When I moved onto my property on mount spokane, I drove down the 3.5 mile long road and wrote down all of the numbers on the mailboxes. I think it was something like 35 mailboxes. I write 35 letters, stuffed 35 envelopes and licked 35 stamps. I invited everybody over for a potluck. I met some really wonderful people and learned that there were some serious feuds on the road. The feuds seemed to be in a state of truce for the potluck .... I guess the potluck ended up re-igniting the feuds later. In hindsight, for those people, the potluck made stuff worse for them.
So I met some really great people: people that were amazingly awesome forever and always. And I met some people who decided that making my life miserable was their new life mission (because horticulture is done only one way, and my ideas did not fit with "the one way"). And I met some people that turned out to be fucking nuts. And a few that turned out to not keep their word .... and .... a large buffet of different folks.
Doing the potluck led to a LOT of education about a lot of things.
In 2005 I left mount spokane and then visited a lot of farms and gardens. I got to hear a lot of stories about interactions with neighbors and folks driving by ....
Joel Salatin got to spend three days talking to regulators because a woman stopped her car next to one of his fields and the cows came and looked at her. She thought that the owner of these animals was probably abusing them somehow. So she called it in.
A few days ago I was at a nearby restaurant and a woman at the next table over was talking loudly .... maybe she was trying to solve her problems by making everybody in the restaurant aware .... apparently there is a neighborhood boy that has not yet learned the concept of "private property" and keeps stealing things. So now she has video cameras and a lot of drama with the parents that automatically deny everything.
On mount spokane I had problems with hunters that would come through in deer season, cut my fences, leave garbage and .... one time i watched as a big truck drove over some of my equipment!
There are many schools of thought on how much one might want to connect with neighbors. And maybe it also depends on where you are - maybe some places have better people than others. The bottom line is you just don't know until you try. And it is possible that you try and you find the only way to have peace in your life is to move. But permaculture is about perennial systems - so you can only move so many times until you are just to old to eat an apple from a tree that you started from seed.
So let's suppose that you have moved several times. And now you just want to plant that apple seed, wait the many years, and eat those apples. You want to have all of the benefits of that permaculture system. No more moving. So what is the strategy?
Fortunately, this is the age of the internet. If it is farming advice you want, then you can get it on the internet. There is also forms of community there. It might not be as lovely as in-person stuff with lovely people, but it is certainly better than in-person stuff with awful people.
I have met hundreds of people that work hard to maintain their privacy. Privacy hedges or berms or fence ... gates ... things are locked ... security cameras .... strong perimeter .... end of the road ... rare trips to town .... and then don't go to the local, little town - go to the bigger town. Fewer relationships, but more peace.
Some people are people people. They need to visit with dozens of people a day. They love having a parade of visitors every day and to go visiting every day.
To compound things further, when you are bonkers about permaculture and do things a bit differently, visiting with people helps others to learn about these things, but visiting with people can also get people that think you are weird and, therefore, must be stopped. Remember that Sepp Holzer's community tried to lock him up because they thought he was crazy. Plus there is the whole thing about how he has paid more agricultural fines than anybody else in all of europe.
At my new place ... I decided to follow the strategy of the people that maintained their privacy. To seek peace. I locked my gate, built some berms .... privacy. Quiet. Peace. Peace and quiet! I would have some permie friends come and hang out - that would meet my community needs. Once in a while, travel into missoula proper and visit with my friends there. Easy peasy.
We had a LOT of crime the first year. Trespassing, theft, vandalism .... more crime in three months than all the rest of my life put together. For a while I was thinking "what bizarre hell have I landed in?" We took a strong stand to be boring and forgettable. It seems to have worked. After three months it dropped down to less than what I was experiencing on mount spokane.
When permies come here, we ask that they enjoy the community that is here and ask for their help in implementing our strategy for being boring and forgettable to the local folks. If they wish to go to the store or a bar or something, we encourage them to go to missoula.
It is a strategy. It is a path. It isn't for everybody. It is not what I chose on mount spokane, but I like this strategy - i'm glad I decided to travel this path.
On mount spokane I was very open. In that instance, there were big upsides and big downsides. In the end, the upsides did not outweigh the downsides.
On the lab, I decided to implement what I have seen so many other people do: keep to myself. Locked gates. Berms, fences, etc. Only I decided to enhance it a bit by trying to build a bit of a permie community on site. I know that this style is not for everybody - so I think if people come here, I would like to ask that they respect this strategy. If they are not comfortable with this, then I think they should definitely not be a resident here.
I do think that in about seven years we might change this. At least with basecamp. Be a bit more open. Maybe have an honor system farm stand.
How do you all feel about this? What are your choices? If you could have do-overs, what would you do?
I just cannot bring myself to stay behind locked gates.
Maybe it is because my amount of movement has been to move 517 feet south of my original location; from my parents house...in the last 23 years...what I jokingly call moving at glacier pace. Maybe it is because we are a 9th generational farm here, but I have just been helped by too many area farmers.
