The Low Road to Freedom – How Buildings Learn

This BBC-produced video showcases low cost construction and its relationship to freedom.  As a lifelong follower of Thoreau’s philosophies, this resonates with me. Freedom to build “what you need” is a principle upon which the Village on Sewanee Creek rests. 

So, we have a roughly 5,500 square foot mansion currently under construction here. It is anything but low cost. But it is what the owners decided they need. From my point of view, that’s wonderful. If you have the resources so that the building does not become a lead weight on your life, it can become such a blessing, not only to the owners, but to those they chose to share it with. In the Village, where we are collectively all about voluntary sharing, what a blessing that can be!   It’s what’s inside that counts.  I’m confident that the owners who will become the heart of this magnificent home when it is completed, will bless all of us with their generous spirit and wise hearts.

On the other extreme, we have three “Tiny Homes” that are “finished” and occupied with capacity for future expansion and creative expression as need dictates. Large or small, expensive or low cost, or somewhere in between, the range of homes in the Village expresses our core values.  One of the most important among our values is the individual freedom to build according to needs as each of us defines them. 

Out of that freedom, comes a natural diversity of expression. That diversity, or lack of sameness can be viewed in different ways.  Differences can be viewed either as low-end eyesores that depress property values or as egotistical displays of wealth on the other extreme.  As we elevate our consciousness and supress lower ego-driven impulses, these differences can be perceived as beautiful, artistic expressions of freedom.  Again, where the building is only an expression of the builder, it’s what’s inside that counts.

When our personal artistic senses are challenged by diversity, it is an opportunity to reevaluate the depth of our spirituality and the quality of our values – to dig a little deeper and discover more enlightened ways of perceiving and interacting with the world around us. 

Monday, we celebrate the 4th of July. For me, it’s a celebration of the liberated human spirit, not just freedom from political tyranny. My fondest hope is that the Village will continue to evolve and improve as a society that values freedom in its deepest, spiritual sense, thereby securing not only freedom for ourselves but fostering it for others.

Keep reading to my previous post.  You are invited to celebrate the 4th with us tomorrow, or for the rest of forever.

The Value of Community – Mennonite Perspective

From a distance, I have admired Amish and Mennonite communities. Our Friday project tradition is loosely borrowed from the iconic Amish barn raising. I have admired them when they occasionally hit the news with a story where the community has pulled together to publicly forgive the perpetrator of some horrific crime against them.

In Paul Born’s article, Deepening Community: The Joy of Togetherness, I was interested to read the perspective of one Mennonite leader on the importance of community, what it is, how it benefits us, and how it is built. I was drawn into the article by his description of how difficult community can be and why a part of us finds community inconvenient, invasive and unwelcome. Life is often about finding a balance and that balance point is dynamic and different for everyone. That’s why, in building the Village, I have tried to attract people who have a desire for close community. We cultivate that desire through our traditions of regular social and shared work events, but avoid any and all coercion to participate. This establishes a baseline culture of voluntary community and cooperation, but allows each person the freedom to seek their own balance without social pressure. We govern ourselves by broad principles, but few rules. While consensus is desireable, there is room for differences because of the importance we place on private ownership and control of private property.

Recently the topic of “like-mindedness” was raised again in our community bulletin board. Some of us acknowledged our discomfort with the term. But an underlying set of shared values is fundamental to a cohesive community. In many “intentional communities” those values are provided by religious faith in a codified set of doctrines provided by a charismatic leader. My observation is that when broad principles are distilled into ever finer sets of rules by which members are expected to live, the overwhelming social tendency is to judge one another harshly. Rules meant to perfect us, chafe and bind. Soon, the burden is more than we are willing to bear. The ties that bind, bind us down into socially unbearable servitude. One of the central messages of the New Testament is about Jesus’ struggle against the Pharisees and Saducees who had reduced the law of Moses to a state of hypocrisy and judgementalism based on rules for virtually every action, every choice. We see the same impulses in today’s freedom movement, rejecting “nanny state” government’s exponentially growing body of law that attempts to regulate everything.

Over time, a culture of the Village on Sewanee Creek has emerged with identifiable characteristics. I will attempt to describe what I see. People who “fit” in the Village, have a strong sense of self but are unselfish. They desire to give unselfishly, but expect others to reciprocate in kind. Because they want to be generous, they are long-suffering and forgiving. But over the long term, if generosity is not reciprocated, they do not feel an obligation to give disproportionately. Takers are not encouraged. They gradually find themselves isolated by their choices. All must give in proportion to what they receive. This is a principle of human nature, perhaps a part of natural law.

Villagers have an independent streak and enjoy their private space. They enjoy the company of others, but they are not offended or feel excluded if not invited to participate in a private dinner or a project initiated by other members of the community.

Villagers are interested in being creative. They like to make and build things. Often, we start out lacking the skills or esthetic sense necessary to build masterpieces, but we want to become better.

