Sunflowervillager's Blog

Growing into community

Sunflower Village hosts its first info session! November 11, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saera @ 11:58 pm

Today, Saera Hanlon, Joy Auciello and Katie Gartner, board members of Sunflower Village, hosted an info session for prospective Villagers.


Saera, founder of the Village, introduced herself noting that as a young person, she thought she wanted to pursue a career in education until she went to college. After thinking it over she had a surprising revelation: “I realized that I wanted to live in a medieval village with modern technology.”


She set out to get her modern village, but not knowing anything about intentional communities or tiny houses, she began talking with the people around her about it. She did have a few critical understandings of how to establish village life as she set out on this journey toward the formation of the Sunflower Village. One of her core beliefs is that while people have so many diverse ways of living, human culture is inextricably linked to land and to community.


“Sometimes when we talk about ‘community’, we think about it as a social thing, or sometimes as a spiritual thing, but for me it comes back to economics. The same goes for land, we might appreciate it for its beauty, but it does connect to economics in a very important way,” she explained.


So what’s the connection from Village life to economics? Saera explained that in 2017, the average person is living under risky economic circumstances:

“We are encouraged to think of ourselves as consumers instead of producers. We talk about what people are buying and what people are willing to pay for things, rather than looking at people as capable of making things. I think about that shift in thinking about ourselves—how we can transform ourselves into producers thus increasing our independence.”


Rent and home ownership are also huge costs for people at this point in time. The risk and instability created by rent costing a third or more of a person’s income, or the enormous mortgages taken on by families does not leave room for savings. There is also, she says, a pressure for people to be mobile and “follow the jobs or follow the education.”


Sunflower Village plans to lessen the burden on its Villagers by sharing land, labor, income and other resources in order to create economic stability, strong local networks, and working relationships in the place where we live. Village land, perhaps acquired via land trust, will be owned by and accessible to the whole community. Small homes and tiny houses can be built by individuals on the land, which will allow for people to have customizable private homes. But to foster community ties and skill sharing, common houses and spaces will be central and open to all Villagers.


“Ultimately it will come back to the people involved, but the goal is for people to pursue meaningful work while contributing to the community. It’s also really important for Villagers to be able to develop skills related to living in a rural environment. If we are able to do more things ourselves and if we have more skills in general, that will improve everyone’s situation.”


Strategy is messy! November 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saera @ 12:17 am

The last week has been full of productive conversations! A talk with my advisor about scope – the strategy of getting to a common house is a thorny one. Either you start with an undeveloped piece of land that needs a lot of money and work to build a common house and infrastructure for tiny houses, or you need an existing structure that will suit the community’s needs, or you shoestring it – start with a temporary common house that serves as housing while people build tiny houses and until you can design and build a permanent one. My advisor pointed out that the choice of strategy for this one affects the scope of the project in a myriad of ways – from investment to the community design. I’m presently in favor of the last option because I think it gets people living in community and building tiny houses factor, but it’s an important consideration that will need much deeper analysis. It could end up costing a lot more money in the long run, and delays implementing the full design of the community. It warrants further analysis!

In the meantime, I had talks with board members on how things are developing on the Core Components, Phases, and Milestones. My work on those made the whole plan a lot clearer to them much as it did to me. Joy had a great point about splitting up the goals for Community Ventures into cash-generating and what we called “enrichment” – benefits that related to the other goals of Sunflower Village. Both are important and ultimately we want community ventures to be both profitable on their own and contributing to other aspects of Sunflower Village, but it might not always be possible to have them be both. How we talk about them and prioritize them are important pieces of strategy.

I buckled down last weekend to dug back into how the income and labor sharing system will work. Ultimately I realized that despite my efforts at descriptions, charts, and guidelines, ultimately the Villagers will have to negotiate income and labor sharing among themselves in ordert to achieve milestones. We need to be explicit about the value of this system in creating economic stability, but the details are going to depend on who the Villagers actually are: their experiences, attitudes, and personal situations are going to deeply affect how they achieve economic stability. What we can do is recommend strategies to explore.

Screenshot (2)This weekend, I worked on getting ready for the Sunflower Village Info Session! It’s happening next Saturday, November 11 from 10-11:30 at  28 Vernon Street, Room 2D, Brattleboro, VT. RSVP on the Sunflower Village Facebook page!


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.



