Economics–Why It’s The Short Leg of the Stool

On Friday morning, March 15, with lots of lively group engagement and drawings on the whiteboard, we were treated to a two-hour seminar on basic economic realities by Earthaven member Lee Warren.

“An economy is the interactions and exchanges between people that manage the flow of resources among them,” she said, “and this implies having expenses.”

stool-copyThe “three-legged stool of sustainability” — with economic, environmental, and social values — is distorted in mainstream culture which primarily emphasizes economic rewards but not so much social and environmental aspects of societal well-being. And in a pendulum swing away from this, Earthaven culture primarily emphasizes social and environmental values and tends to discount economics.

Lee told us her economic premises:

Premise A. Everyone needs an economy.

Premise B. The closer your economy is tied to an exploitative system that externalizes costs, the better off you do economically.

Premise C. The more your economy comes from a land-base or from women’s work, the more you struggle economically.

Premise D. “Idealism increased in direct proportion to ones distance from the problem.” a quote by John Galsworthy

Hence folks who’ve earned or inherited money from mainstream economy sources and have no actual experience in say, starting a rural land-based business or a “women’s” service work business, can believe that spiritual values and economic sustainability are somehow mutually exclusive. Or can have strong ideas about what people “should” do to earn an income in ecological or spiritual ways, without realizing that doing so can actually make the person too poor to stay in business.

Knowing how each Earthaven member earns or receives income, Lee created an “economic snapshot” of our current village economy: 14% are self-employed; 38% have retirement or other passive income; 5% do offsite work; and 43%  “piece it together” with multiple part-time jobs and small income streams. We observed that except for retirees and those with outside or family money-based passive incomes, most Earthaven members are challenged economically.

village-lower-res

Lee listed current or former onsite member-owned businesses and noted that the majority have gone out of business, moved off the property, or are struggling. She noted the number of entrepreneurial folks who have withdrawn from or left the community, discouraged by the lack of understanding about the need for economic sustainability. She  demonstrated the economies of scale with an analogy about finding food on a tropical island — including guerilla-theater help from several seminar participants — and why we reduce our effectiveness if we each try to create self-reliant homesites, as some permaculturists advise. She advocated specializing instead, with some of us supplying, say, eggs, and others supplying, say, blueberries.

“To create a sustainable economy when we finally become our envisioned village of 150,” she said, “we’ll need at least 10 small businesses build-the-roademploying at least five Earthaven people.” We concluded by listing ways to support onsite businesses, including buying member-made products (which we already do quite well), induce experienced entrepreneurs to move here (and entice those who have left to return), raise funds to kickstart existing businesses up to the next level, offer community work credit for labor that helps onsite businesses, support specialization, subsidize the cost of clearing forest land for agriculture or businesses, and perhaps most important, allow and encourage members to experiment in their businesses and farms — rather than regulating and suppressing experimentation, as we’ve sometimes done in the past.

leewithdexterThe presentation was well received, and in fact was one of the best events I’ve seen at Earthaven. Two members started an ad hoc committee to find ways to better support onsite businesses. Lee said she’d realized her goals for the presentation — to be slow-paced, participatory, fun, and smart.”

Many of us are clamoring for her do it again!

Earthaven’s New Decision-Making Method

Because increasing numbers of members over the last several years have been dissatisfied with our consensus decision-making method, in October 2012 Earthaven agreed to modify its consensus process. For 18 years we used consensus-with-unanimity, which requires 100% agreement (not counting stand-asides) to pass a proposal. We also had no recourse if someone blocked — no criteria for what constituted a valid block, against which blocks could be tested, nor a requirement that blockers meet with proposal advocates to draft a new proposal.

“Blocking potentially gives tremendous power to one or a few individuals, and the only way for that to function successfully is with a check and balance,” advises consensus trainer Tree Bressen (Communities magazine, Summer 2012). “In my experience, every successful consensus system . . . restricts blocking power in order to guard against tyranny of the minority,” she adds (Fall 2012 issue).

Here’s how Earthaven’s new “check and balance” method works:

  1. To choose officers in our annual meeting, we adapted a technique from Sociocracy: a series of “go rounds” to nominate and choose people for these roles. We used this method successfully in annual officer elections in our November 25th and December 9th Council meetings.
  2. To approve incoming new members we retained our previous consensus method.
  3. For all other proposals we added criteria for a valid block and a way to test blocks against that criteria (i.e., a block is declared invalid if 85% of Council members present say it’s invalid).

For any remaining blocks that have been declared valid, we use an adaptation of the N St. Consensus Method, in which blockers and several proposal advocates participate in up to three solution-oriented meetings to co-create a new proposal that addresses the same issues as the first proposal. If they cannot, the original proposal comes back to the next Council for a decision using consensus-minus-one (meaning it takes two blocks, not one, to stop the proposal).

Green Alternative to Bleach and Cleaners

I have been delighted to discover a product offered at Shangri-Laundry that is effective for laundry and household cleaning and is environmentally friendly.  I call it “enviro-oxy” because its real name, sodium percarbonate, is such a mouthful.

