I’ve been exchanging emails with some nice folks who went to Italy to set up a ministry, ended up staying for an extended period, but are soon ready to return to America. Laurel asks some great questions. As I summarized what’s happening in the Village, I felt pleased with our progress and decided to share it. The names were changed for their privacy.
I’ll do my best to answer your questions within the text of your letter below.
From: Tom & Laurel Fitzgerald
Sent: Sunday, December 04, 2011 3:07 PM
Subject: Greetings from Italy
We are seriously considering purchasing two lots at the Village. I believe my mother would be happier on her own lot.
I’ve spent many hours looking over modular home floor plans and trying to familiarize myself with the whole building process. We’ve never had a home built before – let alone considered trying it from overseas. I am the kind of person to research and understand before moving forward – but then I am ready to move quickly as I’ve already spent all that time organizing all the steps and making the decisions ahead of time.
I’ve given some thought to your question about job/income. Because we couldn’t think of actually living there earlier than 24 or even 30 months from now, it is a difficult question to answer. However, Tom has agreed that a really neat goal would be to create a job/income via a joint-venture with others at the Village who want to create a business. How or what this would look like, we are uncertain.
There are others here who are interested in working together to create income. That could take any of a number of different forms including a partnership/joint venture with joint ownership or separate, yet synergistic businesses, leveraging different skills. I have found from experience that with the best intent and integrity, partnerships are almost always problematic and tend to create friction. So, personally, I prefer the latter option. Some ideas and opportunities might include:
- The Ensigns (lot 2) are deeply into the “maker movement”. Fred plans to start an alternative energy company that builds hybrid solar systems (passive heat and PV). He is an amazingly innovative guy with a tremendous work ethic. He will do well no matter what he attempts.
- George Jones recently purchased a very expensive training program that he has generously offered to share with anyone in the Village. It teaches one how to set up an online retail/wholesale business starting simply with eBay, then graduating to building a website and social media, etc. He is a bio-chemist and also plans to build a still for ethanol fuel production.
- Ted Thomas (lot 12) is retired, but he has a PhD in plant genetics and really knows his stuff. Some time ago he developed a strain of grass used on golf courses that has some wonderful characteristics. He has indicated an interest in growing turf on plastic sheets for commercial applications.
- Michael Stevens (lot 11) has had his own business from before he moved here developing websites that attract a lot of visitors and paid advertising. He continues to do well with that business. His wife, Sherry, recently got a position teaching at nearby University of the South and loves it.
- The Fords plan to be here in the spring. They are accomplished musicians and currently operate a recording studio that they plan to re-open after they move here. Being close to Nashville will be good for them. You can listen to their music on their website. Proximity of the Ford’s new home to the amphitheater will also be excellent. They are excited about spearheading the community performing theater effort with Village children and whoever else wants to join in. I’m also excited about finally putting together a Village band so I can enjoy jamming together on my sax.
- I continue to put time into developing the Village, but in this economy, real estate isn’t profitable. So, I’m developing other sources of income too. Recently, my wife and I discovered a health supplement that has made a big difference in our health. We were so impressed that we have decided to take it on as distributors. I’m also looking at a couple of other opportunities. My escrow/title agent tells me there is still opportunity at the low end to buy and flip houses. The key to success is buying them right and she has an inside track that she is willing to share. Also, I have a small invention I’m working on that I will test market soon.
- The cost developing the Sewanee Creek logo, website, blog and brand can be put to better use as the community develops. Our combined output from gardens or other cottage industry projects can be marketed under the Sewanee Creek brand. My wife is an expert quilter. She has put her skill to good use recently making handbags. She markets them at local markets and on her Facebook page. I have experience in brand development from a career in chain retailing. Michael’s website building expertise and George’s training program could be valuable there as well.
- One of the most critical pieces of any business is human capital. We have managed to attract some of the best. There are more that I haven’t mentioned who own property here, but haven’t relocated yet. I think we are already well positioned to thrive, not only as a self-sufficient community, but one that continues to attract talent and business innovation.
I’ve seriously been looking into the bed n’ breakfast idea and have already decided to go the short-term rental route which requires paying tourist taxes and registering a LLC. I believe we could generate a lot of interest in the location by Europeans, even if it is not a typical tourist stop in the US.
Marketing is always a big challenge, so your connections in Europe would be a BIG plus.
