Saturday, June 9, 2018

Learning to Live Together


So many living things make up our environment. Looking out my window here on our family farm, there is green everywhere. From the upstairs windows, waving leaves fill the scene with vitality and color. On the ground, grasses and other herbaceous friends cover the earth. And below that, there are billions of friendly soil microbes, earthworms, and all manner of unseen residents. Birds sing from their perches in the trees. A gentle breeze carries insects through the air. For an entire square mile this morning, here on the farm, I am the only human being. But my living community will change very soon. I'll be moving to Prairie Hill.


Out here in the country, it is easier to see the inter-relationships between all living and non-living aspects of the world. Everywhere there is diversity, every plant with its own niche, its own purpose. All living beings find ways to live together, even benefit from each other. There are vast webs of communication invisible to us. In contrast, people predominate in the city. And yet at Prairie Hill we want to live in a peaceful and respectful relationship with the natural world, the non-human world. Fortunately, we have many guides in this. Much has been discovered about ecological relationships. Intent and awareness can help to inform how we relate to the wider non-human world around us. At least in some circles, this kind of wide thinking is in vogue and we will feel supported and encouraged to live sustainably.


However, the most challenging aspect of community may turn out to be the relationships between the people living together, learning how to put our personal preferences aside sometimes in favor of the health of the whole. Our culture does not encourage us to think this way. In fact, we are a country of fierce individualists. We treasure our freedom. And our capitalistic economy emphasizes competing against each other for financial gain instead of cooperating. We're immersed in this worldview from the time we're born, if we live in the United States: individualism and competition. I know this has been true for me, even though my Quaker upbringing gave me views into other ways of seeing the world. I love my independence here on the farm. And I breathed in competition in school, in sports and in the family system from an early age. So here I am, preparing to live in a community in which cooperation is the accepted mode of relating.


I know cooperation is the right direction to be heading. Look where competition and individualism have gotten us! We badly need to find different ways of living. Surely if we can send people to the moon, can communicate instantaneously across the planet, we can find ways of living peacefully together. It has been done before, thousands, millions of times. We can get back to a healthier way of living. And so at Prairie Hill we are engaged in the process of finding structures that help us to think holistically. When an issue comes up for decision-making, not only do we think about our own personal preference, but also try to think about how this decision will affect everyone---other members, plants, animals, climate, the air, the ground, everything. It is not always easy. Sometimes we get bent out of shape because our personal pet project appears to not be embraced by everyone, and we have to back off. As we build community, we need to keep finding better ways to communicate so that everyone feels safe to express their opinion. There are challenges. But I have to say that though it is a bit risky to commit to getting along with your neighbors instead of pulling off in isolation, it feels so much better. We at Prairie Hill are committed to making this respectful cooperation not only work, but work beautifully. We're in it for the long haul.

Nan Fawcett

Thursday, June 7, 2018

June 20th Event: Introduction to Sociocracy

There is so much happening at Prairie Hill right now. With the first eight residents living in our new homes, and more to join us soon, our days are very full. We're opening our doors to the larger community with an opportunity that came along because Jerry Koch-Gonzalez is driving through Iowa City on June 20. We're coming out of the garden to put together an introduction to Sociocracy with Jerry, who is program manager for Sociocracy for All. He lives in a cohousing community in Amherst, Massachusetts and he says, "We are serious about spreading Sociocracy to give everyone the opportunity to share power in a healthy way."

Prairie Hill Cohousing has chosen Sociocracy as our governance system. Transparency, equivalence and effectiveness are valued and decisions are made in circles (committees). All voices are heard and decisions are made when there are no remaining "paramount objections," that is, when there is informed consent from all participants. Objections must be reasoned and based on the ability of the objector to work productively toward the goals of the organization. All policy decisions are made by consent.

Citizen Hive, an NGO in Sweden, uses Sociocracy and describes it is this way: "Sociocracy is a holistic approach for inclusive decision-making, efficient governance, and the ongoing evaluation and improvement of your team, project or organization. It fosters empowerment and an attitude where people feel encouraged to experiment, fail, and learn."

Other benefits of Sociocracy:
  • Fosters more trust
  • Encourages individuals to be accountable to the group's agreements, relative to available energy and resources.
  • Helps users evaluate what they do, identify their strengths and growing edges, and aply what they've learned to future projects and collaborations.
  • Focuses on solutions and helps transform potentially painful disagreements into creative opportunities that benefit the whole group.
For information about the June 20th Introduction to Sociocracy or to RSVP, email Michele McNabb, genboss2@yahoo.dk.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Progress on Many Fronts!

The theme for the last several weeks at Prairie Hill has been working together, and stretching ourselves thin with the work required. But the results are inspiring. For instance, our living room has been transformed by beautiful pieces of furniture, a rug, lamps, and expert skill in arrangement by some. We are now having meetings here, as well as just hanging out between tasks. It has a wonderful feel. It is beginning to feel like home.



On another front, we're developing the outside of our community, the land. Up on top of our site, there are more than three acres free of construction. It's a beautiful, high and sunny area, and we have fenced in a generous space for a garden. Already there are kale, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, squash and herbs up in the community part of the garden, and some individuals are also planting on separate plots inside the fencing. We've planted several fruit trees up there, and soon will be "heeling in" 125 small bare-rooted saplings from the state forestry nursery: 25 red oak, 25 white oak, 25 river birch, 25 nannyberry, and 25 redbud. These trees will be protected by the double fencing around our garden area: one sturdy wire fence, and outside that a tall 8' deer fencing net. When construction is finished, we'll have these trees to spread around our site.





Down by Miller Avenue, not only have we planted many flowering trees, but also a large bio-retention cell (see previous blog post). Below you can see that now the area around the cell has been graded, smoothed, and planted with buffalo grass, a deep-rooted alternative to regular lawn grass, not needing mowing. The bio-retention cell has now been planted with a variety of flowering plants that are hardy in both dry and wet conditions. Within the next few weeks, we'll be able to see them rising up over the sides of the cell and brightening the outlook to the east.



Now that our common house is completed, our guest rooms are available, thanks to a crew of dedicated members to set them up. Using contributed beds and other furniture, they are attractive and comfortable, and already several people have come to spend time in them. One guest room is called the Nancy Drew Room, and the other the Grant Wood Room. One of our members has taken on the responsibility for scheduling and organizing the guest room use, and some of our first visitors are shown below, visiting Michele from Denmark!