don’t Eat Lunch Alone is the idea that lunch can be used as valuable networking time. This group brings together people to discuss ideas relating to business and employment. I found the discussion interesting and I met some people who I think will be helpful with the Sunflower Village Initiative, so I’m glad I went and I’m likely to go again.

I also went to the Forbes Library and wandered around until I realized what I wanted to look at: Treehouse architecture. I found two books, one of which I know I’ve seen before used and desperately want to buy but can’t. So I read that until the library closed. After  picking up my partner from work, we came home and I grabbed a quick dinner of canned soup and grilled cheese, then left again. I went to a volunteer training for Habitat for Humanity. Now I can volunteer on sites for them, not just stuff envelopes. 😀 I’m really excited about the non-profit skills I’m going to learn from them, in addition to house-building skills.


Satellite Housing part 2 June 3, 2009

Filed under: community structure,satellite housing — Saera @ 2:51 pm

I want to detail what I’ve dubbed “satellite housing” and the reasons for it. Satellite housing means that there is a central house/building which houses most of the useful indoor space for the village, and small personal dwellings for sleeping and privacy. This situation allows for a lower investment per capita of appliances, plumbing, heating, developed permanent space building supplies, and resource pressures than conventional housing. It also brings people into frequent contact and ensures that people are not isolated.

This situation allows for a lower investment per capita of appliances, plumbing, heating, developed permanent space, building supplies, and resource pressures than conventional housing. It also brings people into frequent contact and ensures that people are not isolated. It also allowes for individual expression and practice of a variety of alternative architecture.

The “main” house must include a kitchen and dining space large enough to support the community, and for self-sufficiency purposes. It ought to have a drying room (for herbs, vegetables, etc), space for canning, a cellar for food storage, at least one large freezer, bread making space, plenty of room for chopping, sufficient stove space, perhaps 8-12 burners.

There will be a library composed of books collected by villagers. Ideally most books will be shared, but it is understandable if a few books are kept personal. The library should be a place where a variety of academic activity occurs. Computers could be located nearby- close enough for practicality, but far enough or closed off enough so that sound could be utilized without being distracting – perhaps a room for computers and another space for films. Actually, it might be more efficient to have a theatre space in the dining hall – perhaps have comfier chairs to bring in for that.

Besides the kitchen, really one of the most important aspects of the main house will be the dorms. Dorms will provide housing for villagers who don’t want to hor have not yet constructed their own dwellings, new members, part time members, guests, and visitors. Everyone in the village is expected to work. Kathy was asking if there were any member requirements. I told her that it wouldn’t be based on income or religion or anything like that. A willingness to work is all that’s required. That being said, this will not be a tourist or vacation spot. Anyone who comes, whether potential member or guest or visitor will be asked to work or leave. No paying guests. Even the elderly or infirm have something to contribute, according to their ability. Dorms will be very simple: bed, nightstand, closet/bureau, that kind of thing. Probably multiple occupancy for visitors and guests, and then depending on room and other factors, members and part-time members may be able to have their own dorm.

Donna and Kathy wanted to know about internal governance. I told them that while I have on a few ideas about ways that could work, based on the research I have done thus far, I am reluctant to dictate such a thing, because any form of governance works best when the people choose it themselves. They are more likely to abide by what they’ve chosen and up hold it with others. I shall also not be surprised if it varies with time. My own feeling is that some form of council works best, if those people are held accountable and are still required to do significant amounts of other work, including continued involvement in food growth and preparation.

At any rate, governance should not decide everything. Those who are particularly knowledgeable in a field, especially those vital to the haleness/wellbeing ove the village must be given the ability to carry out their work effectively, so long as it abides by the central principles of the village. The “governance” and “work-leaders” (ie knowledgeable people in various production areas utilized in the village) should collaborate to asses the needs and priorities of the viillage and appropriately divide labor, energy, and resources. Perhaps a delegation of governance and work leaders could report to “task coordinators”. These coordinators givern information from governance and work leaders, could come up with the labor/resources plan on a daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and annual basis. Every night, the coordinators could post a labor-needs list for the next day. The list could be divided into daily, primary, and secondary tasks, and people could sign up for them on a first – come, first – serve basis. Of course some jobs, such as milking goats, are better done by the same individual every day. That individual would simply be automatically listed next to the task as one of theirs for the day.


Satellite Housing June 1, 2009

Filed under: community structure,satellite housing — Saera @ 1:31 am

Today I had the pleasure of discussing ideas about the village with Kathy and Donna. They both asked some wonderful questions and shared some of their thoughts and experiences. I hope to recapture some of the clarity that I gained from that conversation here and further explicate the vision.

I was asked if I could boil it down to a couple of things. I was surprised to discover that almost everything else seems to come from subsidiarity and inter-reliance, along with self-sufficiency. The other principles I wrote about further show how those things function.

I also realized that I haven’t written here about “satellite housing”. Basically, the idea is to have a central building containing a large kitchen, workspace, a library, etc. It’s a waste to have a full kitchen for everyone, excess of so many things that aren’t used all the time, or that are, but would be much more efficient if people concentrated the effort. And having things in a shared space keeps people closer. There could also be dorms in the central building for people who can’t be at the village full-time or for guests.

However, I also realize that people need some private space. So people could have very small dwellings throughout the area… and I mean small.

I have been informed by Shad that I’m not terribly coherent at the moment. Therefore I shall continue about satellite housing later.