I've been living in a land-based community for nearly a year now. I'm loving it in many ways but finding the workload biiger and harder to manage than expected. Our tasks include growing our own food and medicine, building homes and community spaces, looking after a herd of cattle, creating an education programme and interpersonal, community building work.
What makes it so much harder is when community members whom we were relying on to help with things leave or change their minds about how involved they want to be. We started off with a core group of 3, went up to 6 members in the summer and are now back down to the original 3 plus one part-time member.
It's a particular problem with the growing side of things, since we can't just pause a crop like we can with a lot other projects. I was very ambitious last autumn, sowed a lot of winter vegetables and ordered a lot of bareroot trees because we had 6 enthusiastic memebers. Almost immediately, people started to drop off and we've been struggling to keep up with the garden ever since.
We have 2 new members wanting to join in April but I'm reluctant to rely on them and am tending toward caution in how many plants I start in spring. I feel it will be a terrible pity if we end up with a strong group and only a small percentage of our diet growing here. One of our core members has early stage cancer, which makes the need to have our own fresh, clean and very alive food more urgent.
I would love to hear from people with more experience with land-based community. Have you had similar problems? Did you find any solutions? Do these issues get easier with time?
One mistake I think we made was that the 3 members who let us down may have come here for the wrong reasons. They all cared about our mission and were interested in our work but they were all going through either a big, sudden life change or a mental or physical health problem. They all came here looking for a more peaceful life and found the busyness of life here too much.
We are thinking to make sure that new members we admit in future are people for whom land-based, self-sufficient living has been their dream/ambition for a while. This is the case for me and this has kept me going through all the challenges that have come up so far.
We are also thinking to insist that people who want to trial living here commit to a full growing season. At the same time, we don't want to sacre people off and I think, maybe, the only way for a person to know whether this life is right for them is to try it out. They might find it unbareable after a few weeks and it would be unpleasant for everyone if we were to pressure them to stay.
I owuld love to hear your thoughts on any of this!
I know this is not exactly the same thing but I used to run a nonprofit that needed staff to commit to teach people over a period of a year, for these people to reach their own goals (reading, English, diploma, etc). Training was 6 weeks. We lost volunteers during training and also after training ended.
Over time various things were tried to stop people from simply dropping off the face of the earth, and in general not much made a difference. As you`ve noticed, vetting people gives you better chances of success, but things happen sometimes and there`s not much you can do except minimize the damage.
I found two things to be helpful:
1) be as honest as you can about why you need a commitment (plants need a full season, and we are doing the work a season ahead, for example). When people see that you didn't just pick the 1-year period to make their lives difficult, they may feel the obligation to stick it out.
2) give a period of time at the beginning where they can drop out, no questions asked. Plan it so the timing is least catastrophic for you (depending on workload it could even be as short as a week). If things are bad they can drop out before the damage gets too severe without losing face and you can recruit someone new. Otherwise they feel like they need to quit and either stop doing their work, or just get resentful; they will quit eventually and the fallout will be greater.
I'm not much help on the community side, but there's a whole set of options around planning that may help.
Most land tending work tends to have two components, a short "daily" or couple days cycle, and bursts. Bursts are things like planting, a yearly pruning, harvesting things with a short harvest period. Daily are things like letting the chickens in and out, watering thirsty crops, picking today's cucumbers or tomatoes, walking the cows back and forth.
When you've got erratic or unpredictably available energy and labor, focus on keeping the daily work close and to a minimum, and setting up the timing on your bursts so they don't overlap.
I have no experience with a land-based community though I have had experience working with volunteers.
Everyone has their own agendas. They have something they are looking for and feel your organization will work. When they get there, they may find out that it is not what they had visioned so they leave. They may not leave right away they may try to make it work.
I can't say how to make it work for them. Maybe it takes a lot of organization, planning, assigning jobs, etc.
Maybe having a contract that everyone signs or a list of rules.