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!

Simplify!

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.

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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.

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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!

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Vanishing Fog October 26, 2009

Filed under: land,landlessness.,redetermination — Saera @ 7:13 am
Tags: , ,

It’s 2:30 am. Since I went to bed on time for once, this means that I slept about 2 hours and have been fooling around on the computer for half an hour. I’ve been struggling with existential anxiety a lot this semester. I have been chanting a lot more and I feel like my vision is clearing. I’ve said before that this blog isn’t so much about the details of my personal life. So why am I writing about this here? Because I am seeing my path clearer, I am working on multiple ends

I wrote a bit recently about the conundrum of whether to become landed first or to break dependency on employ. I am starting to think that it makes sense to work on it from both ends simultaneously, however I can. There is no reason not to go for a land trust and a village and a worker/producer co-op. These things all go hand in hand as part of the diverse economy. There is an opportunity that I have been informed about to make a leap from my current job into an existing co-op. I will be hoping and chanting for it. But I am also able to take a step back and realize that even if I do not obtain this particular transition, a cooperative work environment is not out of reach. I can apply for others in the area, and I can start one more… as long as jobs the current system continue to exist, there will be a place for worker co-ops to develop.

I am not a victim. I do not have to see myself as trapped or overwhelmed or having odds stacked against me. I only need to act and to believe and to persevere.

 

Land Trust Non-profit evolutions! October 19, 2009

Filed under: land,land trust,organization — Saera @ 2:48 am

Today I went to my second meeting of a group of people considering forming a land trust non-profit. I think there have been a couple of other meetings, but I only found out about this in September via Chris. It was interesting, because today the meeting contained an entirely different group of people than the last, except for the central organizer and myself. But it seems like we’re boiling down to a few ideas:

One, that we’re probably moving towards forming a non-profit Land Trust. This could be a parent/umbrella organization whose main purpose is helping people get access/education about land.

Two, that there is clearly a group of people interested in developing some kind of community related to this Land Trust. This could end up as one community or multiples. We will do more brainstorming about shared visions we have in this area.

There is discussion too, about whether we should try to get onto some land right away, renting or whatever, as a way to practice/experiment/learn about community and developing related skills, or whether we should focus on ideals and bonds.

I’m really excited to be working with people, figuring out practically how we’re going to do this stuff!

And Tom and I have been talking about ideas too! Now if so much of school didn’t feel like a distraction!

 

Taking Action October 13, 2009

As I mentioned before, Julie Graham started a Wiki for my Economic Geography class. I’ve just made a contribution to the section I’ll be studying for the rest of the semester. You can see it here: Diverse Economy activities of Intentional Communities in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York.
Doing the research for that felt really productive. I love how absolutely relevant this class is. But it does make me wonder a bit about why I have such a hard time doing this kind of research and writing on my own. I do love it. I think maybe it has something to do with dreaming hard and feeling like there are possibilities but they’re so far away all the time. But not learning about them doesn’t bring them any closer. So I’m glad that this class is getting me moving.

I fantasize about living in space I have control over all the time. It’s something I’ll have to drop off and on as school keeps me on it’s schedule, but I’m going to start looking at architecture again. I am going to just listen to Goethe more: Whatever you can dream, begin it; for there is magic and power in it. It’s alright to have halting starts and half-finished things… they are all part of the building of dreams, of taking action. And action lets me get somewhere, let’s me see and others see that these are no mere pipe dreams or infantile wishes. A better world is possible. Some people are already making it better, and I am learning to be one of them.

 

Landlessness and wage-bonds September 23, 2009

Filed under: economy,land,landlessness.,marx,organization,risk,slavery,wage — Saera @ 4:09 am

Long week… already, catching up from being sick
not just from school, but that, yes, always that, doing what I can, and communicating like crazy, to profs, TAs, SGI people.
Still not caught up with myself. Got to do some dishes after finishing homework tonight, and yeah, I said *got* to and meant it. Thank goodness Daniel did the laundry. We’re both running hard and doing all we can, and our lives are becoming ever more gargantuan.

Lots of things I want to write about – my connect/disconnect to Marx, marxism, labor. My passion for Upton Sinclair. Thinking about economy and organization of labor. Reconsidering my approaches.

There are two bandages that hold us in thrall, physically in this society.

