Community life, deep ecology, transition

Positive Thinking in a Dark Age

jims-book-cover

Listening Tree Co-op cofounder Jim Tull has just published his book of essays, Positive Thinking in a Dark Age: Essays on the Global Transition.

Community life

Diversity is a verb

Phil's so white he has to bring shade. Just kidding! Though he is from Ireland where a sunny day is a rare thing, he was on medication for Lyme disease, so he had to stay out of the sun for a while.
Phil’s so white he has to wear shade. Just kidding, though he is from Ireland where a sunny day is a rare thing. But he was on medication for Lyme disease this summer, so he had to stay out of the sun for a while.

So far, the core group of founders of Listening Tree Coop is made of “white” people and with that comes a legacy of colonialism, which we discuss openly and challenge in ourselves and society. We hope to be inclusive and not oppressive, and welcome challenges to our privilege and assumptions.

We are feminists and egalitarians, and welcome queer and women’s leadership and participation (one of us identifies as queer). The men renounce the privilege of their gender and appreciate the freedom for other genders and themselves created by the egalitarian structure of our decision making and ownership. The two of us with materially privileged backgrounds recognize and seek dialogue to transform the ramifications of that privilege, which made the purchase of Listening Tree feasible, while rooted in systems of domination and oppression. We are actively anti-racist, internally and in the world.

The co-op is also kid-friendly and hopes to attract and will select for an intergenerational membership because we find the peer-group segregation in this culture (as in schools and day and senior care) to be one of the unspoken structural problems in the broader community.

We are mixed-income and mixed-class, and are working to make financing available to people who want to buy shares. The shared-house-plus-individual-outbuildings design makes the community more affordable than single family, cohousing, and even multifamily units. Utilities are virtually prepaid in the form of the solar array; heat will be by wood collected from the property; food will be grown by members for members, reducing living costs. Three of us have worked in affordable housing or energy and are deeply committed to innovating affordability methods.

In short, welcome, everyone!

Community life, organic farm

Midsummer harvests

Hocus Pocus Week #1

Hocus Pocus members are getting shares of the farm’s bounty each week.

The three farms at Listening Tree Coop–The Lee family’s farm, Hocus Pocus CSA, and our homestead farm, are fecund-o-rama as we approach August. Roosters crow, bunnies burrow into the coolth of soil, and veggies pour into the kitchen for feast after feast.

The weeds call to us a little louder than the blog, but we just wanted to post a few pictures of the farms and feasts to keep you posted.

 

Community life, transition

Our first composting toilet installed!

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Let me just say the yuck factor for me is the opposite of the cultural norm. To me, the most disgusting thing that can happen in an ordinary day is splash back of toilet water on my butt. Seriously, is there an amount of toilet paper you can put down first that ensures no splash back and doesn’t clog the toilet? I spent 57 years trying to find the right balance. But those days are officially over at Listening Tree Coop!

plunger saying goodbye
Plunger looking for a new home

I know, I also went to camp and got latrine duty more than once. So I get it why people think it’s a lifestyle change for the worse to recycle the nutrients in your pee and poop for the good of the soil, the water, and humanity.

However, a compost toilet is not, I repeat not, a smelly old outhouse. The Full Circle design Ben Goldberg and Conor Lally just put in at Listening Tree Coop is a gem of appropriate technology. Like most indoor composting toilets, it has a 4W fan that ensures a negative pressure in the toilet, and pulls the odors out through a special plumbing stack. The Full Circle also uses elegant engineering to make the most of the knowledge gained by decades of design and maintenance of various models since the first composting toilet came on the scene in 1973. It simplifies maintenance through modular and interchangeable collection and resting units.

Ben, Conor, and Tony.JPG
Ben Goldberg (center) explains the compost toilet installation to apprentice Conor Lally (left) and plumber Tony Hawkes (right).

And it’s a urine diverting system–which separates out the urine from the feces, etc.

