Wednesday, March 9, 2011

update from Arkwright

Infrastructure: We are off the electrical grid, and our solar panels and batteries (all donated) are serving us well. We are off the heating grid, using two rocket stoves that heat (relatively cleanly) with wood. We are also off the water grid. We have running hot water from the rocket stove, which so far we have used for dishes, but now that it is getting warm, we probably won't fire the stove up anymore. We also have running hot water from solar panels and a heating element which we use for indoor showers and dishes. We also have hot water from the passive solar outdoor (in the greenhouse) shower now that it is above freezing. We are taking showers and I am doing laundry with that water. We are still cooking mostly with propane from tanks, though occasionally I use my little rocket stove and a solar cooker. We are planning more cooking rocket stoves for an outdoor kitchen so we could get off the propane grid. Our greenhouse is working great--we have many starts and some have been transplanted into the garden already. We are digging many beds and should have about 1500 sq feet planted (which is not that much considering it would take about 4000 sq feet to feed a person needing 2500 calories for a year (maybe half that much with two successive plantings and 1/4 with excellent yields). Our greenhouse also kept the water from freezing. We have a shallow well pump plus 750 gallon cisterns (made out of wood and pond liner) that gives us running water, and an outdoor 300 gallon tank system plus diaphragm pump plus filters for our drinking water. Our fruit trees have many buds, so I am hoping for many plums and peaches. Our chickens were laying great until I thought to experiment and see if they really need that unsustainable commercial feed so I took them off it for a week, and sure enough, they stopped laying. After two weeks on feed they are laying 5-6 eggs/day again. We are experimenting with growing worms for them and are considering using the neighbors 2000 sq foot yard for growing them some food. We are debating whether to use roundup or not to remove the Kudzu. Jenell just built a chicken tractor and we should be putting the chickens there to help us tear up the kudzu. The chickens seem happy, they have a big area to roam in (and supplement their diet with bugs), encircled by both an electric fence and chicken wire (not counting the chicken tractor). I also hope to supplement their diet with nuts from our black walnut trees which last year did not produce good nuts, but which we might be able to revitalize. I gathered some nuts from another place and am trying to grow maggots in them before I feed them to the chickens, and then crack them once the other husk is off and feed them again to the chickens. Our batteries and solar panels plus electronics are a temporary measure to buy us time. We either need to figure out how to make them locally or get off them eventually.

Social/spiritual: We are currently 3 people living in a house and two people helping with bread labor who are not living there. A few people have not been a good fit for what I (I'd like to say "we", but can't at this point) am trying to create. The urban intellectuals who have a million ideas (mostly from UTube) but can't implement any of them or only want to work on the "sexy" ones which do not address our immediate needs (e.g. someone wants to work on a DYI mass spec!). The opportunists who just want a free place to live. The anarchists who believe that they should only do what they love doing (which might be feasible after a critical mass is reached, but not at this stage of our project). The individualists who cannot take helpful suggestions for improvement without having their egos hurt. Without getting too personal, I would say that this is the most challenging area. I would like to encourage deep connection with people, nature and the divine, creativity, scholarship, critical thinking and joy. Unfortunately the internet is still prevalent in our house and I believe does not foster most of these qualities but in some cases actually works against them. It is maybe better than television, so I should be grateful for the fact that we have no television. I decided not to use internet at home and just go to the library for my brief internet needs and we will see if we can achieve consensus on that (it also costs money). We do show movies once a month, which is OK, but I would like more active activities. We did have intelligent discussions the first few movies, but not lately.

I am trying to institute activities which would promote the above qualities, but so far people have not been able to participate in those activities. The mainstream culture is too strong and I sometimes feel like I need to start with a clean slate and people who have less of the mainstream within them.

Economy: No luck with any of the people I wrote to personally (James Cameron, Greg Mortenson and Kim Stanley Robertson). Will investigate George Soros, Ursula LeGuin and Michael Moore. We are selling Kombucha as a separate coop (for legal reasons), but in order to make significant money we will need someone to take on the business/legal side of it. We are investigating making drinking glasses out of bottles. We started bartering with a neighbor who is a blacksmith. We give him and his wife eggs and veggies (she makes her own Kombucha so doesn't need ours) in return for gardening tools and barrels for rocket stoves. We do get much food and materials from the urban waste stream.

Legal: I met with a lawyer to get advice on getting 501c(3) status and tax questions. He thinks we do not need to file taxes until we make some significant money. Jenell and I attended a workshop about fiscal sponshorship from existing tax-exempt non-profits. It would be good to find a fiscal sponsor.

