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Exploring Community in Western Mass

Posted on June 19, 2008 by

The Valley Advocate out of Northampton, MA has an extensive article on intentional communities in western Massachusetts. The author starts her exploration in a book about Total Loss Farm, a community formed in the late sixties out of the peace movement. Amid concerns for peak oil and sustainability she heads off to explore a smattering of the current communities in her area.

Intentional communities, groups living in consciously designed and structured dwellings, roles and relationships, are on the rise in the U.S., according to statistics published on the website of the Federation of Intentional Communities. There are, at this writing, 50 intentional communities (14 of these “forming”) in Massachusetts. Over a dozen of these are within a 45-minute drive of Northampton.

One stop is Laughing Dog Farm a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm on the site of the former Renaissance Community.

Laughing Dog Farm sits on a steep hillside with a view of the massive, 1970s shingle-style mansion of a dorm that housed many in the Renaissance Community from the mid-’70s to 1988. Daniel and Divya’s house, another Renaissance Community relic of ’70s architectural optimism and grooviness, is ample and was also built as a dormitory.

Daniel learned organic micro-agriculture farming techniques that produce a wide variety of crops: the integration of multi-use beds that are heavily mulched to retain moisture. He has a 65-foot long hoop-house, an arched tunnel of translucent plastic. The hoop-house produces tomatoes in November. Daniel and his wife Divya grow food for 10 families, who purchase shares of the yearly harvest and collect vegetables all growing season. The operation doesn’t pay for itself yet.

They’re making it work with sacrifice, and they’ve learned to grow enough food to live on—in case they need to one day. At one point during my tour I burst out, “But it all seems so hard.” Daniel smiled.

Another stop is Sirius Community “a 30-year-old ecovillage in Shutesbury.” She describes their community center and wind generator and their activities in the town of Shuttesbury where they are actively working through local political channels to get a windmill installed at the Town Hall.

Living in an intentional community does not necessitate giving up on civic participation and the local governmental structure. Rather, the community living ethic is well suited to the collaborative solution of pressing practical problems.

Next the author visits with miyaca (pronounced “me-yah-cha”) dawn coyote who is founding a comunity called Healing Grace Sanctuary:

She hopes one day to live on her Shelburne Falls land in an intentional community that is “sacred, sane, and humane.” The community of her dreams will adhere to her creed: “We need to become outdoor creatures that occasionally go in, and stop being indoor creatures who occasionally go out.” Her ardent description of the future “Healing Grace Sanctuary” on the Intentional Communities web directory led me to her – the first person I met on this journey.

Her next stop is an urban Chirstian community, Nehemiah Community, a community focused on service and social justice:

Members of Nehemiah go out at night, looking for the homeless people that they know. They make sure they have blankets and food if there are no beds in the city’s overflow shelters. They are aware of who dies. A new project they are organizing is a quadruplex in Springfield called The Village for single mothers and their children. Jonathan organizes Mission Phoenix, twice-weekly designated art space at Christ Church Cathedral in the Loaves and Fishes kitchen. The program provides free materials and art classes for low-income and homeless people. In 2006 they held the first holiday sale of their art.

She stops in next at Rocky Hill Cohousing:

At the more familiar and bourgeois end of the spectrum of intentional communities is Rocky Hill Cohousing in Florence. A condominium association, the development comprises 28 homes in 15 buildings (mostly handsome duplexes) on 28 acres….

The sequestering of all cars to a parking lot (homes face each other and share common land; residents use carts to bring groceries to their houses) encourages greater freedom for children, who are more apt to play together spontaneously when they see each other outdoors. Arranged play dates are no longer required for kids to play together. One oft-traded commodity there is childcare. Kids my son’s age had roamed freely in the woods of the Sirius Community, too.

The article is a very positive portrayal of the variety of communities in the area and in the movement. I like this concluding quote:

Friends living with friends – it just may be the heart of the revolution.

Read the Valley Advocate article on intentional communities in western Massachusetts.

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