Sunflowervillager's Blog

Growing into community

Summer Realizations & the Business Plan September 21, 2017


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!


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.


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.


Tuesday Market September 2, 2009

Filed under: Demeter,food/agri/garden,social investment,subsidiarity — Saera @ 1:29 am

I went to the Tuesday Farmer’s Market today. I don’t go every Tuesday, but I’ve been a fair bit this summer. It’s one thing to see what’s considered “seasonal” at a grocery store like the one where I work and another to see what’s *locally* in season. There is some cross-over, but I have noticed through the course of the summer that the “season” for most things is stretched out quite a bit at the store by shipping things in, like blueberries from Mexico six or seven weeks before the first ones are available here. But the things at the market are beautiful, at least if not more beautiful and diverse than the products at the store. Today I found something at the market which I have never seen anywhere else: fresh, locally grown GINGER, the root still attached to the stem and leaves. Even the leaves smell spicy and exotically like the root. I misread the sign initially, and I thought they were $12 each. Turns out they were $12 per pound. I bought two small stemmed ones, and they were only $2.25. Really that isn’t much more than what I usually spend for ginger. But these roots are lovely and white, still moist from the ground, and with the top layer of the ginger tinged mauve before it starts branching and leafing. The farmer I bought it from noted that the leaves aren’t much good for eating, since they’re so fibrous. But he also told me that they make great tea and soup. There was a lot of other great variety. I found little purple onions that looked like shallots at 10 for a dollar. That was a good deal. And a stand was selling nothing but mushrooms: shitaakes and chantarelles for only $4/pint. But I forgot to go back and get them, I was so distracted by the ginger! I hope they are there next week. There was a lot more that I would have liked to stock up with. But I have a confession to make: we haven’t been fully appreciative of the produce we have had lately, and too much went to the compost bin without becoming part of a meal. So today I was careful.

I keep re-realizing is that I’m not much of an in-season cook, and I’m also not skilled at food preservation. A lot of things I only know how to use one or two ways. Take zucchini for example. I know zucchini bread can be awesome. I’ve never made any myself, but my mom always made some in the summer, and I’ve had some from other people that is generally good. And I know it can be good in pasta sauce, so a couple of weeks ago I grated some up and used it to thicken my home-made chunky sauce. Last week Ann brought in a gigantic zucchini from the garden, and I still have one from the Farmer’s Market. I know only so much can go into pasta sauces, and I can only envision making 2 or 3 loaves of zucchini bread. So I guess it’s time to get into some research about what to do with the rest.

One other note: at the laundromat today, I picked up Green Living. It’s been a long time since I really looked at it, or any other of the many publications now in existence with such similar values and goals to what I’m working toward. It was refreshing, got my imagination and inspiration going a bit more… made me want to compile things and take notes and write responses. So I need to keep in mind how important it is to keep that kind of input coming. Been thinking about purchasing Orion for awhile now, since Kara seems to like it, so I think I’ll do that at work this week.

Thanks for reading!


A mouthful March 3, 2009

Filed under: family,intergenerational,social investment,subsidiarity — Saera @ 1:44 am

The term Sunflower Village Initiative has been kicking around in my notebooks and thoughts for about a year now. It’s the bigger picture for me… the idea that I don’t want to just start another intentional community. It’s a critical time in the existence of Terra, and we need something bigger than that. While I appreciate the many communities which already exist, I see the need for this to become something more. Right now a lot of the communities that exist are only for a select type of people. We need that to become available for everyone, without losing sight of what we’re about. I don’t propose a homogenization of any kind. I believe firmly in the principle of subsidiarity – that is, that everything that can be done at the most local level should be done first, and only then should the next level up be resorted to.

Any thorough study of history will yield the fact that the modern (sorry to use the word) nuclear family is a very recent invention indeed. Up through the earlier part of last century (the 1900s) in the United States, it was much more common for even the most urban families to have several generations living nearby, if not together. And more rural families, while sometimes quite distant from each other, were in tight-knit communities which relied on each other for survival. This trend for local, small-scale, intergenerational communities has been the trend for thousands of years of human existence, with good reasons. People most local to an area have the most knowledge about the real circumstances present and what has the best chance of actually improving those conditions. Anthropology and other social studies are finally showing evidence that humanity thrives on cooperation more than competition. We survive better if we help each other live, and we can do that by rebuilding community in the truest sense of the world. Right now we are so compartmentalized…. the people at home, the people at work, the people at school, the people in the actual towns where we live (since so many of us commute in some form). What if more of those people in different groups were the same people? Wouldn’t we have more meaning and context in our lives?

A week from last Wednesday, I fell hard on my hands and sprained a few fingers. I’m alright, really. I’m sharing this to make a point. When I moved to Northampton, I hardly knew anyone. Without the community that I’ve connected with through my Buddhist practice, I might be connected primarily with coworkers and Umass students. Both of these groups of people are good people, but when I was trying to figure out the best way to get the healthcare I needed, it was the people with whom I had invested the most. Although I didn’t need all the help offered, it felt good to realize how truly connnected I am to people who aren’t fairweather friends. That to me is a lot of what is missing in our society. The other aspect is a lack of that kind of intimacy with Terra. If we invest in her, like the people we love, she too can be there when we need her, not just when we feel like appreciating all she has to share.

My apologies if this first post is a bit rough. Sometimes everything related to these ideas gets so tied together for me that I have difficulties seperating them out so that they’re as eloquent and coherent as I’d like to become about all of this.