Entrepreneurship July 6, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saera @ 11:12 pm

I’m writing a paper for class on “What is Entrepreneurship”. After reading and brainstorming a bit, I was contemplating the concept on my drive home. Maybe this is already clear to others, but I realized that Gandi, Martin Luther King Jr, Tsuneseboro Makaguchi, and Josei Toda were all entrepreneurs. Fascinating!


Sunflowers as Symbols

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saera @ 4:16 am

For me, sunflowers became a multifaceted symbol of intentional community, and I want to share more about why that is. They are a plant indigenous to North America, which makes them a great symbol of valuing our local resources. Sunflowers both beautiful and useful: they offer flowers to look at and attract pollinators, seeds and oil for food and animal feed, and the stalks have been used to make paper. Sunflowers are a great example of resilience. They grow in most soils. People often have the perception that sunflower plants only produce a single flower, but that is only true of the giant sunflower. Other varieties form branches and these branches all flower. When you cut a flower, more grow! For me, this creates a sense of abundance, and I see the determination to create in adversity.

For the past several years, I have planted sunflowers, usually in a circle. When I see those flowers growing together, I can’t help but think of community. Seed packets will tell you to plant the sunflowers spaced far apart. They need some space, but I don’t thin seedlings that I started in the same pot. They produce perfectly beautiful sunflowers, right next to each other. To me, this is a lot like the societal pressures to be individualistic and finding that we can grow happily and beautifully, right next to each other. I argue that a circle of sunflowers growing merrily in a circle, or even a bunch of giants growing in a cluster are far more beautiful than a single sunflower

I see how they enrich the ecology of my garden. They attract the most diversity of bees I have seen in one place, ranging from ones smaller than my pinky nail up to ones 2″ long! They also attract birds, which eat bugs they find in the long grass habitat in the middle of the circle of sunflowers. The birds like to try to beat me to the seeds as the flowers die. That long grass also provides cover to creatures bigger than bugs. I once startled a rabbit out of the circle as I passed it on the way to the garden!

The flowers also offer a source of supplemental income, and a chance to participate in producing for the local economy. I put them in jars and sell them by the side of the road. The giant sunflowers I am growing this year are from seed I saved last year, increasing my self-reliance and reducing my dependence on capitalism. It isn’t just what we grow, but how we grow them and what we do with the products that is meaningful.

All the sunflowers you see in connection with this blog or the Facebook page were grown and photographed by me. Ultimately, sunflowers symbolize to me hope and determination. They are the result of taking my ideas and dreams and turning them into reality.


Update at last! 2015!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saera @ 4:13 am

A lot changes in a year and three months! Last spring, I held several meetings about forming an intentional community. I learned that I needed to develop a bigger group, and that I needed to prepare more and provide more structure to the meetings. I also learned to set clearer expectations. I decided that I really needed more structure in my efforts and I also needed to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to starting a nonprofit. In late summer, I was accepted to the Managing Mission Driven Organizations program at Marlboro Graduate and Professional Studies in Brattleboro, Vermont. I took Project Management the first trimester, which helped me learn about the agility approach to managing a project, and helped me come up with a project plan. This included discussions as the first phase of the project. I’m happy to report that I’ve been implementing those discussions. I’ve formed and deepened some newer friendships in the last year, and some of those people want to build community with me, in addition to people who have been talking about a community with me for years. We’ve been meeting, and last week marked the sixth discussion! We’ve started discussing our economic model, which I think will include sharing land, some kind of pooling of labor and income, and helping each other build tiny houses!

This term, I’m taking a great class called New Venture Creation. It’s all about creating new organizations, based on developing a solid business plan. I’ve been researching a lot of different components – land and tiny house costs, septic tanks, zoning laws, and funding. One of the things I did last week was to contact some of the local communities to ask questions about how they’ve done things. This past Tuesday, I visited Katywil in Colrain, MA, and met with Bill. He was very kind and helpful, and answered my questions. I learned that he’s the reason that Colrain has implemented clustering into its zoning bylaws. Clustering makes it much easier for an intentional community to meet the zoning requirements of a town. Bill spent 4 years convincing the town to pass those laws, and I’m very grateful. It’s great legislation and I recommend it as an example for other towns. I’ve got a lot of great information and ideas. This week I’m going to be pulling it together and making it coherent. In a few weeks, I’ll be presenting it to my class. I’m getting excited about that!