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very small community dynamics...questions..  RSS feed

 
Kari Gunnlaugsson
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Dianna, thanks for the informative posts...

We are thinking seriously about sharing our land. We definitely don't want a village. Working together with another couple feels like it might be the right thing for us personally, as well as an easier thing to integrate into our local community and legal context.

I don't know if you have observed any very small groups working at this scale. Is it community or something else? How does it function differently? Are there any benefits or pitfalls to be aware of?

Are there ways to provide long term security and a sense of ownership / reward / belonging if you aren't ready to share the actual ownership of the land? Or is the asymmetry of that kind of arrangement inherently unfair and resentment-building? (There is a deep emotional attachment to land i grew up on that has been in the family for generations...if it was something new i'd be much more open to sharing ownership..)

thanks so much..
 
Diana Leafe Christian
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Location: Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina; Ecovillages newsletter http://wwwEcovillageNews.org
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Hello Kari,

You've got two interesting topics here: scale of community and how that affects group dynamics, and the dilemma of the landowner person creating community with non-landowner people. Or, with people who buy in but . .. it wasn't their family land for all those generations so it's not the same.

To respond to your first issue, I'm going to presume to quote myself from Chapter 14, "Your Criteria for Communities to Visit," in my second book, Finding Community. (I lifted this from writing that hadn't been edited by the publisher yet, so if you see mistakes, please just avert your eyes.) This is short for a chapter section but pretty long for a blog post! Oh, and I have to say this, out of respect for the publisher: Excerpted from Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or intentional community, DLC, New Society Publishers, 2007. There!

Whether the community is large or small, and whether its members live in close proximity (or in the same building) or in widely spread-out housing, will also affect your experience of community. This is because a community’s population size and physical proximity totally affects its social and interpersonal dynamics. In large communities, say, with 20 to 50 or more people, with either clustered or far-flung housing, you don’t need to be close to or like everyone in the community, since you won’t be interacting with everyone in equal amounts. You’ll have closer friends, and people you see more often and less often. If someone joins the community, their presence is usually not so impactful that it changes the energy or tone of the community. If someone leaves, while it does affect the group for awhile, it doesn’t change the energy of the community substantially. With this many people you’ll have many different kinds of skills expertise among your members. Some members will love good books; others will love sports; still others will love to make things in the woodshop. Some will probably play musical instruments, sing, do art, or put on plays. Socially and culturally, you’ll be rich.

In a smaller community, however, with, say, less than 20 members, you’ll have a different experience. Depending upon whether you live in separate dwellings or in the same building, or in clustered housing or in spread-out housing, you’ll probably know each community member quite well. You’ll find it easier to live in this particular smaller community, however, if you like and get along with everyone most of the time, and much harder to live in a community of this size if there’s even just one person who bothers the heck out of you. Compared to a larger community, interpersonal relationships can be intense—requiring lots of time processing and communicating when there is conflict, until the issue is resolve. A smaller community can be exceptionally rewarding, and a great school for emotional and spiritual growth. It also can be time-consuming. Sometimes it can drive you crazy. Yet the opportunity for deep intimacy and close emotional bonding is also there, and many people love this—it’s the reason they joined a community. Creating a close, intimate, known and knowing relationship with a small group of people can feel wonderful. Having bonded brothers and sisters you can count on can be one of the best things you ever experienced, as noted in Chapter One.

Another factor is that a small number of community members in a rural area is quite different from the same number in an urban area. With, say, five members in an urban area, you’re social life is probably just fine even if you only see many of your housemates infrequently during the week, since you’re presumably surrounded by friends and colleagues in your city or town. But five community members in a rural setting, especially in a rural area in which you’re the only people like yourselves around, you can feel pretty socially isolated.

In a small community, people leaving and people joining can totally upset the applecart. When a new person joins the group, depending on how close the group’s physical proximity may be, the new person can totally influence the community—calm it down, energize it, motivate it, help solve major problems for it, drain its energy, or penetrate every corner with good will, or with resentment or hostility. And someone leaving can leave an enormous “hole”—one that’s not filled for a long time. It can be disheartening to join a community, bond closely with several members, experience a group consciousness or sense of “we,” only to have all this wrenched apart when one or two of your best friends leave the community. This is particularly traumatic for children, who tend to form extremely close, brother-and sister relationships with other community children. If too many people leave a small community in too short a time, it can leave both adults and children feeling bereft. If this happens too frequently, both adults and children tend to withdraw and be more guarded and distant with new people who join.

