“No one has to sell us about the pleasures of a small town. We know them well, if not from reality, then from the old Andy Griffith Show, or It’s a Wonderful Life. But the small town we all know best is the one deep in our heart, with its elm-shaded streets, little clapboard houses and picket fences, and gnarled fruit trees and run-amok vegetable gardens, where doors are never locked, and where shopkeepers stand in front of their shops and greet you, and the cop greets you, all by name, and you stop and chat with them because what else is life for, and when the bells toll at noon the shops all close up, and you all go home for lunch, a nap, then out to hoe the melons or to do a little fishing; and everyone you liked in fourth grade is still your friend, and it’s a swell place to be a kid and perfect to be a family, and it’s a humane place to grow old, and, when you have to go, it’s a good place to die.
If such a town doesn’t exist, the big question is “Why?” If we all dream about it, if we all long for it – and recent surveys found seven out of ten of us would love to live there if we could – then where in damnation is it? When all it takes is a few good-natured people; a few to teach school, a few to own the stores, a few to farm the land, some to mend the sick and a bar to tend the healthy, then why isn’t there such a town behind every tree? I mean only a few of us dream of having missiles, tanks, and bombers, and rockets to the moon, yet the world is littered with them; hardly anyone dreams of pesticides and freeways, yet they’re chocking us to death; no one dreams of junk mail, yet we’re drowning in the stuff; no one I know of dreams of stripmalls and fast food chains, yet there are a hundred to a mile! How the hell did it happen that the things hardly any of us want are burying us all, while the simple town we all dream of we can hardly find? What is all this? – Really!”
– Ferenc Máté
So, how do we create this town, this community? Over the past few weeks, as I spent a lot of time with my family and some old friends, I have been struck, obsessed maybe, with the idea of creating a community.
I have been doing a lot of research about intentional communities. There are websites devoted to the subject. I have been struck by a few things. First, many of these intentional communities are, well, just odd. It may be interesting to visit a nudist commune for a while, but there is no way I am raising a family there (no offense to any commune-living nudists… live how you want!). I don’t want to start my own religion. I don’t want to worship the goddess Earth. I don’t want to play with crystals. I don’t want to create an empire or a feudal kingdom. I don’t want to try and pretend to be a hippie from fifty years ago. And I don’t want to be shackled with debt to live a good life.
I just want to live a reasonable life with friends and family in a peaceful community where my kids are safe and nurtured. I want to live in a place like Ferenc Máté described above. Unfortunately, I can’t find a city or town that really fits the description above. The existing intentional communities are either full of odd folks or people with a rather extreme religious bent, or they are way too expensive to buy into. As Geoff Lawton says, what started as an eco-village is now an ego-village, since only the wealthy can afford to live there.
The second thing I have seen while researching intentional communities is that most of these communities do not last more than a few years. Most fall apart. There are a number of reasons for this: low numbers of people and in-fighting are the most common reasons I can find.
The third big issue with intentional communities is that if the community does last longer than a few years, it takes a decade or more for them to start doing anything substantial. This may also contribute to my second observation above; the group falls apart because nothing is happening. I think a big reason for this is that most of these groups have very convoluted decision making processes. It takes weeks or months to make simple decisions.
So, I’ll ask again, how do we create a reasonable community that is not composed of people on the fringe, that stands the test of time, and can build itself in a reasonable amount of time? I do not think I have the only answer, but I think I have one answer. I would love to take credit for this, but we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. My plan is built largely on a very similar project starting out in Texas and run by Jack Spirko. I have been reading a lot about other active and successful intentional communities from around the world, and Xavier Hawk in North Carolina has developed a key component for success which I will discuss below. I have also been reading a lot about the Transition Town projects around the world, and my plan was assisted from this. Finally, there is a wealth of good information in the Permaculture Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison. So, my plan is not all of my own creation. I am trying to take what makes sense and what has been shown to work in the real world.
“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose site of the shore for a very long time.”
– Andre Gide
I have spoken with a few friends and family members about this. I have received enthusiastic support and skeptical questions, both of which were, and continue to be, appreciated. I will be very honest though… I don’t care what 99.9% of the world thinks. I just need a fraction of 1% of the visionaries of the world to take action with me.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
– King Solomon
Goal: Create a sustainable, resilient, liberty-minded, ecologically-aware community that provides its members access to clean water and air, space to build an appropriate, low to no-debt home, land to raise healthy food, and a place where our children are safe to play, learn, and grow with their families and nature.
- Create a corporation or land-trust entity.
