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Thriving communes no haven for 'deadbeats'

From: Deborah R.
Sent on: Friday, February 3, 2012 1:29 AM

Thriving communes no haven for 'deadbeats'
By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Back in the Summer of Love, communes were notorious havens for free love and illicit drugs where youthful hippies spurned materialism and got back to nature.

Forty years after the peak of that era, thousands of communes still flourish and inspire more experiments in communal living. These days, dope-smoking hippies are out. Environmentally conscious living for people of all ages is the new ethos. Even the label "communes" has fallen from favor. Call them "intentional communities."

Life at Lake Village Homestead here hasn't changed much since the commune was founded 36 years ago on a farm outside this college town. Founder Roger Ulrich, 75, says the newest residents are "longing to get back to the earth. It's really nostalgia for peace, not the hippie lifestyle."

Still, some of the hallmarks of Lake Village's early days are gone: Most members work at regular jobs. Some own their own property adjacent to the commune. People don't gather for meals or parties as often as they once did.

As many as 10,000 intentional communities span the USA and more form every year, says Timothy Miller, author of several books on the subject. At their peak in the early 1970s, he says, there were 20,000 to 50,000.

"They are still very much thriving, typically very quietly," says Miller, a University of Kansas religious historian. "A lot of them are afraid they're going to get inundated with deadbeats, and a lot are in violation of zoning laws."

Geoph Kozeny, who helps compile a directory of communes, says the resurgence is the result of changes in the way they describe themselves. "The movement has gotten better at talking about common values: finding a safe place to bring up kids, being able to leave their doors unlocked, a focus on the environment," he says.

Kozeny splits his time between Purple Rose Collective, a San Francisco housing co-op, and The Farm, a commune in Summertown, Tenn., that once had more than 1,000 members and offers courses in sustainable living and runs an online virtual hippie museum.

Intentional communities include various living arrangements:

•Communes, where incomes and property are often shared.
•Religious groups. Historically, three-fourths of communes are in this category, Miller says.
•Housing cooperatives, where people share housing and make decisions collectively.
•Ecovillages, which are dedicated to environmental sustainability.
•Cohousing, the latest trend. About 90 exist across the nation and dozens more are planned. Residents, often senior citizens, own their homes, share ownership of land or community centers and are expected to socialize together like an extended family.

Close neighbors
Philip Leinbach, 71, lives in a cohousing community of 70 people in Durham, N.C. "It works because people are interested in knowing their neighbors well, intimately almost," he says. "We're a neighborhood and not quite a family."

Communal living was part of American culture long before hippies moved in together.

Mormons, Shakers, the Oneida Community and other mostly religious groups created "utopian" settlements in the 19th century, says Lawrence Foster, a Georgia Tech historian. The Amish and the Hutterites still live communally; others didn't endure. "Some people thought this was a really great idea," he says. "Other people said, 'These guys are dangerous.' "

The people who founded communes in the 1960s and '70s faced similar reactions. Traditional sexual mores were challenged and income-sharing sometimes stirred resentment.

Musawa Moore, 63, who in 1973 helped found We'Moon Land, a women's community near Estacada, Ore., says adapting to the lifestyle can be difficult. "People are tied into consumer things and the city," she says. "Living peacefully on the land is not for everyone."

At Lake Village, members share responsibility for tending the garden and horses, cattle, pigs, goats and chickens. The farm is owned by a corporation formed by members. Everyone chips in for utilities, animal feed and other expenses.

Jessica Foster, 31, moved in with her partner two months ago because they craved "being part of a big community," she says. "We're hoping to be here for a long time and raise kids here."

Ulrich was chairman of the psychology department at Western Michigan University and living near campus when he decided in 1971 to create the commune. He based it on psychologist B.F. Skinner's 1948 book Walden Two, a fictional utopia built around collective ownership, minimal consumption and deep social relationships.

Gradual acceptance

Lake Village has 50 members who live on 300 acres in two communal houses and 13 separate single-family homes. It didn't label itself a commune in the early days, Ulrich says, "but the neighbors did. Some wanted to come over and smoke grass, and some wanted to get rid of us. There was conflict then, big time." Neighbors gradually accepted the community.

Residents include a fast-food worker, Wal-Mart employee, massage therapist and retired cop. Those who work only on the farm are paid by the hour. An eight-member board sets policies.

"Why does it work? It's never clear that it does," Ulrich says. "It's a work in progress."

Roy Guisinger, 44, has a name for the commune he wants to create on his 20-acre spread in rural central Nebraska: Solstice Dawn.

Communal living has appealed to him since he lived in an "unintentional community" in college, Guisinger says. "I think we're tribal creatures, and I think we need close personal connections."

Guisinger wants to recruit 12 adults. "Free love, drugs, whatever — I don't want those," he says. He wants to create a cottage industry, perhaps growing organic fruit.

Miller says communal living's appeal stems from questions many people ask themselves: "Why do we live fragmented, separate lives? … What happened to the old idea of neighbors and interaction? People would like to recapture it."

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people
who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all."
-- Dale Carnegie
"Gold is the currency of monarchs,
Silver is the currency of the educated,
Barter is the currency of the working class, And debt is the currency of slaves."
--Author Unknown

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