But before I get too techie, which you can do at BuildingGreen, I want to outline why it’s so important to move away from flush toilets. They pollute water. No way out of that. It takes tons of energy, chemicals, and work to pump and purify water to be drinkable. Then to use most of our household clean water to flush our toilets is just ecologically insane. Sewage treatment plants spend tons more energy, chemicals, and work to clean water. As we slide down Hubbert’s curve off peak oil, we can’t afford to waste energy like that. And the effluent from sewage treatment is still not completely clean, so we rely on ecosystems to do the rest of the work, which they can’t always handle. Septic systems are worse: all leach and many fail, which pollutes ground water and water bodies.  With the global water crisis increasing, we can’t afford to defile any more water with insufficiently treated waste.

Which brings us to the most important piece. Flush toilets turn resources into waste. Poop and pee are actually resources, if handled the right way. We close the circle if we return them to soil as nutrients. Because urine is so high in nitrogen, peecyling avoids the need for natural gas-based fertilizers. To learn more about cutting edge research on peecycling for farming, check out the Rich Earth Institute. To see (and pee in) our compost toilet, come to our next potluck and/or farm workday, April 30. I promise, no splash backs.

Karina

you poop in it

Community life, transition

Block Power

block power

 

by Jim Tull
People know what they do.
And most know why they do what they do.
But what they don’t know is what what they do does.
– Michael Foucault
Nobody went to jail. No one burned down the State House or forcibly removed the President of the United States from office. What a few people on our city block on the south side of Providence decided to do instead was something more radical, if less dramatic. We tried to get our neighbors to turn to each other a little bit more for personal support. As radical – meaning ‘getting to the root’ – as this idea and subsequent project were, I later discovered that one ingredient was missing from our community-building endeavor that would make it and perhaps thousands of similar trials happening elsewhere more radical, and possibly radical enough to push the world past a tipping point on the way to just, sustainable living.

The project
Before purchasing a two-family house on Gallatin St., my family lived just two streets away in a three-family limited-equity cooperative, which we had converted from a private residence owned by an absentee landlord. Like most city folks, we knew our immediate neighbors enough to greet them by name. The other block residents were mostly nameless faces. But when we purchased our new home I resolved to greet each new neighbor I bumped into, learn names and addresses and introduce myself. I met a lot of people and recorded each name on a map I created of the 36- household block. But early on I discovered that my new neighbors seemed to know each other a fair bit more than neighbors did on my old block. I learned that eight years prior to our move a college student living on the block chose to organize a block party to fulfill a requirement for a class he was taking. The party became an annual event and naturally created a greater sense of community.

A few years after our move, as I was getting to know more neighbors, and coincidentally rethinking my assumptions about social change, I became convinced that building community – local, very small scale networks – was a more radical path to social transformation and ecological sustainability than what I was doing in my vocational life. For work, I was feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, witnessing in direct action for peace and justice and trying, through coalition work, to get the government (and other institutions) to meet human needs and respect human rights. All the while I was living simply and riding my bike everywhere. These activities I was so devoted to (and still am to a degree) were important and useful, but not radical, not directly to the point of solving social problems much less of saving humanity or creating a better way to live.

Starting where I lived, I decided to take an active role in our informal, unincorporated, unnamed block association and encourage my neighbors to step beyond the more usual block activity and try to create a ‘consultation exchange’ directory. This tool would obligate residents, upon request, to provide initial consultation to a neighbor about something they are skilled at or know about. We reasoned that neighbors would enjoy sharing what they know in this way, but not be so inclined to actually do the work itself (to care for an elderly parent or replace a roof). It’s a first step to get neighbors to do for each other what many of us do for our friends and family – offer advice before seeking professional service. Of course, the initial help is sometimes sufficient and we are spared the need to spend.