My one concern is that with all of my searching to read the covenants, I could only find a file speaking of it being updated with a Word file attached, but it didn’t show up on my browser. Would you be willing to send a copy of that to us? It would be very helpful during this stage in which we are exploring, dreaming, and researching.
I’m sending a copy of the covenants that were registered with the county several years ago. You need to know, however, that I intend to make some revisions to them, in the direction of fewer restrictions. I used a neighboring development’s covenants as a model early on because I was an inexperienced developer. As I learned and fine-tuned the philosophy of the Village, I decided to opt in favor of greater personal freedom for private property. That’s why I removed copies of the existing covenants from my website. The only rules for house construction that will remain are the requirements for a large covered porch and restriction against permanent trailers. I think porches are important to encourage interaction between families. We don’t want the village to be a low-end trailer park littered with junk. As written, the covenants on tree-cutting require my approval to cut trees over a certain size. Those covenants will disappear for land outside the natural preserve. I have lived in suburban developments before where the covenants were onerous and ridiculous, especially for a rural environment like ours where we want to encourage mini-farms with animals and technological innovation. The intent of the changes will be to avoid excess regulation.
I’ve also been kicking around that idea Becky has about starting a retreat. That could be a very interesting idea and if she is looking for collaborators, combined efforts might prove more profitable. Tom and I have experience in organizing church retreats and mission team retreats. We’ve also worked at a Christian retreat center and between us have experience in the areas of housekeeping, laundering, food prep/service and preparing an inventory database for the maintenance crew. If this is something she is interested in dialoguing about, I would welcome that.
We would be all over that idea, except that the nest egg we started this project with has hatched and flown off. 🙂 Not enough left to build a nice retreat with right now. Working together to service such a retreat would be fabulous, spread some of the work and a lot of fun, I think. We look forward to a better day when we have some extra cash to invest with no more debt.
Completely changing the subject, we used electric golf carts at that retreat center for dropping off dirty laundry, delivering clean laundry to the various linen rooms, moving cleaning supplies between buildings, moving food from the storage shed to the dining room, for answer maintenance calls and bring supplies, and for carting flowers from the greenhouse to the various flower beds.
I like that! We have a bling golf cart that could be used for that if we build the retreat.
And speaking of flower beds, I’m interested in understanding how the community garden works? Can anyone participate? Does one sign up? Is there a rotation? How does it all work, exactly? Does the community garden include a small orchard? What about the greenhouse? Is that your personal endeavor, or is that a community project?
Right now, the community garden is wide open. Those who live here now have all opted to spend their time and energies building their own gardens. As each lot has plenty of room, it’s just more convenient to tend a garden closer to the house. The primary purpose of the community garden has always been more for socialization and learning than for production. We have solved for socialization and learning by rotating every week between families on our private plots. Each week, usually Thursday, we all get together to work on a project designated for and by the Village owner on that weeks rotation. Last Friday was our turn. We had four (4’X10′) cold frames made of PVC and 5-year greenhouse plastic sheeting. They weren’t being used and had been left outside the big greenhouse and damaged in the wind. We repaired them and since Becky and I aren’t using them this year, lent two to George and two to Michael. I think Michael is actually going to use them as shelter for his pigmy goats. We put the two for George on the raised bed garden that we all built a few weeks ago on his property. Hopefully by next week, the seedlings that we planted a few weeks ago in our greenhouse will be mature enough to transplant to George’s cold frames. As for the greenhouse, it is our personal property, but it is larger than we can use in winter (2,000 square feet) and we are happy to share it with Villagers in exchange for help in it. It’s working out great. While the men worked on the cold frames on Friday, the women worked cleaning out the remnants of our tomato, pepper and peanut crops. So, even sharing it with others we still have a lot of empty beds that need planting right now. Everyone is really enjoying working together and sharing.
Back to the community garden. I built some raised beds in the Commons early on with improved top soil from the local worm farm. George has planted and tended some herbs there, but other than that, it hasn’t been used much. The Lewis family, who are building their house now and aren’t here yet have volunteered to take it over and raise a crop this spring. It will be good to see it being put to good use, as George will no longer need it. As demand increases in the future, there is plenty of room to add more raised beds in the community garden. But it’s interesting how things have evolved with people helping each other on their private land. I think that’s even better than the common area garden.
I hope this answers your questions. Don’t hesitate to call or write again if you have more.
Happy day of rest,