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Andy's Permaculture Dream Community - turned nightmare

 
master steward
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I know that I mentioned this in a podcast, but when I needed to link to it today, it wasn't there ...


Andy is not his real name.


I met Andy when he picked me up at the airport.   It was January of 2005 and I was about to attend my PDC.   I had shopped around for a very long time before selecting this one - with a lot of emphasis on cold climates.

I learned that Andy was a fellow student and offered to pick people up at the airport.  Nice guy.   On the way to our destination I learned that this will be his seventh time attending this PDC.   Later I would learn that there are a lot of people like this:  attending lots of PDCs - typically at least one PDC every year.   Eventually they become "assistant instructors" so they can attend without having to buy a ticket.    Oftentimes your life is full of people that have never heard of permaculture, and you just need to spend a couple of weeks with people that are keen enough to take two weeks attending a PDC.

During this PDC I lived with 25 people for 2 weeks.   We shared three meals a day.  And the dominant thought in my head is "how do I live like this the rest of my life."

So I guess I had become Andy in this way.

Later, due to other reasons, I moved to the area and wasn't too far from Andy.   I visited with Andy from time to time.  

Andy worked long and hard to get the money together to buy a patch of land that came with some low grade buildings.  He then held his first ever PDC for freaky cheap - I think it was $450.   People had a wonderful time.  He worked and worked and worked to get the buildings habitable.  I think there were three or four "houses" and he made something of a huge greenhouse between two of the houses.  He then rented out rooms for permies - at a very low rate because permies would obviously groove on the land and community would flourish.  

I came by for a party when people had been living there for about a month.  While the residents partied, Andy scrambled around repairing stuff.   It was clear that Andy was spending a lot of time and money to perpetually fix all the little things.  I asked some of the residents about what their plans were for this property - after all, they've been there for a month.   The answers all seemed to involve what they were going to have Andy do.  A couple of months later Andy needed to talk.   I remember I picked him up and we drove a ways away and sat in my car and talked.  He longed for not just any community, but permaculture community.  And while everybody in the community had a powerful interest in permaculture and community, it seems that they didn't really do anything except command him on what to do.   Originally, there was a scramble to repair a few things here and there, but now it seems to have gotten to the point that they just want to get stoned and tell Andy what to do.   And it is now angry commands rather than requests.  And since their list of demands is longer than what he can do in the time given, they are just getting angrier.  And several of them are behind on rent - including one who refuses to pay rent until the demands are met.  

For the quality of the site, the rooms, the houses, etc.  the rent at the time could be something on the order of $500.   But Andy so very much wanted a beautiful community that he charged $200 to $250.   Mostly because he thought that the people would be so bonkers about permaculture that the site would naturally grow.  Instead, it seems he got people that were powerful keen on the cheap rent, and happened to have taken a PDC at some point - or at least express enough interest in permaculture to meet the permaculture angle.

About two months later I was helping with an event and one of the residents approached me.  She told me that the community was having trouble getting Andy to do what they required - would I be willing to act as a mediator.  I visited with her a bit about the problems and tried to cover a few points.  "The rent is less than half the going rate, so maybe you all should be doing some of this stuff?"  "The rent is low, but that doesn't obligate residents to do anything."  She explained to me that what sort of tasks needed to be done.  "It sounds like building things that are nice, from a permaculture perspective, but not a required thing." "But he said these things would be created."  "Do you have that on paper?"  "We don't have it on paper, but we have multiple witnesses who heard him say it."  "I heard him say it too - but it was in the context of everybody creating a permaculture paradise, not just him working around the clock to build a permaculture paradise."  In the end I made it clear:  I would be extremely biased to support Andy.  He is working another job and pouring most of his money from that job into this community - and most of his time.  

Two months later Andy evicted everybody. He figured it was just a bad batch.

Four months later, the second batch was also going bad - but Andy didn't have to do anything, the FBI cleared the place out.  

I moved to montana.   A few years passed and I emailed Andy about the project.   He raised the rent and used the extra coin to pay a permaculture groundskeeper/manager.   This person lived on site and made the place a permaculture paradise.   All is smooth.

 
master pollinator
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The lesson seems to be "Don't expect anyone to volunteer to do fucking anything."