So, a small community can offer you much greater intimacy and potentially greater rewards than a larger one. But it can also be more vulnerable than a larger one. When you consider communities, please take this into account.

As for the owner-of-community-land phenomenon, please see the next post.

Diana



 
Diana Leafe Christian
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Location: Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina; Ecovillages newsletter http://wwwEcovillageNews.org
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Hello again, Kari,

You wrote, "Are there ways to provide long term security and a sense of ownership / reward / belonging if you aren't ready to share the actual ownership of the land?" Yes, fortunately. The first thing I advise people to do when they want to do this is to not call it an intentional community. Call it anything else, but don't use the C word. Because using the C word will set people up -- consciously as well as emotionally-unconsciously -- to have expectations about it that won't be realistic. Call it a shared homesite. Call it a shared farm. Call it Jack. But stay away from the ********* word.

Because when people move to "a community" or "join a community" they're likely to feel put off or put down or put-upon if they don't have more decision-making rights than they actually do. Or more of sense of ownership or sense of entitlement -- watch out for that! -- than they acually do. But call it something simple, descriptive, and accurate, like "your place on our farm," and their wily and devious unconscious mind probably won't go doing that thing minds often do. Which is to project onto you, your farm, and your whole shared experience, the unconscious, unnamed, and unknown expectations of what "community" means emotionally to the little kid part of them that's stlll in there. Still in there with emotionally charged unmet needs that some part of them thinks living in "community" will finally, at long last, fulfill. I'm not putting them down; this is just how human nature seems to work!

So the first thing to do is let people know you're hoping for congenial folks to share the land with. Describe the kinds of things you'd like to do together, such as, say, shared meals, work parties, gardening, other homestead tasks and benefits. That is, describe your envisioned activities together, not the fact that it would be a "community." What you'd be looking for, I'm guessing, are land-sharing pals who, together with you and your family, create a community-like atmosphere. Then you could have exactly what you're looking for -- nice folks to share the work and the rewards with, and . . . a sense of community.

The French cuisine teacher Julia Child did this with her husband Paul for 30 years in France. Her best friend Simca and her husband Jean had a farm in Provence. They said, "Hey, Julia & Paul, why don't you build your own house over there on that side of our field. You pay for it and live in it for as many years as you want to. And if you don't want it anymore, just move out and we'll own it." So that's what they all did. No property changed hands, no deeds. What Julia & Paul paid for was the cost of building the house, which with each passing decade became a better deal, as they didn't pay any rent. These four friends enjoyed a sense of community with each other for 30 years and didn't call it by the communauté word once.

I'm not necessarily suggesting this as the exact form or agreement. But just to give you an idea of one way it could work.

Who you get, and how you get them, visit with them, interview them, screen them, ask for and call references etc, and make a written, that is, written (did I say written?) agreement with them, has everything to do with how it works out over time. I learned a tip from two different sets of community friends, one in Portland and the other in BC. They each learned, um, the hard way, not to advertise that they were looking for people who wanted to join a community. Because when you do that, you might get some folks who are doing fine and will work out well, as well as some basically lost souls who are yearning for some something (emotionally charged unmet needs that they [subconsciously] think community will finally fulfill). And they tend not to do well in community. BUT, said my two sets of friends -- who didn't even know each other -- if you advertise for people with the qualities and skills that you're looking for, and for the kinds of activities and roles you have in mind, then you're likely to get wonderful folks who can do community living just fine.

Because people who don't need community can often do very well in community. And people who are desperate for community often have a disruptive effect in the community because their neediness doesn't go away once they move there.

OK, so my two friends each advertised in essentially the same way, "Seeking happy, confident, mature folks to help us manage an organic garden and goat milk operation on a rural sustainable homestead." Voila! Fabulous candidates applied.

I have a workshop handout, "A Clear, Thorough Membership Process," which I'd be happy to send you. And anyone else reading this post who'd like it. diana~at~ic.org It tells more about all this.

About the issue of ownership, not buying in, the dynamics of that, I wrote about that in Chapter 3 of Creating a Life Together. I'd reprint it here but the text is buried in another computer in some old and creaky software. So, if you can get ahold of the book, and libraries have it, and Amazon has real cheapused copies -- but of course the best is your local independent bookstore -- well, it's the section in chapter 3 called "When You Already Own the Property."

