A few weeks ago, we decided to have a Thursday meeting on the subject of labor. To get it started, I rolled a piece of paper across the entire living room and invited people to write down what kinds of labor we do at Acorn, with a couple categories I put in, and left a note encouraging others to write MORE BOXES, MORE WORDS.
I left the poster out for several days for people to add to it, and at the end, although it was useful to us in other ways, I thought it might be useful to new people to get an idea of the kinds of things that we do at Acorn.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is our biggest labor area. From growing seeds to winnowing, germination testing, receiving orders, tracking inventory, printing seed packets, packing seeds, picking orders, shipping orders, customer service, troubleshooting… and more.
Domestic work is mostly work that people outside of community don’t count as work. At Acorn, an hour of domestic work is just the same as any other hour of work, and includes cooking, food processing, laundry, childcare, taking out the trash, keeping the woodstoves running, baking bread… and most importantly, “cleaning special areas,” which is anywhere special enough that you decide to clean it. Almost everyone does domestic work of some kind, and some people specialize in it to some degree.
Landscaping and Perennials includes a large portion of mowing grass, but also includes our trees and bushes, which we plant, water when they’re new, mulch, and prune. Our shiitake mushroom logs also go under this. Killing poison ivy is an important component of this category. Every garden-oriented person looked at this chart and said that they would like to do more of these things until Acorn was a beautiful permaculture landscape, but that the garden takes up too much of their time.
Garden work is for vegetables and herbs for kitchen use, as well as seed crops and trials for the business, and includes the normal direct sowing, transplanting, weeding, mulching, harvesting, seed processing, and pest control that you would expect, as well as greenhouse work, irrigation, keeping our tools organized and in good repair, soil testing and amending the soil, and prioritizing work and throwing work parties so people know what to do.
Auto is mainly routine maintenance, keeping paperwork up to date, troubleshooting car and tractor problems, and driving cars to the shop when they’re out of our league to fix. Currently, we don’t have the skills or tools to effectively fix complex car problems, although our neighbor John comes over to fix our tractors. This labor area also includes biking to displace car usage.
Accounting includes a lot of bookkeeping, such as entering the numbers from trip, checkbooks, credit cards, bank deposits, and business. Auditing and making sure things are credited to the correct accounts, and also nagging people is an important component of this (turn in your trip accounting! who made this credit card charge?!) Annual taxes is also in here, which includes sales tax for the business as well as personal 1099 tax forms and state taxes for each of the communards. Annual financial reports are made so that we can make our budget are made once the fiscal year’s bookkeeping is complete.
Visitor category includes answering e-mails at email@example.com, talking to potential visitors on the phone, and scheduling, which is done by mostly the same three people. Giving tours and orientations is done by lots of people, and having a “visitor buddy” and checking in with them is also considered labor-creditable work.
Forestry is a neglected area, which is partially because all of our accessible forest land has been sustainably harvested about as much as it’s capable of sustaining. We either move into cutting down trees in the swamp, or buying firewood…
Livestock includes our chickens, pigs, and goats. The broad categories are daily feeding and watering, fencing and housing concerns, taking care of babies, slaughtering and meat processing, and some specific bits were added: trimming chickens’ wings and goats’ hooves, and milking our dairy goats.
Acquisitions is typified by the town trip, where a single person goes into town and buys everything people asked for on a sheet of paper (or two or three). It also includes city trips to get special things, going dumpster-diving or searching thrift stores for things we need while you’re out, and picking up large loads in the cargo van such as our favorite free food connections or livestock feed. I also included trash disposal here, although it doesn’t exactly fit, but someone does need to drive our entire trash trailer to the landfill sometimes.
Recreation is, in fact, a labor and budget area that is collectively important to us. This includes party planning and music preparation, set-up and clean-up. There’s also the organization of craft supplies and hosting recreative activities (like group read-alouds or yoga or jiu jitsu classes), and the very important job of lighting the fire under the hot tub when it seems like a good hot tub day.
Personal Responsibility is important. Not all personal responsibilities are considered labor-creditable, but everyone agrees that going to the doctor and dentist is important and you get labor hours for it. People can claim two hours of personal exercise a week as labor-creditable. Two important entries on the chart are “putting shit away” and “cancellation of personal entropy through cleaning,” which are highly valued traits in communards.
