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What do you look for when starting an intentional community?

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I am thinking of starting an intentional community for several different reasons; however, with one foot in the rat race and one foot in the Homesteading life I have friends on both sides of the fence, so to speak, that have shared concerns over starting or having a community on my property. Some concerns include but are not limited to - people moving on the property but not doing their “fair share”, people not taking part of the community responsibilities, opening myself up to liabilities over injuries, illegal activities that can put my family and/or property at risk, etc... Might sound like I’m being over the top but I can totally understand where my concerned friends are coming from... especially in this day and age. Do people create contacts or lease agreements for intentional communities and/or do background checks? I don’t really see or hear of anyone doing that sort of thing when they talk about creating communities. Any suggestions or advice if I were to venture down this path? Thanks in advance...
Posts: 307
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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You might want to try wwoof'ing first ( Just to get a feel for people looking for a "community" type setting, but with a short term commitment. That way you can get some experience with living with folks "in community". And experience with what people say before you actually meet, and what they are like after they arrive.

As for the question your friends have about "illegal activities" (which I interpret to mean drug use), we used to say "you are adults, be cool, keep it to yourself, ..if you have to do that". We have learned that rarely works out. We now say, "If you must do that, you are welcome to, just not here, find somewhere else where they think it's ok.". We have found it is much better to spend time experiencing the wonders of gardens, and raising animals, and laughing together, and just living in general, ...than being concerned about your next "high".

Living together with people other than long term friends or family can be difficult stuff. Your concerns are not the least "over the top" when compared to reality. If you wish to talk more in depth, PM us.
Posts: 41
Location: Lafayette, CA
fungi trees woodworking
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If you haven't already, I suggest you read Diane Leafe Christian's book Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities. It covers lots of the 'nuts & bolts' issues like liability, agreements, contracts, zoning.
Lizzie Morgan
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Thank you Jim & George! I appreciate you taking the time to reply and to share great information.
Posts: 86
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
forest garden chicken food preservation
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As a person who has tried and failed with an unwieldy group that never made any headway, I can tell you some things not to do.  For the sake of not sounding overly negative, I will give some positive advice first, and follow it up with some red flags to watch out for.

Go and visit a bunch of established intentionally communities that are working, and see for yourself.  A lot of places run workshops, sell their produce locally and are open to tours, have huge waiting lists for newcomers but welcome visitors anyway.  See for lots more information and a directory of intentional communities near you.  In that directory you will also find a constantly fluctuating list of “intended” intentional communities which come and go because it just didn’t gel for whatever reason.  Seek out truly like-minded people to avoid future conflict.

Some of the good things I learned from my bad experience were:
Don’t give up your ideals to make a dream work
Don’t make a piece of land your central goal or you’ll make sacrifices you might regret
Decide which practices and habits will and won’t be allowable, and consequences for not honoring that system so people have some recourse when someone is making things unliveable for others
Decide how future decisions will be made (I’ve realized there’s nothing wrong with the benevolent dictatorship approach after watching consensus FAIL without strong leadership or commitment from general membership.  Despite a lot of talk about “freedom” people generally wanted to be told what to do.)  
On the same note, if people always NEED to be told what to do, they might not be the best candidates?  Look for people who have a lot of creative input and don’t just stand on the sidelines.  
Have a financial plan and agreement amenable to all parties that doesn’t benefit some over others or resentment will breed
Don’t suffer fools or bullies, they are equally destructive
Know a lawyer
Trust your gut
Don’t invest a lot of time or energy in people who are overly secretive or promise huge returns; if it looks like a scheme, they are scammers

Sadly all of these lessons were learned through failure, over a period of years.  And much of that had to do with seeking people in the wrong places, with too varied a background and goal.

What the serious and logical (small) membership among us decided on was something called a “tenancy in commons” agreement.  You don’t need to incorporate, and it basically states members’ rights on a property, financial and otherwise.

I really do wish all who choose that path the best of luck, and strongly consider intentional community to be my ultimate goal, but I will go about it very differently next time.
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