Sunflowervillager's Blog

Growing into community

Patience, Compromise, Focus October 11, 2011

Patience, compromise and focus seem to be the order of the day.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the University and I was fortunate enough to snag a few minutes with the professor I respect most. We had a conversation about where I’m at and where I’m determined to go. I told him my thoughts and plans. He understands me well. He helped me re-recognize that my classic obstacles is that “you want it, you want it all, and it you want it yesterday”. He helped me set it straight. “Get yourself the job, give yourself time to get used to it. Build your living community. It is going to take time and all of your energy as it’s no easy thing. THEN when that is somewhat established, you can do your non-profit or maybe go to grad-school. But if you try to do everything at once, you aren’t going to do any of it well”. This is hard stuff for me to hear, but I can listen and get myself to change when this man says it. It works: that its, it helps me polish myself so I can accomplish what I want to. So I keep going back, tears or no (usually some tears).

The other thing that Prof and I talked about, echoed in conversations with others I trust and respect, is the need for compromise. Hypothetically it is clear to me that I cannot wake up tomorrow in the world of which I dream. I have to compromise with the world as it exists, or I will become paralyzed in dreamer’s theory and never able to move it to action. The tricky part is how to compromise without feeling like I’m selling out. What is key here is to remember that I have a transformative drive. That is to say, my desire to build a better society is not affected by what work I do or who I do it for. Still, there are some things which I would find entirely too hypocritical in light of what I have concluded so far, such as working for a fast-food, factory-farm supplied establishment.

Recent events on a national scale, the Occupy movements, are something of growing interest to me. At first I felt only mildly interested – up til now, widespread perception and my personal experience of the effectiveness of demonstrations is that they don’t seem to accomplish much. Partly because in contemporary decades, they are too often too easy to ignore and dismiss. This time it is different. The protests on Wall Street have spread to other cities and towns across the USA. It is exciting to see so many Americans uniting around this kind of action. It is sprouting critically needed dialogues, between people’s convergent needs and suffering, and their diverse voices and experiences and concerns. My appreciation for this dialogue is accompanied by adrenaline rushes of excitement, this is the kind of dialogue which makes me feel happy, hopeful, excited.

This morning, a convoluted thought process brought me around to an epiphany about how my personal struggles are reflected on a wider scale, and vice versa. It was a torrent of thoughts and visualizations and experiences, and suddenly I found that my brain had rewired to allow a broader perspective, for compromise. For a long time, I have been very suspicious of all corporations. But what I came around to this morning was that we now have corporations which empower us. Without the companies that develop and make my laptop, my phone, my internet service, etc, I would be a lot further away from my dreams. I would not be now sharing this post with you, or having dialogues between towns or states or countries at the ease of touching my finger to a button or a screen. Some of these companies don’t just provide world-changers with tools, but themselves offer a renewed hope to families and individuals. There are companies with real benefits (not that fake bare-minimum stuff), with unions and potential for living wages. That’s not to say that we should not Occupy, ask questions, have dialogues. I still aspire for new economic systems (note the s), which provide greater stability and self-reliance in Americans. But we need some of those corporations, and I need to start being nicer to those. Wall Street is not going to go away tomorrow, and we’d be in some trouble if it did. I want to be clear, and encourage protesters to be clear, about which corporations (I will not say “who”) we protest, and why. I’m not mad at AT&T

Patience, me. Job first, practice wise compromises, continue dialogues and building relationships.  Patience world-changers, non-violent social revolution is needs be a slow process, full of dialogue and self-reflection. It also needs meaningful, sustained action and well-considered development of alternatives. Keep it up!



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.


S Definitions June 21, 2011

I’m working on getting the vision for SVI into one coherent document. I’ve started by defining the three “S” primary values of the Initiative. I’d love feedback, and I’m sure these will be edited in the future. Thanks for reading!


