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Cold Comfort Farms

Rescue our communities and we rescue ourselves



Last year, I wrote an essay in the Bohemian that stated, "Growth and debt are the cure for everything, but they cannot expand endlessly. We are reaching the limits now." A year later, we have passed those limits and fallen off a cliff in a grand way. The high and mighty, the wealthy and arrogant, were totally blind. But the hippies saw the abyss. We have crisis on top of crisis now.

Just recently, headlines have announced that difficulties in the dairy industry threaten the existence of our precious family farms. And daily we hear the drum roll of layoffs and rising unemployment, among the most profound dilemmas facing society. Yet few people see how these two problems could fit together to help ameliorate each other.

There once were the beginnings of a "back to the land" movement, and that effort continues on a subdued level in intentional communities, some of them right here in the North Bay. There is greater interest in local, organic, non-factory-farmed food. There is greater interest in ideas of community, reversing the alienation of modern society. There is greater interest in the ethics of service and pulling together to face common problems with "green" solutions. All these impulses dovetail into the notion of the extended family farm, one that is "in service to a culture of conscious kinship," to quote the local Green Valley Village's mission statement.

Somehow, when we think of the word "challenge," we think grandiosely, like going to the moon. If a call went out to fill a colony ship to Mars, thousands of volunteers would line up. Show humans an impossible rock face or high mountain peak, and some have just got to go there. So what about this greatest challenge of all: getting along well enough to share a farm and create a safety net? There aren't full-time jobs for everyone, not even close, and there are many reasons why we can't go back to accelerating development.

Here in Sonoma County, we have a specific and immediate challenge. The wonderful St. Anthony dairy farm near Bloomfield is up for sale. The multimillion-dollar price is a pittance compared to the wealth in the county. Is there not a group that would rally to create a live-in school, learning center and country home-assistance center? Are there no patrons who can envision the power of a revitalized "back to the land" movement?

We have books about forming community and connecting with one another, like Diana Christian's Creating a Life Together. We have the local Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, which specializes in the challenge of how to organize intentional communities.

I myself am a former dairy herdsman and community member with a bit to offer. Sonoma County is special, both visually and intellectually. Preserving our rural heritage with a group effort would shine a light across our country—indeed, across the planet, a world that faces these very same contradictions: disappearing farms, cities crowded with the unemployed, and the need to find creative, friendly, solutions.

Many of us want President Barack Obama to succeed. We believe in the great shift, the time of transformation, the new paradigm. But the president alone cannot do this. There must be some grass-roots action. Entrepreneurs will play a part creating new businesses; another group will have to control some of the farms with lots of people who get food and shelter, and, in return, devote themselves in service to those on the road, the seekers, the ones who are not in the debt system, and others. This would help encourage a culture shift toward generosity and concern, so different from the obsessively selfish and narrow vision of the prevailing culture.

As times get harder, there is a tendency to descend into angry rhetoric and blame. The group that can add something positive, hopeful and helpful will change the face of history. And we need it. The intentional community farms are the ideal vehicle, the necessary element, if a progressive renaissance is to blossom in this stressful time.


It took WW II to put an end to the last giant economic crisis. We're going to have to do something massively better this time around. The farms are there crying for help. Where are the people who would create something fresh?

 Arthur Kopecky is the author of two books about the New Buffalo commune (portrayed in 'Easy Rider'), a carpenter and contractor, living in Sebastopol with his family amid many gardens.

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