Income Sharing & Innovating Economy with Sky Blue
Inside Community Podcast — Ep. 008
In this episode, I’m joined by Sky Blue to discuss income sharing and innovating economic models by living in community. We examine some of the ways communities and collaborative culture endeavors are reimagining the way they design and live into their economies using the Twin Oaks Community, of which Sky is a former member, as a jumping off point. Our discussion begins with income sharing as a model, but we also investigate the culture creation required to shift out of traditional and capitalist mindsets.
- Sky Blue (they/them) has spent 22 years living, working, and organizing in intentional communities, cooperatives, and community organizations. Their parents met in Twin Oaks Community in the late 70’s, where Sky moved as an adult and raised a child. Sky has visited over 130 different communities, worked with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and Global Ecovillage Network of North America, co-organized numerous communities conferences, has founded and managed several cooperative and community businesses, and has served as Executive Director and on the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Intentional Community. Sky is currently working with a group of people to start a new community. They are also available as a community consultant. They take a whole systems approach to helping groups uncover and address underlying issues and dynamics, develop shared understanding, and find ways to move forward together. You can can contact them at [email protected] or visit their website http://incommunity.us/
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— Rebecca, your podcast host
Rebecca Mesritz 0:01
Hello, friend, thanks for tuning back into the inside community podcast. This is that awkward part of the podcast where the host reaches out to the listeners and says, Hey, if you’re getting something out of this material, if you’re appreciating this content, and it’s meaningful and helpful to you and your life, would you please consider making a donation to the show takes a lot of work a lot of time, a lot of energy from a lot of people to produce this show. And in order to make it sustainable and keep it going. We really do rely on your support to fund this endeavor. So take a moment, please visit ic.org/podcast You can donate right through the site. And thank you so much, it really means a lot to me, because I love doing this. I love doing this work. And I would love to keep doing it for a long time to come. Welcome back to Inside community. I’m Rebecca Mesritz. In recent episodes, we have started to dip a toe into the topic of income sharing. And if you’ve been listening and following along with me on this journey, then you know that pretty much anytime it comes up, I have a bit of a fear response. And when I have a fear response to something, or when I noticed that something is really making me uncomfortable. For some reason, I’m one of those people that just wants to double down and dive right in and learn more all about it. So here we go. In this episode, I really wanted to examine some of the ways that collaborative culture endeavors are innovating and reimagining the way they design and live into their economies. Some of that is definitely related to income sharing, but it’s also about creating new culture. And I brought in someone who I think has a lot to say about this topic. Sky Blue has spent 22 years living working and organizing and intentional communities, cooperatives, and community organizations. Their parents met in Twin Oaks community in the late 1970s, where sky moved as an adult and raised a child. Skye has visited over 130 communities working with the Federation of egalitarian communities also known as the FEC, and global eco village network of North America, co organized numerous communities conferences, and has served as executive director for and is currently on the board of directors of the foundation for intentional community. They are currently seeking a group of people to start a new community and contribute to variety of groups as an organizer, consultant, and speaker. Guy blue. Welcome to the inside community podcast. Thank you for joining me today.
Sky Blue 2:56
Thank you. My pleasure.
Rebecca Mesritz 2:59
What I want to talk to you about today is obviously such a broad and deep topic. And this might even be a broad jumping off point. But as we speak about innovating, economic models and community, I know that you’ve been apart, you visited over 130 communities, and helped hold space for different communities. You’ve been a part of the fic and the FEC. And I just want to know what do you what role do you notice that economics plays in community and how the community structure is functioning and how its structured? Like, yeah, it’s a great way to know like the day to day life reality, like how is it affecting the day to day life? And then is are there the subtle the subtle currents to have economic shows up in this weird place?
Sky Blue 3:53
Mm hmm. I mean, one of the things that I’ve seen in visiting communities is that there seems to be a correlation between the the economics of a community particularly how intertwined, people are economically in a community, and how socially intimate, people are with each other. This isn’t across the board, you know, obviously, there are exceptions or whatever, but, but I think there’s just a way in which, you know, the more the more you have to do together, the more things that you have to work out with each other. And the more time you just spend around each other in community, the closer you’re going to get with each other. And, of course, that can bring, you know, benefits and challenges as well. You know, it’s it creates more opportunities for conflict. But of course in the best of worlds Um, you know, conflict then becomes a vehicle for for even greater intimacy. But but you know, it’s not without its challenges. You know, I think there’s the there people like to say that the best part of living in community is the people. And the worst part about living in community is the people. And again, I think the the the economics play a key role in that, again, in terms of how much you just you have to do with each other.
Rebecca Mesritz 5:28
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think when I think about, you know, the role that economics played, and at the Emerald Village, my first community, we didn’t really talk about economics a lot, like we were, we formed an LLC, everybody had very separate financial economic lives. But I think part of the reason that worked is, well, one, we were very small community. Two of the five founding couples, we were all relatively equal in our socio economic, standing, give or take. But then you could also argue that it didn’t work, because for the people that lived with us, and we’re not owners, or, or in the owning the people who are residents there, but we’re not owners of the community, they weren’t bought in in the same way, that hierarchy actually became kind of a dividing point. And frequently was, was problematic. And I know that you’ve spent a lot of time at Twin Oaks. And as an and that’s an income sharing community, maybe you could kind of talk to us a little bit about what it’s like to live in an income sharing community and how that feels like on a day to day basis.