Of the 36 households on our block (demographically, about 80% African-American, 10% Latino and 10% white, including working class, middle class professionals and families surviving on public assistance), 33 participated in creating the directory. Carolyn, the mom of the former college student who organized the first block party, needed herself to complete a service project toward a college degree and conducted most of the interviews. She simply asked, ‘What do you know about? What do you know how to do that you might share in some way to help out a neighbor?’ Many residents were slow to identify a skill or something they know that could be of use to a neighbor. They could make a list of needs they have or problems in the neighborhood, but they needed some prodding to name something they know about worthy of sharing. We needed to convince some that their skill/knowledge might potentially come in handy. I went ahead and listed ‘philosophy’ as something I know about, anticipating that one of our neighbors might just return from her first semester in college and declare to her parents that she wanted to major in the subject. Then I get the call and the troubleshooting begins. Unlikely, but you never know.

Project significance
We compiled a list and directory, with names, addresses and phone numbers and what each know or could do. The range of ‘gifts’ hidden in our houses – ‘unwrapped’, as John McKnight would say – provided a fresh perspective on who we were and what we could do. The survey process itself tightened the block, building relationships, bringing the block into living rooms and then back out. In most every way, this city block is indistinguishable from the others. But the cumulative effect of the parties, exchange directory and other community-building activity we’ve engaged in makes me draw this distinction: at the very least, the neighbors on this block are disposed to come together and tackle big challenges as a group. In the 1930’s, when the economy crashed, all the economic parts were in place to meet people’s needs – the tractors, the factories, the trains, the workers. But the systems that connect all the parts and make it all deliver smoothly fell apart. If the systems fail again, and we’re all left hanging, I can imagine my old neighbors on the other block frantically using their private telephones to get relief from various downtown agencies. But on Gallatin St. block one, I imagine 120 people of all sizes standing together in the middle of the street, holding out their hands, vaguely in the direction of each other, and asking, ‘What do we do now?’ This is the kind of block environment I want my family to live in. A block of very different people, all gifted, who are disposed at the very least to come together, turn to one another, for help and support. It’s a safer and more secure living environment, and it’s a happier one.

Lessons
Radical isn’t always dramatic. And it’s not always a matter of getting to the root of a problem. Sometimes it’s about getting to the root of what we need to do to get what we most want out of life. Block parties and consultation exchange directories don’t do much, in the wider scheme of things. But efforts like these point in a direction of a life we might prefer to live over what we have now. They are baby steps in a direction. So, for example, on the Gallatin St. block of 36 households, there are four men who either live in one of the homes or regularly visit as a relative or friend whom I personally served meals and/or shelter to at the center I worked for when I moved onto the block. They made me wonder, what if our block community provided these four men the support they needed so as to dismiss their reliance on the nonprofit agencies? What if their gifts were deployed on the block and in exchange they received the support they needed? A burden shared widely enough ceases to be a burden. And what next, if we decided to roll up the paved street and created a garden, play space and block ‘living room’ in its place? And shared cars parked on the block’s edge? What if we tried to feed ourselves?

The community way is radical because it represents a categorically different way of meeting needs and enjoying life than the systems we mostly depend on now that are grounded in relatively impersonal and hierarchically structured institutions and driven by the production and consumption of products, including service products. Genuine communities place members in a circle of support rather than in a pyramid powered by interpersonal competition for external rewards. Because wealth is defined in terms of relationships as well as place in a natural world and local geography, and in terms of affirmation, belonging and celebration, community systems are not inherently expansive. They present an organizational context that is conducive to human contentment as well as ecological sustainability.

 

This article was first published on Dark Mountain Project blog, Sept. 12, 2014.

Jim Tull facilitates workshops on community building, cultural transformation and deep ecology. He teaches courses in Global Studies and Philosophy at Providence College, the Community College of Rhode Island and the state’s prison. He lives in Providence, RI, USA and can be reached at jtull@providence.edu

Block Power photo

Community life, cooperative ownership

Turn it into an ecovillage?

won’t you be our neighbor?

We’ve heard over the years of planning the coop from people who like the idea of community, but for one reason or another, don’t like the idea of shared kitchen and bathrooms in the big house with satellite private bedrooms in cabins or sheds. That’s the model we chose and there are reasons why; yet other models are available, like cohousing and ecovillages. We have the opportunity to do both right now because there are two houses within eyesight of the house we bought, and both are for sale.

