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Credit: Kevin Murphy

Paul and Jocelyn warn that they are going to talk about some of the problems and some people might not like this. Jocelyn states that community and people systems are 90% of the permaculture at the farm. Paul has been at some communities where the people are very miserable. When the labs started it was lots of work and also lots of fun. Then it took a turn for the worse. The lab is currently looking for a land manager and some of the previous candidates did not work out so well.

The farm is now moving away from a gapper system and moving towards the ant village system going forward. Due to some of the perks there were lots of people who showed up but most did not really work out. Paul reviews how the dump truck failed, it went down. The truck was taken to a local repair person who said they could get it done quickly. After a week the local guy said it would be repaired soon. Weeks later Paul asked again when it was going to be done. It was actually three months and still he had not fixed it. In order to fix the truck they had to get someone else. Several other pieces of equipment also rely on dump truck. With the truck being down it impacted lots of equipment and other ongoing operations.

Moving on to the solar oven problem, the inventor of this oven sent one to Paul and a person volunteered to review it but several months passed and he never wrote the review. The person who took the oven from Paul said he would review it and he did use it but never wrote the review. Paul states that when you say you will do something you must do it.

The story of Emitt came next. Emitt said he would stay at the farm forever. Paul's brother was supposed to go away and showed Emitt how to take care of their animals. After two days Emitt decides to leave(to take a job that pays more) and he just split. Paul feels it was disrespectful to just leave. Who is supposed to take care of the animals now in Emmitts absences? Emitt will not be welcome back ever. Also, smoking and tobacco is not allowed at the farm but some people try to bend the rules. They step over the property line and have a cigarette.

Next was Gerry. Gerry has shortcomings and developing a system that allows him to grow will be a challenge. Gerry peeled logs for two days and on his third day he decides to come into the house and eat mid morning. Paul asks why Gerry is in the house and Gerry explains that he is taking a personal day. Gerry told Paul what a horrible leader he is. Gerry also pointed out how a person was chewing with his mouth open and how Paul needed to reprimand this person. Gerry had a whole list of complaints and how Paul needs to be with the Gappers more and put out more podcasts and more Youtube videos and Gerrys list went on and on.

Gerry agreed to not take anymore personal days but he did do it again and again. Multiple people tried to help Gerry wake up each morning and Gerry just hid in his tent. Another time Gerry tried making bread and it did not turn out well. Paul feels that Gerry did not understand what a Gapper was supposed to do. Paul had to have multiple conversations with Gerry about making up the hours when he took time off. Gerry said that he would agree to work weekends to get caught up but he never worked the weekends. The mission now is to develop a system where a Gerry type person can grow. Gerry felt his contribution was just as important as everyone else's. There was also a problem with the flatware. In an attempt to save money Jocelyn bought some small cheap flatware. Tim brought some flatware down and someone bent it all up into weird shapes. Paul felt this was very disrespectful. Tim brought 17 gloves down. Notice the odd number? People were disrespectful of their equipment and tools. Paul wonders how to design a system that accommodates a Gerry.

Paul's new design requires $800 to start and you bring your own tools and own gloves and own spoons. This is just a sampling of some of the problems. Jocelyn discusses how resentment builds up. Poison always spreads more poison. When a person is disrespectful it is toxic to the community. Paul reviews the Gapper program and how it is going to evolve. Paul said the Gapper program would cost the farm a $1000 a month and the Gappers only paid $100 a week. The Gapper worked 35 hours and sometimes a lot less. There was a lack of leadership. They were not policed and no one cleaned up after themselves. During the 35 hours they would do laundry and prepare to do fun stuff. Eventually the 35 hours got knocked down to 20. Some people would take a 2 hour lunch. There was lots of coasting.

Not all Gappers coasted. The hard working people got fed up with the coasters. Everyone was taking weekends off and Paul was getting resentful about having to feed people on Saturday and Sunday. Paul was paying a cook to prepare meals on Saturday and people would sleep in and people didn't want to work or do projects on the weekends. The program devolved more and more as time went on. Paul became poisoned and then he would spew more poison. Paul felt that the people doing good work were punished for the coasters. Cleaning was another area where resentment built up. There was a mix of Gappers and non Gappers at the farm. Some people suggested using a chore chart. Paul doesn't like chore charts. Paul doesn't feel as adults we need the chore charts. Paul pointed out that no one policed the chore charts.

The new gapper program requires no hourly obligation. But no food will be provided. The Ant program might provide food for those who work. There might be a potluck meal once a week. There will be tasks for pay. The pay will be lump sum. Paul thinks this will be more fair. Paul is worried about the quality of the work too. Paul discusses a situation where he had some problems getting good quality and what he calls perfect happiness. Paul hopes that the deep roots people and some of the Ants will also pay people for work. Paul explains how there are a number of large projects that he would like to see done. The Berm Shed is one big project,upgrades to the WOFATI and Pooper too. Sewing and cooking projects are on the list too. Paul could see hiring a person to prepare a meal or two a week. Paul and Jocelyn are swamped with computer work at the moment and still cleaning up from the 20 month party.