Sky Blue 6:55
Yeah, I mean, so I think. So I think to start, you know, with taking a step back on it, you know, a little community economic theory, here. So I think, you know, all communities are expense sharing to some degree. So if, you know, thinking in basic accounting terms, you have expenses, and you have income. So all communities are expense sharing to some degree, some are very minimal, in terms of what are the actual shared collective expenses of the community, and others, you know, far, far more. So there’s, there’s a spectrum there. And so the question then also becomes, like, how, how are those expenses paid for? And, and generally speaking, you know, expenses are paid for by individuals from their own individual income, either equally, or according to use. But, you know, but in that spectrum, you know, how much, you know, is considered community expenses, and how much are, are sort of just an individual, again, that gets into sort of the economics of it, and how intertwined you are. So, you know, classic examples are, you know, I mean, fundamental is, you know, housing, you know, how is housing dealt with, and you might have a cohousing community where everyone owns their own home. And so that actually is an expense of the community that is not shared, whereas many other forms of community that housing is collectively owned to some degree or another. And so there is some shared expense around that in terms of mortgage property taxes, you know, whatever the different kinds of things that, you know, the community might be taking responsibility for, instead of, instead of an individual, you know, food is another thing, you know, how much food are you sharing? What kind of collective food system do do you have, as a community, if any, you know, you might just have a community dinner a week that you’re paying 10 or $15 for and like, that’s the extent of the shared community expense of the around food, others, you know, obviously have much more robust food sharing systems, you know, vehicles is another sort of easy thing to point to, you know, most communities don’t have shared vehicle systems, but some do and so again, is is it considered an individual expenses, it shouldn’t consider it a collective expense. So there’s that aspect of it and then again, there’s there’s there’s how is it being paid for and in most communities in the vast majority of communities, it’s individuals have their own jobs, their own income sources, and they are they’re paying in for their their share of the of the expenses. An income sharing community sort of flips that and has says that, you know, all income coming in by that is generated by individuals or by the community is going to be pooled, and basically, most, if not all, of the expenses that anyone might be incurring are considered community expenses. And then the community is going to decide how to budget out its income to cover all of all of those expenses. So I think if you if you take a step back from income sharing as a as a practice, you know, if if community is about sharing, sort of, on some fundamental level, there are various aspects, there are various benefits to, to sharing. And one of those benefits generally, I think, should be that it makes things cheaper. And I think it, you know, it’s more likely to do that, the more you’re sharing resources. And then, if you also bring in community businesses, there’s a degree of flexibility that can be created that kind of typical jobs don’t necessarily offer. And so high degree of resource sharing with community businesses, what that can then do is it just means that the amount of money that the community has to make and the amount of time that each person has to speak spend making money can just be a lot less.
And then that then sort of opens up, you know, it frees up people’s time and creates a whole opening for the community to be able to create more of its own kind of internal economy, which is generally labor based, where in all sorts of things can be valued, that are typically unvalued, or undervalued by the mainstream capitalist economy. One of the places where you see this showing up the most, or one of the most clear benefits is around the work of care. So child care, elder care, health care, mental health care, you know, if you have people only in your community only having to work on average, say 15 to 20 hours a week making money, and then, but then the community still expects something like 40 hours a week of work from people, you know, what, so what do people get to do with that, that 2025 hours? Well, there’s all this care work that then can be valued within that system that you might have to do on top of a normal work week. And that and that you don’t get paid for that isn’t valued, various aspects of self sufficiency kind of become easier, as well, you know, you’ve got more time to be growing your own food, you’ve got more time to be doing your own maintenance work either vehicle maintenance, worker building maintenance, things that then are allowing people to build skills, and be able to do themselves without having to pay somebody to do which then again, reduces the amount of money that the community needs to generate, potentially, again, sort of freeing up more time. And then on top of that, if you are doing a high degree of collective resource sharing, then there’s also time savings there, you know, there’s a whole bunch of things that you don’t necessarily have to do for yourself, that you would normally in your day to day individual life. So you can set up systems like at Twin Oaks, you can set up systems where, you know, there’s a whole, there’s a, you know, a couple people who basically do everyone’s taxes for them. So most people in the community don’t actually have to do their own taxes. You know, there’s a, you know, a team of people who are doing the vehicle maintenance and handling all of the insurance and registration. So you just don’t have to deal with that, if you don’t want to, it may be a job that you decide to take on, but then you’re doing that, and then you don’t have to cook every night if you don’t want to cook every night because because there are large community meals being served every night. And so someone else’s is managing that. So again, there’s just these, these ways in which it’s just sort of frees you up, to be able to focus more on things that you actually want to do. And again, to be able to do things, you know, and have the community invest labor in things that otherwise wouldn’t be valued, you know, and that includes not just care work, self sufficiency work, but it’s cultural stuff to you know, being able to, you know, have holidays and parties and, and different sorts of, of fun activities that can become part of that labor system.
Rebecca Mesritz 14:32
Oh my gosh, there’s, there’s just like so much in there that I that I want to parse out. So I will just preface by saying, I am obviously in some ways a product of a capitalist culture. That’s all I’ve ever known. That’s all I’ve ever been a part of. And so there’s, there’s elements of what you’re saying when I’m like, what, how does that work? Well, how does that work? How does that work? So I can’t I want to tease some of this stuff apart. So the first one I’m wondering about is just this idea of a community business. And in my framework, the way that I view the world, you know, even here, even with what we’re going to start doing with this new community and beginning to launch a retreat business, and recognizing that we need to actually create some level of economy here in order to support people being here. How is that? I mean, in general, in the default world, to be an initiative initiatory force for a business, for example, a startup? First of all, it takes a ton of time and energy. And how does that get accounted for in this system? You know, I mean, I could see if you’re going to join Twin Oaks, and they already have these businesses, and you can just be an employee of those businesses and start working. But it actually takes a tremendous amount of organizational force, and just life force to get any business off the ground and to make it viable. And then on the other side of that is, what do you do when the business isn’t viable? And you’ve got multiple people who’s, depending on basically, this, this business being viable to support the community? Mm hmm.