We had a similar but much smaller-scale situation here at our place.  That project utterly failed due to nobody but us and one other person doing much.

 
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That is why I cringe when I hear about people having "business partnerships". It is a disaster just waiting to happen. Sooner or later, one party is going to FEEL they are working harder then the other, and problems start.It always does.

That is why I have a mantra here: I Do As Much For Myself As I Can!

Could I do more with help? Yep, for sure, but I get enough done, and the quality is high on what does get done.
 
paul wheaton
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One quick tidbit of my own ....

Note that andy's first and second batches were both bad.   Maybe he could have stuck to that recipe, and, in time, hit a good batch.   I like to think that is the case.   In fact, when he started it, i would have bet that the first batch would be a good batch.  And now ....   I would bet that the first ten batches would be a bad batch.  

And then where he ended up turned out to work:  expect that nobody will do the work - so charge much more money.   But there is somebody that will do the work if they are paid well.  

So if the going rate for something might be $500, but you added a whole lot of permaculture stuff, set the rate to $550.  That way, people that don't care about permaculture will go elsewhere - and people that are drawn to permaculture will think they extra 10% is worth it.

The first two batches were people that wanted low rent more than anything else.  People that were in some sort of transition between homelessness and paying the full rate. And there are a lot of homeless people that need some serious mental health care.  


 
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Kind of sounds like a hippy commune.   (speaking as a somewhat hippy type myself)

Permaculture does tend have a lot of overlap with some hippy movements, and hippy movements tend to attract some people that don't think clearly or logically about how life works.
Increasing the cost was probably exactly what needed to happen to filter out people that are dreamers rather than doers.
 
pollinator
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Wow, the last paragraph made me really happy. Good for him being flexible, figuring out what works, and not giving up.

Sounds like being a permaculture landlord is quite distinct from creating permaculture community. Community takes commitment. People invest in things that belong to them.

Perhaps another model that could work would be to sell plots to people in a community that has a charter. They buy a 'share' in the community and that comes with obligations and guidelines as to how the land is used--and how it's NOT used! That way they have a sense of ownership.
 
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Cris Bessette wrote:Kind of sounds like a hippy commune.

Permaculture does tend have a lot of overlap with some hippy movements, and hippy movements tend to attract some people that don't think clearly or logically about how life works.
Increasing the cost was probably exactly what needed to happen to filter out people that are dreamers rather than doers.



Ditto Cris! Being a person who was around (but not IN) the 'hippie' era, permacutlure does sound a whole lot like commune-ing. Most communes did end up sex, drugs and rock & roll with main gardening interest being pot. I did visit one near permaculture type of set up - The Intergal Rural community in Sebastopol, CA (in late 1970s) which had great environmental integration with buildings and community. It didn't last (no details known).

Oh Andy! I do so sympathize! Where we lived before we were the first one making a real go at (quasi) homesteading. New property owners would drop by ogle and ahh at our efforts saying how much they wanted to do likewise. 9 out of 10 were kidding themselves and worse yet doing more to WASTE their $$ and time than achieve anything.

Oh the sad stores I could share!! But I ended up realizing that the reason intentional communities don't work out is because everyone has different intentions! Plus its easier to yammer about how neat an idea is than to make that idea into reality.
 
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Guess it’s easy to make observations without being directly involved, so good luck to him for having a go. I often think about breaking out of my relative comfort and do something like this that is more consistent with my ideals.    I am thinking that they got themselves trapped in a traditional landlord-tenant model of doing things.  I think both sides had expectations that weren’t met. If there was something explicit signed at the beginning so both ‘sides’ knew where they are.  It could become an educational opportunity and would work well with the permaculture ethos.

Eg. My role as a tenant/stakeholder….If I want a reduced rent I’ll try and fix things within my skill set, for xx hours a week.  If I can’t do it I’ll try and learn things that are useful to maintain this community. Otherwise I’ll pay the full rent.

Eg. My role as founder….



Any system can be subverted, this is just one possible  starting point


Eric Fisher MSc BSc (Hons)

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I hate it, because I would prefer to be able to proceed naively forward, with all people my friends, and all animals attuned to the wonder that I wish to bestow upon the earth, so they won't dig up and nibble all my hard fucking toil.

