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!
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.
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!
A group of five people has come together to form an intentional community! Tuesday was the third meeting.
I was reluctant to talk about this prematurely because it is easy to have one meeting. Two means the idea isn’t dead. A third makes you feel like this thing could go somewhere meaningful. As one of the members of this group, it is exciting seeing us coming together around the dream of living in an intentional community. Right now there’s a lot of conversation about what we want in our community and why. Before anyone asks, we’re not rushing into living together or buying land. We’re laying the foundations of our community culture first, which will make us much stronger once we’re ready for the physical manifestations of our community. I”m excited to see what we talk about next!
Forming a community March 25, 2014
Tonight I had a second discussion with people about forming an intentional community for ourselves. I am so delighted to know these people, and I am so encouraged by these beginnings we’re having together. I really appreciated everyone’s contributions. Some of my old ideas got refined tonight, and it was exciting that my idea about how a community might divide labor was readily accepted. Much more to write about. I’m looking forward to our next discussion!
Seeds of a community March 20, 2014
Over the years, I’ve struggled about whether to use my energies on starting a non-profit or an intentional community first. I have tried the non-profit route several times, thinking that the resources a non-profit could offer would make it easier for a fledgling community to get started. However, my efforts to pull together a sufficiently committed and empowered board have been limited. I have also been finding it increasingly important that I myself live in an intentional community. Towards that end, I’ve initiated a new round of discussions with my most ardent allies about creating an intentional community of our own. I’m not interested in running out to buy land or a house or anything of the kind. I have always believed it crucial that a community first form it’s central relationships, tenets, and cultural aspects *before* investing in land and other forms of infrastructure. I hope we’ll do this by having frequent discussions, but also by using our summer to visit existing communities, have outings together, and hopefully go camping for a few days. None of these things will guarantee what it would be like to live together, but it will deepen bonds and help us practice working out our logistics and preferences. I’m hoping that within a year, we’ll be solid enough that we can start taking more concrete steps. 🙂
The Much Delayed 2013 Harvest Report March 19, 2014
For the last year, I’ve been without my own computer. Thanks to the crowdfunding campaign a dear friend ran on my behalf, I was granted money to purchase a new laptop, on which I am delighted to be writing this post.
Last summer was beautiful. I planted crops again. This time I planted the sunflowers in a circle, inspired by an image on facebook which Nicole shared with me. I loved the results, and I’ll be doing that again this year. But at least the first planting will be primarily red sunflowers, as I’ve been commissioned to grow red ones for a wedding! I also grew 7 mammoth sunflowers. They were cool, but on the whole I think I prefer the smaller ones. I tried harvesting the seeds. I rubbed the heads together and that loosened some of them, and picked the rest out of the flower head by hand, with some help from M. But shelling them proved too big a challenge, so I still have most of them in a tupperware. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll plant more this year.
Last year I also experimented with growing Oaxacan green dent corn. Oaxaca is one of the regions in Mexico where corn is thought to have been first bred from teosinte, corn’s grassy predecessor. It turned out gorgeous: gem-like hues of amethyst, emerald, and teal. But it’s the kind of corn you feed to animals or use for tamales. It’s not very tasty eating corn. But I’m glad I tried it. I also planted cherry tomatoes, Purple Cherokees (which I loved in 2012) and Green Sausages. I didn’t like the Green Sausages very much, and I’ll go back to Green Zebras this year. I’m going to plant fewer plants… I always end up with 18-20 and that’s far too many. Maybe 3 bushes each of Purple Cherokee, Green Zebra, and Cherry. And maybe 1 of another kind of red. I also did peas for the first time since I was a kid. They were great. I did a pretty standard variety, and a pretty purple-shelled variety, which had slightly less tasty but still good green peas on the inside. I think I’ll grow some more of those too. I grew basil which thrived pretty well. And last, I tried growing poblano peppers. I took way way way too long to transfer them from 1″ planters to 3″ planters, and again from the 3″ planters to the garden. But you know what? I got peppers anyway! They started flowering in late August, and I found 2-4 inch peppers all the way into October. Even if you mistreat and abandon your plants, you still often get food.
This year, I’m hoping to also grow carrots, spinach, and maybe potatoes or something like that, as well as herb and maybe a few other flowers.