The reason we love our one-kitchen model for Listening Tree is because it:

  • draws people together everyday, at least for meals;
  • with private space in separate buildings, it gives each of us a chance to be together or alone as needed;
  • wanting to be more community focused, we like how this architecture will counter our cultural conditioning to turn back to the nuclear families or single life we are accustomed to;
  • it is far less expensive than cohousing;
  • the sleeping/living space doesn’t need to be heated when no one is in it, because it will not have plumbing pipes that can’t be allowed to freeze;
  • one washing machine, one kitchen, a couple bathrooms vs. one each saves a lot of other resources, including embedded energy;
  • reduce conflicts over sleep schedules compared to living in one big building;
  • no more “you like to sleep with the window open, I like to sleep with the window closed, so good bye, goodbye, goodbye”–as Paul Simon said. To each her own.

But if you value cooking alone, eating whenever you want, private meals with family or partner, yet still would like to be part of our larger community, living in the neighborhood might be the perfect solution. Right now, two houses are for sale literally a stone’s throw away.

You could be our neighbors, and would be the closest part of the co-op’s broader community.

Update, Sept 2018: these houses have been purchased, but there is another for sale through Long Realty just a few houses up the road.

Community life, cooperative ownership

Vision Statement

—June 18, 2018 update–

Community Vision and Intentions

Inspired in part by a series of open-ended conversations on the subject of ‘community’ hosted by Kerry Bergin, several of us, Karina Lutz, Phil Edmonds, Jim Tull and Kerry decided to take the step to create an intentional community. We started with a vision, roughly captured in this statement, compelled by the ways we see human community, the non-human world, our own psycho-spirituality, the pressures of peak oil and how the ecological, economic, and social crises intersect. We are led by the call to regenerate small-scale communities – to retribalize, in a sense – bringing likeminded people from otherwise different racial, ethnic, religious, economic, sexual, generational and ability profiles and backgrounds to live with and support one another in our material sustenance, personal growth and learning, celebration and grieving. We recognize the challenges of community living under the influence of the dominant culture, with our conditioning to value individualism and privacy, but we also recognize that community living has served our species well for 99% of its years on earth and where it is still in use. To return to community may be difficult for us now, but it is not ‘utopian’, in the sense of being idealistic and impossible. We believe, on the contrary, that commitment to the global, industrial system (dependent on continuous growth, splintering communities, etc.), as a way to meet social and ecological needs, is unrealistic and untenable.

We will participate in community regeneration because:

  1. We want to consciously choose to create a more sustainable way of life;
  2. We miss each other and deserve the happiness of being together with our friends and families;
  3. We need to experiment with self-organizing social systems at this time of energy descent (post-carbon transition), particularly in non-hierarchical ways;
  4. We want to test alternatives to the root cultural causes of ecocide. For example, we want to dissolve the culturally fabricated walls erected between individuals, couples and families, between generations and classes, between humans and non-human nature;
  5. Tribal communities work better for humans as a form of social organization than do mass, hierarchical alternatives;
  6. We can no longer afford to move our bodies and our lives so fast, and desire in any case to slow down. Transition from peak oil to sustainability means both scaling down and slowing down;
  7. And we can take care of each other more easily and naturally if we live together.

Two of us purchased a farm located at 87 Reservoir Rd, Chepachet (RI) in June 2015. In order to balance the need for and efficiencies of community with the need and desire for solitude and privacy, we envision creating small, cabin-like shelters (including retrofitting existing outbuildings) for sleeping and other alone-time activities. We will share one kitchen, and will prepare and serve dinner, at least, in the shared house to all residents on site each evening. The house will also provide shared office/farm work space, other sleeping rooms and a convertible guest room. At this point, we envision a community of 10-15 residents will live on the farm eventually, but the current septic allowance for this property is 6 individuals. Our plans to convert to composting waste treatment we hope will allow for more residents. Other practical, procedural and logistical features we intend to include:

  1. Regular community meetings and conflict prevention and resolution/management processes;
  2. A participatory democratic decision-making process, such as “consensus minus one” whole group decision-making, with ‘sense of the group’ practices leading up to final decisions;
  3. Simple living, energy conservation and material cycling (e.g., compost toilets, rain capture, passive solar and super-insulated (e.g. Passivhaus) buildings and renewable energy systems);
  4. Growing food for the community (and others when possible), using sustainable farming, hunting and gathering, such as permaculture and wildcrafting practices; and possibly a market-farm partner on-site.
  5. New resident screening process and trial period;
  6. Opportunities for agreed-upon community mind/body/spirit practice and also an acceptance of a variety of individual practices (yoga, meditation, prayer, etc.) or none;
  7. Sharing responsibilities and work of the homestead, allowing for the particular skills members bring to the community as well as sharing basic chores, etc.
  8. Sharing many things, such as meals, cars, appliances, kitchen, laundry, bathrooms, etc., to conserve resources and make community living more affordable than single-family housing. However, this is not an income-sharing community, i.e. a “commune.” Private ownership of cars and personal effects will be allowed and rules for borrowing established by the owners.
  9. The cooperative as a whole will own and share the common house, barn, appliances, solar power equipment, tractor, many tools, etc. Rules about sharing will be developed through the group decision making process (see 2).
  10. A market farmer or farm family could buy a special share that designates a portion of the arable land for market farming, to be stewarded by the farmer(s) in contract with the housing cooperative. See below for details.

Our community aspires to provide educational service to the state and beyond. We will promote and conduct workshops (Karina and Jim currently facilitate deep ecology – the ‘Work that Reconnects’ – workshops, as an example) and host apprentices who will live with us for a summer or semester to learn community life, food and shelter provision and about local/global transition to sustainable living more generally. We may choose to partner with an existing nonprofit organization to help raise money, recruit apprentices, and provide high school or college credit.

We would like to ensure affordability and equality by setting up ownership as a limited equity co-op. The limited equity co-op is an alternative legal ownership entity which allows people to buy into the property and own shares of the co-op and thereby be given rights to live there and use designated and shared space for living and working. A share grants holders the right to live in and otherwise use the land and structures, but also to transfer this right by selling their share to others at the price of initial purchase (or whatever the market will support if less than the purchase price). Unlike a condo, the co-op community has the right to accept or reject new members when shares are transferred.

Young families could own one share per adult. As children mature, parents could buy them their own shares to have the permanent right to live in the community with their own space. Members could also buy shares for their parents as desired. We would like the community to be intergenerational and balanced.

Non-shareholders might rent from shareholders on a sliding scale determined by the community, and permitted to live with us on a case-by-case basis. Apprentices could be provided free housing and food and be expected to work a specified number of hours each week.

A market farm partner would have a special contract with the community as well as being members of the community through the purchase of their own co-op share(s). The market farm business would be owned independently by the farm family. The contract would provide the security of land tenure to the farmers and would allow the community to choose another farmer if the farm family retires or moves away or otherwise is ready to transfer the farming rights to another farmer. Other land would be designated to be used by community members for the subsistence needs of the resident community.

In further service to our belief that we belong to the land, it does not belong to us, and that houses are primarily for shelter, not investment, the community may also decide to remove its property from the speculative market and conserve it through a land trust and/or selling development rights to the state. Such an arrangement would also serve to preserve the land and the farmer partners’ land tenure. Portions of the property may be designated for farming, open space, or residential uses.

Karina and Jim are purchasing the property and will hold title until the co-op is created, at which point they will begin to sell off shares (raising funds for property improvements, tools, etc. and payback loans). Our intention is to transfer private ownership to the limited equity cooperative once the sale is complete, the co-op structure formed, and members are ready to buy in.

This statement of intent and vision is a start, a stepping off point for further evolution and revision. We look forward to the new ideas and refinements new community members and experience will bring to the process!