Voluntary

The Village on Sewanee Creek is located in rural Tennessee, the “Volunteer State”

“Voluntary” is a key word in our community. Expectations, demands or compulsory involvement are kept low in favor of personal choice and personal circumstances. We trust that the primary reason for joining our community is the desire for community. Largely due to lack of compulsion or pressure, the community has flourished with high levels of regular, voluntary, joyful involvement.

Regular traditions include:

Friday Project. Rotates weekly by homestead, as calendared on our Private Village website. Each week, a designated home owner plans and gathers materials. Everybody shows up to work about 10 am, sometimes earlier in summer. A simple meal is often provided by the home owner. Project work is usually planned to last two hours, but frequently ends up an all day project as members generously linger to volunteer time. The payback is simple and obvious. We enjoy each other’s company and we learn project, leadership, organization and social skills. We learn to trust each other in all the important dimensions of trust: reliability, competence, integrity, respect, caring. And we know that as each gives, the gift is returned in a regular rotation. It’s a virtuous spiral. Hundreds of discrete projects have been completed. A short list includes such things as help building houses (primary and guest), a chicken coop, a large hoop greenhouse, raised bed gardens, maintenance on the community amphitheater or trails, harvesting cabbage and making sauerkraut, canning green beans or venison, installing a rainwater catchment system, a goat enclosure, house painting, framing and roofing a carport, and on and on.

Monday Evening FHE: Games, discussion, lesson, problem solving, planning, followed by light refreshments.

Bi-monthly formal potluck dinner. Host rotates between families.

As the community has continued to grow in numbers, greater specialization has emerged. Members are assigned and voluntarily accept callings that include: director/coordinator of music, drama, facilities, community scheduling, security, beekeeping, Open-Source Ecology (distributed manufacturing), games, etc.

We maintain shared, online virtual libraries of books and movies and a private website for sharing of ideas and general communication. These don’t require a leader or curator, just the initiative of someone to create the format for a shared online database and the generous trust of friends volunteering to share their resources in an open, organized fashion. We have no need to build a physical library, only information about what resources are voluntarily available and stored by each member in their homes. It has been said that the millennial generation cares little about ownership; it’s all about access. Older generations, on the other hand, care about personal ownership and care of things. The bridge is TRUST. We do not own many things in common, but we actively cultivate trust. As trust develops, open sharing is a natural consequence. Where there is no need to replicate assets, personal costs decline; abundance increases. This isn’t a new idea. It’s the way communities functioned before they became fractured.

As you can see from our Friday Project tradition, this concept is applied to the sharing of skills and services as well as things like books or tools.

The community is composed of active, accomplished individuals with diverse skills and backgrounds that include:
PhD’s in plant genetics, Psychology, Counseling & Philosophy.
Masters in Engineering, Bio-Chemistry, Business, Computer Engineering.
BA’s / other certifications in mathematics, elementary and secondary teaching, textiles, registered nursing, and more.

Equally if not more important and respected are our member’s practical skills in construction, plumbing, electrical, landscaping and excavation, military and police, bee-keeping, water purification and management, horticulture (organic & greenhouse gardening, orchards), animal husbandry and the performing arts (singer/songwriters, instrumental music, live theater, film directing and editing)

Each year community strength grows. 2014 has been a watershed year, as our active population and skills sets virtually doubled. Over the years, more lots have been sold with the promise that, as homes are built, transitions made, new trusting relationships created, the Village will only grow in strength and stability. It’s a pretty nice place to live for a volunteer.

Is it time to go Solar?

English: Solar panel installation at an inform...

Solar panel installation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all about self-sufficiency and sustainability.  But, for those who don’t have money to burn, sustainability must first be applied at the individual, economic  level, avoiding debt, paying as you go, using resources wisely and demanding a good return on invested funds.   With PV panel prices over $1/watt, the ROI simply isn’t there.   And . . . when outgo exceeds income, it’s simply not sustainable.

Here is a good industry article indicating that solar panel manufacturers will go through a major consolidation this year. Shorthand:  It may finally be a good time to invest in renewable, solar energy if other fundamentals are in place.

Longhand analysis:

Consolidation is a weeding out of the smaller, less efficient manufacturers in favor of low-cost, high-volume, efficient manufacturers.  The remaining suppliers will benefit from lower supply and less intense pricing pressures.  It remains to be seen whether prices will increase in the aftermath of lower supply.  Prices may continue to decline, despite decreased market pressure, as new, more efficient technologies and manufacturing techniques are developed.  Or, consolidation may signal the bottoming out of PV panel prices. 

There seems to be some improvement in the economy, at least in some sectors.  This could release pent-up demand from homeowners who have been waiting to invest in solar out of fear over a potential job loss or from businesses waiting for better times.  If we have industry consolidation (lower supply) that coincides with higher demand, the remaining suppliers will benefit from even higher economies of scale, resulting in higher profitability and perhaps lower prices as low-cost suppliers further consolidate market-share.

