East Wind

Disclaimer: I was only able to visit East Wind for five days, and therefore feel that my breadth of experience was even more limited than usual.

East Wind was my first foray into a true hippie commune. It is a completely income-sharing community. People put in equal hours and get (presumably) equal benefits. Vital stats: 1,000+ acres; 70-80 members; 30+ years old.

At other communities, people were more on their own financially. Lost Valley had a common community business, but each person had an individual job (or two) and got their own paycheck, paid for their own housing, etc. At Dancing Rabbit, people were on their own in terms of income-generation. (Side note: the Skyhouse sub-community at DR has a web design/hosting business). But again, everyone had their own fees to pay and their own bills.

At East Wind, however, everything is administered communally. People still have private rooms (with an optional door lock), with the possibility of owning personal items. But no one has individual bills (from the community). If you’re a member, you have an expected work quota (35 hours a week), and as a result, you get all the benefits of living in the community. The benefits were pretty nice:

  • gigantic networked music library, and XM radio (which I’m told has settled many disputes over what to play during work shifts)
  • impressive book library
  • TV/movie building (2 rooms) with DVD/VHS movie library (and 4 EW members have Netflix accounts)
  • industrial-size kitchen with several fridges, freezers, etc. always stocked with food
  • clean towels and clothes (the clothing area is like a small Goodwill store)
  • clean showers, stocked shampoos and soaps (with cubby areas for your own personal stuff)
  • 4-computer lab with internet access
  • seperate video game room with computers, XBox, Playstation
  • over a thousand acres of plush wooded land to explore and live in
  • swimming hole in Lick Creek
  • … and I’m sure many more …

And what do you have to do for all this? 35 hours a week. That number includes a weekly quota (usually 2-8 hours, depending on need) of time working for the community nut-butters business - roasting peanuts, then running them through the masher and finally jarring, labelling and putting them in cases. Of the three shifts I did, all were in the afternoon (jarring/packaging), and 3-4 hours each. Lots of things can be counted as labor hours - doing laundry, cooking, cleaning dishes, administrative tasks like answering phones and taking orders, working in the garden, building maintenance, etc. I got the impression that the biggest challenge is not in filling your labor quota, but in figuring out how to fill it with tasks that you like (love) doing.

East Wind is run by democracy. I feel this is in stark contrast to the consensus-based methods most other commmunities have adopted. (See “culture of consensus” from the Dancing Rabbit post). I’m told that regular meetings happen every week and turnout is usually fairly low. The agenda is set by “petitions” posted on a common board, to which supporters can sign their names. If a petition is supported, it can go to a vote. Full members have 1 vote, children and some provisional members have less (1/4 to 1/2 vote). Most people seemed to be fairly disinterested in most issues, only voicing concerns for things with which they had major contention.

The first meal I ate at East Wind consisted of fish, onion rings, cole slaw and cake. The second was chili and cornbread with salad (both regular and vegan options available for each). I’m not sure what the proportion of vegans/vegetarians/omnivores is at East Wind, but there didn’t seem to be a community-wide emphasis on “healthy living.” At the party friday night, I asked how many people do NOT smoke cigarettes and the consensus was that 8 people sitting in the circle (of 14 people) were non-smokers, but that those 8 people probably represented all of the non-smokers in the community.

As usual, there was plenty of guitar jamming and drums, a nice fire circle at the party, and hammocks everywhere (which they used to make and sell). There is a regular poker game (Texas hold-em) on the common house porch.

There are condoms everywhere. I found a basket of them outside the shower room, a basket in one of the bathrooms, and another one in the office. One member mentioned that at East Wind, it’s easier to have a kid than it is to have a dog. Requests for children are rarely (if ever) denied, while dogs are subject to a community-wide quota.

I saw a young deer, an armadillo and a shooting star (the second of my life), and I think I saw the Milky Way.

I saw a few signs of motion towards sustainability: composting toilets, water is from a well on the property, most buildings use fans instead of air conditioning, and they have a sizable garden (though I have no idea how much of their food comes from it). However, East Wind is still on-grid for power, and fossil fuel use was rampant - the community owns 11 vehicles and several tractors for farm uses. The nut-butters are produced with large electrical machines, and stored in a gigantic walk-in refrigerator. I got the feeling that most of their food was still purchased/imported. I didn’t notice any natural building or any particular emphasis on green design (passive solar or otherwise).
After I got to Earthaven, I talked with an intern who had visited East Wind for a few weeks, and to hear her describe it, East Wind is spoiled by their nut butter business. It is so successful that many people do not see a need to become more self-sufficient.

When hanging out by the creek, I asked when and how planning happens. Everyone laughed and Ryan (a 10-year member) asked, “planning? what’s that?” Granted, it may have been the wrong crowd to ask, but I still wonder how the big decisions are made about the community, future planning, and especially the nut-butter business. Ryan indicated that they used to have yearly meetings, but that they have become less frequent lately.
I’m curious as to who cleans the public spaces like the RB (common house + kitchen) and the showers. At DR and LV, they had weekly cleaning parties for the public areas. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had adopted those areas and just did it for labor hours.

I wonder how productive the garden is and who tends it. It’s pretty big and seemed to be fairly productive, if a bit overgrown. At other communities, working in the garden was not a prized job.

I’d like to have spent more time exploring the land. I asked Ryan what his fix is and how he gets it. He responded that he doesn’t want for anything that he can’t get from a long walk on the land. Yohanen (the village “elder”) used to lead regular land-walks until very recently, and many people felt very familiar with most of the East Wind acreage.

If I am an activist, it felt like East Wind was full of passivists. Yohanen told me a couple times that those at East Wind are passive revolutionaries. Living a different lifestyle, but in a very un-obtrusive kind of way. I felt that it would be hard to get people together to do something outside the community, or even something within the community, if it was time-consuming and not entirely necessary. On the other hand, it was very laid back and seemed like a nice place to just relax and live a satisfying life day by day. When I’m all done with whatever it is I’m going to do in the world, I think I’d like to live at a place like East Wind.

I invite any East Wind members to contact me directly with corrections or comments.

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