SUBHEAD: Our journey down the slippery slope of community building taught us many things about others as well as ourselves.
By Elaine Kost on 24 September 2012 for Nature Bats Last - (http://guymcpherson.com/2012/09/the-slippery-slope-of-community/)
Image above: Postcard of downtown Eugene, Oregon in the 1950's sold on Ebay. From (http://www.ebay.com/itm/1950s-Unused-SEYMOURS-CAFE-RESTAURANT-STORES-Eugene-Oregon-postcard-y4718-/110949295634).
Seeking community once meant that others were looking to share housing, resources, skills and fun, not because they had to but because they wanted to. Some were ingrained with the idea of “waste not, want not”, and others enjoyed the company of having an extended family close by.
The name we gave our community, “Slippery Slope” is indicative of the journey we’ve been on trying to find others to invest their time, energy and resources sharing what we have and preparing for a much different future.
In today’s world many are buddying up out of necessity to pay living expenses while sharing the workload at home in order to grow their own food, generate extra income from things made together and to lighten the load on Mother Earth, which sustains us.
Communities can be as diverse as individuals forming around those individual needs. Whether big or small, communities can offer many things for many people. Sharing our lives with those seeking the same could mean success in saving what little is left for future generations.
Our culture today is geared more towards competition than cooperation and therefore it’s hard to remember what it was like to work together rather than individually, sharing the end results. Now everyone has everything and does it all alone. This will not suffice for us in the near future as human societies return to the days of a handshake meaning something, much more than a receipt. Money will no longer be the tie that binds us.
I can still remember what it felt like working for a paycheck though it’s been almost four years since I retired from a 30-year history in the telecommunications industry. Fridays were always a welcomed respite to a five-day workweek of being told what to do and when to do it.
My husband David and I knew in 2002, well before I retired, that our goal was to pay off the property and get me out of the corporate world of waste and wants. We both knew then of peak resources, financial collapse and climate change and it became harder to communicate with those who didn’t believe we would never have control of our own lives, except perhaps to end it.
My awareness of the changes happening around me did not happen overnight but one night in May of 2005 a major change took place in the way I viewed the future. It was at the McDonald Theatre in Eugene where my husband encouraged the idea of going to see Michael Ruppert speak. He was clear, concise and confident as he gave his presentation to a packed house waiting to hear what he had to say.
I watched as he presented colorful charts and factual research that he accumulated over several years. I watched, I listened and I heard some of the information for the second time as my husband had been telling me the same message for several years before. It didn’t take long for me to see my picture of the future after connecting the dots.
In our 35 years together we’ve always managed to stay out of debt (by not getting into it) and living a simple life mostly out of the system when at all possible. We tired of babysitters who didn’t care for our children the way we did and decided I had the better of the two jobs so David became the primary parent while I worked. And work I did. I was away from our home most Sundays (as they paid time and a half), most holidays (double time), and mandatory overtime for 2+ years of 58 hours a week. This is how we managed on one income for most of our lives together, working as a team, as we explained in an essay at Culture Change.
We didn’t plan to retire this way, opening our home to a shared kitchen and giving up our privacy to people we had to get to know, not only know but also trust as much as we trusted each other.
The more we learned between 2001 and 2008 the more we were inclined to believe that people would wake up to the fact that their story book lives would soon be ending and they would need to begin writing their own story from the start again.
Work began here on the homestead shortly after moving to Oregon in 2001. We excavated the property where the main garden is today because it was so thick with weeds and blackberry brambles that we couldn’t tell there was a drop between the lawn area and the creek below. We noticed it while throwing the Frisbee to our dog when the top of her head disappeared. After the major excavation work was done we tilled and planted and for the first year we gardened without a fence and didn’t do too bad as the deer had not found us yet. The following year we installed the fence that has worked well in keeping most of the wildlife at bay.
Several years were required for my husband to obtain the knowledge that he has of our land. Today our combined space of vegetable gardens is 95’ x 125’. He has learned the good, bad and the ugly of building soil while deciphering the lay of the land including the best beds for growing the most difficult crops. Year after year his attention was focused on the seasons and where the most sun was for the months of growing. He learned sometimes the hard and only way what beds required more water as well as what beds needed more amendments, which we brought in yearly for the first few summers, this was not cheap to do. We think about the expense now if we had to start over.
It was deep in the summer of 2008 when I left the conventional world of industry and entered farmland security or working for food. Little did I know how physical the work would be considering I’d mostly had a soft life behind a computer screen. I don’t mind the hard work when I remember who it is I’m working for and what it is I’m doing.
We thought our timing was perfect as the meltdown in 2008 led some to change direction out of necessity. We had a good model that was built to last and believed that this would serve those looking. Our 30+ years together of married life showed both our stability and ability to accomplish what we had thus far, which made our resumes superb. Our organizational skills were strong and our communication impeccable. Not only where we “doers”, we were thinkers and we thought about the many options for our homestead, especially now that we owned a small piece of paradise.
A simple ad that stated what we had to offer and some skills we were looking for was posted on ic.org and we began to “seek community.” The emails came in slowly at first and we managed to reply with more info about us as well as more questions to which we needed answers.
After several years passed and names and visits became rolodexes in our minds, we refined our ad, created a blog and hoped to limit many of the simple questions that others asked of us. This worked for some and eliminated those who asked questions that they could of found answers to if they were really interested. Our sincere but generic responses seemed to work for some and we opened our home for visits and meals with those we thought we could have a dialog with.