Sky Blue 16:26
Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, because, you know, in, in non income sharing communities, which is the vast majority of communities, and in communities that don’t have community businesses, which, which are also the vast majority of of communities, you don’t have that same kind of, of pressure or risk. At least not collectively, again, it’s sort of put more on the individual. So if an individual can’t make the rent, or whatever, you know, if they can’t pay the amount that they need to pay in whatever the collective expenses are, then they just have to leave, you know, they just have to move out. Because it’s, they that’s, that’s the deal, they have to pay that amount, if they can’t they leave, it’s just like, if you have to pay your rent, and you can’t pay your rent, then you’re gonna get you’re gonna get evicted. So, so then, again, there is still that level of risk, but it’s, again, it’s sort of it’s on the individual, which is more in alignment with sort of the typical mainstream capitalist economy. So So it’s, again, it’s, it’s a lot, it comes back to this question of how much do you want to collectivise? Like, how much are you willing to actually throw in with other people to try to do something different, and to really take on these kinds of expenses, these kinds of risks in a collective way? You know, and so of course, there’s an obvious question there of like, why would you do that? Yeah. Which may be a question you want to ask. Why would you want to go back? What was it? Well, there was there were other parts of the question. Oh, yeah. How does? How does the How are? How is it? How is it accounted for? How is the startup of business accounted for? I mean, again, I think if you if you it’s it, how much do you want to throw in, you know, how much are you willing to just say, you know, I’m doing this for the collective, you know, as opposed to for for personal gain. Now, I think that there are, there are a very limited number of highly collectivized, resource sharing income sharing community. So So kind of the range of models within that we have is fairly limited, we just don’t have a lot of case studies to look at. And so I think there are a lot of variations on how things could be done within an income sharing system. That that we just haven’t seen, you know, and I think part of what I was trying to get at before is that you can do a lot of what a community like Twin Oaks is doing, again, with a high degree of resource sharing, you know, collectively managed resource sharing with community businesses, enabling people to have to work less to make money, you know, creating the opportunity for being able to do a whole lot of other kinds of work, you don’t actually need to do income sharing to do that, like you could still have set up the financial system such that people are getting paid or it’s a work exchange sort of situation, or you know, or whatever. Why you do income sharing is, you know, part one in that kind of a system. It just makes the accounting simpler. On some level, you don’t have as many You know, transactions that the money has to go through. And then again, it just creates that the the ability to create an internal economy where you can, you can have different kinds of work valued within that economy, it just makes it easier, it just kind of supports that, that better. But you don’t actually have to do income sharing to do it. And I think there are ways in which income sharing models that we have seen that have worked, you know, could be allowing for more individual benefit. And I think that that there would be some benefit to that in terms of, of the realities of the world that we live in today. So, you know, for example, in my opinion, Twin Oaks, from the beginning could have set up a system where, where people, were able to individually, earn some small percentage of the profit of the community that could go into a capital account. And that could grow over time, depending, again, on the, you know, the profit of the community, how much work you’re putting in.
And, and could grow over time. And you could, you could very easily set up a sort of thing, which is somewhat more typical in businesses and, and worker cooperatives, where, where, you know, you can get bought out, but you can’t get bought out until you’ve been in for a certain amount of time. So it’s like you’re developing a finite capital account, but you don’t have access to it until you’ve been there for at least five years. And that five years, you only get 50%. If you leave.
Rebecca Mesritz 21:43
That makes sense. That’s like a retirement account. Yeah, for like firefighters, you know, any kind of pension pension plan, you know, you have to work for a certain amount of time before you, you get that that makes sense. Exactly.
Sky Blue 21:56
Yeah. And you can set it up in a way, you know, Twin Oaks, one of Twin Oaks is core values is a egalitarian ism, which is, you know, roughly, everyone should have equal access. And so I think you could set up something like that in a way that would still be in alignment with the egalitarian values of the community. You know, and so in that respect, you know, that, so putting people putting a lot of extra effort into something like a business startup or that sort of thing? Yeah, sure, you can account for that. There’s, there’s, there’s not really any reason why you can’t, you know, still find ways to, to, to, you know, build in those sorts of benefits. I mean, again, I think it comes back to, you know, there’s there’s a values question in here. And I think, you know, again, Twin Oaks has this egalitarian value, which drives it to want to really try and equalize things like I think, I think in the beginning, Twin Oaks was developed on a fairly strict interpretation of egalitarianism, which is basically that everyone should have the same. I think over time, that’s loosen some, as I said, to a little bit more of an interpretation of that everyone should have equal access. So you know, somebody being able to access something should not come at the expense or can’t come at the expense of somebody else, being able to access something. So I think, you know, what I think you still want to look at as a community, even if you’re not, you know, doing trying to do that kind of system, but in the realm of a business startup, and how do you, how do you reward initiative? How do you reward reward people for taking responsibility? How do you reward entrepreneurship and the work of that, you know, I think there’s still some core questions that you need to ask in there that have to do with privilege. And and, you know, what kind of privilege does it take to be able to do those sorts of things? And does everybody actually have the same access to be able to do those things that they would then get rewarded for?
Rebecca Mesritz 23:56
Oh, my gosh, that is so loaded. I mean, yes, I hear I hear that, I hear that and also, just like, and like, it takes there’s a risk. You know, there are entrepreneurship. I mean, this is me pushing back from the, like, capitalist mindset of, there’s some inherent risk in you know, this is something that I’m sure we’ll talk about more, but in the ability to make an investment. There’s privilege that comes with that, but there’s also risk and, and that that comes with that as well. And if you are sure, you know, this idea that you had had earlier of like, how much are you willing to give to the collective? And it’s like, well, I yeah, I’m totally willing to give to the collective but I also want to I also have a value that I’ll state right now, which is that I’m making sure that I’m taking responsibility for myself and my family. Sure. Ultimately, you know, and so I would love to give but I have to be able to give from a place of knowing that we’re going to be okay here. We’re not going to just be giving to whatever wild hair comes up for us and then expecting the community to, you know, pick up the pieces if it doesn’t work out, you know, there’s a piece of sort of reciprocal responsibility in that that. Right? Yeah, I just want to speak to that. Yeah. And yeah, that I have right now just having this conversation.