By observing general trends in the silicone based high-tech sector, one could conclude that prices will continue to decline.  That is, unless there is some other major disruption in the supply chain (like war, political upheaval, etc.)  If prices begin to increase post-consolidation, this may trigger more government intervention and subsidization, which could also be an offsetting factor.  But once consolidation has occurred, companies may use subsidies to simply pad their bottom lines, further strengthening their balance sheets and staying power in the market rather than reduce prices.

Achieving self-sufficiency and sustainability is expensive.  Achieving it without bankrupting yourself requires a long-term, plodding approach.  Like Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, (remember that from college psychology or sociology classes?) one does not achieve self-actualization until the more basic needs are covered.  PV solar, is at the top of the pyramid.  Nice to be there, but not doable without a solid foundation.  First, you cover basics like food, water and shelter.  Next is energy in the form of least costly and highest efficiency.  Energy for heat and cooling falls in this category.  Passive solar or bio-mass solutions are a much better alternative.    Never try to provide these using Photo Voltaics.  That would be like trying to survive in a famine on an all-corn-fed-beef diet where it takes 15 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.  Inefficient and unsustainable.

Industry consolidation is just one factor to consider in determining when is the right moment to invest in Solar technology.  My sense is that now is a much better time for solar PV than a few years ago.  I’m glad I waited, opting for low-tech, high ROI alternatives in the meantime.  But the question remains, should I wait longer?  The economy looks to be improving in the short term, but the world still looks extremely fragile.  This may be the perfect moment to invest in self-sufficiency, whether it is a modest amount of solar PV or a more secure location on which to place it.

If you would like to become more self-sufficient, off-grid and better prepared, consider the benefits of doing that in a community of like-minded people who will help you get there on a solid foundation.  Inquire here.

ETHOS: Left and Right are just arms and legs on the same body

Oops, too close for youtube’s comfort? Only hours after I posted this it disappeared. http://vimeo.com/24706064
Watch the video before you read the following:

“Our Ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business and our politics.”
Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010

The left/right, liberal/conservative paradigm is meaningless. It is a smoke screen, a delusion, a diversion. I have to keep reminding myself of that because my thoughts and values are so steeped in conservative traditions. Harrelson, Zinn and others in this movie are icons of the left. Yet, here he is speaking intelligently to the same issues that have polarized the right against the left and reaching similar conclusions to mine on what to do about it.

One of the prime reasons for this Village is a reaction to a world gone berserk. 9/11 was the watershed moment that changed my world view and led ultimately to my decision to find another solution. It is a reaction to powerlessness against overwhelmingly powerful forces.

Most of the world has taken refuge in the very activities that perpetuate their surrender of freedom and meaning in life. Harrelson correctly points out that in the aftermath of 9/11, we were told the solution was to go shopping. And again, in 2008 when the economy crumbled, we were told that it was our duty to save the economy by doing what? “Go shopping”.

How ironic is it that I am now teaching “Strategic Marketing” at the University? Yet, Marketing, like the Internet, like a gun, like a drill press or a saw, is a tool, not inherently good or evil. It is simply a means of identifying and satisfying human needs and desires. Some enterprises use marketing effectively to pander to base human needs and wants. There is a BIG market for these products and services.

I do marketing to find and satisfy people who are looking for a means to improve their lives, to find meaning and joy. The product I am building is mostly intangible. It is community, harmony, security, connection to nature, creative and constructive work, a meaningful life. In this context and for this purpose, is marketing evil? Only if what I am selling is bogus or of poor quality.

Yet, while I agree with Harrelson’s prescription, it is only one element of a total solution for an empty, shackled life. “Stop shopping” or at least shop wisely. It’s positioned as an offensive weapon against an entrenched corporate enemy. Is that where it ends? In the unlikely event that this perpetual war should end, either in victory or defeat, what do we, the wounded and weary foot-soldiers, return from the battle front to? There must be something more, something meaningful to replace our culture’s obsession with consumptive living.

Sandy Hook is another 9/11 event. It is meant to polarize right and left. Masterful marketing used with malice aforethought, IMHO. Extreme polarization between left and right. Strident calls for disarmament from the left while demand for guns and ammo empties the gun stores and heavily armed and fortified communities appear in Idaho and elsewhere.

Left and right are just arms and legs on the same body.
Powers that divide, profitably conquer
while the masses, having lost their heads,
trade arms, legs, body and soul for fear and division.
– Grant Miller

In answer to this insanity, can we not respectfully explore and enjoy different perspectives and world views while we live peaceably within our means and “in Harmony with Nature and People”? That is my solution and my intent.