Do You Have Enough

by Terry Sterrenberg

Not long ago we  traveled to the southeast  where we filmed at a small worker owned collective called Opportunity Threads in Morganton, NC.  The collective has six worker owners with 21 additional sewers and workers who are in the process of becoming worker owners.  After working for a number of months and having many peer evalutions which include not only their productivity but also their ability to get along with their other team members, they are given the opportunity to buy into the collective. In this way new owners get “vetted” by the other owners. All workers including Ms. Hemstreet who initiated the collective are paid the same wage. We asked her why she decided to form a worker collective instead of a for profit bussiness with her as the owner.  She would clearly make more money if she hired employees.  “We have the best sewers.  I could never do what they do,” said  Ms Hemstreet. The implication is that likewise they could not do what she does.  “Everyone is an owner, has a stake in what is produced,  gains when things go well, and bears the loss when production falters.  We all have pride in what we do. Furthermore, there comes a point when one has enough.”

Wow! What a concept, HAVING ENOUGH.  Some people I’m sure would argue that one can never have enough. We always need more in case we lose what we have. What is enough anyway?  Enough of what? Money? Food?  Rooms? Stuff?  If you have enough does that mean you don’t want (deserve) more?  Is it the same for everyone or do some people need more than others or even deserve more than others?  And how is ‘enough’ determined? Do some people get to have enough before others have enough?

What happens when there is more than enough for everyone? What happens to the surplus?  In traditional business models this constitutes profit and goes to the owner.  In worker owned collectives the surplus goes to the worker owners or back into the business.

On another stop we went to a community called Village Homes in Davis CA.  This was a sustainable community designed and developed in 1979.  The original group was very committed to sustainability and built what has become the most luscious permaculture community I have ever witnessed.  The community is beautiful and the property values have risen to be the highest in the entire city.  What is “enough” for this community?  For the visionaries “enough” was an affordable  geographic setting that sustained life and nurtured not just the residents but the entire community.  They built a cost effective innovative environment. However, presently, unlike at the start of the project, the property values are now too high for young families to afford. This is a wonderful place to live and so property values went up.  Many of the original residents have moved out of Village Homes.  The new residents are attracted to the beauty and the organic gardens, but many do not know or understand the original vision.  They just want to live there and they feel entitled to do so because they have enough money to buy in.  But they feel no need or obligation to get to know the neighbors in their community, as did the original residents.

This case presents a basic dilemma for long term sustainable communities.   How can the vision sustain itself over many generations?  And how can we make the property affordable for young families and not lose  the original vision? Some have looked at the community land trust as a possible solution to  this issue.  (see winter copy 2015 of YES Magazine, Urban Farming, One Vacant Lot at a Time.)  

Perhaps to have enough is a personal declaration rather than something to be calculated.  Certainly for me a declaration has much more personal power than an external limit placed on me.  Everyone has enough if they say so. But clearly there are people who have too little, not enough food, housing, and life necessities; and those who have much more than the rest of us.  What is enough for these people?

For me, having enough is not about possessions.  We have given most of our stuff away.   Presently we have enough because we choose to have little.  Like a lot of other people we have enough  to live comfortably because we adapt our life to what we have.  We realized that the stuff we had and the lifestyle we were living was making our life more chaotic and stressful than connected and joyful. I have come to believe that the sense of “having enough”  is also a function of the community in which I live.  It is a product of participating in an interdependent, caring community.  We are looking for that community.    What we have done in the last few years with our life has not totally given us “enough” and that is why we are continuing our search..

I realize I have raised more questions here than I have answered,  but then again that is the journey we are on.

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”.

Breakthrough

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.

From A Treadmill Existence

by Terry Sterrenberg

I want to share with you how we got to the point of doing “The Villaging Project.”

