A Day in the Life

Posted on November 29, 2018 by

Excerpted from the Winter 2018 edition of Communities, “The Culture of Intentional Community”—full issue available for download (by voluntary donation) here.

My name is Marty and I live in a rural intentional community (henceforth referred to as “the farm”) in central Virginia. It’s a community of about 40 private houses, as well as a community-owned barn, tractor shed/shop and tractor, community center, and a limited number of other large community-owned tools and facilities, all on 520 acres in the foothills of Virginia.

It has been described as a hippie subdivision.

But, it is an intentional community and I hope the following will make clear the distinction, which is not so evident in casual observation as in the larger relationship web.

All members of the community are on the Board of Directors of the corporation that owns every non-personal possession on the farm including the homes—but members own the rights to, and value of, their leasehold. The founders of the community created a structure for evaluating the value of houses that would discourage a competitive real estate market and make leasehold purchases affordable. All of the houses are owner-designed and range from small cabins with no services to modern middle-class houses. The two other very significant early economic structure decisions were to not have a buy-in to join, and to support the community with a dues structure that is a percentage of income rather than everyone paying the same amount.

The internal, political structure of every intentional community is unique and determined by the folks who live there. Maximizing self-determination and self-governance is a primary motivational force for those of us who have decided to live in community rather than fit as best we can into the larger society. My community uses a consensus decision-making process which encourages participation and takes everyone’s perspective into consideration, but can result in a very extended deliberative process. On the extreme end, agreeing to build and deciding where to locate our community center took about 10 years. We also have a mutual-evaluation-based membership process that tries to assure that new folks understand who we are and how we operate, and that we have confidence that there is a good match.

To paraphrase a pretty ancient TV show intro: there are as many stories of “community” as there are communities, and as many individual stories as there are individuals (we estimate about 100,000).

This is one of them.

It’s August 27, 2018.

My day starts pretty normally as I get up early to help my partner, Diana, get her food together for her day at work in Charlottesville. She works for a small, nonprofit publisher of philosophy journals preparing academic papers for hard copy and online publishing, and doing whatever odd graphics the company needs. I held the job for eight years and turned it over to her when I was pretty burned out and she wanted to get off the farm and participate in some “in town” activities. Our skills overlapped so we were able to work it out. She took a small pay cut from my already very modest wage, but that was ok because we live in a community that facilitates a lower-than-might-be-expected-by-our-quality-of-life need for cash flow. We own our leasehold, get water from a shared well, and installed a solar hot water system and a shared photovoltaic solar array with the two other houses in our cluster.

Diana goes to work and I take our dog for a walk. Our community has about four miles of self-maintained gravel roads, and many off-road paths that folks have created and maintained over the past 44 years. The route I generally take is part on the road and part on paths through the forest. Each of the 60 members regards the whole property as their own. Our stated values include respect for the land and all inhabitants, meaning all flora and fauna (including people). We are also aware of our role as stewards and have respect for each others’ range of tolerances.

I generally walk early, particularly in the summer. Chances are I’ll either meet another walker or see someone leaving for work—maybe stop and chat in either case or at least extend greetings. As I begin this walk, I pass a guy going the other way who is a guest of one of our members for whom he originally worked as a WWOOFer (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) on a break from hiking the AT (Appalachian Trail) which passes by about six miles from us. While he was here he took advantage of the opportunity to integrate himself in lots of community activity. After his WWOOF time was up, he left but came back because he liked being here, had made some friends, generally liked the area, and we like him. Now he’s living here as a guest and working at a farm in the area. We exchange greetings and each continue on.

After my walk of about two miles, up and down hills, through the woods, etc., I return home, feed the dog, eat breakfast, read and write emails, read the news (currently an unfortunate, but pretty addictive habit), and do some other around-the-house things.

The phone rings and it’s a friend on the farm who asks about borrowing my post pounder. Loaning out tools is a norm, particularly (but not only) amongst closer circles of friends; the value of sharing resources is wholly embraced. So we agree that, since I expect to be out doing some errands, I’ll put it in an obvious spot and he can come by and pick it up at his leisure. Some tools are more delicate than others and some demand special skills and care. But, once a member establishes a track record of responsibility, just about anything you need can be available.

My next stop is at the garden to pick up a few posts to set off an area by my house in which I’m planting a ground cover. The community long ago established an area for members to have personal garden space. Most of our homes are in the wooded hills and don’t have the space or solar access to grow a garden. The community decided to support those who want to garden by setting aside the space and sharing the cost of fencing. The community also ran an underground water line from our lake for a gravity-fed water supply. Members figure out how to divide the space amongst those interested and how to cooperatively maintain the space.

While at the garden I come across another member who tells me that she is planning on bush hogging the seriously overgrown sections of the garden (including space I have been using the last few years). The community-owned DR mower went in for repair a few months ago and communication around its status has been virtually nonexistent, so this is welcome news. (The DR soon reappeared and I got a phone call from the Ag Committee convener, in response to a note I sent, explaining the reasons for the delay.)

After returning home, my next task is to collect eggs from our chickens, fill their water dispenser, and let them free-range for a couple of hours. We have a chicken house in the woods by our house with a large yard that is mostly defined by our septic field which is shared with one of the other two houses in our cluster. We get enough eggs to support our egg habit, selling what we don’t need to community members. With about 60 members, there are many services and skills represented and, as much as is practical, folks try to keep the economy local with lower, community rates as a norm.

As I’m coming up the hill from the chicken yard (with the chickens now out and roaming the woods) another friend backs up to my house to unload a power washer. The two of us along with three others recently bought it as a collective. One of us will be the caretaker and we’ll make it available to others in the community for a maintenance fee. I also belong to a similar collective for a wood splitter, but with seven others. There are various other collective activities that I vaguely know exist amongst members with similar needs.

While we’re chatting about various aspects of the state of the community and the world, my neighbor arrives home. She recently returned from her annual one-month-long trip to Glacier National Park. Before she left she recruited various folks on the farm to take care of aspects of maintaining her house. I picked up her mail, someone else fed and spent some time with her cat, etc. Before she leaves the common parking area she checks with me about the availability of our washing machine, which she has free use of, for the next day. I expect to be up early, so she can come by any time, whether I’m there or not, to use it.

Neighbor cooperation and assistance in times of need are commonplace and expected, without pressure or guilt when not available. I’m always struck by the comparison to my sister’s situation. She lives in Boulder, Colorado—a pretty hip town—in a small cul-de-sac with a housing association. She frequently has stories of folks building additions without considering their neighbors, spats about parking spots, installing bright overnight “security” lights without consideration for how others will be affected, contractors carelessly abusing a neighbor’s property with no follow-up, etc. The good part of hearing those stories is the positive reinforcement for the lifestyle choices I’ve made.

The day is winding down. I check email, try to figure out what’s for dinner, and Diana returns from town. Neither of us has a committee meeting to attend, so it’s a night of relaxing until going to sleep on our screened deck—built by one of our community members.

At the age of 24, Marty Klaif retired from federal civil service in Brooklyn, New York, after 13 months and set out across the country looking to create and live in intentional community. He has been living at Shannon Farm community for the past 17 years. Prior to that, he lived in an income-sharing commune in San Francisco for about 15 years where he drove a taxi and learned his computer skills. He has been a member of the FIC Board since about 2005 and serves on the Oversight Committee and the Editorial Review Board.

Excerpted from the Winter 2018 edition of Communities, “The Culture of Intentional Community”—full issue available for download (by voluntary donation) here.

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