Sky Blue 25:21
Totally, totally. So okay, so So there’s, there’s, there’s, there’s the autonomy and security piece. And I think that, that autonomy and security are very real, legitimate human needs that need to be taken into consideration. So so there’s that. So so so put that aside for a second, then the other thing to consider is capitalism? And what do you think about capitalism? And what is your relationship to capitalism? So for me, I believe that capitalism is a fundamentally unsustainable and unjust system. And to be clear, I’m not talking about the use of money, you know, the use of money as a medium for exchange of goods and services, well, predated capitalism as an economic system. When I’m talking about capitalism, what I mean is the modern economic system, where the basic mechanism is the use of capital to create a profit that can be reinvested to create more profit, and so on, and so on capital as this this basic building block, and that mechanism of generating profit from the investing of capital, as the sort of central mechanism that the whole system is built around. So when, when you have that as the central mechanism, and you basically have this system that is perpetually trying to generate more profit, well, where does that profit coming from, it’s coming from natural resources, it’s coming from people’s labor, it’s coming from the generation of of the creation of value. But that value is, is something there are, there are actual tangible resources out there. And if you’re setting up an economic system, that is essentially requires perpetual growth, that only works in an infinite system, and we don’t live on an infinite planet, like so. So there is just a way in which, you know, you know, I mean, short of the people who want us to start mining asteroids, and that sort of thing, like, we just have limited resources. So it’s it is, so that’s, that’s why I say that it’s a fundamentally unsustainable system, I also think it is fundamentally unjust, because it requires that there are people who don’t have capital to invest, who will do the work, to create to generate the value for the people who had the capital to invest. And, and so like, it requires that like, so we can’t all be people with capital investing and making profit off of it. So without having to do anything, because then there wouldn’t be any buddy to actually do the work that needs to be done. So. So they’re all there will always have to be that imbalance. And, and that imbalance will always tend to increase wealth will always tend to try and consolidate in that system. And the people with wealth will always tend to have an outsized influence on decision making, particularly in terms of how, you know, how the rules of the game are played. And then we’ll have the protection of the state and the laws and the police, to to be able to perpetuate that system. So the other aspect of it is that it depends on the use or threat of violence, to be able to maintain that that inequality. So there’s all of that, then, of course, there’s the fact that, especially in this country, you know, largely the economic system, in the wealth of this country, has been built on a legacy of colonialism, genocide and slavery. So, all of the wealth that we have, is, is coming from that. So how do we feel about that, you know, how do we feel, you know, whatever amount of wealth that we have the fact that it, you know, even no matter how small of an amount it is, it was built on that legacy. So, so do we, how much do we want to, you know, lean into our sense of entitlement around whatever amount of wealth we have, whether it’s a smaller amount or a large amount, or how much do we want to say no, this system is just fundamentally unjust First and unsustainable, all land is stolen. All wealth is built on the backs of, of of slavery and genocide. This fundamentally needs to change this fundamentally needs to be different.
Rebecca Mesritz 30:17
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Sky Blue 31:23
So, so, so there’s all of that. So there’s like how so I mean, I’m putting out my my critique here and my my perception of it. But other people might have a different one. So so but again, that that then kind of acts as a building block towards what kind of community economic system do you do you want to have? How far do you want to push yourself and, and then your community? And what sense of imperative Do you have around that? So So there’s all of that. And then again, like, then there’s these needs for autonomy and security. And they’re real, like, you know, as much as we are social beings that have a need to have a sense of belonging, we are also individual organisms that need to be able to eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired and take a shit when we need to take a shit and do the things that we need to do and have a sense of who we are and, and have some sense of choice about what we’re doing with our lives. Like, that’s all totally important and legitimate. And then we also need to feel competent, that we’re going to be cared for when we’re when we can’t care for ourselves, especially as we get older and, and die. So those are very real things. But I think the problem is, is that, particularly when it comes to security, you know, as with many things, capitalism just presents us with very limited options for how to meet that need. And particularly, it’s just individual financial independence. Like, that’s how you meet that need. And I think we all have a sense that, and part of why we are trying to live in community and build these communities, is because we don’t want to have that be our only source of security, we want it to also be about relationships, we want to be able to have it be about caring for each other. And so again, so this gets into then the tie in with economics there is, is if we want to lean more into that about what what does security look like in a community context, then, then we have to also look at the economic system and say, Well, how is the economic system or the economic systems that we’re creating, either supporting us moving more towards a community based, caring, kind of way of being with each other? Or is it still kind of keeping us more in that individualized, separate sort of way of relating to each other? And I think the autonomy piece is important in there as well. Because because, again, that really gets into the culture of capitalism, and what what the culture that we all, you know, grew up in, ingrained in us around our sense of autonomy, like, you know, we it’s well documented that US culture today is is by far more individualistic than than just about any other culture out there in the world. And that, that this culture of hyper individualism, again is and the sense of isolation and disconnection, that that is connected to that, you know, we know what the we know, the problems with that, again, like this is why we’re trying to create community like this is why we’re trying to have that search for community. But what I think having grown up in that culture and having been deprived of that sense of belonging, what that also means is that we have been socialized to be used to being isolated. We’re used to being separate from each other. And so, so I think our, our needs for autonomy as particularly as Americans in at this point in time, our needs for autonomy are like are way outsized, you know, like they’re they’re very exaggerated because of both of the trauma of disconnection and then just the way in which we’ve gotten used to that sense of disconnection. And so we have this sort of fundamental internal contradiction that we’re all wrestling with, where, like, our inner nature, and our souls are yearning to regain some sense of belonging and togetherness, that, that the modern world has taken from us. While at the same time we’ve been thoroughly socialized and in culturally enculturated, to have that sense that belonging and that togetherness, be something scary and uncomfortable. You know, so So how do we reconcile these these these deep yearnings that we have with these, this, this cultural inculturation? We have, and I think this is part of where it gets into, you know, we really need to see community, the journey of community as being both about learning and unlearning.
You know, what do we what do we need to do to be able to, to actually come together? And part of that, is that internal work? And again, then how is that reflected in the economic systems we are setting up? And is that personal work and the culture we’re trying to create and the economic system that we’re trying to create? How are they working together? Are they working in tandem? towards some shared, you know, towards towards the same goal? Or what are the ways both economically, culturally, personally are that are we continuing to replicate these patterns of that we learned in the mainstream, that we don’t really want, but that’s kind of all we’ve known. And so, you know, and we kind of claim to, in some ways, and again, you know, the very, you know, legitimate reality of the limited options that the mainstream capitalist economy gives us around this. So, so you just have this whole mess of stuff, that’s all, you know.