Sustainability is literally the capacity to sustain over time. Term used by the environmental movement to refer to practices or series of practices/systems which support the capacities of ecosystems to continue to function properly while providing resources for human activities. This term has become highly popular, to the point of having such broad definitions and use that its use is often meaningless, having been co-opted into many other contexts. Sustainability in the sense of SVI refers primarily to ecological sustainability. This means reducing the impact through encouraging the use of products and systems which are locally sourced, locally produced, repairable, multi- and re-useable, recyclable, biodegradable from least-at-risk habitats, land managed for the benefit of the broad whole with best environmental practices


Subsidiarity is the Principle that tasks and activities should occur at the most local level practical. The most important quality of Subsidiarity is that it argues that local people should have the greatest say in local issues. Of course everything is interconnected and people from local communities have the responsibility to not negatively impact neighboring communities or the well-being of the larger society. Without restricting access to human rights, local people should decide the rules for their community in terms of economic principles and social practices. Unfortunately, at present, many decisions are made at such a “high” level that the people who are most affected by those decisions in their daily lives have little voice, despite votes, ballots, and public forums.

Subsidiarity as an economic principle offers stability of employment, containment of recessions/depressions, and stronger currency by virtue of being backed up by closer approximations to the actual value of goods and services. In some cases, the efficiency offered by engaging in subsidiarity may reduce costs. Subsidiarity supports sustainability by encouraging the use of local products and businesses before ones further away. This reduces the amount of gasoline burned in transportation, the packaging of products due to shipping, wear and tear on roads (and thus reduced need to use petroleum in their repair). From a health perspective, locally grown foods are often fresher and exposed to less chemicals. They are also at lower risk for the spread of disease through the industrial food chain.


Solidarity is the idea that the struggles for justice faced by other people are just as important as those which affect us personally. Genuine solidarity is not patronizing or merely agreeing with the principles of equality and fairness. It recognizes the equality of all people. By identifying oneself with those afflicted by injustices, people who express solidarity contribute to shifting opinions which create the foundation of change. When people who express solidarity take action in partnership with those directly affected, they become an important factor in the achievement of social, economic, political, and cultural justice.

Today, economic and cultural justice are often missing aspects of intentional communities oriented around sustainability. Because of this, many people who would like to participate in the sustainable lifestyle opportunities offered by intentional communities are directly or indirectly denied access. Economic barriers such as income requirements prevent hard-working, intelligent people with low-paying jobs from entry, while people from diverse cultural backgrounds may be made to feel uncomfortable in communities which shun meat or dairy or are primarily Caucasian in composition. There is a critical need for existing and forming intentional communities to reflect on how they can integrate social justice into a broader vision of sustainability.


Dialogue, Writing, India, Gardening July 12, 2010

Chris and Marcia came over to chant this evening, and it was wonderful to hear from them about their dreams and ideas, particularly from Chris. They listened to me too. Although the phrase “make the impossible possible” didn’t come up so directly, much of the discussion was about how we actually go about doing that, about dividing huge dreams into smaller, connected goals that make the dream seem more possible, and therefore more exciting and tangible.

I’ve been doing some of this already. Through a book on How to Start a Nonprofit, I’ve been working through some important details and motivations. I’ve typed up a bunch of it, and perhaps I’ll post some of it too, with a little more editing.

I don’t know how much I’ve written about it here, but I’m working towards spending next semester studying in India. The program I’m in is called Sustainable Development and Social Change, through SIT, (The School for International Training, located in Vermont). The connection between this and the Sunflower Village Initiative is that I believe that my thinking and actions about SVI will be clarified through this program. By making a connection to Sustainable Development and Social Change in India, I will strengthen, from experience, the ability for intentional communities to positively impact interactions with impoverished countries, as well as making the village inclusive of multiple cultural experiences and non-white perspectives. So in my application for the program, I wrote a good deal about how I think that the program will do this. Something else I can add here.

My friend Mamta is gone for a few weeks, and she has offered me a great opportunity. I get to water and harvest her vegetables while she’s gone! I go the first time tomorrow. I’m going to bring home some basil, and hopefully a tomato or two will be ready! I’m sure some zucchini will be set, since they were coming ripe last week. It will be good to get out and do some garden work. I haven’t done much gardening in a long time, so this will feel wonderful, and save us some money too!


Broadening Horizons and Education Considerations January 11, 2010

Filed under: anthropology,geography,school,social investment,wage — Saera @ 2:08 am

Hello all, I apologize for my long absence from posting. The end of the semester was pretty busy for me, and then I was gone for a few weeks to visit my family. One of the things that I got to do before I left was to meet with some people who I have been discussing the possibility of some kind of land trust with. We still haven’t come to any conclusions about what form that might take, but we’re getting closer and coming to know each other better as we go along.