The Permies.com staff are coming during a super week along with the RMH seminars so there is work to be done to get the farm in proper order. Paul has a long list of projects that he needs done. Lots of mulching projects!! With the new Gapper program, people will not be all that welcome in the house. Paul and Jocelyn review the kitchen commander job and how it was mostly tolerated by people who took the job. Most people wished they had a better job and did not love the job. Paul was told that the job did not pay well and would take more than 40 hours a week. Paul did not agree with this. Chef Seth was able to do the job in about 15 hours a week but had a small group to serve but even so with more people Chef Seth felt that it would not take 40 hours. Other people took much longer. Jocelyn was hoping to find a person who was also into butchering and preserving food and preparing meals ahead of time. After preparing meals and cleaning up, Kaitlyn spent her time with a toddler which was very understandable. Jocelyn was surprised at how many cooks could not make things happen.

Paul talks about how the Gapper program could work well as a resort. With lots of activities and good strong leadership. The resort package would cost a person more but would fit people much better. Jocelyn feels that younger people would do better with the resort package. Some people do not know what their impact is. Paul needs it to be this way so that the people who work get rewarded and the people who don't work as hard pay another way. People criticized how Paul needs to screen better. There was lots of talk about screening people and checking references but there is no way to really check how good or bad a person is before they arrive. Paul thinks the new system will work better. The Ants will help weed out the poor performers. Paul recalls how he use to work for a farm making $4 per hour 12 hours a day 7 days a week and the jobs were in high demand. You had to figure out things on your own or they fired you. With that money you paid your rent and bought food. Everyday Paul rode a bike to work. He saved his money instead of spending his money.

Here is the current status of people on the farm. All the Gappers are gone. All paid workers are gone. Evan is the first Ant.

Relevant Threads

Gapper Dilemma Thread
Gapper Program 2.0
Ant Village

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Posts: 35
Location: Zone 9b, northern California, 2500 ft elevation
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Thank you for telling it like it was. We've been told that in any organization, 20% of the people actually do the work - and some groups we've noticed it's a much lower percentage. Unfortunately, many adults are not mature - they're adult children and they do need someone to get on their case. Also, humans tend to have a "monkey see monkey do" attitude so if one person slacks off and gets away with it, others follow... It doesn't seem to matter what the organization is, we've experienced this with leading music, rockhounding and hiking groups. Usually the folks who give you the most grief are the ones doing the least (perhaps thinking "offense is the best defense?")

Anyway, kudos to you for realizing you need to change things up. All the best to you with the new Ant Village concept.
Posts: 518
Location: AndalucĂ­a, Spain
trees rabbit books chicken bee greening the desert
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I have often seem you as a bit of a hot head - now I realise that compared to me, you are an angel. I would have kicked many of the people you talked about in this podcast out - just OUT! The guy who just left - if I had the Adress for the farm he left for, I would have called them up, just to let them know who they were hiring.

It is amazing that you put up with it - and even people being payed! Don't like the pay or the hours - leave! Cooking for 15 people? Who all eat at the same time? How can people think they are professional if they can't handle that I 40 hrs pr week?

You guys are angels - don't let people take atvantage of that.
Posts: 724
Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
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good podcast - thanks for posting it.

i have a few small things to add:

it seems like what you are looking for in integrity. do what you say you will do, when you said you would do it.
as Johanna said, there are a lot of adults that seem stuck in an adolescence mindset. the ones with their shit together are doing their own things.
i think just discussing it and trying to work through it may be a good attractant to some people that more precisely fit your system.

about designing a system for gerry. part of me says, why would you build a system designed for use by someone you dont want around? this person clearly does not fit your system. this isnt to say he is a bad guy, just a bad guy for your system. also, be careful, if you design a perfect system for gerry, as you are bound to attract more gerrys, right?

if you must design a system, i think there has to be clear boundaries and consequences.
could you set up a system where for the first 2(?) weeks, the new person mirrored someone from the lab that has shown they can nurture a noob to the ways of wheaton labs?
Posts: 8
Location: Saskatchewan, Canada
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Tough row to hoe. Reminds me of trying to get an honest day's work out of a teen glued to a cell phone and hard wired into any excuse for a day away/party. Holy hell. On the topic of farm hands, I have tried to "hire" help in exchange for farm goods. People expect to be given produce and I haven't found many interested in actually helping harvest in exchange. Wish I lived closer. Fantastic opportunities to learn and be a part of something great are wasted on those who do not appreciate the potential and possibilities of working with nature. Even so, miracles do happen, don't they?
Posts: 31
Location: Northglenn, Colorado
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Thank you SO much for posting this. I feel this is a master class in these issues and some of the most valuable information I've gleaned from your podcasts. That isn't an insult to the other podcasts, they are also fantastic, but a compliment for talking about all the dirty things other people sweep away and never warn about. There is literally no where else to get this candid of a discussion about these issues. Compared to working with me, Paul is a saint that should be applauded for his willingness to work with people under these circumstances. I know it's hard to share the failures but this is info is going to help so many people looking to get into large scale permaculture. Again, thank you so much for sharing.