It started in 2007 when we sold our condo. We left our life behind and set out to create something profound. Part of me thought this was a bit crazy and irresponsible; part of me celebrated getting out of a treadmill existence. I remember being at work in my counseling office and saying to myself “Terry what are you doing here.” Same old same old, every day and not really making any more money than in the past and expenses going up. When Laurie got her own office we really became strapped financially. Seemed like a step up at the time. The weird thing about that as I reflect is that nothing seemed wrong on the surface. I was really doing what I thought I should. And Laurie too. We were staying afloat. We were making it on a daily basis, but as one person said in a seminar we went to, we were not thriving. I was unhappy and living in a malaise of stress and worry. And really didn’t even know it.

How did we ever come to make that decision to move out of the condo? We felt trapped in our situation. I was so stressed. Engulfed by credit card debt and using one credit card to pay for the other with those payment checks they sent us. We were literally living month to month a lot of the time. The housing market was deflating. We called a realtor to see what our place was worth. We found out that although the housing market was going down the condo market was still up. We decided to sell before it deflated as well. I was amazed that it sold so quickly at a higher price than we were asking. Got us completely out of debt and paid for much of our two sons’ college.

Turned out to be the best decision we ever made and set us on a course of no return.

We found “Surry Downs”. I really liked living there- beautiful setting, great place for our little dog, ducks in the pond. We thought we would rent until we got our lives together and then we would buy again. But the housing market never really improved. We reduced our expenses as much as possible, and still we weren’t making enough to build our savings. Still selling the condo and renting in Surry Downs gave us more freedom and a different mindset. I think it was that we finally got out of survival mode and starting thinking straight. We got out of debt. We got out of debt! Do you know what that feels like? Let me tell you the freedom I felt from that! The stress in my life melted away and I could smile again.

And then in 2009 we started making The Healthcare Movie. Making The Healthcare Movie began a new way of thinking for us. I don’t know if I ever did a project that was more heartfelt than that. I don’t know which was worse: The lies being told to the American people about the Canadian healthcare system or my growing awareness of the cruelty of the American “system.” Both became intolerable. All my beliefs about what it meant to live in America were being challenged. And I realized that what I defined as freedom and what some might call “the American Dream” was an illusion. Making the movie literally opened up a new way of life for me. We decided to really take control of our money and our lives.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Originally the movie was to be strictly about Canada for American audiences. Then we found out about the history of healthcare in the U.S. and about the many public relations campaigns designed to enhance the  fear of socialism to make sure Americans did not want a universal healthcare system. They were calculated, and very successful. They built on the notion of rugged individualism  which is a core value in this country. The result today is a deep suspicion of those who need help and of our government and a lack of real problem solving in regard to healthcare access and other issues in our country.

We decided to make the movie as a hobby and with our own money (being told by our sons that no one, unless you were Michael Moore, could make a living creating documentary movies). We discovered that the most difficult thing was telling Americans that when you live in Canada you have no stress about getting sick and going to the Dr. Then at some point we came up with the metaphor of having a jackhammer in our back yard. It’s as if we have this constant jackhammer going on and we have grown so accustomed to it that we think it is normal. We don’t even hear it until we cross the border into Canada and we say to ourselves “Whoa! What just happened? Something is missing and I feel wonderful.” The jackhammer stops. No worry. No mind chatter. Just peace of mind. I think we found a similar peace of mind when we became debt free. It was like heaven. And we wanted to keep it. We asked ourselves “Is it possible to create a life, to stop the jackhammer and to generate that peace of mind in all areas of life?

We said to ourselves “That sounds like another movie!”

We began researching innovative futuristic discoveries and inventions. We were not looking for that which could be, but rather that which already exists. We want to know what life could be like if these new ways of living were widely available and used. We explored new communities that do not have jobs and new economic systems that do not use money, new architectural systems that are weather proof. We interviewed a friend who was able to not work and survive very comfortably. How do you do that and not became a vagrant (whatever that is; something bad I think)?

We also became very aware that if one of us became ill all our money could be wiped away in medical bills. We decided that we did not want our money to be used in that way. We want to use our money the way we want it to be used not the way our medical insurance company decides. So after the movie was made, we became aware of what seemed to me to be a very odd characteristic of humanity. It was that knowledge and facts do not always move a person into action. Even though it is clear that life can be better, often times people choose what is familiar rather than what is best for them. If it was true that we wanted to have control of our lives and money what kept us from doing that?