Finding Shit is its own category. Everyone spends lots of time doing it.
Computers/IT is largely handled by the same two people. They build computers, install new programs, monitor the server, make server upgrades, and manage our disk space and backups. They keep our business database software and metrics running despite their constant desire to die, update the databases, write new queries and modify old ones. They shop for new computer parts and research new technologies, and try to expand, improve, and fix services they have like our new accounting software, the internal Acorn Wiki, the project manager and test manager. And, of course, they vacuum dust out of our hardware and fix things as needed.
Maintenance involves noticing missing or broken shit and taking steps to repair or replace it. Big areas people mentioned include building maintenance, cleaning gutters, chimneys, and furnaces, and maintaining our bike fleet, but of course there are many things on the farm to be maintained.
Electrical requires us to pick up and entertain Milo. Occasionally people have learned electrical things from him, but our roving electrician solves most of our problems.
Plumbing was summed up by “digging and working in a muddy hole,” which is some of it, but it also includes unclogging drains, installing new plumbing or fixtures, and keeping water coolers full for buildings that don’t have drinking water.
Interpersonal Process includes scheduled things like attending (or facilitating) weekly meetings, and doing your required clearnesses. It also includes mediating between two people, or being an advocate for someone in an official capacity, or serving on a care team for someone who needs extra help.
The Federation of Egalitarian Communities is exactly what’s in the name, a collection of other egalitarian, income-sharing communities. We have an annual assembly and monthly conference calls for our two FEC delegates. One of our delegates writes the Dirt & Dreams internal newsletter, and another of our members has been re-creating the FEC website. FEC work also includes LEX (Labor EXchange), the most exciting part of being in the FEC, where you get to travel to other communities without having to take your vacation time because you’re working for them while you’re there. Lots of people LEX at local communities including Twin Oaks, Sapling, and Living Energy Farm, and one or two times a year we go on long-distance LEX trips, like going to Missouri to help Sandhill with their fall sorghum harvest.
Activism and Movement Support includes our relationship with the local community and activities to support sustainable agriculture, intentional community, and egalitarian values. Major projects here include Plant-A-Row for the Hungry, a project we sponsor at the local food pantry along with the Louisa County Master Gardeners. Some of us have served on boards of organizations like the Virginia Association of Biological Farming and the Organic Seed Alliance. One of our members is developing websites for the FEC and FIC (Fellowship of Intentional Community). We have labor exchange agreements outside of the FEC with like-minded co-ops such as the Baltimore Free Farm and the Wingnut of Richmond. We have regular tours from CRAFT (Chesapeake Regional Alliance of Farmer Training) and have organized young farmer events. Point A is a big project that some of our members and others are working to promote urban income-sharing communities.
Research has one bulletpoint: “[See all other headings]”
I made a thing which is potentially useful, and since it took me a while to figure out how to do it, I thought I would lay out the steps here so that other people can also make potentially useful things with less effort than it took me.
The thing is a Google Map with various custom overlays. Here you can see where Birddog has created a layer showing us where all the perennials are on the property. Now I know where to go to get my persimmon fix, which beats my previous strategy of walking around blindly biting the air until I found one by chance.
Rejoice made a layer that shows us what the various garden areas are named. This should be useful for getting new people up to speed. It also does some handy calculations, showing us that field B is 0.43 acres big and has a perimeter of 567 feet. Neat!
Here’s two layers which together show the layout of all the utilities on the property. We previously had a sketch of this on our wiki, but this should be more accurate and easier to keep updated.
Is this potentially useful to you? Great! Here’s how to make your own. First of all, don’t do what I did, which is spend an hour fruitlessly exploring every nook and cranny of the Google Maps interface, screaming and tearing out your hair when the path forward is not forthcoming. No, you’re smarter than that. You know Google would never do something as silly as putting a link to their map creation tool in the maps section of their website. You’ll go straight to Google Drive, where there is a “new” button, which when clicked on, easily yields a brand spanking blank map for you to scribble all over.
Go nuts! The interface allows you to make points, lines, and polygons. You can change the colors and such to create a snazzy organizational scheme. Each feature you create has a title, and also a description where you could keep notes about the things you’re mapping.
