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.