Transportation: we are mostly off the car grid, using bikes and public transportation and a bike trailer to haul stuff.


  1. Wow, elitist, much?

    Work stuff sounds good, but sounds like you gotta get off your high horse and learn to stop trashing folks if you hope to grow interpersonal relationships.

    E.G. "people have not been a good fit for what I (I'd like to say "we", but can't at this point) am trying to create"

    we all like to think that we're right and that everyone needs to conform to what we are trying to do, but to actually live in community, you have to let go of your wants and learn to work with others.


  2. Maybe elitist, but in order for this to work, we need exceptional people at this stage. Most people coming out of this culture are unfit for starting this kind of project.

    There is a difference between trashing folks and pointing out that they are unfit for a specific task. I don't trash anyone. You better pull the log out of your own eye before you get the splinter out of mine.

    There are two very destructive liberal ideas:
    1. Leaders need to be attacked instead of supported. If you accuse me of not being able to work with others, it would be helpful if you show me how to do it rather than the hit and run that the internet is so useful for. Your accusation of thinking that I am right and everyone else needs to conform to what I am trying to do is in ignorance of the many attempts I have made to include other people in visioning and discussion. Also, for some things and with some people I am not interested in discussion because it would be unproductive.
    2. Total inclusiveness is desireable for any project. In order to get things done, some exclusion is necessary. I would like to be more inclusive as time goes on. I have been too inclusive so far, and it has sucked energy out of this project.

    GOOD LUCK seems to be code for FUCK YOU. If you really meant good luck you would not post anonymously and would talk to me about it in person. I assume you know me, but not well? If you knew me well, you would know that I am very accomodating of other peoples views, needs, and ideas.

    And your assumption that what I am trying to do is merely live in community is mistaken. Yes, I would very much like to live in community, but I have other goals. Very few communities meet those goals, which is why I am trying to start a new one.

  3. I realize that the above comment (mine) is not only defensive, but may sound aggressive and self-righteous. I would like to put more compassion into my response. But I also think that what I said was correct. The invitation stands to the anonymous poster to talk to me in person. I am much more compassionate in person. How can we create something good together? Maybe we can't because our visions are too different (But to say my vision is just mine and my ego's alone is misguided. I share it with many others, some dead, some at the possibility alliance, some perhaps living at Arkwright right now) and that's OK. It's good to find out that people have different visions that can't be reconciled early on, rather than getting into gridlock.

  4. We all have lofty dreams of how we would like things to be and things that we want to accomplish. But trying to get reality to fit our expectations and dreams is a recipe for unhappiness.

    Most people will not share our visions, and that is something we all have to accept and deal with. The trick is to balance striving for our dreams yet yielding to our social, physical, and economic realities. Finding an ideal community member who is completely untainted by the mainstream culture is like finding a unicorn. They don't exist.

    What we do find is a whole range of individuals, each of us with a giant beam sticking out of our eye, each with our own quirks, neuroses, propensities and aptitudes.

    My advice is this:

    LISTEN to what your communities members need/want WITHOUT DISMISSING THEM as trivial/stupid/mainstream/etc just because they don't fit into your vision.

    COMMUNICATE what your needs and wants are WITHOUT the assumption or expectation that you are always going to get what you ask for. Figure out what you can do without, and what you absolutely will not compromise.

    Then meet each other half way as best you can. Failing to acknowledge and respect the needs/wants of those around us results in loneliness

    (btw I'm not the same Anon as above)

  5. OK, good advice, which I have been trying to follow. I think that though we all are broken, some are less so and more fit to start a new culture than others. The stronger and more established a new culture is, the more it can tolerate mainstream memes.

    Diane Christian and Laird Schaub have pointed out that there is only a certain minimum of vision overlap that works for people to be in the same community. Listening and sharing will only work above that minimum.

    The vision which I am trying to implement is only partially mine. I believe it comes from one or some of: Life, Spirit, God, the highest ideals of humanity. Parts of it were articulated by George Ripley, Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, Erich Fromm, and others who have not only thought about it but given their lives to it. My ego distorts it and I would love more input from visionaries. But it does not seem fair to give anyone an equal chance to influence the future of this vision. What if they are not even interested in the vision, but are opportunists (there is no rent here) or addicts, or simply young and inexperienced?

  6. I should have said "productive" rather than "fair" above.