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April 05, 2008

(6) Slowly growing an alternate economy

The economic aspect of the Community Supported Activist programs is only one piece of what keeps me “afloat”. Living in Cedar Moon, the intentional community at TLC Farm, is a fabulous example of the power of trusting the interdependent web. My rent is inexpensive because I live in a small space and share amenities with others. My food costs are cheap because we buy in bulk and prepare our own (otherwise costly) value added foods, like granola, hummus, milks, hot sauce, etc. And we operate as a collective, which saves time, money and energy—a few people do the food buying, a few make the “prepared” foods and we each cook dinner or clean up only once a week but get great homemade food daily. Even part of my health care is provided by integrating myself into a community: because many of the people around me are also searching for healthier lives, and we have collectively learned a whole lot about natural medicine and the ability to heal/prevent illnesses with foods and herbs. Transportation costs are low because I bike (and have friends to trade with for fixing it). I have almost no entertainment costs because I enjoy the talents and company of my friends--musicians, filmmakers, artists, philosophers, event creators, nature lovers etc. And when I travel, I know how to take local buses (and enjoy them), how to find cheap or free accommodations (or work trade), and successfully carry my own food or make do with local supermarkets.

In Portland, we have many communities of people who are walking similarly integrated lifestyles, and therefore have the people power to enact a more wholesome economy as a whole. This economy has been emerging slowly for decades, and I believe that we are at a point of critical mass: it’s time now to take the next steps.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wonder about the “alternate” economy, places like TLC and the extent to which they can successfully exist independently of the larger economy... The capital to set up/purchase The Farm certainly relied in part upon mainstream economy money as an investment to allow TLC to continue, and a certain amount of those contributions were more related to stopping development more than to supporting an intentional alternative community. I go to fundraisers for what I see as community activities, and far too often the majority of the people attending are part of this alternate economy lifestyle or just plain don’t have much money to donate... These fundraisers become good community building events, and are immensely valuable for this purpose, but as fundraisers, they rely upon mainstream economy money (or inherited wealth from the mainstream economy) to be financially successful (our school auction is a great example - wonderful gathering but Mr. Moneybags never seems to show up...).

Last night in New Orleans there was a fundraiser for Common Ground and the Martin Luther King Charter School in the Ninth Ward, many musicians donated time to play including Michael Franti and Spearhead. The event was in part billed as a FREE alternative to the New Orleans Jazz Festival for those who cannot afford expensive tickets - a wonderful way that musicians in this town are able to give of themselves - but it was also a fundraiser by donation and in this regard I suspect was relying upon the mainstream money and generosity of “tourists” and others whose lives are separated from the Ninth Ward saga.

I guess my point is to recognize that whether we are rebuilding the Ninth Ward, building TLC, or slowly growing the alternate economy, we are ultimately relying upon the infrastructure of the mainstream economy in part to support this process. Our struggle is how to co-opt the mainstream economy to better support this growth, embrace a slow transition, and still maintain enough independence to resist being co-opted by the mainstream.