You can keep the map private, send certain people invitations to view or edit it, create a link which grants whoever uses it the ability to view or edit it, or you can publish the map publicly. Unfortunately, there’s no option to prevent the CIA from getting their hands on it.
But three letter organizations bent on world domination aside, yay maps! If you have any ideas for other nifty things we could do with this, leave them in the comments! Oh my god, I just went full blogger.
Our first three pigs were Wilbur, Gladys and Petunia. Well, there was a fourth one, a runt that came free with Wilbur, but the neighbor’s dog got into the pen and he is no more; c’est la vie, little piglet. These three got quite large, so after we pulled everything out of our gardens, we used them to plow up all the little spots that are annoying to get a tractor into.
We put them into our big greenhouse, the high tunnel, and then we put them into our kitchen beds near the house.
In order to make the pig program financially successful, we decided to try getting a registered, heritage breed pig. Taji decided that she wanted a Berkshire, and so little Penelope was retrieved from Creasy Hill Springs Farm.
Briefly, Penelope lived in Taji’s bedroom, until that was decided to be a situation less than ideal.
So little Penelope got moved out into the pigpen with Gladys and Petunia (with more-aggressive Wilbur slaughtered just for the occasion), and we discovered that pigs bite each other! So Penelope got put into the chicken tractor to get bigger.
Yesterday morning as I was waking up, my boyfriend Ken walked in, opened my window, and told me that it was 65 degrees and that the forecast said it would reach 75. This is great in terms of having a pleasant afternoon, but not in terms of what it indicates about global warming.
Within a few minutes, through the open window, I could hear the sound of a very large machine, punctuated by the occasional sound of a falling tree. There were already two large clear-cuts on our road, and I could tell this new logging was close. I took a walk.
The newly logged area is about 3,780 feet long and starts about 1,925 feet from our property. I measured it in my 5-foot paces and then multiplied by 5. When I showed up, about half the trees were still standing, in contour strips across the property. I got the tiniest smidgen of hope that the clear-cutters would log selectively, rather than clear-cut, and leave at least strips of trees, roughly on contour, thus helping natural forest regrow on the land and probably increasing its value in the meantime. As of this afternoon, about half the trees were still standing, and the machines were at rest. My smidgen of hope has grown into a sliver of hope.
Monday is the day we get a van-load of free pre-dumpstered produce from Relay Foods (things coming out of Relay’s inventory, that otherwise might have gone in a dumpster, had we not taken them.) So our neighbor and ex-Twin-Oaker Jim Adams was over to claim his share of the haul. Seeing my sadness, he suggested writing to the Central Virginian newspaper about how valuable it is to have a mostly wooded county, and that we shouldn’t give that up for a few peoples’ profits. And I plan to write such a letter. Jim inspired me to think that I am not powerless in the face of local clear-cutting.
But then another member inspired me more. He told me about the frequent willingness of East Wind, a community we’re affiliated with, to sometimes go into debt to acquire land adjoining their own. He pointed out that we could start a food forest project on a clear-cut piece of land.
The trouble with that idea is, we have very little savings, and we have debt related to our fire recovery. Twin Oaks, Living Energy Farm, and Sapling communities are also not in great financial situations; I certainly wouldn’t expect them to buy the land. So, unless we get both some unexpected financial support, and a good amount of enthusiasm from Acorn members, we can essentially conclude that existing commuities won’t be buying this newly logged land.
But what about our friends? Well, that’s why I’m writing this post.
I envisioned that the three clear-cuts on our road could one day, not too many decades from now, be owned by three groups aligned with our missions – they could be allied communities, or ex-communitarians, or community-minded families. They could be seed growers, chestnut orchardists, permaculturists, well-rounded homesteaders, or other farmers with an interest in sustainability.
Is this dream likely to become a reality? No. But some part of it might.
We have about fifty Austrolorp laying hens and one rooster, Hans. We just moved them onto a fallow field near the goats today. The rest of our fields are getting limed and cover-cropped for the winter, so we need to get all the fencing and trellising off them for right now.
They’ve been laying eggs for about two months now. Austrolorps are classified as “dual-purpose” chickens, which means that they lay eggs at a good rate but also gain weight quickly enough to be used as meat birds. Which means, basically, you can’t have enough Austrolorps.