You mix this powder with water in varying proportions to provide stain-remover, laundry booster, surface cleaner, and so on. It is excellent for cleaning and removing organic stains (such as coffee, tea, wine, fruit juices, foods, sauces, grass and blood) from fabrics, plastics, fiberglass, porcelain, ceramics, wood, carpets, asphalt, concrete, etc. Don’t use it on wool or silk, however.

Greg Geis, laundry designer, researched to be sure that Enviro-Oxy would be safe for Earthaven’s water.  After use, it breaks down to oxygen and baking soda. Sodium Percarbonate (Enviro-Oxy) is the underlying ingredient of Oxi-Clean products.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find out how effective it is for a variety of uses. Like Greg, I am a convert and use it regularly. It comes in one-cup bags, which last a long time because a little bit goes a long way.

When you get some for the first time, you can also pick up a printed sheet of all the ways to mix it and use it. There are also helpful instructions on the web. The enviro-oxy bags and the instruction sheets are in the product cabinet pictured here.

Below is a wider shot of Shangri-Laundry and the products cabinet. The products are self-serve: select what you want, put the money in a small envelope with your name, and drop it in the cash box on top of the cabinet. If you need change, go next door to the home of laundry manager Diana Leafe Christian.

Founding Day Parade 2011

On Sunday, September 11, I heard music and drumming in the distance on Another Way, the road in front of our house.

The Founding Day parade was marching down the road from the direction of our front gate. Banners, flags, drums, people smiling and waving.

Every year we celebrate our birthday — September 11, 1994 — with a parade. This is the day Earthaven’s 12 original founders pledged money at an afternoon tea party to buy our 320 acres.


Shangri-Laundry

The Shangri-Laundry is located in the basement of this building

In June 2011 the Forest Garden Neighborhood welcomed Shangri-Laundry, a self-service laundromat that is convenient, green, and clean. Parking is available just past the building. There is one double-load washer and one double-load propane dryer, so you can reserve time online for hassle-free scheduling. The primary source of electricity is the photovoltaic array pictured to the left of the building.

    My neighborhood (Village Terraces) has a shared washer, but I like to use Shangri-Laundry when the weather is too rainy for outdoor drying. And, I often sleep too late to get my wash hung on the line in time to dry. 🙂

 

Diana Leafe Christian organized the laundry coop and the system was designed by Greg Geis. It is easy to use. When you walk into the nice, cool basement, this motion-sensor light comes on, so you can see to put your laundry in the washer before inserting money that starts your timed access to electricity: lights, washer, dryer, and DSL broadband Internet.

First you insert bills ($5 or $1)

Then start the on-demand hot water heater (unless you are doing a cold wash)

Then you add soap (supplied for you) and start the washer

 

The laundry supplies environmentally friendly laundry soap and booster for you to use at no extra charge, as well as about eco-cleaners you can buy at Shangri-Laundry.

While the washer is running, you can hang out on the sofa and go online or read magazines that are provided. You can lock yourself in for privacy (and there are toilet facilities). There are plans to install a bathtub later, so you will be able to relax in a hot bath while the machines spin!

 

Here is Greg moving his laundry from the washer up to the dryer. Both the washer and dryer are energy-efficient and have multiple settings from heavy-duty to delicate. The front-loading washer is gentle on your clothes. It senses the size of the load and adjusts the amount of water accordingly. The dryer can be set for a timed cycle or to sense when your clothes are dry. The length of washer and dryer cycles can vary based on the load size and the options you select.

 

 

When you are down to your last 15 minutes (a dollar’s worth of time), a constant beeping will start and this blue light will blink. You can press the blue button to stop the beeping if you don’t need any more time. Insert another dollar as needed to keep the electricity going until you are done.

 

There are many helpful signs to guide you through the steps. The Shangri-Laundry is available for Earthaven residents, visitors, and neighbors. We hope it will help make our lives more sustainable by letting folks avoid a trip into town to do laundry. We are interested in feedback to make the laundry meet your needs–please “like” us and stay in touch on our Facebook Page.

Forest Garden Neighborhood, July 20

Chioke, Amakiasu, & Ayo in Forest Garden Neighborhood

On her next-to-last day at Earthaven, our Forest Children’s Collective tutor Amakiasu (center), and her kids Chioke, 17 (left) and Ayo, 13 (right), sheet-mulched the slope between Greg’s homesite and our place with cardboard and straw. You can also see one of our water-catchment tanks, the greenhouse (with a shower inside for lodgers and neighbors), and in the far left, Greg’s apartment and workshop, and his solar panels.

Chioke near the greenhouse

Another view of our cleaned-up slope. Our lodging units and greenhouse are at the top, and our row of compost bins below. Thanks to the sheet-mulching, people driving into Earthaven, our lodgers, and Greg won’t have to look at a jungly mass of pokeberries, sumacs, tiny poplar trees, blackberries-on-steroids, horse-thistle (eek!), and other assorted “please-don’t-grow-here!” plants. (For about 6 months anyway.) Someday this slope will grow berries!

Thank you, Amakiasu, Ayo, and Chioke. Goodbye . . . and . . . come back soon!