- Find investors to fund the purchase of 200-500 acres. I am currently searching in central to eastern Tennessee.
- Using Permaculture principles, design major water harvesting/storage features and access (i.e. roads, trails, etc.).
- Allot 100-200 single-acre plots which will be available to lease.
- Allot common spaces for resident use.
- Allot a “Main Street” area for commercial activity.
- Allot 100-200 acres for farming activity.
- Reserve a portion of the land for wilderness (Zone 5 for those familiar with Permaculture Zones).
*note that all dollar amounts are subject to change based on land purchase price… but this is close to what I think it will take.
I first heard of the lease concept for an intentional community from Xavier Hawk. The management of a community in a benevolent business plan solves much of the funding issues. It makes the community much more affordable to the residents, and it provides an ongoing cash flow for steady community improvement and maintenance. I think this is the key to making an intentional community a reality for many of us. Some of the people I have spoken with expressed skepticism about the lease fee, yet they pay more than that to belong to a homeowners association. The property tax alone in many developed areas is often well above $200/month.
For more on leasing land read my article on what I call the Myth of Land Ownership.
- 1-Acre plots are leased for 99 years
- Lease is renewable, transferable, heritable, or able to be sold at market value
- One time buy-in for $2,000
- Monthly lease fee for $200/month (this can only be increased if property taxes increase)
Where does the money go?
- The buy-in fee will go to initial infrastructure development.
- A portion (to be determined) of the monthly lease fees will go to the investors who enabled the purchase of the land in the first place.
- At the beginning (first 48-72 months depending on occupancy) the monthly lease fees will be used to quickly pay off the land debt.
- Monthly lease fees will be used to pay for a community manager.
- Monthly lease fees will be used to partially pay for a farm manager (remainder of farm manager salary will come from CSA – Community Supported Agriculture system).
- After the debt is paid off, the lease fees will be used for continued community development and ongoing costs.
- Ongoing costs will cover property taxes, insurance, legal fees, and ongoing land and infrastructure maintenance (i.e. roads, utilities, etc.)
- Rules will be very minimal, but they will all be based on the Permaculture Prime Directive and Ethics:
- Prime Directive: The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.
- Ethics: Care of the Earth, Care of People, and Return of the Surplus.
- The intention is to build a very free, liberty-minded community. If you are not harming another person or breaking the law, then you can do what you want.
- There will be a “no complaint will be investigated until you go TALK to the person about it” clause… Jack Spirko has a great plan for this which we will be emulating.
- There will be as many 1-acre plots as possible on the land. This will be determined by the landscape itself, as we are building a sustainable community.
- A person may be able to hold lease two plots, but likely no more than that. Our goal is to build a community. We can not do that if, for instance, five people lease all the plots.
- A leasee can do what they want to on their land, so long as they do not violate the Prime Directive, the Ethics, or the lease holder agreement.
- Water harvesting and food production will be encouraged on the plots. Permaculture consultation will be available to leasees (this may be free or may be at greatly reduced costs) to help those that have little to no experience.
- A leasee can have any home they wish on their plot of land. If they want to live in a tent or build a 10,000 square foot mansion, it is up to them. However, I believe this community will not attract the mansion builders. There are “community garden lots” in Europe that are leased by individuals for 99 years, and the leasees build vacation and permanent homes there.
- My goal is to provide a place where a family can build a home without going into debt for the 30 best years of their lives.
- The intention is to focus on natural and appropriate home design and building, and I imagine that many straw-bale, cob, earth-bank, and earth-ship style homes will be built. I also think there will be many yurts and tiny-homes as well. RVs and mobile homes will also be welcomed.
- One goal is to provide some small rental homes (tiny-homes?) which a leasee can rent while they are building their own home.
- Many people may only use their land as a vacation spot and will build nothing or just a minimal place to spend a few weeks a year.
- Options for housing are almost endless, but we will offer alternative home building workshops on a regular basis.
- All housing will have to be legal according to the state and county code. This is possible even with alternative designs. The community will help a person navigate their way through this.
- We will install utility mains (water and electric) to be available for the one-acre plots. Many will use them, but some leasees will chose to go entirely off-grid.
- We will install high-speed internet at the site. This is a must as many of the initial community members will be telecommuters.
- Waste will be managed as mandated by the county – this may be septic, but people will likely have the option for composting toilets as well.
- As time goes on, we may be able to produce our own energy with wind, solar, hydro, or even geothermal depending on where we are located.
- Ponds, dams, swales, and other water collection and storage features.