A sense of humility seems to be a necessary characteristic. Working in community affords each of us an opportunity to learn from others and improve our practical skills. In our Friday projects, I have observed a great deal of patience for those who have little in the way of practical skills, but humbly seek to learn and improve. Patience stretches thin for people who are self-centered, arrogant, pushy or argumentative. It is most obvious when one who lacks skills arrogantly refuses to accept advice from those who have mastered those skills. It is a path that can lead to isolation even within communities with the best intentions. But, our approach provides flexibility and openness to natural resolution. If the owner/leader of a project finds it difficult to work with a particular volunteer, (s)he is ok to invite that individual to spend their time more productively on other, more satisfying work. If that happens with a lot of people, that leader may realize that they need to work on their leadership skills. It is the same freedom that is exercised by individuals to not participate in any given project.

But all benefit from mutual service. All desire to be part of our community traditions. It’s the reason we are here. Because each choice brings it’s natural consequences, people are motivated to follow scriptural counsel to repent, change, improve. To the extent that the majority of people in the community focus on humbly recognizing and improving their own weaknesses based on the true principles taught by Jesus, unwelcome behaviors are self-correcting. Individuals improve personal competence and self-reliance. The community grows in strength and cohesiveness.

I began writing this post as a short introduction to Born’s article for our Village Bulletin Board, but it grew into something more. An online discussion, internal to “Friends of Sewanee Creek” followed. Please feel free to share your own perspectives on this blog.

If you are interested in access to our more private community discussions or think you might fit in our community, send me a request Request FOSC Membership. Our process of inclusion starts with a friendly phone chat, so be sure to include your phone number.

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.

Dream, Choose, Live: The Good Life

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live life deliberately.”

Henry David Thoreau

I think the first, most essential thing one must do to accomplish that is to build one’s own house as Thoreau did. He built from leftover scraps of an old shanty. We have many other choices.

 
The mere fact that when people come to the Village, they can’t buy a finished home means that every one of us shares that journey. The journey enriches each of us individually and collectively, as a community.  One’s home is the ultimate expression of self, one’s capacity to dream and do. Even if you hire a contractor and never lift a hammer, you will learn, mostly about yourself. So many choices, it can be overwhelming. In the process, you are forced to come to terms with your personal values. There is no faking it.

What is really important to me?

  • How big should my house be?
  • How much of my life, in the form of money that I have exchanged my time and effort for, should go into this house?
  • What portion should I allocate for other things that are important to me and my goals?
  • In my house, do I want to emphasize efficiency and low maintenance or esthetic beauty? What do those things mean to me? Can I have both?
  • Do I want my home to make a statement about me or is it enough that it satisfies just me?
  • If I am taking this journey with a spouse and children, how will we use this experience to bring us closer as we discover and satisfy what is uniquely us?
  • What can or should I do without to have the things I really want?
  • My home will be a refuge, but from what? From the noise of the city, or from the discomforts of nature?

The folks in this video made some highly unusual choices in an environment most people would consider extreme. Yet, their home is a creative expression of who they are and how they choose to live.  And it is beautiful.

As you watch this video, notice the many trade-offs they made. I like to think “sacrifice” is what you give up to get something better.  A deliberate life is one of conscious choice. If one knows oneself and chooses well, a personal paradise is the reward. That personal paradise is within reach of us all, but we must choose.

For those who love nature and the joy of sharing with others, the Village on Sewanee Creek has all the necessary elements to build your dream with a little help from some friends.

WE DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE POOR

How many times have you heard people who lived through the great depression say that?

shooting marbles
I have heard that phrase countless times from my parents and many of “the greatest generation”.  What a blessed state of ignorance that phrase describes. It is a state of profound and pervasive lack.

  • lack of self-judgment
  • lack of social judgment based on material wealth
  • lack of material pride
  • lack of selfishness
  • lack of spiritual depravity derived from excess
  • lack of covetousness, that nagging need to have more than someone else
  • lack of NEED

It inversely describes a state of abundance, both perceived and real. An ABUNDANCE of:

  • Friends – Real Personal Relationships, not phony, material ones
  • Mutual Good Will and Generosity
  • Confidence that your friends and neighbors, who are in the same boat, are with you, care about you and are watching your back
  • Peace and a sense of Well-Being
  • Focus on things that really count

I’m sure both lists could be extended, but you get the point.

Yesterday, around the Village Thanksgiving table, I don’t recall a single reference to Black Friday or even shopping other than for basic needs or how to do it efficiently. Maybe I just missed it.

I think there is an inverse relationship between real wealth and the preoccupation with buying more stuff. The person who perceives no need is not needy. Regardless of the number of zeros in one’s bank balance, a person who can hardly wait to go shopping for the latest ego-boosting bling, gadget or fad is the one in deep need, and therefore, poor.