I will say this, when you can help some other farmer out, you really should because you just never know when you might need some help yourself. No one lives on an island. In fact my banker who specializes only in farming, forestry and fishing loans told me, she felt my biggest asset was having so many resources. That was in reference to where I would get feed if I ran out in mid-winter; without thinking I rattled off three farmers who owed me a favor.
This past December at our annual county farmer of the year presentation, the Commissioner of Agriculture for Maine issued all of us a challenge, and it was a one word challenge: SHARE. Maine has the most start up farms in the country, and the youngest age of farmers in the nation as well, and honestly I must live in the capital of Permiculture due to the shear number of Permicultural farms here. But this was still said from a guy that has influence on the biggest potato farms in Aroostook County, to the smallest farms in Cumberland County, and medium sized dairy farms in Waldo County, and he saw one deficiency, "farmers were not sharing their knowledge". Online presence has its benefits, and I have spoken highly of that before, but there is nothing like camaraderie.
So I took that challenge to heart, and intend to share more, including opening my farm up to more tours.
By the way I kind of laughed at the cow incident; not because it was funny, but because that happened to us.
Someone had a dead calf and instead of getting rid of it in any number of sane and environmentally sound ways, they chose to dump it in a stream close to our milking farm. At the time it had 1200 cows so naturally we were the big and bad farm. It even made it on the nightly news, but here is the thing...it was by our MILKING barn. Our other barn was where we had our calves so it was easy to prove it was not ours.
People often assume it is big bad big brother watching and ratting them out, but more times than not, it is the neighbors...and the ones you least likely suspect. I know from experience.
This is a great post, Mr. Wheaton. We were robbed of approximately $1000 of hand tools within 10 months of moving onto our 200 acre food forest. Prior to that, my neighbour hijacked my excavator crew who I hired to do some road work on my property so he could fix his driveway. Plus he took 4 loads of gravel from my pit without even acknowledging it, or offering to kick in for the float fee to get the equipment out there. Later found out he and the owner go back 20 years. This was the first week of us being there...Thanks neighbour!
We're all for the locked gate and 'doing our own thing' mission statement now. After a rough start, we are fine on our own.
Once I invited my direct neighbours (those living in the same apartment building). None of them came (two cancelled, the others just did not come). So I know I can live my own life here, just like they live their own lives.
Now I'm busy with permaculture for some years, through the permaculture 'neighbourhood garden' I came in contact with others who are interested in permaculture. Slowly a 'group' developed of people who try to follow the principles of permaculture in their own gardens. Some of them participate in the neighbourhood garden, some don't (they don't live in the neighbourhood, or they have full time jobs).
Yesterday four of these people were together in the garden of two of them. I am participating in the neighbourhood garden, the others aren't, but they would like to come together more often, and meet more people in and around this town who are interested in permaculture.
So now a 'potluck' is organised, not for 'neighbours', but for a 'community' of likeminded people living in this region. Maybe this will work
"Also, just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them" (Luke 6:31)
I'm blessed with neighbours on one side are some of the best people I've ever met. Top 5 percent of the best people on earth. Just amazing. Generous, kind, smart, connected in the community. If we need work done, he knows a guy who owes him a favour and can do it for half price. Best neighbours ever.
I am in a unique position in the community where I bought land. My little farm is quite narrow, but over a kilometer long. Some people think it should have been a park or walking trail. Many of them paid much more, for smaller properties that don't have much view. My place runs along the ridge of the valley, separating several of these people from the view. They used to use my place as a hiking spot. One neighbor used my place to operate hits recreational business from, before I arrived. There's nothing they can do now. I bought it and they didn't. Still, I have no desire for conflict.
I have been able to get along fine with all of them. My brother, who has lived there on a couple of occasions, can't get along with most people. He tends to dig into their business and find fault with something. He seeks employment and to enter into other deals with people that he meets when walking the trails. We are a short distance away from a city of 100,000 people. I have always encouraged him to get his ass to town, and find friends, acquaintances and employers who are not my immediate neighbors. He has a fifth wheel trailer, stored at my place right now. Part of the deal in allowing that to happen , was for him to agree to not engage with the neighbors in any way.
I've had other people living at my place who insisted on entanglements with the neighbors. The world's laziest couple we're supposed to put in 2 hours per month for me, in exchange for living in the cabin, rent-free. They couldn't find that kind of time, because they were off engaging the community. They borrowed tools that weren't returned, they nearly drained a neighbors well, leaving the water running and they entered into various work agreements, that they did not fulfill.
Anything other than a friendly hello by the owner of a properly, can be a minefield, when dealing with neighbors. It can be far worse if an idiot tenant becomes your spokesperson, without your knowledge.
Rules regarding neighbors seem to be amongst the most difficult to enforce. Only my much older tenant, Randy, has had any understanding of why I might have such a rule. All of the others felt that it was antisocial behavior, that would limit their ability to make money. Anyone who moves to my place in the future, must sign a declaration saying that they have so much money, that they will never need to seek employment or anything else from anyone within a 5-mile radius of my land. I'm sure that when they sign it, they will pretend they agree with it and think it's reasonable. But I expect that it's something that will always require reinforcement.