We noticed that what many (most) said in their emails (typed words) did not back up their actions when face-to-face. Visits drained us of our energy and little help was offered to make up for lost time working and maintaining our homestead.
The years have gone by since we started this journey and our list of names that we’ve emailed, chatted on the phone with or sat down face to face and had a meal in our home with is well over 200 people. Hours and hours were spent conversing while our lives were put on hold. Whatever needed to be done on the homestead took a backseat to entertaining potential community members.
We usually began our conversations outdoors showing guests the gardens, answering questions about our methods of producing a large quantity of food, while keeping to the most sustainable methods of no till, serious crop rotations, cover cropping, composting and maintaining clover between all 50+ beds to help keep the integrity of the beds and to feed the bees.
More times than not we served meals prepared with nothing but food from the garden and were enthusiastic in our presentation. It was quite apparent this didn’t mean to others what it meant to us as there, as we were met with little interest and no questions.
Our options for infrastructure for others living on the property consist of a barn that has recently been updated with new roof, shop and upstairs, which in finishing would provide additional living space (14’ x 20’) or room to stretch out on a yoga mat, or just somewhere to find comfort listening to the creek below. Another space is an overbuilt carport with a new PVC membrane roof that we plan to use for water catchments not yet in place. This space is 1000 square feet and would comfortably fit a family of four.
Thinking of all the ways to make it happen, we even entertained the idea of us finishing the carport for our own living quarters and renting out our home. We thought this would be a great opportunity for the younger crowd who has friends that they can live with. In our journey we’ve found many of the young are ill-prepared for the future and are not capable of becoming organized enough to make something else happen.
We saw a need for those who didn’t have the land but had the energy to invest in helping us. Most are paying rent and walking away with nothing but what they came with and we felt like we were offering much more, yet many were unwilling to contribute financially. Maybe we took for granted that there were others like us looking and that we could combine our resources (as equal partners), or that we would find young couples that perhaps had jobs on the outside that could contribute by paying rent. None of us live for free.
We have worked hard to get here and we’re still willing to work more. At least this journey served as a reminder to us of who we are as a team and who we are as individuals. Being together as long as we have and without children for over 11 years, privacy was a big thing for us, yet we never blinked at having our home open between the hours of 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. for one member that stayed for six months and then left when the growing season picked up. This member asked if we ever thought about other’s belongings and where some things could fit in our home to make it more inviting for everyone sharing.
Things we hadn’t pondered were welcomed as we replaced our furniture with theirs. I still remember taking down our children’s pictures to allow more space on the walls for other pictures they brought with them. Libraries were combined and a sitting room became a space for everyone, not just us. In this same room my spinning wheel sat next to their drum reflecting our different interests. It began to look like shared housing more and more and both my husband and I enjoyed the diversity.
We encouraged making meals together or for others to cook up their specialties using what we grew. We often take for granted our ability to cook with what’s available from the garden. It’s exciting to look at a table when the meal prepared came from home with all hands working to provide it. We always knew we weren’t perfect and I’m sure there are some who would call us “anal” which is more like a compliment and a skill honed through practicing over and over until the end result turns out like it’s supposed to.
We know now that we can share our home, as we have with overnight guests and community members. We followed through, asking for feedback, as we know that one learns more from their faults and mistakes than any success. We also know that our journey did not fail because of us (as arrogant as that may sound), but because of the lack of trying from others.
Most (in our region) don’t know how to share what they have with others so they can’t see the benefits. Sharing resources, including one’s own energy, can be very rewarding for all involved. Instead of two people working 40 hours a week with four people it’s 20. What an opportunity to learn new skills, get away without the fear of coming back to twice as much work. Living 25 miles from the nearest big town is a trip we’ve been making once a week for several years, now we’re trying twice a month. But think if you had others to share not only the vehicle with cost of maintenance and insurance but also the time involved. One has to be organized to check off all the stops and save as much gas as possible in doing so. There are so many reasons why we need to live this way but we learned all the reasons it won’t work.
Take, for instance, in our email communications when we asked specific questions such as, “have you ever lived in the country?” or “why are you seeking community”, we never received a response. Some we asked to call us so we could talk more as phone conversations can clear up many things quickly. We don’t have a cell phone but many times used our calling card since their phone numbers were long-distance, even though they lived nearby. In the end, we found many people did not want to communicate this way. It narrowed our search in the end when we asked upfront, “call us, so we can discuss some things.” Failure to respond shortened the list quickly.
Lacking work ethic, physical stamina, motivation and/or enthusiasm are some of the toughest problems to face but some of the easiest to understand. One only has to look around to see the overall health of our population to understand the difficulties of enforcing a program that works for all. If one can’t depend on another how can we make things happen? If one can’t have expectations, then how does the work get done?
Our journey down the slippery slope of community building taught us many things about others as well as ourselves, but more importantly is the fact we endured. Maybe we knew in our hearts that our team of two would suffer no loss because in the end we still have our homestead and the luxury of a good food source as well as the ability to work together and have fun. What more can we ask for?
• Elaine Kost lives on a small homestead near Eugene, Oregon with her husband David, shepherd Tolle, 11 chickens and a pair of Ancona ducks with four ducklings. When she isn’t visiting a hospice patient, reading, writing, knitting, crocheting or spinning fleece into yarn (which isn’t often enough), you can bet she is somewhere on the property working. She blogs at Embracing Collapse.