Our lives became full of many questions about what is necessary in life and what are our human choices. For example “if it is possible to  have transportation without accidents, why don’t we?” If it is possible to have health care for everyone, why don’t we?” “Is it possible to have a society where money is not our gateway to access for everything we have?” “Is human nature really geared toward war rather than cooperation?”

So there I was. 63 years old asking these huge questions. Maybe it was a late mid-life crisis, who knows. At any rate, what became clear was that life could be much better for not just me but for everyone on the planet if we made certain decisions.  “So what are we waiting for?” I kept asking myself. I’ve never been a patient man. The real question of course was, “What am I waiting for?”  When I got to that question the answer became clear. The only thing keeping me (keeping all of us) from leaping into that new life is hesitancy to step into it. All I have to do is choose it! “OMG!” I said to myself. “OMG!” When something is possible all it takes is the choice to let it happen or do it. If we want to get out of the rat race we need to choose something different than what we are doing. So we did and now we feel more freedom than at any time in our lives.

Why Are WE Doing This?

by Terry Sterrenberg

Educational Videos Plus is starting on a new project and as part of that project I will be writing a blog.  I will be writing about our discoveries along the way as we do research for our new movie and my hope is to create a dialogue about the creation of “Villaging” in America.

When we interviewed Dr. Paul Hochfeld for The Healthcare Movie, he said that healthcare was just a poster-child for all that was wrong in the United States.  We weren’t quite sure what he meant at the time, but his statement rang a bell which led us to the topic of our next movie. Certainly the issue of healthcare is multidimensional, and as we examined other social and political issues in the U.S. it became clear to us that Paul was right on the button.  Healthcare as a commodity is only one of the destructive outcomes of the socio-political machine supported by our for-profit system. That thinking led us on a journey of research that has culminated in what we are calling The Villaging Project, and our next film, Villaging America.

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We will be looking to address the following question:  “Can we in this country address many of today’s social and economic issues by creating communities that look after their own food, energy and economic needs at a local level?”   I have become aware that for decades  there has been a movement in the U.S. to do just that. However, in the last few years there have been new discoveries that make this movement a powerful and viable force for the future.

I must say that this project has already sent me into many areas of personal growth and cognitive disonance. For example my father was in the grain business in Illinois and I have always thought of myself as having an affinity for growing things.  So in the process or researching this project we explored aquaponic farming and discovered that Living Aquaponics (Zac Hosler) in Hawaii took on interns.  I’m sure that there are places closer to home, but Laurie and I have been looking for an excuse to return to Hawaii.  We signed up for the internship.  I immediately began having alternating experiences of anxiety and excitement as I looked at our bank account and heard warnings from Zac that our accommodations for the two weeks are very “rustic”, and there are lots of bugs and mosquitoes.   I can hardly wait to get eaten alive and maneuver the out door shower.

Such thoughts make me wonder again, “Why are we doing this?.  Oh yeah, sustainability and food production”.  Aquaponic and hydroponic farming seem to be doable in any location, and could be the answer to the world’s distant food supply.    Lyle Estill in his book “Small is Possible” states that the average meal in the U.S. travels 1300 miles to get to our plate.  What if the food trucks couldn’t make it to our town/city? We want to learn about Aquaponic farming so that we might be able to consult and help communities and households set up their own local food source and eliminate or reduce the need for distance shipping of food.

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Over Christmas we traveled to Brooklyn, NY to spend time  with our kids.  While there we also spent time at an intentional community called Ganas.  Ganas is one of the many intentional communities that have been designed throughout the years to bring people together to live communally.  They have a strong emphasis on providing the forum and mechanism to help their residents solve problems and get along.  They have been doing this for 35 years which makes them one of the longest continual communities in the country.  They have developed solid systems to have a community like theirs run smoothly. We thought that such communities might serve as models for the Villaging Project.  We loved visiting Ganas and will probably go back.  They have many of the qualities that we are looking for.