Getting out of your element: On community involvement

Michael Beck's picture

On my walk down to the beach that I currently use as my temporary office (yes, I am lucky, I tell myself this every day!), I saw some pleasant looking travelers. We stopped and exchanged greetings; it turns out they were looking for the community I'm currently living at. What a coincidence! In past situations where strangers are spontaneously looking to visit where I'm currently living, my initial response has been somewhat fear-based: How long are they intending to stay? Will they contribute or is this just a "green" vacation? Are they nice, respectful people? I'd like to explore what it means to involve local and non-local community in a sustainable land-based project and (hopefully!) inspire project leaders to fully embrace involving as many people as can be properly managed -- the benefits are endless and full of unforeseen surprises!

In the last month of my life, I've had several epitomes on what involving community could mean to a project. On the one hand, you have local community. In many rural projects, this often means elderly people that congregate at cafes and bars. One of the many things that stuck with me in my recent Peramculture Design Course was the strong suggestion to spend time at these locations talking to locals, especially elderly locals. These people are wise, even if they are not working the land as you would. They know details on climate, geography, available human and physical resources and the history of the local region, a very important story to have told from several different sources in a sustainable land-based project. Embracing the idea of involving external community in your project oftentimes provides much more than the obvious benefit of having more helping hands. New people bring a fresh energy to a project, making day-to-day activities less monotonous. Each person has unique attributes and talents -- I've recently found myself a part of amazing campfire jam sessions with people I just met. I was recently a part of informal workshops on non-violent communication, body percussion, Ayurvedic massage and chi gong!

The possibilities are endless! When involving new people, it is very beneficial to expresss interest in these attributes and talents that every person has and open up space for people to share these in a group setting. Additionally, it is helpful to build a welcome area that has info on what you expect of visitors vs. temporary residents, as an example. Labeling social areas, kitchen, workshop, private spaces, etc. is also very helpful for external community to familiarize themselves with your project.

So. How do you go about involving external community in your project? On a larger scale, starting a simple blog and website will provide immediate exposure to your project. On a more local level, you might want to think about placing flyers or posters in cafes, bars and libraries. More creatively, organizing an event could be a fun way to involve external community. I recently attended an event by Tribodar Learning Center -- it was a festival for experimentation, the first time they had done an event of this scale. It was very, very inspiring to see 70-100 people paying a very small fee for a full day of workshops and spontaneous jam sessions put on by the people attending the event.

Finally, there is the chance meeting of people who are traveling through or spontaneously show up -- in the case of the travelers I met on the way to the beach, they seemed like nice people so I gave them directions and told them what I thought the community needed at the moment and to be open and straight-forward with how long they intend on staying, what they can contribute, etc. And I'm curious to see how they are getting on up there so I'm going to wrap this up and begin my walk home! Bye for now, m.