That is not to infer that Villagers are financially poor. We’re not, although I’m sure some have more than others. The point is, nobody seems to care too much about who has what. A community that doesn’t continuously focus on or remind us of things we want, either vocally or by the things they flaunt, gives us spiritual space to appreciate things that matter more and that cost little.

In the things that matter, I think we’re on balance, a very wealthy bunch.

Are we blissfully ignorant of our poverty? I don’t think so. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would rather be intensely and joyfully aware of our wealth, but maybe it’s the same thing. As I often remind students in my marketing class at the University of the South, Perception is more important than. . .       NO. . . Perception IS reality.

Implementing Open Source Ecology in The Village on Sewanee Creek

Open Source Ecology, which aims to provide the blueprints and instructions to build the 50 most essential machines for civilization, promises to be one of the great industrial shifts in the coming decade. The promise of industrial manufacturing in garage and tool-shed not only permits low-cost solutions, but independence and security in the event of disaster.

P1030296

The 19th century industrial revolution eliminated the cottage industry through the development of assembly lines and division of labor. In the globalized economy, Western consumers have become dependent on imports to sustain our consumer lifestyle. Many products are no longer manufactured within the United States and other developed nations. While not an intrinsically bad system, the era of self-sustainability has gone by the wayside. Gone is the simple life, replaced by global supply chains and logistics solutions to get your toothbrush from the other side of the world.

The first taste of a return to the good life is exemplified by the excitement over the 3D printing revolution. For example, a company which aims to provide the next generation of manufacturing, 3D Systems, has had its stock price double due to investor expectations. The same excitement that surrounds the ability to manufacture your own custom plastics with 3D printers is magnified by Open Source Ecology, which provides the DIY designs to build everything from your own tractor to making construction bricks from compressed earth. The ability to have a plasma cutter, bioplastic extruder, and dimensional sawmill at your disposal offers the prospect of a rebirth of cottage industries. Manufacturing will only be limited by your imagination, not for the lack of tools or material. Your open source induction furnace will largely eliminate material constraints.

Sawmill
The open source movement is expanding into the physical realm but like the online sector, open source is only as strong as its community of contributors. The movement not only relies on its network of designers and prototypers, but communes and clubs to build and test the machines. One such community is the Village on Sewanee Creek, a sustainable community on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.  The property development has weekly projects where villagers come together as a group to build chicken coops and biochar gasifiers to support a self sustaining community. Groups like these are part of the development and the success of Open Source Ecology

For example, the Village on Sewanee Creek recently ran into a hitch when their tractor began to malfunction.  Open Source Ecology now provides the designs and instructions to allow the village to build a tractor of their own. One that they can fix on site should problems arise and made from materials locally available. The village not only brings together likeminded people interested in tinkering, fabricating, and sustainability, but roots its community weekly projects such as building an open source tractor.  Open Source Ecology will succeed best in a permanent setting where the community is already project oriented and dedicated to self-sufficiency.

Find out more about the Village on Sewanee Creek here.

Building a New Village home, a piece of cake

My mother celebrated her 90th birthday a week ago, Saturday. Building her a new home in the Village has been almost as easy as her birthday cake. The Saturday before her birthday, we visited the modular home factory at Blue Ridge Log Cabins where we ordered her a new home. To say I was impressed is an understatement. The factory is state-of-the-art and the quality of their product is outstanding.

My mother’s new home will be ready to ship in just 6 weeks from date of order, complete with everything, including appliances. It will be installed on my property about 50 feet from my brother, George’s house.

Friday before our trip to the factory, I called Jim, a friend and contractor who lives down the road, to let him know of our plans.
Monday morning, he was on site with a crew of about 8, a dozer, backhoe, trencher, bobcat and misc. other equipment. By end of day, the footings for the foundation, the pit for the septic tank and septic field lines were dug, power and water lines were stubbed out. Tuesday, the rebar-reinforced foundation was poured and the septic system finished. A week later, after the concrete had cured and rain storms had passed, the block mason laid the concrete block and baseplate for the crawl space.

I was amazed and delighted at how quickly and easily the prep work for the new house was completed. A month ahead of scheduled delivery, we are ready for installation. The prep work came in about $1,500 under the quote, no down payment, paid in cash upon completion. Years of building relationships and experience in the Village have paid off for us and those that follow in the Village.  Inquire about the Village here.

This will be the second blue-ridge log cabin for the Village, and the third modular home. In the last decade or so, modular construction has come into its own. On time, on budget with superior quality and no hassles. You can have a customized home without the dread and nightmares that normally accompany new home on-site construction.

We will actually need to ask Blue Ridge to delay delivery a bit so I can be free after the semester ends and I finish grading finals for my class at the University of the South. Then, I can be there for the install while George and Mom are in California packing for the move.

Here is the cabin, shortly after installation on the foundation.

Here is the cabin, shortly after installation on the foundation.