This idea has been kicking around in the back of my mind for awhile now (inspired by the LIC podcast with Paul and Shawn), and while many people have told me to start it out slow and see if it catches I thought I'd see if there were any other permies in the area who are interested in forming a Labor Co-Op in the Houston area.
Here is my basic idea:
Form a group of individuals who are interested in permaculture stuff but who don't have all the skills, space, etc. to do said stuff on their own. The group meets once a month to accomplish some sort of permaculture related goal.
At the beginning of every month all Co-Op members submit their idea (via email, max one idea per member). Then a poll being created and the members vote anonymously on the ideas...the most popular idea wins and whoever suggested it coordinates it. If there isn't a majority then the two most popular ideas go through a run off poll. Once the single idea is selected whomever suggested it becomes that months coordinator. They would be responsible to ensure that there is a location to perform the task and that the materials are sourced in advance. They would set up the start time and finish time etc. (For this reason it isn't mandatory to submit an idea every month...if you just coordinated an event you might want to take the next month off from coordinating 🙂). Anyways once everything is decided we show up like permaculture locusts and perform whatever task we need to in order to accomplish the goal. Everyone brings some sort of snack or beverage (coffee snacks etc.), then we finish and leave and are done until next month. If you cannot attend one month then you cannot submit an idea. The event would take place on the second or third Sunday of the month (to give enough time to source all the materials and to give some time off before suggesting new ideas). If a project is larger than can be accomplished in one day it can be a multi-month project. Also this group would be open to anyone, however to submit ideas you would need to attend at least one event.
Examples of Projects:
1. Building Warre Bee-hives:
Everyone who wants to take a hive home would have to contribute the money to build a hive. If people aren't interesting in taking a hive they just show up and help build (thus building their skills, learning about bees etc.). If the coordinator felt so inclined they could try to source a local bee expert to come and observe / chat / teach, they could try to find a school / nursing home / whatever who wanted some bee-hives on their grounds (the school would probably have to contribute the money for materials, but you get the idea). The Warre book could be turned into a pamphlet and distributed and connections could be made to time the interventions so people could work together to get it all done (sharing equipment etc.).
2. Building mini solar dehydrators:
Same concept as above for gathering money. This time build solar food dehydrators that can be used to dry things like fruit, herbs etc. I have two plans (based on a different permies conversation I had), and we could implement either (although I do think the Walk is better).
3. Permablitz someone's yard:
Many of our fellow community members have yards or know people who own their own yards. They are hopefully interested in Permaculture. I don't know about everyone else, but I really want to practice a design project then implement it. So if someone wants their yard Permablitz'ed we can do a design one month...then implement it the next month. Whoever's yard it is has to provide the materials (we might be able to join up with Transition Houston to get access so some of those cheaper resources). If not then some community members would at least receive a bunch of free design and free labor to install a permaculture urban system.
4. Build Rain Barrels:
Same concept as the other building projects.
5. Install a food forest into a park or community space.
This one is a bit tricky and would require a lot of coordination. But if we could get the city on board we might be allowed to design a food forest into a disused portion of a park. (Hopefully the city would provide some funding...) Anyways we do the design then implement in such a way that there is a part of the park that produces food for the neighborhood and doesn't require much in the way of maintenance.
6. Set up a Square Foot Garden style community garden.
I'm sure you can imagine the details for that one.
7. Create a natural nature building in Japhet creek or somewhere.
Work with Brian or whomever is in charge of the area and then design a small natural building (not fully enclosed) to be built out of natural building materials and installed somewhere like Japhet creek. Everyone would gain hands on experience with natural building materials.
Anyways you get the idea...clearly I have a lot of ideas and at 1 per month it would take us a long time to go through the projects that I have can think of, let alone what a group could come up with. I think that this would provide an outlet for good in the community while simultaneously providing those who contribute a chance to build their skills. We could certainly try to partner with Transition Houston or the Houston Permaculture Guild or whomever else, but I'm not sure if they are going to love the idea of building bee-hives...etc. So for now I propose we keep it separate and see if it even turns into anything.
I am currently taking the Urban Harvest PDC (we will finish in the fall) and are about to go on a 6 month hiatus. I'd hate to go back to regular life until the PDC can finish. So..I have already talked a few local people about it and for the first event i think we are going to build some Warre Hives. Please let me know if anyone is interested, email me at HoustonPermacultureLaborCoOp@gmail.com
(rough draft of flyer for hive get together attached)