Rebecca Mesritz 37:15
I feel like, you know, I took you, you did an online webinar course, with the fic, around diversity and in community. And when I checked in with that, and took that course, I was already on this sort of trajectory of reckoning around class, race, privilege, all the pieces. And you know, what’s challenging, I think, in some ways is that the more you learn about these things, also, the more I learn about these things, the more I see how climate change and environmental issues, economic issues, class and diversity issues, it’s all actually just the issue. It’s all just one big pile. It’s like different sides of the mountain, but it’s all the same mountain. And, you know, as someone that is, I feel an imperative to address these things, and at least in my own life, and my own choices, but the mountain is so big, you know, the amount and it feels very much like, like an a very, very steep, uphill climb. And, you know, we talk about things like autonomy and, you know, I just, I just think about, well, what does that look like, practically, like, in terms of my day to day life? And what what I have to, it’s hard for me to think about it without thinking about what what I have to give up, like, where do I Where would I have to give up and regardless of the fact that I’m a, you know, a person who has shifted class throughout the course of my life, and, and also is a white person who was able to be college educated and in a fine arts degree for crying out loud. Like, you know, I’ve, I’ve enjoyed an degree of privilege that I recognized deeply, has come at other people’s expense. And yet, when I think about okay, so if I joined an income sharing community, would I still get to have an iPhone? Like, would I still get to go on vacation? Would I still get to you know, I was thinking about it earlier, because I was thinking about dancing rabbit and they have this car share program that’s really awesome that one of their tenants is basically nobody can own their own car. Everybody has to share a car. And I’m like, Yeah, that sounds great. And then I’m thinking about it practically like wait, what I’d have to give up my Car, I love my car. I’m not even a big driver, but I like the freedom and the autonomy that my car allows me, I like that if I want to go somewhere, if I need to get out of town, I can just go, I don’t have to check in with other people to do that. And, you know, I’m just in, in the context of this conversation, thinking about, you know, how do we make all those things work and, and put some training wheels, basically, on some of these theories that you’re talking about these ideas that you’re talking about, of, you know, leaning into the collective, which I’m here for I’m here for that, while also not scaring people off, about about what that means to lean into the collective? And are there hybridized models that are not full income sharing, but maybe have more of that leaning than say a cohousing reality, where everybody has their own house, but we’re building community because we’re neighbors, and we’ve got a shared community center. And that feels pretty, that feels like a kind of a in between, but it feels to me it feels much more like the default world than it does the the income sharing model. So kind of asking, I guess, in here, what’s in between these? How can we work our way towards something that’s allowing more of that lean in? But isn’t terrifying?
Sky Blue 41:31
Yeah, I mean, yeah, I mean, again, I think I think there’s
Rebecca Mesritz 41:37
and I’ll just say, it’s, I’m okay to be scared. Maybe it’s good for me to be scared, maybe it’s good for for culture and society to be put on their heels a little bit, I recognize that the fear and sadness, the grief of what their our reality is based on is actually an important part of this process of reckoning.
Sky Blue 41:59
Yeah, so. Yeah, no, I really appreciate, I really appreciate you saying that, because I think I think this, you know, this is one of the things that really came up strong for me in 2020, when there was the racial justice reckoning across the country. And it was interesting to see how, how different intentional communities were really grappling with that. And that’s, uh, you know, being in touch with different people in different communities about that. And, you know, having been, through my own process around trying to really deepen into anti racism, anti oppression work for, for a number of years before that, and the ways in which I tried to bring that into the fic. For a number of years, you know, I, that’s part of what prompted me to give the workshop, the online workshops for the fic that I think you were referencing. And, you know, part of what I tried to get at in that workshop was around the need to be able to be well practiced at change. So change is hard change is disruptive. And there is a degree to which, you know, even change that is desirable, is still takes capacity, that may be hard to access. But I think what a lot of that reckoning was about for a lot of communities was was that there were things that needed to change, because of the barriers that they were to access of intentional communities, by people who were not carrying all of the predominant identities, like being white being middle class, you know, that sort of thing. And, you know, and I think the I think the what that needed to be changed was, was as important as, again, the ability to change and the question of who gets to decide what changes need to be made? Or who gets to decide when things change? And and what is the process by which changes is made. And so I think, but again, I think I think what it was all really getting out was that no things need to change, like, we might not even know for sure, we might not even have a clear sense at this moment in time, what needs to change what needs to change in order to actually create a sustainable, unjust world that works for everyone. Who knows? I mean, certainly, we have some ideas about that, but we’re talking about massive interconnected global systems that billions of people are, are kind of hopelessly dependent on you know, it’s none of it is going to change overnight. And we don’t even really know what that change might look like. I mean, on some level, you know, referencing back to the Occupy movement, like this was this was sort With my central sense of, of, of, you know, what was happening in the Occupy movement and why people were so frustrated at the lack of coherent goals or demands of the movement, I was from, from my perspective, I was like, what occupy is simply trying to do is it’s trying to get everybody at the table together, it’s trying to say everyone needs to be able to have a seat at the table, and then we’ll figure out what needs to happen. But until everyone actually has that access, to be able to be part of decision making is particularly decisions that affect them, then, you know, we can make some guesses at what that future might look like, but but we don’t really know, we don’t really know until we actually get everybody at the table together and have those conversations. So I think all of this is to say that, yeah, changes is hard. And, but but but there is we had, but there is this imperative, you know, we have this imperative to be able to become well versed and well practiced, at, at being able to make change. And, and recognizing that, again, it’s going to be disruptive, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be scary. But, you know, to some degree, at this point, our survival kind of depends on it, you know, business, as usual, is killing us. You know, the just going on with the day to day is a losing strategy at this point. So, you know, for people who’ve gotten it kind of take too much too fast, sort of attitude about change. You know, I’m not saying don’t be pragmatic, you know, because you certainly can harm yourself and just have things fall apart by things changing too much. But, but but at the same time, like, you know, the change that is going to be needed to turn things around for humanity on this planet, is monumental, and maybe even impossible, you know, and, and so it almost even begs us asking the question, how do we do the impossible? You know, how do we actually affect an amount of change that is completely overwhelming that we don’t have the capacity for, but that we have to do? So? So there’s, so there’s that aspect to it? I think in terms of,
Rebecca Mesritz 47:16
can I ask you a question about that? Because that’s sort of like the, that hybridizing question in there and wondering, what, you know, what is the next step for? I mean, there are obviously a lot of different kinds of communities out there that are structured in very different ways. My experience, as I mentioned, at the beginning, is, is with a very particular way of building community that is, leans in, but also it was still based in this reality paradigm. And what are some steps that, you know, either forming communities or communities that are already up and running? Who are not in the income sharing, and don’t really have an interest in going that out to that level yet, but want to do better? You know, like, where did where do we start? What’s, what are the what’s the low hanging fruit? And maybe like the next higher up hanging fruit?