I have been considering the village from a broader perspective lately. Part of this is due to the Economic Geography class I had last semester. Another influence is my desire to study abroad, probably India, but perhaps Brazil. What I’m finding in my search for the right study abroad program is that my interests lie mostly in Sustainable Development and studies which connect Sustainability to surrounding cultures. Also, I have been considering my personal situation. I find that myself and many friends I know are uncomfortable with the options for developing what are often considered reliable or strong finances. This is because some of those options are based on the exploitation of other peoples and conformity to societal norms which discourage so much inspiration, self-fulfillment, and compassion. However, what happens is that a lot of these people, including me, find themselves at low level, low paying jobs, in little position to take the kind of action capable of shifting where things are going on the broad societal level. At first when I decided to focus on Anthropology and Geography and to continue to grad school, my primary consideration was to establish the knowledge and credentials to support the development of the village. But now my thoughts also include how to support myself, possibly earning more than I need to live to create savings towards the village. It now includes a stronger desire to be a vibrant force to contribute to the international intentional communities movement, and to the broader issues of Sustainable Development and the kind of work that Anthropology is capable of supporting.

Towards this, my goals for the next couple of years are looking something like this: Study Abroad in India (or perhaps Brazil), Graduate from Umass, and be accepted to SIT (School for International Training) for their one year’s Graduate program in Sustainable Development. I might also consider Goddard, which I think has a program in Sustainable Communities. After that, I’m not sure whether I’ll pursue more education or concentrate on finding a long term work position. I know that one of the things that has also occurred to me is getting my teaching certificate, and I am considering becoming a professor.


Child’s Fall, Rediscovered first version. November 24, 2009

Filed under: Demeter,interconnected,intergenerational,social investment — Saera @ 8:00 pm

I remember when
pretend was enough,
All we needed in a few elements:
a place to warm up and rest,
enough food to fuel us,
the simple props we
discovered around us,
(ready at hand –
something to spark the imagination)
and, often, each other

Now I dream and imagine,
and wonder how to leap the gap
between my biggest dreams and the stark realities


Intentional Communities – general background November 12, 2009

Filed under: economy,organization,social investment — Saera @ 1:23 am

A lot of great stuff is going on at the Economic Geography Wiki:
I’ve also been working on my midterm for that class, a strong portion of which is general information about intentional communities. It’s a little long, and not quite finished, but it’s important background that helps clarify the wider movement that the Sunflower Village Initiative is a part of. Some of it I took out since I originally posted it here in the first place…

My diverse economy topic is Intentional Communities and their diverse economic practices. An intentional community is a community of people who live together or near each other, based on similar values, beliefs, purposes, goals, or lifestyles. Communities are set up to address such varied concerns as poverty, loneliness, supportive environments for physical or mental health, environmentally conscious living, LBGTQ friendly lifestyles, social, economic, environmental, and political justice. They are also sometimes set up as places for producers who have difficulty surviving financially in capitalist systems, such as artists, artisans, and farmers. Many communities combine a variety of these concerns. One thing that pervades is that this is a conscious choice to live with certain other people or types of people, creating a specific environment.

Some intentional communities are quite small, consisting of  only 5 to 10 people, while others are larger, sometimes numbering 100 to 200 people. As communities designed by people who live there, intentional community structures and styles vary dramatically. However, there are some elemental trends which are often found in intentional communities. For example, most intentional communities have some kind of system which allows a strong degree of democracy. One exception to this are many religious communities associated with a particular sect or order. In these cases, communities often follow the religious hierarchy. Communities which strive for a democratic system of governance often operate with one of the following forms, or some combination thereof: consensus, 2/3s vote, majority vote, board of directors, or rotating council. Some intentional communities share much of their economic activities, while others share relatively little.

Why do you think your topic is important?
My topic is important because it presents a different way about conceptualizing what community is and how it is organized. It represents a contrast to the current models, which tend to define communities in terms of random geographic location, religion, ethnicity, or income type. Often these communities are fractured, exclusive, incomplete, disempowered, or disorganized. As a group of people intentionally united around similar values, beliefs, or purposes, intentional communities have the power to be or become holistic, inclusive, empowered, organized, broadly encompassing, and locally grounded. This has strong implications for the current and future organization of our society.