People are like animals. We are, in fact, animals. We are just arguably more complex. Well some of us, anyways. In any event, I have always thought that intentional community missed the point entirely.

If the point of the community is only to have a community, it's integrity is reliant solely on shared vision, which is fallacy. Nobody sees anything from the same perspective. Our individual eyes don't even see the same picture; our brains have to work out the differences and merge the images, along with input from our other senses, into a single coherent comprehension.

My feeling is, as with any human endeavour, that the point of community must make itself of substantial value to some group of individuals, in terms of sustaining them materially as a community. So a community devoted to, say, the restoration and controlled management of a herd of bison would do their good ecological works in plains management, and the community would thrive off an annual culling of all but a tenth of the male population (in actuality, the numbers required for a healthy breeding herd, from what I have read, involve one bull for every twenty cows, but diversity is better).

What is critical about this is that the financial impetus of the meat and hides from the yearly cull would be too great an incentive to allow pettiness and infighting to dominate, and would make it necessary to structure elements of the community as a business, such that it is possible to have dispute resolution tied to a financial incentive for the whole group.

So I think that people shouldn't just start communities. I think that the only way to make community sustainable is if there is a central "industry," in the way that industries of centuries past essentially built company towns to house workers as that community's largest employer, and would invest in supportive and service industry businesses.

It needn't be destructive or extractive in nature. Intensive and extensive range management in conjunction with a herd revitalisation and renewal program for bison could result in annual herd growth of something approaching a third, if I am remembering correctly, and the corresponding biosphere rejuvenation of a keystone species doing what it should never have stopped doing.

It also needn't necessarily involve stepping into the ecological niche as predator every time, although from honey bee to the largest bovine, it's hard to argue with the resource-concentrating ability of animals simply living their best lives. If you have a community coming together lousy with textile artists, it's logical that your community's financial impetus be textile-related.

I do realise that the idea expounded about community on this site is that the ideal, the opimum and ultimate permacultural level indicates that we share our roof with near two-dozen other people; I reject that idea. Of all the animal kindreds, we humans are closest to wolves. That is why some of their children came to live with our ancestors, and continue to be important parts of our lives today. Packs only get so large, and can only have one leading voice, one Alpha or pack leader. I think that humans are much the same.

I think farming villages are probably the best format we could possibly look at in terms of designing a resilient, sustainable community that grows. If the annual harvest fails, everyone suffers, so historically speaking, even those who were usually drunk and barely ever reliable for anything most of the year-round would sober up and work twenty-hour days, at a pace that would kill most people in the western world today, for planting and harvesting. Starving if the work doesn't get done is a powerful incentive.

At the same time, while community could be close, close enough to share a community heating and cogeneration facility, say, they would also each have their own households, should they choose to. I would expect there to be some accomodation, either in-town, or perhaps a billet system, for single people wishing to defray individual costs by joining a household or staying in communal housing with shared facilities and common space.

It sounds like Andy has turned the idea of permacultural community into its raison d'etre; rent generates the income, which is brought in by people largely working off-site, and a paid permacultural groundskeeper makes the magic happen. I am glad it's working for him, but I would be looking for another financial tie for the community's next iteration. A commuters' bubble sounds like a tenuous financial footing to me.

But I wish him good luck, and hope that perhaps Andy will post here and give us some of his insight.

-CK
 
Jain Anderson
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@ CK - "I do realise that the idea expounded about community on this site is that the ideal, the opimum and ultimate permacultural level indicates that we share our roof with near two-dozen other people; I reject that idea."
n
Bravo for you CK expounding on your thoughts about 'community'. For me community comes from the word common - as in what is (voluntarily) shared. Community is the 'results', not a mandate/directive. The best book I've ever read (and still have) on 'community' is Karl Hess's Community Technology. And for those that have never heard of Karl Hess, he was a FREE man who was mainly self educated, initially sidetracked by politics and finally lived HIS life as freely and in step with nature as he could manage. I got our library to obtain his autobiography - Mainly On The Edge - to read about him. An inspiring man who lived his life by his own ideals, very admirable.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Chris Kott wrote:

I do realise that the idea expounded about community on this site is that the ideal, the opimum and ultimate permacultural level indicates that we share our roof with near two-dozen other people; I reject that idea. Of all the animal kindreds, we humans are closest to wolves. That is why some of their children came to live with our ancestors, and continue to be important parts of our lives today. Packs only get so large, and can only have one leading voice, one Alpha or pack leader. I think that humans are much the same.


