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.
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