Sky Blue 48:13
Yeah. I mean, I think I think the question about, you know, what, what is the range of models? Again, I think we, you know, we just haven’t seen, there haven’t been enough, different communities trying different things that have been successful. To really give us the full spectrum and scope of, of what is possible with these different kinds of models, to some extent, we have, we do find ourselves in the models that are available to us in a little bit of an all or nothing sort of thing. But even you know, that said, I don’t I don’t actually think that’s entirely true. Because, you know, again, you can take you can look at, you know, I think cohousing is, is an interesting, you know, example of, you know, what one end of the spectrum looks like and then you might have Twin Oaks on the other end of the spectrum in terms of the level of financial and economic intertwinement and collective ownership and that sort of thing. But there are lots of other communities like you’re mentioning dancing rabbit or you know, or earth Haven or you know, any number of different communities that that are practicing things a little bit more, more in the middle, in different regards, you know, and again, particularly around you know, some of these core areas that are important to us, I mean, and I think food again, I think food is one of the big ones and I think food is probably actually one of the best low hanging fruits to be
in I’m only good at making puns when I don’t mean to So, yeah, I think I think food is is is a really good one to look at, you know, because I think it food is has this, this quality of, of just being so integral to community building, you know, and just such a key part of what brings people together and, and helps foster a sense of, of community amongst people. So there’s, there’s just some real benefits to to to, you know, doing more collectivizing with food, you know, and I think that can look as simply as like just have more shared meals together, if you’re having one community meal a month, you know, try having a weekly community meal, if you’re having a weekly community meal, try having several community meals a week, you know, a lot of communities that I’ve been a part of, you know, had, I mean, Twin Oaks has lunch and dinner every day. You know, so that’s, again, that’s sort of one end of the spectrum, but most other communities that I’ve been, I’ve lived in, you know, had community, you know, shared dinners, usually five or six nights a week. And, you know, and it wasn’t like, everyone had to come to every meal. And, you know, and if some times you just felt like grabbing some food and heading out, like, that was fine. So, so you know, not necessarily creating a lot of like pressure or rigidity around it too, because that can just make people just not want to show up. But But what can you kind of put yourself, put yourselves around, you know, because again, I mean, a lot of this is like, this is this is culture change work on on some level. And again, it’s there’s sort of this interplay of culture and economics, you know, and we and culture is, of course, driven by people and what they’re sort of, you know, personal, you know, individual behaviors are so, so again, I mean, I think what you’re, you’re getting at is real, you know, we don’t if, you know, if you if you if people try and push themselves too far or push too far, then then they’ll rebel, you know, and things can cannot work that way, and not show up and become dysfunctional or create conflict, where it doesn’t need to be.
Rebecca Mesritz 52:08
Yeah, I think there’s something about food too, for me. And this might just be more. This is very up in my life right now, partially because of where we’re living, we live in a region, a place that is predominantly agricultural. And there are multiple businesses and organizations here that are either growing seed or growing medicinal herbs, growing food, it’s a part of the culture here in Southern Oregon. Big time. And then also, having recently read the unlikely piece at cuccia cheek by Martine Park towel, which I highly recommend to every person to listen to, particularly if you feel an imperative towards land stewardship. But I think that there’s a real need for us to shift how we relate to feeding ourselves and the role of the farmer and the role of the people that actually are providing the food, and what the actual cost of food is. And I think that’s something for me that comes up a lot in these conversations about economics is that we don’t pay the actual cost for things. We have become accustomed to being able to get a burger for $1.50, or a new like fast fashion shirt that will wear for maybe that year, but it probably won’t last more than a couple of years. And then it goes into a landfill. And that’s going to cost $15 or less sometimes. And we’re we’ve become used to paying prices for things that are based on this system that you’re talking about of this sort of like ever expanding infinite, physical reality that doesn’t actually exist. And the actual cost of those things is being subsidized by impoverished, enslaved and preyed upon not just people but also the physical world that is treated as if they are slaves. And so what I love about some of these models that you’re talking about, is that there’s an opportunity for us to start getting real about what things actually cost and how we value them. And that the role of the people for example, who are providing our food is as important, if not maybe more important in some senses. As our doctors or our lawyers, that all of these people who are creating life for us can be honored and valued in a good way. And I think that’s one of the things that I see in the income sharing model that is very inspiring to me, and gives me a lot of hope that we can say, Oh, the person that’s caring for the child, so that you can go and do the taxes, that reality should be those hours and that time and that service should be honored in a in a conventional way. And recognizing that there might be more education or a different type of education that’s needed for a certain thing, and then that sort of put into the equation as much as the fact that Well, you had the access to that education. And so how do we start to like, I mean, it’s really tricky, and it’s a very, it’s a big process to start to get through some of those things. I guess I’m wondering, who do you see out there right now that is doing that that’s taking those things into consideration? In a good way? Are there models? I mean, I know you’re saying there’s not a lot of models, but there’s got to be somebody?
Sky Blue 56:20
Well, I think to some extent, you know, all communities are models for this to some degree or another. You know, I think I think all communities again, even on the far end of the spectrum, in terms of, of, you know, how minimally, economically or financially intertwined, they might be, you know, again, I don’t need to get down on cohousing. I think it’s a it’s a good legitimate model. And, you know, so but even in that model, where people own their own homes, you know, the land around their homes is owned by a homeowner’s association, which is, you know, governed by the people who, who own the homes there. And, and so just that degree of, you know, economic sharing, and collective ownership and stewardship of land, is a pretty significant departure from these sort of fundamental assumptions around private property and the rights of private property that are ingrained in us through through through capitalism in the mainstream world, land ownership and private property. You know, this is, it’s just such one of the one of the cornerstones of, of how capitalism operates, you know, the, the the assumptions that go into the protections around around private property, and just this this concept that it is possible for a person or an entity to own land, and be able to just get to decide what happens with that land. You know, and which, again, sort of plays into those sort of like fundamental cultural assumptions that we carry around within us about our needs for autonomy and security. But I think, ultimately, you know, with community and again, even to the to whatever limited extent communities might be owning land together or sharing, having a collectivized economy, there’s still this way in which they are fundamentally trying to have a different kind of relationship to people in place through that practice, you know, one that isn’t hallmarked by the separation and isolation and individualism of of mainstream capitalism. So yeah, I mean, again, I think it just it again, I think that it gets back to that question of like, you know, how far do you want to push it? And like I said, I think all all communities are, are are pushing the envelope to some degree. And I think your questions around around, you know, what, what are the ways that you can kind of keep pushing it, that won’t be too, too disruptive or too challenging or cause people to rebel? I think is a is a good one for, for every community to explore.