(I know there are others, many others, in spiritual, intellectual, other areas, I know, know too that they are all interconnected, but I have a PoinT here… that is to say, there are two bondages)

There are two bondages: Being, still, after milennia, the landless peasantry, the land ripped away from us (ill-ly)legally….( we, the working class, the producers, the makers of vitals or the chain of people who get them from the makers to You, consumer.) In short: we rent, we do not own our castles, our abodes where we may at last have our Say. I rent, so I do not define my own space, except on the surface, my trappings, my coverings, things I bring every place I live to remind-pretend that this is not someone else’s. I doubt again that I will grow corn next spring or summer, and who knows if/when ever I’ll get that cat door. Because it is not something I really have a say over. So, the bondage that I rent, that I am landless, like every lowest class. And there abounds the myth that there is not class in *America. So, the idea, the revolutionistic desire that once again, we should have an abode, for us, not for the profit of another, but a place to finally hang our hat at the end of the day and not worry whether the second bondage threatens us in the security of our sleep.

The second bondage: to work filling the pockets of others to bursting, and not being able to tell whether we fill ours just enough to eat, to sedate ourselves a little into acceptance, or whether we are actually benefiting from the arrangement, making progress towards freedom from the first bondage or following dreams or saving the world or merely having a fulfilling occupation. Yes, that second bondage is, (and I *will* be so bold as to thank Marx for this line) the slavery of wage…. that endless work that we too often cannot tell what happens to, who it benefits, if it is what we are told it is. Is this the best we have to offer? Too many inconsistencies, and always this cycle of how much do we risk to speak up to appease our angry sense of justice , how much do we live with in order that we may attempt to someway, somehow, accomplish our nobler ends? The means ARE connected, invariably to the ends. There must be better means, or our ends are sure to haunt us as tainted. To which solution, then do I dare?

I don’t know yet… again, more research, more dialogue, more experimentation and self-delving.

Again, and more. A few snippets of new connections, fresh determination, I leave here tonight. There is certainly more whirling around, but tomorrow has, again, many demands.

 

The Dream Gets Closer September 14, 2009

Filed under: land,land trust — Saera @ 12:35 pm

Yesterday went to a meeting of “the Valley Community Land Collective”. This baby is in it’s inception. There was a lot of thoughtful dialogue, and it was exciting to be around 7 or 8 people with similar interests. A representative from a Land Trust in Franklin County was there, and she fielded a lot of questions about the logistics of how a land trust actually operates. The conclusion of the meeting was that we need to continue getting to know each other and what our goals are, finding the intersections there. I have a lot of appreciation for Matt, who’s been working hard to get people together around this, and for Chris M, who sent me the info about the meeting in the first place. The dream gets closer.

P.S. This meeting was a block and a half from my house, and pretty much all the people live in Northampton…

I also ran into Sara P. earlier in the day. I keep thinking about her but not calling her, so this was a gift. I have so much admiration for her, and wish to learn from her.

 

Of Candles and Tea September 5, 2009

Filed under: food/agri/garden,land,subsidiarity — Saera @ 12:20 pm

I made candles Thursday night. It’s been about four years since I did that, so my technique needs a little practice. I recycled leftover wax I’d collected from candles I’ve had over the past year or so. I had a little red wax and some citronella, so I have six rosy pink candles that have a citronella smell! When wax cools, it contracts, and little wells form in the base of the candle. You’re supposed to pour more in, but I made a mess and just barely had enough to initially fill the molds. They look fine though, and I learned some things for next time. I only want to used recycled wax to make my candles, so I’m thinking about advertising for wax wanted on craigslist. Anyway, that was a fulfilling activity!

The other day I got to visit Pages, a new independent coffee bar and bookshop in Conway, MA. Conway is to the north of Amherst, around Greenfield I think. Anyway, Conway is also home to a horse-plowed farm, which I think I may have mentioned that I visited with my Vegetable Production class last semester. I’m starting to have good associations. I’m acquainted with the owner of Pages, and I’m impressed with what she’s started. Not only does she carry used books, she incorporates as much local food/coffee/tea product as she can… local made, fresh, non-frozen pastries that are *heavenly*

Tried to buy Orion at work the other day, but couldn’t find it. I guess I’ll try (ugh) Barnes and Noble.