(This is the Listening Tree vision statement/manifesto as updated June 2018, after three years of living the dream.)
Listening Tree Cooperative is a budding intentional community dedicated to creating a life-sustaining culture; nurturing a permaculture homestead, local resiliency, and regenerative economies; and hosting social enterprises, educational workshops, and conversational convenings. We started with a vision, roughly captured in this statement, compelled by the ways we see human community, the non-human world, our own psycho-spirituality, the pressures of peak oil and how the ecological, economic, and social crises intersect. We are led by the call to regenerate small-scale communities – to return to our human roots in a sense – bringing likeminded people from otherwise different racial, ethnic, religious, economic, gender, sexuality/attractionality, generational, and ability profiles and backgrounds to live with and support one another in our material sustenance, personal growth and learning, celebration and grieving. We recognize the challenges of community living under the influence of the dominant culture, such as our conditioning to value individualism and privacy, but we also recognize that community living has served our species well for 99% of its years on earth and where it is still in use. To return to community may be difficult for us now, but it is not ‘utopian,’ in the sense of being idealistic and impossible. We believe, on the contrary, that commitment to the global, industrial system (dependent on continuous growth, splintering communities, etc.), as a way to meet social and ecological needs, is unrealistic and untenable.
We will participate in community regeneration because:
- We want to consciously choose to create a more sustainable way of life;
- We miss each other and deserve the happiness of being together with our friends and families;
- We need to experiment with self-organizing social systems at this time of energy descent (post-carbon transition), particularly in non-hierarchical ways;
- We want to test alternatives to the root cultural causes of ecocide. For example, we want to dissolve the culturally fabricated walls erected between individuals, couples and families, between generations and classes, between humans and non-human nature;
- Small communities work better for humans as a form of social organization than do mass, hierarchical alternatives;
- We can no longer afford to move our bodies and our lives so fast, and desire in any case to slow down. Transition from peak oil to sustainability means both scaling down and slowing down;
- We can take care of each other more easily and naturally if we live together.
- And we need to reconnect to the non-human abundance of life, particularly where we live.
Two of us purchased a farm located in Chepachet, RI, in June 2015. A housing cooperative was incorporated by three of us in fall 2016. In order to balance the need for and efficiencies of community with the need and desire for solitude and privacy, we are creating small, cabin-like shelters (including retrofitting existing outbuildings) for sleeping and other alone-time activities. We share one kitchen, and on a rotating basis prepare and serve dinner, at least, in the shared house to all residents on site each evening (except one free-for-all night per week). The house also currently provides other sleeping rooms, shared bathrooms, office/farm work space, a convertible meditation space/summer dormitory, and a guest room. At this point, we envision a community of 10-15 residents will eventually live on the farm, but the current alternative sanitation and septic system for this property is designed for 10 people.
Practical, procedural, and logistical features include:
- Regular community meetings and conflict prevention and resolution/management processes;
- A consensus-oriented decision-making process, “unanimity minus one” participatory decision-making, with ‘sense of the group’ practices leading up to final decisions;
- Simple living, energy conservation and material cycling (e.g., compost toilets, rain capture and possible greywater reuse, passive solar and super-insulated (e.g. Passivhaus) buildings and renewable energy systems);
- Growing food for the community (and others when possible), using sustainable and humane farming and gathering, such as permaculture and wildcrafting practices, optional hunting and fishing; and market-farmer partners.
- New resident screening process and trial period;
- Opportunities for agreed-upon community mind/body/spirit practice and an acceptance of a variety of non-harming individual practices (yoga, meditation, prayer, etc.) or none;
- Sharing responsibilities and work of the homestead, allowing for the particular skills members bring to the community as well as sharing basic chores, etc.
- Sharing many things, such as meals, cars, appliances, kitchen, laundry, bathrooms, etc., to conserve resources and make community living more affordable than single-family housing. However, this is not an income-sharing community, i.e. a “commune.” Private ownership of cars and personal effects will be allowed and rules for borrowing established by owners of such items.
The cooperative as a whole will own and share the common house, shop, farm outbuildings, appliances, solar power equipment, tractor, many tools, etc. Rules about sharing will be developed through the group decision making process (see 2).
A market farmer or farm family or subgroup could buy a special share that designates a portion of the arable land for market farming, to be stewarded by the farmer(s) in contract with the housing cooperative, with land tenure and organic/sustainable farming rights guaranteed to the farmer(s) and expected of them according to the contract.
Our community aspires to provide educational service to the state and beyond. We will host, promote, and conduct our own workshops in sustainable living, the great reskilling, regenerative economics such as cooperatives, anti-oppression work, nonviolence, deep ecology, and other topics related to our vision. We will host apprentices/interns who will live with us for a summer or semester to learn community life, food and shelter provision, sustainable energy, and about local/global transition to sustainable living more generally. We may choose to partner with existing colleges or nonprofit organizations to help raise scholarships, recruit apprentices, and provide high school or college credit.
We would like to ensure affordability and equality by setting up ownership as a limited equity co-op. The limited equity co-op is an alternative legal ownership entity which allows people to buy into the property and own shares of the co-op and thereby be given rights to live there and use designated and shared space for living and working. A share grants holders the right to live in and otherwise use the land and structures, but also to transfer this right by selling their share to others at the price of initial purchase (or whatever the market will support if less than the purchase price). Unlike a condo, the co-operative community has the right to accept or reject new member-owners when shares are transferred.
Young families could own one share per adult. As children who are raised here mature, parents could buy them their own shares to have the permanent right to live in the community with their own space. Members might also buy shares for their parents as desired, possibly with an agreed upon vetting and integrating process. We would like the community to be intergenerational, and racially and gender-diverse and balanced, and we reserve the right to waitlist applicants who would further any existing imbalances.
Policies will be developed to ensure affordability, such as allowing member owners with extra shares to rent to non-shareholders on a sliding scale determined by the community, and be permitted to live with us on a case-by-case basis. Apprentices could be provided free housing and food and be expected to work a specified number of hours each week.
As mentioned above, market-farmer partners would have a special contract(s) with the cooperative as well as being members of the community through the purchase of their own co-op share(s). The market-farm business would be owned independently by the farm family. The contract would provide the security of land tenure to the farmers and would allow the community to choose another farmer if the farm family retires or moves away or otherwise is ready to transfer the farming rights to another farmer. Other land would be designated to be used by community members for the subsistence needs of the resident community. To begin to rebuild healthy soil and put the cleared land into local food production, acreage not needed by the community or its current members is being leased to non-resident organic-method market farmers.
In further service to our belief that we belong to the land, it does not belong to us, and that houses are primarily for shelter, not investment, the community may also decide to remove its “property” from the speculative market and conserve the land through a land trust, forfeiting development rights, deed restriction, or other means. Such an arrangement would also serve to preserve the land and the farmer partners’ land tenure. Portions of the property will be designated for wildness, open space, farming, and residential uses using a permaculture design process and forestry plan. The environmental footprint of new buildings will be minimized by portability, compostability, recyclability, careful siting, clustering, and/or other means.
Karina and Jim own the Chepachet property and will hold title until the co-operative has enough owner-members ready to invest to warrant the cooperative purchasing the land.
This statement is an evolving document for further development and revision. We look forward to the new ideas and refinements new community members and experience will bring to the process!