Back in the seventies, we were in a very isolated area with a small group of like minded peers. We didn't immediately seek out folks in the neighborhood, we located those 'like us' and built a small social network circle among those folks. Eventually we were close to a few 'locals' in the area and found that we shared many of the same interests and views. An older couple down the dirt road sort of adopted us and were always offering advice and food.....because, I think, we didn't mingle and were seen as the stereotype in Life magazine, many things were attributed to us that just weren't true. We still hear stories about our old place that have become local lore and really never happened. For some we were devil worshipers because we didn't go to church, for others (the deputies on horseback) we were growing pot behind every rock....there was a story that we had rigged the door with an arrow somehow to shoot any intruders, after we left our cabin was searched and it took me forever to get most of what they took returned, it included my Art History book from college and our son's dried belly button......sigh.
We were all caught naked working in the garden or swimming and walking to and from the river many times. Sometimes one of the 'good old boys' would come up in the middle of the night three sheets to the wind looking to see if they could spend time with one of us for a six pack of beer....these were among some true stories that are much more innocent than the rumor mill.
Once our son's started to school we were gradually accepted in the larger community and were well thought of, and still the stories persisted about those 'others' ...it was like we were two groups of people
I'm not sure if any of this is very helpful...I haven't thought about it for awhile and so much was misunderstood that I can't go back and change.
I think if we can just be real with whomever then they can either accept that or not....people on their own just have too much imagination now, too many things they see on line that scare them....left to their own thoughts they usually think the worst.
I assume there are already rumors flying about what you all are doing there and that reminds me of one of my favorite Tom Waits songs....
"We're all just walking each other home." -Ram Dass
"Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder."-Rumi
I've had two male tenants, who thought the local hiking trails would be the perfect spot for them to meet women. Just about every house in my community, is occupied by a married couple. The size and price of the properties, mixed with the isolation, does not lend itself to single person households. My neighborhood is a very poor choice for amorous young men, who lack transportation. There seem to be two classes of females living here. Married women, and their teenage offspring. It seems nearly impossible to get it through the thick skulls of some fellows, that these women are off-limits to them. Again, I always encourage them to try the city of Nanaimo. It's not just the married thing either. I have heard that there are a few single women living in the area. One is a nurse and one owns a farm nearby. I doubt that they have interest in guys who are semi employed, and living in a hovel at my place.
On Long-Term Arrangements
Just about any deal struck with someone in their early twenties, is bound to fall apart, when their personal situation changes. Single people find partners, couples break up, and children are born. If a guy living up in the bush, suddenly finds himself single, there's a very good chance that he will move on. He may go back to the city, and find a perfectly nice girlfriend. But, it's highly unlikely that she will want to move away from her friends and family, to live in the cabin that he built with his old girlfriend. Therefore, I believe that most long-term agreements, like this are doomed to failure. The young person entering into such an agreement, may have every intention of staying on for 5, 10 or 20 years. But that can change in an instant, if he meets the girl of his dreams and she wants to stay in Seattle.
Because of this fluidity, I think there needs to be a very clear understanding of how things will go, when the person eventually departs. And there needs to be an understanding within the community that this is a perfectly natural progression, and not a failure. I would expect that a young person staying on for more than 10 years, would be a rare exception, and not the norm, even if they arrived with a plan to stay forever.
When it comes to homesteading your first year you do everything wrong. (I recently read this on-line, fb I think, and laughed). However, because I waited most of my adult life, 25 years, before finally acquiring a piece of land to work and homestead on I had already become a seasoned veteran. And I used my instincts and managed to get it right the first time (on some things). First and most difficult, refrain from making a plans that cannot live up to your dreams / vision when you finally acquire the actual property after the real estate deal has closed. (This holds true with travel as well.). Second, watch everything interact. Listen to it all too. Enjoy while waiting before diving in your massive farm construction projects. (of course doing some things which might be important to accomplish). Third, respect peoples space and they will respect yours, for the most part. I feel lucky that where I chose to relocate too, the people actually opened up enough to extend a connection to the community -in whatever state it currently was in. This is more often than not, a hurdle when moving to small towns among old farmers. They embrace change very slowly, if at all.
The main thing I am learning about growing my permaculture homestead in conjunction with the community in which I live is love heals AND time heals. Be patient, be reserved, and most importantly be passionate about what you are doing. An honor system vegetable stand is a wonderful way to warm up a community whom may or may not be frigid with old school ways.
Funny, what seems to have helped me in settling into the community in which I live better is buying a sparking new pick-up truck, and ATV -something in which I had initially had contention with. It seems as though this is something they relate too. It's reliable and communicates Americanism I suppose. Whatever works. Being a part of the volunteer fire department is more than I am able to muster at this time. However I am on the waiting list to serve as a board member of the local water district. I also attend the annual Electric Cooperative meetings. Slowly, I am gaining some semblance of acceptance in my area and beginning to form a sense of community which along with the glaciers near by are beginning o melt away fast.