Posts: 57
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I am surprised you didn't have more people interested in food prep- not just cooking, but the sort of farm level things one can do, like boiling up huge cauldron of bone broth.

And after watching the Tudor Monastery farms, and a bunch of the other ones that crew has made, I wouldn't be surprised if Gerry could be encouraged to work via some sort of fermented beverage. I bet he'd peel a lot of logs if he got a pint for every log done. I suppose you'd have to keep the drinkers away from the power tools.

But on a more sober note, in many cases the sort of place people need is analogous to a hospital- a therapeutic environment in which the insults of the modern world are absent- and absent for long enough. This sort of environment can only exist within a community that is already pretty robust.
Posts: 63
goat forest garden bee
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I teach Ad Ed gardening. I had about half that were like Gerry when I started, now I'd say 15%. What has worked is clear cut standards and a place/niche for everyone. I have people with health challenges, and people who have helped me take down a whole major tree. If I can find what makes the students excited, and I'm getting the class feeling like this is the coolest thing they ever signed up to do, they are doing the time by working like crazies to stay in the program.. momentum.
However, what you had, is that you needed an escape clause from Gerrys, to find people who can't work but can cook and want to learn about the land but will cook to stay, a price that covered all the expenses such as food, etc., and an apprentice that you taught who will teach them so they work as a group on projects so that the students know the clear boundaries. Your apprentice would have no the acre fee as payment. The apprentice would get the students working as a group; he or she would be a farm manager
Personally, I think the ANT Village is so much better and a great idea because you need people who are self-starters.
Posts: 28
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It might be helpful to set aside gapper psychology of a moment and think about gapper physiology. Two or three months (maybe even weeks) is probably about how long one can exceed one's capacity for physical work before starting to experience burn out. People tend to be unaware of just how little physical work they are capable of performing on an ongoing basis.

Around 20 years ago I was a wwoofer for a short while. I worked with a pick-ax 8 hours a day outside (despite the 4-hour a day rule at the time) and during week 3 of a 4 week commitment I hit the wall and got sick and left a few days later. In retrospect it's no wonder. I was just out of college, and although I had played an intramural sport here and there, and enjoyed raking my parent's yard while visiting, I had never done daily physical labor in my life. The truth I was in piss-poor shape after haphazard exercise, poor sleep, drinking, studying, and eating crap food everyday. No way was I capable of transitioning directly into a full-time manual labor. And that was pre-internet!

You don't realize your limitations at the time. You just think about how you feel so good when you work hard on your parent's yard/house all day and then go and eat dinner and rest and if you could do that every day instead of wasting away at a desk in front of a computer or whatever, how much better would life be! You'd be in such great shape! But string together five of those days in a row and you start hitting the wall. Now if you need that job to survive maybe you'll be able to perservere for a season or a year and adjust, and no one gives a shit if you are miserable, but if you are just a gapper you don't have that survival motivation and in theory you're not supposed to be miserable.

I know a guy in his sixties who recently built his own house on weeknights and Saturdays. He told me he would hire two high-school students to help him out on Saturdays. They'd each do a 5-hour shift so he could get 10 hours in. He said you think since they're young they have more energy than older folks but he found that they had very little work capacity.

These are the people who will be showing up at the lab out of high-school/college/sedentary jobs. Chances are also good that in an effort to improve their health they are frequently becoming vegetarian/vegan, which is only going to make things worse for them (speaking from experience).

Only now am I becoming aware of just how little room there is to maneuver between productive exercise/labor and overtraining for anyone who has a sedentary job and is deconditioned. The only way out is to very carefully proceed with training and really staying on top of it so that you always leave gas in the tank. It takes a lot of patience. It's the tortoise and the hare. You have to be the tortoise. Maybe you should have a tortoise village!

It will take a wise ant villager to titrate his/her level of exertion to keep it underneath the level which will lead to burnout or injury. But that is probably more of an option for an ant villager than a for a gapper toxically obligated to work a certain number of hours per week.

But anyway, something to think about. For the resort experience you would need not just a cook and janitor and farm mentor, but also a physical coach, who will set limits and bring the gappers along physically at a pace that is sustainable for each individual.

Good luck with lab 2.0.
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