- Perimeter fences if needed
- Common-use buildings (canning and preserving kitchens, tool loan shop, workshops, hacker/makerspaces, laundry mat, library, pavilions, etc.)
- Teaching/Education Center (see below)
- Shuttles to nearby cities/airports
- Hopefully much more as time goes on
Community Supported Agriculture
- The monthly fees will go, in part, to pay the salary of a farm manager. The remaining portion of the farm manager’s salary will come from farm production sales.
- The farm manager will utilize the 100-200 acres allotted to food production.
- The farm manager will ideally be a person who has experience running pastured livestock.
- The farm manager will also manage a large market garden and main crop plots.
- Leasees will have first right of refusal to buy CSA shares at cost – this price will be determined when we can
- The goal will be to produce a minimum of four CSA shares per leased lot. Likely the land will provide more than that, and the excess shares will be sold at market price to people outside the community.
- Figure an average of 4 people per lot, and there will be 100-200 lots, so that means 400-800 people. There are those that will say 100-200 acres is not enough land to feed a whole community. Well, that depends. It is all on how the land is managed. The Dervaes family in southern California is producing 3 tons of food on a fifth of an acre. This is a very intensively managed lot, but it shows what is possible with good design.
- Finally, remember that the goal here is to be sustainable and resilient, not isolationist.
- Indoor Market
- Farmers Market area
- Coffee Shop
- Cafe/Restaurant – size will grow as needed
- Likely much more…
- Permaculture courses
- Full Permaculture Design Certificate courses
- Topic specific courses (Earthworks, Urban Design, etc.)
- Full-Time and Weekend only courses
- Permaculture Internships
- Gardening courses
- Livestock courses
- Alternative housing courses
- Many more…
It is very important for us to be part of the local community. This is not going to be an isolationist endeavor. We will go out of our way to connect with the local community, government, and education centers. We need to be working on research projects with the local or nearby universities. We will invite professors and teachers from local schools and leaders of local organizations to visit and possibly teach in our Education Center. We need to be a benefit and an asset to the local area in as many areas as we can.
We will help to assess and catalog the specifics of the bioregion in which we live. This is brilliantly outlines in Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison. In brief, we need to define and provide information on native and domesticated plants and animals suited to our bioregion, how to raise it, manage it, harvest/process it, and market it. We need to provide the similar information on appropriate building and energy technology suited to our bioregion. This documentation continues to include manufacturing, informatics, security and future trends/threats, social outlets, health services, transportation, and more. Some of this information may be available in whole or part and maintained by local organizations and education centers; however, there is still much to learn and document. As our community grows and learns, we need to share our knowledge for everyone’s benefit.
Religion and spirituality are vital parts of who we are as human beings. Personally, I am a very devout and rather conservative protestant Christian. Much of what I do is filtered through this worldview. I have stated before that I have very strong reasons for believing what I do, and I will gladly share it with you if you are interested. However, you do not have to believe what I do to be part of this community. Again, this will be a liberty-minded community. I am very good friends with Catholics, Muslims, Agnostics, and Universalists. I can agree to disagree with your spirituality and still live and work beside you as a fellow human being. This is my mindset as we begin this endeavor.
I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I am liberty and constitutionally minded. I will strongly encourage you to understand what and why you are voting, but I don’t care who you vote for.
As one way for the corporation to protect itself from excess taxation, and because it is just a quality thing to do, we will likely create a non-profit, Permaculture mission organization. I am still trying to organize my thoughts on this, but a small percentage of the monthly lease fees will be contributed to this non-profit organization whose goal is to help teach and implement Permaculture in developing countries. All leasees will be invited to participate in this organization and its trips to other parts of the world. I will share more information on this as I can.
I am still working on this. I can tell you that strict democracies in these communities are what often bring the whole project to a screeching halt. The management has to be lean and able to make quick and final decisions. There will be a CEO-type person (initially, this will likely be myself) who will work closely with a small board of directors composed of investors and elected members of the community. I do not want to build my own little empire. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I want a rich and reasonable life for myself and my children and my children’s children. I want this community to stand the test of time. I want this community to be alive and vibrant for my great-great-grandchildren and beyond. So, while I may be here to help start this community, I am planning for it to be resilient and sustaining when I am long gone. I am designing myself out of this community at the very beginning. Now I just have to work out the details.
So, there it is. This is my initial overview of how I plan to build an intentional community. I have tried to lay out my vision of how it could be. I have such a passion for this, and I hope I have shared that today. I hope you will consider joining me on this journey.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
– Mary Oliver