/
I don't think that idea is borne out by anthropology.  HG people typically did not have one "chief" but instead had chiefs for specific situations, such as a war chief.  The war chief did not make decisions about non-war situations.  Only in settled "Big Man" cultures did one person make all the major decisions.  These were sortof transitional cultures between hunter-gatherer and civilized.  In most other cultures, a group of elders made decisions, informed by the expertise of specific "chiefs."

Even the "Alpha Wolf" idea has come under scrutiny in recent years, as those observations were based on populations within zoos or other "domesticated" situations, and not wild packs, which appear to be family groups with adults/parents making the decisions andoffspring/pups going along with them.


Oh, and yeah, I would not be able to live with all those people under my roof.  I have very low human people tolerance.  Pretty good non-human people tolerance, though.



 
Jain Anderson
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@ Tyler -"Oh, and yeah, I would not be able to live with all those people under my roof.  I have very low human people tolerance.  Pretty good non-human people tolerance, though."

I got tired of people thinking I must be anti-social because I do prefer peace and quiet living. I've come to inform those who try to tag me that way that, no not anti-social, Im just micro social ;-) People in small doses who want to chat on interesting topics - oh yes! But mobs doing a 'collective thing' no thanks! (and enjoy to those that do like big gatherings)
 
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Communities tend to break down where there is dominant use of cannabis in my observations. Not a judgement on it, but I would prefer to be in a place where it’s either not tolerated or has a very low impact at the end of a work day. Alcohol too.
 
Travis Johnson
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Michael Adams wrote:Communities tend to break down where there is dominant use of cannabis in my observations. Not a judgement on it, but I would prefer to be in a place where it’s either not tolerated or has a very low impact at the end of a work day. Alcohol too.



I have never had the stuff so I am not sure if this holds true or not, but I have been told the draw of the stuff is that it makes a person content.

I am a huge proponent of being content, but not if that is THE goal. A person has to be content with the goals that have been achieved, but they need to strive to be making new achievements. Just sitting around being happy that you are sitting around, is not healthy.
 
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I have never lived in or around a permaculture community - but I have worked at many small companies in the general contracting/mechanics/farming realm...I'm talking 3-6 employees who are around each other and working with each other closely on projects, on a daily basis.

While it's not the same as a "live together community", it's similar because there should be a uniform focus on tasks at hand, and we are around each other more than our own families in most cases!

When it's all said and done - I think a positive, knowledgeable leader who is around often and works closely w/ the crew/residents - one who can always wear a smile and doesn't have bad habits like drugs/nicotine/etc is the most vital aspect. Mutiny and other negatives are contagious and a daily solid plan from a strong minded, good communicating leader keeps people motivated to do the right thing!!
 
Chris Kott
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Chris Kott wrote:

I do realise that the idea expounded about community on this site is that the ideal, the opimum and ultimate permacultural level indicates that we share our roof with near two-dozen other people; I reject that idea. Of all the animal kindreds, we humans are closest to wolves. That is why some of their children came to live with our ancestors, and continue to be important parts of our lives today. Packs only get so large, and can only have one leading voice, one Alpha or pack leader. I think that humans are much the same.


/
I don't think that idea is borne out by anthropology.  HG people typically did not have one "chief" but instead had chiefs for specific situations, such as a war chief.  The war chief did not make decisions about non-war situations.  Only in settled "Big Man" cultures did one person make all the major decisions.  These were sortof transitional cultures between hunter-gatherer and civilized.  In most other cultures, a group of elders made decisions, informed by the expertise of specific "chiefs."

Even the "Alpha Wolf" idea has come under scrutiny in recent years, as those observations were based on populations within zoos or other "domesticated" situations, and not wild packs, which appear to be family groups with adults/parents making the decisions andoffspring/pups going along with them.


