Notes from Windward: #64

Windward's Departments

      A Department involves an activity which is central to Windward's approach to sustainable self-reliance, rather than something which is tangental in the way that Windward's Chairs are. Growing mushrooms isn't central to Windward's daily life; having an adequate supply of wholesome vegetables is.

      Whereas a Chair involves an activity which can be pursued by an individual, Departments generally involve work which is team based. While one person can grow a mess of potatotes, growing enough to feed twenty people for a year is something else entirely. Tilling that much ground, even with our impressive, self-propelled rototiller, is a job which needs muscles and mass. Planting that many eyes is a task which requires attention to detail. And, harvesting and storing away that many spuds is something which requires a lot of hands of all sorts.

      Few activities are so central to the operation of a self-reliant community than a goat diary, but it's an enterprise which needs to have at least four people who are committed to that activity or else the load will probably prove to be non-sustainable. During the seven month milking season, the goats need to be milked every morning and every night, just as the milk needs to be quick-chilled for the table, and the rest processed into yogurt, cheese and fudge.

      Perhaps the renewable energy department is the most comprehensive sustainability challenge of all since energy production and energy conservation is intertwined with almost everything we do. While not everyone needs to understand how to generate electricty, everyone does need to understand how to safely use and conserve home-grown energy.

      While each department necessarily involves more than one person, there also has to be someone with a substantial, ongoing interest in that activity who's task it is to oversee issues such as planning, coordination, continuity and closure.

      That's a demanding slate of duties, but it's also what makes running a department interesting. While it's great fun to be able to grow vegetables, the real satisfaction comes from being able to use your skills to feed your friends.

      While it's certainly fun to do woodworking, there's only so many nick-nack shelves or bird houses one can build. But, the challenge of constructing quality, long-lasting furniture for the community is a task worthy of a craftman's time.

      Sharing one's life with sheep and goats may sound like an odd thing to want to do, but for many of us, it's a joy to get to know and work with these creatures just as our ancestors have done for thousands of years.

      There's a good deal of similarity between someone who undertakes to establish a Chair and someone who undertakes the challeng of managing a Department. The metaphor that comes closest would be two circles of people standing back to back with the outer circle, the Chairs, facing outward while the inner circle, the Departments, faces inward.

      A major difference would be in the amount of interaction with non-Windward folk. A Chair would have a foot in both worlds, whereas the folks who make up a Department would be focused on activities internal to the program.

      A Chair is individually responsbile for the solvency of the program the Chair manages, and while the members of a Department also have to insure that their work pulls its weight financially, a Department works as a team to accomplish that. The members involved wouldn't be working for the Department in the sense that they would be employees; rather, the Department would function as a partnership enterprize operating within the context of the larger organization. Another way to put it would be that a Department would make a small business out of the work they do in support of the community.

      You might well ask how that would work? Well, as with most things, it would depend on the Department and a variety of factors only some of which are internal to Windward. For example, raising chickens and rabbits is an excellent way to provide meat for the kitchen, but the cost of compliance with USDA inspection requirements would make the sale of butchered meat economically impractical.

      Consequently, ingenuity and forethought is needed in order to find and develop markets which value meat raised organically and in humane ways. And by doing that, the Department will connect with like-minded folks who value the things we value. That's important because sustainability is all about connections.

      It's possible for us to create value in ways that are sustainable because it's being done within a context of self-reliance and simplicity. It's a trade-off: the more weight a program has to carry, the more corners you have to cut, the more specialized you have to become. Consequently, we just don't go there.

      Because we live a life which allows us to create most of the things we need, we're able to focus more on creating value than on making money, and over time the value adds up.

      A key element in low-cost living is the ability to buy things when they're at their cheapest, and then store them until they're needed. For example, propane is typically thirty percent cheaper in August than it is the next January. Consequently, we've invested in large storage tanks which allow us to buy when the time is right for us, instead of when it's right for the supplier.

      So too, we create product when its most practical, and then market our work when it's most profitable. By divorcing ourselves from the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, we're able to position ourselves in markets which allow us to do our things our way.

      Another way to describe the process is that we're able to make half the money in a quarter of the time. The trick was to craft a context within which half the money is more than we needed; now that we've accomplished that, we're able to stay ahead of the markets that we choose to participate in as we invest the time saved in ways that are personally meaningful.

      Well, enough chatter. Let's move on to some specific examples of the things that these Departments are currently focused on doing.


For a discussion of Windward's Gardening Department, Click Here

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64