Preservationist Villages

by Terry Sterrenberg

There is an extensive history of groups of people who have set themselves apart from the rest of the culture to try to become independent and develop sustainable communities .  Many groups have tried to go “off the grid”.  This has been happening for decades.  So when Laurie and I decided to put forth a project called “The Villaging Project’, part of me questioned if it had any value.   Making a movie about intentional communities seemed a bit mundane and archaic. We decided very quickly that the project was not just about intentional communities and eco-villages.  Villaging is not about “going off the grid” although that may happen.  Villaging is not about being defiant or angry.  It is about taking care of ourselves and restablishing trust, cooperation and understanding of our diversity in our  communities.

When I say it is about taking care of ourselves you may think I am talking about moving out into the country, going back to the land, stocking up on food.  As Chistopher Mare says there often is a “predisposition toward imagining sustainable community experiements, especially ecovillages, as isolated rural outposts with ‘survivalist’ tendencies’.”  However, such communities at some point can only survive by constructing walls around themselves and arming their children with machine guns.  That is not the future I want to help create.

There is another kind of community that has a much more beneficient existence.  These communities exist not in isolation with their neighbors but in active, collective relationship with them.  Their goal is to provide a safe and thriving existience for those that live there.  Borrowing from Heinberg, Mare calls them “preservationist communities”.  “Preservationist communities, … will persist through acts of service that will make them indispensable to the regional population. Members of such communities will teach important skills – food growing and storage, tool and clothing making, house and boat building, renewable energy generation, and more; and provide healing, entertainment, general education, spiritual leadership and counseling, exchange depots for food and other commodities, seed banks, biodiversity refuges, and more. Survivalist communities will need to protect themselves from the people around them; preservationist communities will be protected by the people they serve” (Heinberg, 2004, p. 160).

Mare goes on to say  “The first groups to consciously move in this direction and have the wherewithal to successfully set up viable working models just may become the protected ‘preservationist’ communities that Heinberg envisions – for they will be pioneering lifestyles, life ways, and life knowing that will become the guides from which others may learn.”

Such models do indeed exist and they are providing direction for  a future world.  We have found elements of all our characteristics of a village  in many of the intentional communities we have researched and visited.  So far we have found only one that has all of our elements- Auroville, and it is in India. Villaging is a way to change our culture and where these ecovillages have been functioning well they have had an impact.  For example, a few days ago we watched an inspiring video about “the Urban Farming Guys” from Kansas City, MO.  This video illustrates how establishing urban farming can combat homelessness and poverty.  This is not the only program  that does this.  We also discovered “The Millionair Club” in Seattle WA. and “Opportunity Village” in Eugene, OR.    From the little we know these programs all seem to be doing a lot of good and helping a lot of people with shelter, food and jobs.  They are breakthrough programs that help people at a fundamental level to change their  lives, and they illustrate  how  “villaging”   can be designed to help elimanate poverty.  We do know that where basic needs are met, poverty and homelessness disappear (Utah).  We need to know more and we plan to visit some of these programs. They do fall under the category of charity which is very different than “villaging”.


by Terry Sterrenberg

It was a breakthrough when we discovered that when something is possible all we need to do is do it (no comparison to Nike intended).   For us “doing it” meant taking away the barriers to moving forward, i.e. our stuff in life. When we reduced “the stuff” Life began showing up differently. We began perceiving life differently particularly in the areas of common good and in the arena of jobs and  wealth.

Not long ago I realized why I get so upset when I hear Obama and others say that ” if we work hard we should be able to make it.” Every individual should be able to work hard and make it. Whatever “make it” means. I get upset because it is absolutely untrue that working hard is what brings success to people. I know people who work their butts off with 2 and 3 jobs and still can’t “make it.” There is little relationship between working hard and “making it”, at least financially.

“Making it” means earning a lot of money and being like rich people. Deifying the rich may be our most destructive illness in this country. It’s an illness that is inevitable in a society ruled by profit motive. Those that  have not are marginalized.

I realized  that the other side of working hard and making it is not working hard and not making it.  If someone doesn’t make it, it must be because they did not work hard enough (those lazy bums).  Also working must always be productive or else it is worthless, consequently if someone works hard and is unproductive what he does is not considered work. It is not even considered good. The value and rightness of an activity is judged by its monetary worth. All valuable things thus become commodities for sale or purchase. If I can’t buy it how do I know how much it is worth?

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Healthcare is a commodity in this country. If I don’t have enough money to buy healthcare then I am an inferior quality human being.  From this point of view there is no distinction between things made and things given to us by nature. Thus all our natural resources become commodities to be used up for profit. There is no inherent goodness in nature except what price it brings in the market place and the goal in the market place is to get as much money as possible for every sale. Even human need becomes a commodity for sale and profit. Food, water, health, shelter all become commodities. Where there is no profit they vanish.  Naomi Klein describes in her new  book “This Changes Everything”  how this has worked in the world to create a mindset that rationalizes  profit trumping  human wellfare in every case.  Presently we are at a choicepoint. Our choice  is to look at economic models that are life positive or to proceed toward ending  life on this planet as we know it. It appears that we are chosing the latter.  Otherwise we as a country and as a world would be much more upset and radical about what we are doing and make sure that the life-giving mechanisms of our world are being protected.

One thing has become clear to me.  We need to prepare to take care of ourselves.  For me that also means creating structures that take care of everyone.  The Villaging Project is an effort to point in that direction.  As the climate shifts throughout the world we need to adapt our living to that which works for all of us.  My next blog entry will explore this adaption and it has little to do with working hard to get ahead.