Founding Chapters: First Steps Toward Self Reliance

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Illustration by Fotolia/AKS
Although self-reliance entails providing for yourself as well as you can, the first steps in founding a MOTHER EARTH NEWS chapter has always taken collaborative effort.

In Mother’s Local Chapter Update, we told about some of the interesting projects in self-reliance our various chapters around the country have undertaken. Well, in response to that article, many people have asked us how those now well-established clubs got started. We thought you might like to hear about the first steps of a few representative groups.

Louisville, Kentucky. Edwin Mann, assorted MOTHER EARTH NEWS-readers, and others interested in seeking more self-reliant lifestyles got together with the Urban Alternatives Homestead of Louisville and set December 4, 1982 as the date for a meeting to discuss the formation of a chapter. More than 40 people showed up, and a lively exchange of ideas and information took place about barter boards, community gardening, and low-cost solar systems. Nearly everyone wanted to get started on building a greenhouse. And one participant — an experienced do-it-yourselfer — had even put together his own wood-gas truck! The crowd ranged from teenagers to senior citizens, but all had at least one desire in common: to do more with less and thus become increasingly self-sufficient.

Oakfield, Wisconsin. Last November, Hal Ayers — a MOTHER EARTH NEWS lifer —organized a meeting at the town’s United Methodist Church. Nearly 50 people attended, some coming from as far as 100 miles away. After a friendly round of introductions, the task of forming a local chapter was discussed with enthusiasm. As the participants warmed up to one another, they shared suggestions and resources: One proposed a tour of his passive solar home, plus a presentation on solar energy. Another offered instructions on food canning and preservation. Dome house fans were delighted to learn that an attending family was living in one and had plans for add-on “baby” domes as well (a future chapter project, perhaps?). Experienced tipi builders and occupants added their observations. The group drew up a mailing list for a soon-to-be-created newsletter and discussed the establishment of a local barter board. Coffee, juice, and doughnuts — compliments of Hal’s mother — were passed around, and a January follow-up meeting was scheduled.

Sanford, Florida. When Susan Glaese (secretary) and Noel Lucas (president) of Chapter No. 60 decided to have a small public meeting to increase their club’s membership, they had no idea it would turn into a large-scale gathering! Seminole Community College in nearby Sanford agreed to let them use a meeting hall, and — last December 16 — the room was packed to overflowing with more than 100 people who showed up to trade ideas and find out more about this “MOTHER EARTH NEWS Chapters thing” they’d heard about on the radio.

Among the participants were a chimney sweep who was ready (now) to set up — you guessed it! — a barter board; a full-fledged massage therapist; an architect; an orchardist who raises citrus fruits without harmful chemicals (he thoughtfully provided some tasty samples of his produce); and two women who’ve given up on city life and are building their own home, board by board and bit by bit. As the potluck supper began, conversations revolved around organic gardening, wood-gas units, and recycling. Everyone had a grand time, Susan and Noel’s chapter got more members, and plans were made for the formation of at least two new chapters! As a result of the meeting, Susan found herself on several radio programs (and liked the experience), met with several newspapers to clue them in on the activities, and wound up on local television to “talk chapters.”

Fairport, New York. Fellows Road Park was the scene of a large meeting on December 3, when newlyweds John and Sandy Otto held a gathering to let the area residents know they wanted to start a chapter. The 100+ people who attended heard about do-it-yourself homebuilding (the discussion was led by an experienced “barn recycler”); starting a community wholistic garden (which prompted several people in attendance to offer their own back yards); building and using a low-cost solar heating system; and broommaking (featuring a hands-on demonstration by attendee Ruth Wingate). The local media were very receptive to the Ottos’ efforts, too, and the next morning John appeared on television, his first time on the “other side of the tube.” Even the TV program’s hostess wanted to join the chapter; it seems she was having trouble weatherizing her house and needed some tips!

Dahlonega, Georgia. What do you get when you mix bluegrass music, buck dancing, hot cider, good munchies, and 35 MOTHER EARTH NEWS-readers? Well, in this town you get the start of a new chapter. Pam and James Anderson, Dahlonega residents, felt it was time for them and their neighbors to get moving and work together on some low cost self-reliance projects. A meeting was organized and announcements were made through the local radio and newspapers, and the next thing you know, an enthusiastic group was talking over the establishment of — what else? — a barter board (at least one swap was completed on the spot), suggestions for controlling high-and ever-rising-utility bills, and the sundry details of goat raising.

John Vogel and MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ wood-gas truck arrived just in time to show the folks how to build some inexpensive solar heaters and to expound on the merits of using wood instead of gasoline to fuel a vehicle.

East Austin, Texas. Deanna Matthews and Marcy Amory combined their efforts and arranged a meeting of potential chapter folks at the public library last December 12. Not only did 25 eager people show up, but representatives from Chapter No. 19 stopped by to share their ideas and successful experiences. Apple juice, coffee, and chips and dips were served to the group, along with a slide show on cordwood construction and wholistic gardening. Other topics discussed included low-cost cooling techniques (after all, Austin isn’t exactly in the snow belt). What with word-of-mouth advertising — which has already brought some phoned-in reservations for the next meeting — Deanna and Marcy expect twice as many people next time around.

Weedsport, New York. Despite the best intentions, things don’t always go along smoothly, as Dale Thompson and his fellow organizers discovered! After a promising start, their plans ran into one snag after another: phone calls involved long distance rates, messages were lost, letters weren’t mailed, only half the scheduled notices were ever sent to the media, less than half the people expected turned up for the organizers’ meeting, and at the last minute only one organizer was able to attend the first chapter meeting — which meant (among other things) that there was a shortage of refreshments! With all this confusion you’d expect the initial gathering to have been a dismal failure, but in fact it turned out to be a tremendous success.

It’s true that only some 20 people were able to attend, but many of those drove anywhere from 40 to 100 miles to be there. The meeting lasted from 7:00 p.m. until well past midnight, and all but two or three participants stayed all the way through — even the reporter who was on hand to record the activities! Following discussion on the possibility of forming a chapter, there was a break for refreshments, a slide presentation on solar energy, and a group project: building a Heat Grabber. People who’d barely met were soon crawling all over the floor, reading directions, taking measurements, passing tools back and forth, and absolutely refusing to adjourn and go home until the little solar collector was completely assembled!

It took a lot of conviction and determination for Dale to get this fledgling chapter off the ground, but the success of the first meeting shows that no matter how inexperienced (or ill-prepared) you are and no matter how many difficulties crop up at the last minute, you can still have a rewarding get together with other people who share your interests.

With all these folks and many more getting involved in projects, demonstrations, and just plain fun, it may be time for you to look into the program. The network of chapters is growing, and we’d like to welcome you to our family.