Rebecca Mesritz 59:30
And let me start here, like, in this place of, you know, land ownership, because this is something that I’ve kind of I keep, I keep asking my guests about, I don’t know why it keeps coming back to this. But there’s, there’s in the early days of people forming a community and founding regardless of whether or not you’re going to be an income sharing community or an anarchist community or whatever, like political or whatever part of the spectrum you want to live on the land is still existing in this current paradigm of capitalism, where people purchase and own land. And in order to take it out of that cycle and put it into something that’s not going to be that ever again, you know, I think that’s one of our goals here is like, can we give the land back to itself. And, you know, either through conservancy or trusts or whatever, but they’re still, they’re still required somewhere in there, this chunk of capital. And even if you’re not going to do that, even if you’re going to just start an LLC and hold, hold the land in common, you know, there’s going to be a need for money, and to qualify for loans and make down payments and cover those legal expenses in those early days. And there’s, like, even if you wanted to kind of move into this place of income sharing, how does that, like? How do we account for that? How do we account for somebody, a person or a group of people, either they’re gonna all show up with the same amount of money, but in reality, if we’re trying to address income inequality, and privilege and things like that, you know, like, how am I trying to get to this question? How, how do we do this? What’s a better way?
Sky Blue 1:01:31
Yeah. So So I mean, you’ve got a central a central problem, which is that you need a certain amount of money to be able to buy land and get the whole thing rolling. So So, so then how do you solve that problem? How do you actually how do you get that money? So obviously, there’s a lot of different ways to go about it. But I think I think what you’re getting at in terms of, you know, the kind of the different kinds of investment that people have in it. I mean, I think, you know, less what I think I’ve seen and, and more what I would I the kind of model that I’m, I’ve been sort of, like, you know, thinking into, I think that there’s a kind of a need for, for setting, if you’re going to start a community having the ability for people to be able to essentially buy in with sweat equity, you know, creating systems by which, you know, people who don’t necessarily have money or who don’t have as much money are able to still be part of the collective of people who are stepping in to steward that piece of land. You know, again, you still have to actually have enough money. So that, but But you know, if you can, if we can kind of tease those problems apart and say, Okay, well, let’s assume that we actually can generate enough money, and but, but not have to have everyone put in the same amount. So then, so then how do you manage that, because then there’s the potential for power dynamics, and how that’s going to how that will affect relationships and that sort of thing. But so that that’s where I think, you know, if you can create, you know, what you may be, you know, you might call kind of a firewall, in, you know, whatever kind of legal agreements and bylaws and that sort of thing that you have, between financial investment and decision making. So you don’t assume that financial investment equates to decision making. You know, and I think this is a little bit where we can kind of look to, you know, housing cooperative models, to some extent for some guidance, where, you know, you have, you know, particularly in zero or limited equity, housing cooperatives, you know, you pay in a member share, that intimate or zero or limited equity housing coops doesn’t, you know, you don’t earn anything more on that member share, or you are very, very little. But it’s just there, it’s you bought in and that, that you buy one share, and that entitles you to one vote. And, and then you then have, you know, access to a living space according to whatever membership agreement you have with housing cooperative. So what what I’m what I’ve been suggesting, in some cases is, you know, you so say you have a bunch of people and they will put in different amounts of money, you know, create a situation in which people are bought down to some equal amount of money, which may be a fairly token amount, we might be just talking about $1,000 or $5,000, or something that is very accessible to a broad range of, of people. Now, again, you’ve still got this problem to solve of, how do you make sure that you’re, you’ve got enough income coming Again, to be able to do that by down while also maintaining and developing the community. But again, if we can sort of see that as a separate problem, as instead of assuming that, that, that, that that incoming or in you know, equates to decision making power or you know, or whatever, then I think you’ve got, you know, a shot there of being able to kind of create a more equitable system for for people.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:05:31
You’ve done a lot of thinking about capitalism and sort of the, the pros and cons to that model. And you’ve also lived inside of an income sharing model, which in some ways kind of feels like the opposite of that. Although it might not be a true opposite. And have seen some of the pros and cons of that. And I guess I’m, what I’m wondering is, as you think about cooperative cultures, and what’s possible there, you know, what do you envision to be? Like, what would you like to see happen? How would you like to see that cooperative culture reality start to evolve and emerge that can kind of take the best from both worlds?
Sky Blue 1:06:20
Yeah, it’s a great question. And I mean, to some extent, there’s, there’s that part of me and kind of goes back to what I was saying before, we’re, you know, to some extent, I don’t think we know, you know, I think we’re I think we keep trying different different things. I think, one of the ways that, that I have been seeing the intentional communities movement for for a while, and and when I, when I say the intentional communities movement, you know, the, the amount of history that I’m familiar with, is that the, you know, the term intentional community was was created back in the 1940s. And that there was an original fellowship of intentional communities that was created around 1949. And it was very much it developed out of what at the time were and for, you know, 100 or so years before, that were typically known as cooperative communities. And, you know, a lot of the either, you know, religious groups coming over from, from Europe trying to set up communities that were, you know, where they could do whatever they they wanted religiously, or more kind of utopian societies that we’re trying to form. So there’s, there’s a long history of that sort of thing, like through the late 1800s, and into the early 1900s, in a lot of different kinds of, of, you know, cooperative communities. And then when the people who came together who coined the term, intentional community, you know, they were doing it in, in significant response to the aftermath of World War Two, and just the horrors of of that, and, and sort of asking these questions about, about, you know, the direction of society and really wanting to focus on models that they saw as helping to lay the groundwork, or foundations for a more humane and equitable human society. And so, so that, I feel like that, that is the central intention behind what intentional communities are. And looking at the last 80 years of the development of intentional communities, as this kind of iterative process of different generations of models, one coming after the other, you know, learning from from the ones that came before them. And it is interesting to look back, and you can sort of see some trends in terms of, you know, there are still some communities around from the 40s and 50s. And, you know, and then into the 60s and the hippies and the back to the land movement and the different kinds of utopian experiments happening then, and then into the 90s. And the last couple of decades where you have, you know, eco villages and cohousing and these different kinds of models coming up. And so I think, you know, for me personally, at this point, you know, I am very interested in trying to help start a new community. And I’ve been working with a group of people towards that end. And one of the questions we’ve really been asking ourselves is, what’s the next step? What is the what is the that next iteration of what intentional communities look like? And I think there’s, there’s a number of different aspects to it, that that come into what we’ve been talking about, you know, again, that that, that ability to change, you know, is one of them where we’re, you know, my experience is that, that the, a lot of, you know, established communities out there as radical as they might be in the context of larger society, in themselves tend to become kind of conservative institutions, a little kind of set in their ways and in In hard to change, not by anyone’s fault or intention, but like just to some extent just by the nature of, of how institutions tend to work. But so there’s a question for me there of, can we build into the DNA of a community, you know, more of a regular culture and practice around institutional self evaluation, and adaptability and the practice of being able to change.