On Oct. 15th, we took some of the eggs and, instead of eating them for breakfast, we put them into a $40 styrofoam incubator. Some of us were skeptical, but then one day we started hearing “peep peep! peep peep!” from inside the eggs, and pretty soon, they were pecking through.
The pledge drive bike tour to help raise money for the kitchen of fellow intentional community Baltimore Free Farm (BFF) has been in progress for over a week now. Pledges for the trip are at a dollar a mile, so we’re on our way to meeting our fundraising goal of $5,000. Baltimore Free Farm has been running Food Not Bombs and Food Rescue Day out of their kitchen for years now, footing the bills for picking up food, paying the electrical bills, supplying propane for cooking, and maintaining the infrastructural space. Food Not Bombs and Food Rescue Day divert food from the waste stream, further the decommodification of food, and redistribute food to people who experience food insecurity.
As a new community run mostly by volunteers, shouldering this finacial burden has begun to seem less feasible. In a stroke of fundraising creativity, the bike tour pledge drive was formuled as something participants can do that is in line with values of renewable and human powered systems, while providing nearly free (minus bike parts) and ecologically conscious transportation, allowing us to explore forms of radical street performance along the way and once we get to New Orleans.
So far, our journey has found us waylaid on the stoops of abandoned homesteads and historical buildings waiting out the rain, occupying endlessly replicated convenience store landscape, in the warm embrace of hotdog laden churches, on the grass and concrete of park pavilions, under the sky in hay fields, and on the floors of the friends’ houses. It took us a very long time to get out of Virginia. Southwest Virginia, in all its foggy mountain brilliant leaved trees, drug on forever, with spectacular elevation changes, whipping wind, rain, lugging entirely too much more stuff, and reluctant muscles all slowing us down. Finally after a few more days of rain and bike repair delays, we arrived in Knoxville, TN. Our next stop is Nashville, where we’re excited to open for Poncili Creacions with a short puppet act. After Nashville, we’ll be headed to Memphis, then the long (but mercifully flat!) trek south following the Mississippi.
We all started off with a book bag each of personal belongings, but by now we’ve shed most of our belongings along the way in efforts at lightening up our loads for greater riding efficiency. Billy and I have ditched our bags completely, with the clothes we’re not wearing able to fit into our balled hands, and Brittany’s bag is mostly empty, minus a collection of puppets and other interesting found objects that we encorporate into our puppeteering endeavors on street corners along the way. At regular intervals throughout our trip, we’ve dumped the contents of our bags and mercilessly culled any duplicates or other unnecessary objects. Things we don’t have that might surprise you: sleeping bags, ground pads, pillows, tents, (much) spare clothing or shoes, or trailers. Brittany and myself don’t even have saddle bags. My few remaining belongins dwell in a mini grocery shopping bag. When our shoes get wet and don’t dry out, we throw them in a laundry mat drier. When it rains, we pull off and wait it out. When it’s cold, we look for straw, leaves, or cardboard.
If you’re excited about what we’re doing and want to help BFF with their kitchen operating expenses, make a pledge! For more regular updates and pictures, check our fundraiser event on Facebook. Wish us luck!
As a resident bicycle enthusiast, I’m delighted to join an upcoming bike tour with folks from the Baltimore Free Farm, a recently formed urban homestead, with the aim of fundraising for their community kitchen. Their kitchen currently hosts Food Not Bombs and Food Rescue Day, both projects that seek to divert food from the waste stream and decommodify food. Our goal is to raise $3500 – hopefully enough money for the community kitchen to operate throughout the year. We plan to spend the month of October biking down to New Orleans, about a 1500 mile trek, camping along the way and growing sprouts out of our paniers. We’ll be taking the transcontinental bike route to the Mississippi river, then following it due south all the way to New Orleans. Once we get to New Orleans, we’ll form a temporary autonomous art collective and infoshop, where we’ll do street performance and musical storytelling to further raise funds. Although it’s difficult for Acorn to spare a member for this length of time, as a group, we’re passionate about supporting projects like this in the spirit of mutual aid, to further strengthen the cooperative movement.
Are you also excited and supportive about this project? Check out what the Baltimore Free Farm as to say about the bike tour and consider making a pledge for each mile we bike – 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, or a donation of your choosing.