Over a year ago, we announced plans to set up a national-wide community network of local chapters for MOTHER EARTH NEWS subscribers. As we saw it, the system of locally based groups would help people of similar tastes and interests share their dreams and ideas, exchange information, barter goods and services, and—in short—help one another live more self-reliant lifestyles.
We're now pleased to announce that—thanks to the fine efforts of our volunteer organizers—more than 250 "getting to know you" get-togethers have been held across the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, and Canada. Most of these initial meetings had between 25 and 30 people in attendance. Several drew over 50. And one session—the current record holder—counted 200-plus participants!
Many of our fledgling groups have discovered that the best first step in founding a chapter is to help members become acquainted. A successful introductory meeting, then, will break the ice by drawing out information about the occupations, skills, and talents that each individual brings to the group, and by stimulating discussion of the goals that members hope they—and the chapter—will accomplish. A good kickoff affair should be fun as well: Indeed, in many areas covered dish suppers and folk or country music shindigs have turned out to be especially good ways to start the ball rolling.
We're also beginning to get feedback on some chapters' ongoing activities.
One, for instance, has already held a workshop to teach its members how to build solar collectors. Another showed its "spirit" by holding a session on how to brew homemade beer! Other initial projects have included building solar food dryers, greenhouses, water heaters, and collectors, working out barter exchanges, and gathering firewood.
A number of groups have set up "living libraries" to cross-reference the skills and talents of their members. That way, a "chapterite" who needs specific information or assistance can easily identify the fellow member with the most knowledge or experience in that particular field.
Several chapters are printing community barter information, and a few have actually started their own newsletters. (And we thought The Community Spirit was unique!) And that's still not all. Other groups are using their collective powers for co-op buying, staging exhibits at state and energy fairs, and sponsoring bake and rummage sales to raise money for operating costs or membership dues.
Learning as You Go
Sometimes a worthwhile meeting has focused on an interesting lecture or tour. The Piedmont, Alabama chapter, for example, inspected the Rocky Hollow Energy System which—for about $15 a month—supplies all Bill and Pat Megnin's electricity. Presentations have included a lecture on fall and winter gardening by a local county extension agent and a neighboring chimney sweep's talk on wood stove installation and safety.
In the meantime, MOTHER EARTH NEW herself has been busy preparing video how-to cassettes for the chapters' use. At the moment we have finished tapes about beekeeping and cordwood construction. We also have slide presentations in the works on alcohol fuel production and low cost solar systems (they should be completed by the end of the year). And there's more to come!
Some readers have written to inquire what happens to the $15 that MOTHER EARTH NEWS assesses each person who becomes a member of our national chapters organization (local dues are established and handled by each local group). Well, for those of you who may be wondering, the national dues help to cover our chapter organizing expenses, as well as the cost of developing member-oriented instructional materials and tapes. The fees also pay for the publication of The Community Spirit, the bimonthly newsletter that goes out to all chapter members bringing them the how-to of seasonal projects, information about discounted books and plans, low-cost classified ads, a free barter exchange column, nutritional news, reports on chapter activities nationwide, and a variety of articles on the same kind of down-to-earth topics that appear in the magazine.
A few other folks have expressed some concern over coping with the legalities that go hand in hand with the development of any organization. Fortunately, we've drafted Articles of Association and Bylaws to help you get through the business of incorporating so you can move on to your group's intended activities. Such paperwork is all too necessary to protect individual members (as well as our good name) and to give the local organizations greater autonomy, but we've tried our best to keep the red tape to a minimum. So far, 25 groups have finished up their legal work and become bona fide chapters. Most members of these said that the paperwork was certainly worthwhile and proved to be less bother than they'd expected.
It's Up to You!
If you like what you've read about our community network but live in an area that doesn't yet have its own chapter, why not take the initiative to start a group yourself? After all, our chapters are meant for you. They're only going to be what you—and folks like you—decide to make them!