Oh, and yeah, I would not be able to live with all those people under my roof.  I have very low human people tolerance.  Pretty good non-human people tolerance, though.



Yeah, I forgot about that Alpha bit. It is a bit reductionist. But most still holds true, if you think of the idea of Alpha as changeable. I just translate that as "whoever is in charge at the time."

The idea I meant to convey that I suppose got lost is that we aren't a hive. We aren't even creatures that live together in tight burrows like lemmings or prairie dogs. I don't think we should try to emulate them.

I think that the organic way larger communities developed was from the joining of inter-related cousinages. The idea of taking the lead from the learned elder also makes sense to me, but there we have the beginnings of hierarchy.

Incidentally, I consider intense, sharply focused hierarchy, with a single executive, in the same way I consider the current state of over-specialisation in humans; they are, in fact, branches on the same tree. That tree has good branches, too, but the bad ones are prominent because their existence is the root of most of our societal ills.

I am not an anarchist, nor really a libertarian, but there are elements of each that I like. I think that humans need to engage themselves fully in decision-making that, more and more, I find, is stripped away by specialist bureaucracy, or by our own hyper-focused specialisation in our individual work fields, such that a person might be capable of incredible feats of coding, design, surgery, and to a lesser extent, vastly overvalued athletic performance, but are otherwise incapable of handling simple tasks, like cooking for themselves beyond nuking a burrito, or methodically planning a shopping trip beyond a midnight browse through a 24/7 grocery express store for prepared goods ready to be consumed.

As to substances in particular, everyone has their bete noir, and it needn't be rational. My personal view is that it's the person and the culture, not the substance. If the culture embraces consumption in excess, it isn't going to matter at the end of the day whether they're drinking too much, smoking too much, or eating too much; each state will produce people not in a state to get much of anything done.

If my systems require a lot of physical activity from me, I wouldn't think twice about cracking a beer with my lunch, or having one mid-afternoon with a snack. Or both, even, if I am working hard enough. It's more the calories than the alcohol that would concern me at that point. I would clearly not be drinking sixers before lunch, or moving to harder stuff; this is not conducive to work.

The same can be said for other things. I am more than likely going to want oatmeal and coffee every morning for the rest of my life. I will probably also make sure that I have a pocket with a bag of trail mix, or something else I can munch periodically to keep hunger pangs at bay. Having six full hobbit meals a day would obviate the possibility of doing anything else (I never understood how they managed to grow anything at all, preparing and eating six meals a day. And who grew the pipeweed? Did they have rolling tables alongside their fields?).

My concern with cannabis and alcohol wouldn't be my use, but those of others. I can control my behaviour, but patterns I can keep in check might not work so well for others. Just as an army marches at the pace of its slowest, we must accomodate edge-case thinking into our planning, in my opinion. It's not an easy topic, because people are not easy subjects. But if we set up community that welcomes behaviour that, unchecked, can lead to the things we don't want, it will obviously be doomed to failure.

So I don't think that I, personally, would ban alcohol or cannabis use, as an example, no more than I would ban food. But I would have rules concerning specific behaviour, just like the publication standards, but in real life. Maybe set to a different standard and degree, but even so. I could say that any behaviour that leaves you unable to work when you should be working isn't generally allowed, which obviates a whole mess of bad possibilities, and leaves room for the ideas, and medical or psychological needs, of others to the degree that the subject could still be addressed on an individual basis.

As much as I know that I would have to have strictures in place, I would very much like to address the problems of society from a place of accentuating the positives and providing means to ensure individual functionality, personally, financially, and socially, rather than getting riled over the things people do that we think are bad.

Because maybe, for his joints not to ache while he works in the field, Stanley needs a little canna-butter in his coffee. At least he's not on anything dangerous anymore.

Insofar as the site is concerned, Paul's position is clear and not in dispute. Further discussion of controversial subject matter should probably happen in the Cider Press, where I'm sure the political and controversial substance use issues can be fully thrashed out.

-CK
 
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I now ask the question:  Do they want to learn about living a homestead life, or, do they want to live their life on my homestead,...big diff.

Cheers!  K
 
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