I think there’s other key aspects to this, which again, kind of dovetail into our conversation about economics and private and capitalism, which have to do with privacy and the culture of privacy that has been ingrained in us. Not just in terms of property, or finances, or that sort of thing. But just personally like, what are we what are willing willing to share with each other? On a personal level? Like how willing are we to share our struggles with each other, you know, and be there for each other? How willing are we to actually say the hard things that we maybe need to say to each other I there was a veteran communitarian I talked to a while back kind of around this sort of stuff, he said that, he said that one of the things capitalism robs us of is the ability to get along, you know, and again, it’s this like keeping us separate from each other. So that we don’t learn how to get along with each other, you know, and getting along with each other is going to mean having to say hard things to each other. Sometimes, and, and if we’re not practiced at that, then then it just becomes this big, scary thing that can can lead to a lot of rifts and fissures in our communities. You know, and then I think, playing into all of that, of course, then there’s this, there’s the whole conversation that’s developing and emerging more and more around trauma, and the role that trauma plays in our lives and in how we show up in communities, and recognizing that, you know, we’re all traumatized to some degree or another, and in different ways, and some people are certainly carrying more kinds of trauma or more severe trauma than others. But how can we be more trauma informed in how we are approaching this? And, you know, and then again, it that dovetails into this, this kind of problems around capitalism, and the, you know, people like to talk a lot about, you know, the scarcity mentality, and now we have to shift to a mentality of abundance. And like, I’m all for that. And capitalism, there are some actual real design scarcities material scarcities in that system, like, so that’s something we have to contend with. So, so, so I think there’s a big question there again, for me around, how do we, how do we deal with with trauma? How do we care for sell ourselves and each other in deal with the ship that we’re all carrying in a system that has these inherent scarcities? And where we have to constantly make these these choices? About, you know, do I take care of myself? Or do I have to? Or do I pay the bills? You know, so? And then, you know, again, with our within our communities, with our within our organizations, like how do we how do we contend with with just these, this, this, this limited pool of resources, given everything that it is that we, that we need to do? You know, and again, I mean, I think this is where it gets back to me, it’s something that I just keep thinking about is like, you know, given the state of the world if we’re really just being just looking, you know, at the state of the world, and just just saying, like, what’s so about the state of the world right now? You know, there is a way in which all of this just starts to seem impossible, like, how do we actually turn this around? How do we actually build the kind of communities that we want to build? But what so but then, what if we actually design that it’s impossible into our approach to things? How do we, how do we do? How do we then do the impossible? I don’t have an answer to that, that question. But that’s, that’s kind of that’s the inquiry that that I’m in right now. And part of what I’m I’m holding, in this process that I’m in with other people around how to start a new community, as well as in my ongoing work on the on the board of directors with the donation for intentional community, and, you know, the various kinds of work that I do.
Rebecca Mesritz 1:14:40
Hmm. Wow, thank you for that. Thank you for that snapshot into your, your vision and I just see how you’re Yeah, really holding all those possibilities in your heart and in your work. So a lot of gratitude for you for that. Thank you. Thank you for joining me for this conversation with Sky Blue Sky is also available as a community consultant. And they take a whole system’s approach to helping groups uncover and address underlying issues and dynamics, develop shared understanding, and find ways to move forward together, you can contact them at [email protected] or visit their website and community.us. And I will have links to that in the show notes. This podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for intentional community. If you have not had a chance to check out the fic C’s website and all of their myriad offerings, from their online courses to their incredible bookstore, all of their free resources that they have out there classified section. Now is the time if you’re curious about community, it is a great place to get information. And if you’re in community and actively living in community, it’s a great place to continue to hone your skill on how to do this thing really well. So check them out at ic.org/podcasts that will take you through my webpage and into their incredible world. If today’s episode has been helpful to you, and you’ve enjoyed the show, come find me on Instagram at inside community podcast. I would love to hear from you there and it’s also a great place to get a visual representation of some of the things that we talked about on the show. Thank you so much for being with me today, and I’ll see you next time.
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The Inside Community Podcast brings folks along for an inside look at all of the beautiful and messy realities of creating and sustaining a community. We provide useful and inspiring content to support people on their quest for resilience, sustainability, and connection.
Meet Your Host
Inside Community Podcast host Rebecca Mesritz is a community builder living in Williams, Oregon. In 2011, Rebecca co-founded the Emerald Village (EVO) in North County San Diego, California. During her ten years with EVO, she supported and led numerous programs and initiatives including implementation and training of the community in Sociocracy, establishment of the Animal Husbandry program, leadership of the Land Circle, hosting numerous internal and external community events, and participation in the Human Relations Circle which holds the relational, spiritual and emotional container for their work.
In June of 2021, with the blessing of EVO, Rebecca and 3 other co-founders relocated to begin a new, mission- driven community and learning center housed on 160 acres of forest and farmland. Rebecca is passionate about communal living and sees intentional community as a tool for both personal and cultural transformation. In addition to her work in this field, she also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Diego State University and creates functional, public, and interactive art in metal, wood, and pretty much any other material she can get her hands on. She is a mother, a wife, an educator, a nurturer of gardens, an epicurean lover of sustainable wholesome food, and a cultivator of compassion and beauty.
Support the Podcast
Your donation will directly support the production of the Inside Community Podcast, a co-production of host Rebecca Mesritz and the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC).
Thank you for your support!
The Inside Community Podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC). Reach out if you are interested in sponsorship or advertisement opportunities on the podcast.