Sunflowervillager's Blog

Growing into community

New Perspectives January 24, 2017

Filed under: geography,nonprofit development,organization — Saera @ 11:03 pm

I haven’t posted for far too long. Shortly after my last post, a lot changed in my life. Throughout the autumn of 2015, there were long conversations and rounds of trying to figure out things before I parted ways with a former long-term partner that December. I found an awesome new job as a development coordinator at a local nonprofit in November 2015, which has given me a host of new skills and opportunities. It also has resulted in a much deeper understanding of how non-profits work. As I have grown personally and professionally and held dialogues with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances over the last year and a half, the core ideals of Sunflower Village have remained steady, while my understanding about how to manifest this dream into reality have been refined, clarified, and re-imagined.

One of the critical developments has been my learning about the roles of boards of directors in non-profits. During the discussion groups of 2015, I imagined that the board could simply be comprised of all of the villagers. There are three reasons I have moved away from this:

  • 1)The role of the board is more extensive and ongoing than I previously understood.
  • 2) I realized that some residents may not have the capacity or enthusiasm that is critical for an engaged, working board
  • 3) Sunflower VIllage needs the perspectives and expertise of non-residents who are passionate about the mission

As I have come to better understand how boards work, I have somewhat redesigned the organizational structure that the group created in 2015. I also further worked out detail on sharing labor and money.

Another shift is the decision to base Sunflower Village in southern Vermont. This region is conducive to the creation/development of this kind of intentional community for multiple reasons: the relative affordability of land in the quantities desirable, the cultural values of the region, the agricultural climate, the abundance of natural resources (such as land, fresh water, firewood), and legal policies and practices conducive to a community of tiny houses.

Vermont is a predominantly rural, low-population state, which still has a tradition of small-scale agriculture and gardening. Many of the towns are small, and like so many rural areas, are experiencing challenges of a shrinking and aging population as young people seek education and opportunities that rural areas presently struggle to offer. While being somewhat removed from large urban centers such as Boston & NYC, can access both of these centers via the I-91 highway, meaning it is only about 2 ½ -3 hours to Boston and 3 ½ -4 hours to NYC.

A third major development has been the addition of Joy Auciello to the Triad. I met Joy as a fellow student at Marlboro College. Many people have contributed to Sunflower Village over the last 10 years. Joy is one of the few to take her own initiative in furthering its manifestation, as she is presently doing through her research and projects in as she completes her MBA in Managing for Sustainability at Marlboro College’s later this spring. I am very excited to have her working with me. Joy does a lot to deepen and expand my thinking, and we are getting practical things done to get things going.

I am starting to reconnect to people to share the present vision for Sunflower Village, understand what concerns and interests people, and how people want to become involved, whether as Board Members, founding resident Villagers, or Supporters (who don’t presently wish to live at Sunflower Village, but are otherwise interested. Feel free to share here what you think at this point!

Thanks for reading!


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!


April 27, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Saera @ 9:39 pm

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!