What do you want other people to know about it? Why?

One of the most important realizations people can have about intentional communities is that they continue to exist, be founded, and have long term success.

What are it’s strengths and problems as an economic form or activity?
Since economic set-up varies with type of intentional community and the way that community has addressed general economy according to its values, specific strengths and weaknesses vary. One good example of this is illustrated by a closer look at ecovillages. (took this part out since I wrote it here before)

How does it vary over time and space, I.e. historically and geographically?
Intentional communities, while not always known by that name, have a long history. While it did not last very long, in one sense, the Paris Commune that was developed during the French Revolution was an intentional community. Utopian and other communities have long existed in Europe and elsewhere, sometimes in the form of monasteries or convents. In the United States in the 1800s, utopian communities and religions settlements were not unusual. The most famous of these include the Shakers, the Quakers, and Mormons. But many writers attempted Utopian communities as well, including several in the Boston area. Many people also think of the 1960s in the United States and elsewhere. In fact, this era is when many current intentional communities got started. After Haight-Ashbury became overrun with the second wave of hippies, many of the original group left the area to pursue a life closer to nature. Some of these people tried their hand at farming, only to find that it was more work than they expected. Most of them also lacked the knowledge and skills. Drug use and a high degree of transience also detracted from the success of many attempted communities. But eventually some of these groups got serious and began developing intentional communities, based on shared values such as closeness to the land, egalitarianism, and pacifism. Some of these communities, although partially successful, only lasted 1-5 years before disbanding due to such varied reasons as lack of success in farming, financial issues, lack of commitment, personal transience, and many forms of social discord. Many people today assume that these communities were all or mostly failed experiments. However, that is a myth perpetrated by peoples’ own disillusionments and ignorance. An unacknowledged wellspring of inspiration, ideas, knowledge came from the community experiments of the 60s, as well as the wealth of still extant communities, born then and thriving now.

How does it relate to other hidden and alternative economic activities and organizations?
Intentional communities sometimes have other alternative and hidden economic activities built in. According to, communes are 100% income sharing. This is highly alternative, since mainstream America rarely has that much income sharing, particularly amongst people who may not have any biological relationships. Some communes pool their individually earned incomes, while others, such as Twin Oaks, engage in communally operated industries, such as hammock making, farming, preserves and canned goods, other food products, and crafts. I am not familiar with examples, but it seems logical that an intentional community could easily set up a co-op to fund the community. Barter and housework, especially childcare, have important places in many intentional communities. It is natural for intentional communities to share housework for shared spaces and buildings. In communes of the 60s, it was common to barter clothing and personal goods, and it would make sense for much of this to continue today. Intentional communities also sometimes participate in the underground markets, including the black market. This is particularly true of any community which allows the use of marijuana or other drugs, due to their illegal nature. Because so much work in the community goes unpaid, paid in kind, or paid under the table, it tends to be unrecognized in conventional economics. I would guess that intentional communities are rarely implicated in slave or forced labor, due partially to the intentional involvement of members, but also to values of human rights and equality commonly held by intentional communities.

How does it relate to capitalist businesses, market transactions, and wage labor? Capital businesses seem to generally ignore intentional communities and their economics. However, entities such as Whole Foods sometimes have house accounts for intentional communities. Sirius is an example of this. A house account allows a representative account holder to come and shop, then charge the bill to a tab which is later paid off by the house account. This system is generally reserved for the very wealthy, non-profits, conventional businesses, or intentional communities. It allows a simplification of bookkeeping for the account holders, so that they only make payments once a month or so, instead of more frequently. Some intentional communities are initiated as a response to capitalist business models, with values flatly rejecting capitalist values.

What is being done in communities/nations to support, strengthen, undermine, or eradicate it?
One of the things that strongly undermines intentional communities is misperception. Many people have the attitude that intentional communities are only failed experiments from the 60s and that no such communities exist today. The image that intentional communities no longer exist, or else are drug-infested rejects from the 60s detracts from the spread of intentional communities as a viable economic and social alternative.