One more tip before I leave off all this fast typing, I highly recommend a document, with copies for you, for them, for the file cabinet -- and a big chart of all this on your dining room wall -- of your explicit rights and responsibilities as owners, and the rights and responsibilities you don't have, and the other party's (tenants? renters? ongoing guests?) explicit rights and responsibilities and the ones they don't have. So that your arrangement is crystal, crystal clear. So that neither you nor they can ever say, "But you promised we could . .. !" "But you implied that you would . . . !" Because you agreed on these things in advance (including how you could change the agreement by mutual agreement) and were crystal clear and up front about it.

One reason people can have awful, awful conflict in communities -- and in shared homesteads -- is not because of what they agreed on necessarily. It's because whatever they agreed on wasn't clear enough to all parties, who should have all signed it, kept copies. and had copies right on hand so they could look it up any agreements anytime. I'm a fanatic on this, actually.

Well, enough for now. Thanks for the great question. And good luck!

Diana

 
Kari Gunnlaugsson
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Thanks so much Diana, for the thoughtful response...super helpful! I will definitely be picking up a copy of your book to help me get off on the right track.

You understand exactly what situation I'm looking for. I think that 'farm-share' sounds about right for a name for it.

Does the document of rights and responsibilities have to be a legal document in any way? Can it become one if it is ever necessary??

I look forward to reading chapter three on keeping things fair without shared land ownership. So much of the investment in a farm (in cash or in sweat) stays with the farm in terms of non-portable infrastructure, soil health, etc... While both parties would hopefully be gaining income from such investment, the value increase in the land would accrue with the landowner. So it seems like the landowner should bear a proportionally higher burden in investment, especially for infrastructure improvements.

One thing farmers don't have is decent retirement plans, and here farmers often rely on the value accrued in the land as a retirement savings...not sure how to work around that, it might be best to look for shorter term partners who are looking to gain experience and tools before heading off on their own... Of course, i plan on passing it on to my kid anyway so I don't really have retirement savings in it either...
 
Tyler Ludens
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Thank you so much for this:

One more tip before I leave off all this fast typing, I highly recommend a document, with copies for you, for them, for the file cabinet -- and a big chart of all this on your dining room wall -- of your explicit rights and responsibilities as owners, and the rights and responsibilities you don't have, and the other party's (tenants? renters? ongoing guests?) explicit rights and responsibilities and the ones they don't have. So that your arrangement is crystal, crystal clear. So that neither you nor they can ever say, "But you promised we could . .. !" "But you implied that you would . . . !" Because you agreed on these things in advance (including how you could change the agreement by mutual agreement) and were crystal clear and up front about it.

 
Diana Leafe Christian
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Location: Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina; Ecovillages newsletter http://wwwEcovillageNews.org
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Hi Kari, Yes, a document of rights and responsibilities can be either an informal agreement, or a formal contract. Sometimes a simple agreement that both parties sign can be seen as a contract -- hence binding -- later by a Court if there was a dispute that became a lawsuit. Contracts bind people to agreements, but if one party doesn't fulfill their end of it the other party's only recourse is to threaten to sue them, or, to sue them. So having contracts is a good idea because it tells both parties, "This is a serious agreement."

Land-owners have these rights that land residents don't have. These are obvious to the residents but often not visible to the land-owner: to sell the land, mortgage it, sell off a part of it, subdivide it, pay off its mortgage, rent buildings to others, raise the rent, lower the rent, charge no rent. evict people from living there, bring new people to live there, lock buildings, go into locked buildings with their key, buy livestock, slaughter & butcher livestock, sell livestock, forbid there being any livestock there, grow the crops they want and not crops they don't, farm or garden in whatever ways they want, use whatever products they want for crops and livestock, park wherever they want, forbid parking wherever they want, have a dog, two dogs, a pack of dogs, treat the dogs anyway they like, allow the dogs to do things that disturbs or threatens the safety (or sleep) of others, forbid dogs, get married to someone who doesn't want other residents there, have domestic fights with one's spouse or family, have kids who'll do things that disrupt or disturb residents. . . . well, you get the picture.

Land-owners also have responsibilities that residents don't: pay county property taxes, to pay liability insurance payments, pay land payments if there are any, respond to lawsuits if someone sues them, repair and maintain everything. Land-owners know very well they have these responsibilities, but these are often invisible to residents.

A document called a triple net lease can allow residents to share in the owners' costs of taxes, insurance, and repairs & maintenance. It's a legal instrument used in commercial leases. Like any contract, its clauses can be modified, so it can be made to fit exactly what the land owner and residents want to agree to in their living on the land together.

Hope that's helpful! And glad you're going to get my book.

Diana

 
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