Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
So, you get your college degree, or drop out — or some amalgamation of both/neither — then ask yourself, what the heck does a so-called “hippie” do now?
I completed three out of four years of peace building and writing degrees (basically a program of study as nebulously social science-y as I could find) and have had the tremendous good fortune to find myself now living with my best friends on two acres of land in quasi-rural Appalachia.
Our dream is to work our way to living entirely off-grid, and fill our bellies with permaculture- raised farm food. That’s the short version at least.
Every one of our quintet of weirdies holds a job (or jobs) in town, and three are still pursuing higher education.
The going is slow and steady. Money is a consistent struggle eased by innovation and hard-effing work. We’ve lived on “The Project,” as we affectionately nick-named our farmette, for close to three months now, and have ducks, a sizeable fall garden, and apple trees to boast of.
Many small, important, and relatively boring tinier accomplishments have filled the time as we acquaint ourselves with our new home.
Life is full of paradoxes in every stripe. None of us would be here without one another, and our level of comfortand familiarity sometimes borders on the absurd. Speaking as an introvert, relationships take work, too.
This week, we finally have all our autumn seeds (shout-out to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) in the dirt bed created entirely by hand. We’ve scavenged more fruit and veggies than we could keep from local dumpsters. All of our animals are happy and healthy, as far as I can tell.
Lessons Learned from Cooperative Living
We can’t do our thing without the care and work of every house member, and our sanity would be exponentially further jeopardized without the friends, travelers, parents and couch surfers that grace our homestead weekly.
If you wanna get fit, ride your roommate’s bike to work. Wanna get tan and strong? Dig a garden. Want to feel loved? Move in with a bunch of hippies. Want peace? Take a walk facing the mountains. Want courage? Play your handwritten song around a fire for a group. Want thrills? Brave raiding a well-lit dumpster.
We don’t ever have full wallets, haven’t figured out how to dismantle, or even live without the capitalist, oppressive, meta-mechanistic dominant culture, and sometimes spend more money on cigarettes than seedlings.
The trials and tribulations of our life at “The Project” quite frequently mirror those of any small group of young Americans finding their way in the world, however, for me, there are daily reminders of why I am sticking with these crazy idealists in Appalachia.
Reasons to Join a Cooperative Living Situation
On the farm, we share pretty much everything. Chores, groceries, bills, cars, clothes, ideas, art, and much more. Not only does this monumentally cut down on living costs, it also provides a net of safety, comfort, and creativity. I'm never worried about having any of my basic needs met. Individually, we spend very little on necessities, and when three people share the cost of gas for one car, mobility becomes a heckuva lot easier.
It goes without saying, living together reduces our ecological footprint: Carpooling, communal goods, composting, dumpster diving, and our enthusiasm for sustainability keep us moving towards simplification. Minus the composting, these habits can be adopted anywhere where a few good folks are willing.
Additionally, when one of us is down on our luck, funds, or chutzpah, it’s veritably understood that the group will pick up the slack. In order for our household to function, we have to take care of each other, and ourselves. If one member is suffering, it affects all of us and the reverse is true. Cooperative living is an exercise in responsibility, generosity, and trust, and is not limited to living on a homestead.
I could write about my passion for farming, permaculture, and back-to-the-land ideals. Beyond any of this, however, cooperative living provides hope, a sense of place, and a tribe. Sharing the tangible and intangible facets of life with a group of people united by common goals provides greater quality of life than I have found anywhere else.
We are not forced together by obligation or competition. We have chosen to live a life slightly outside of the mainstream because human connection, and connection to the land take priority over any of the alternatives we have yet experienced.
While renunciation of many of the practices and aspects of culture of mainstream society is certainly a large impetus for our particular living situation, I like to think that we are embodying an acquiescence rather than a rejection. I joined “The Project” because I wanted to say yes, every day, to my ideals and dreams of what I want my life to be.
And when life gets in the way, as it wont to do — of my visions of grandeur of radical social and environmental justice and change — I find strength in a house full of loving friends. Living with intention can be practiced anywhere at any time, and my own short experience has shown that cooperation seems to come a lot more easily than competition
Photo by Randi B.Hagi
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