Co-Op Village
Free plans for sustainable intentional communities.

   Compare Village To Other Intentional Communities

By: Jen Chendea

                      See:      Comparrison Chart                 


  Source: Chapt. 11, Co-Op Villages - The Next Evolution


Comparison to Other Community Models


I have long been interested in the idea of intentional community.  I visited the Lama Foundation in New Mexico when I went on a road trip in college, and I loved the way of life there… slower, less insular, more interconnected than the way I grew up in the suburbs.  There’s something in there too about the sound of birds and the light filtered through the trees that you just can’t find when you live in a development wherein the whole land was stripped and some token maples were planted amongst the sod.  After college, I went to midwifery school, with the vague intention that I was on my way to some community out there ready to welcome me.

Then I met my husband.  Everything after that is sort of a blur, but now here I am years later in Virginia waiting to see if the Navy will let us go to Pensacola, which I call home.  But as much as my husband derailed my life plans, our son helped me remember them again (that is except for the midwifery – giving birth to him was enough birthing for one lifetime).  Watching him play in our small backyard with sticks and mud puddles, teaching him about composting and tending our kitchen garden while he asks in his toddler voice to play with the neighbor kids, I am more determined than ever to invest in a better future. 

However, I am a fierce skeptic and an even fiercer protector of my son -- how can I be sure that the alternative future I find for my son is a safe one?  Living with my parents in Pensacola during my son’s first winter, while Andrei was out to sea, I was leading a cloth diaper workshop at the health food store when I saw a flyer for the Co-op Village.  I thought these things only started up out west!  Because I was raised in Pensacola and want to settle there, this was exactly what I was looking for.  But I was reticent.  I half expected to walk into this meeting and find a bunch of rebellious students and druggies with no real direction… or worse, some religious extremists trying to leave our society behind.  What I found was a core group of very committed people – accountants, electrical engineers, therapists – people who want just what I want: a sane way of living on this complicated planet.

So I aim to explain, after working with the Co-op Village Foundation for more than a year, how it is not a group of religious fanatics and how it very definitely has direction.  It is not a cult, not a religious group, not exempt from the laws of our country, not the sole property of any one person, and most of all not a utopian ideal.  The Co-op Village concept is a tool to rescue us from our own spiraling mismanagement of resources (money, environment, body, time, psychology, families…).  It is an experiment in answering the warning signs that we have thus far been trying mightily to ignore.

Any venture like the Co-op Village primarily brings to mind the idea of utopia, a naïve idea that one can create a perfect society.  From Plato’s Republic to Orwell’s 1984, the idea of utopia has figured large in the consciousness of the western world, but history has shown us that investment in the idea of utopia is often a fatal hubris.  While we share a common yearning for a peaceable, plentiful, just world, we also share a gut-level suspicion that if you can’t be happy right where you are, then where do you expect to be happy?  Utopia itself is a play on words, a Latin pun we inherit from Thomas More’s book of the same name, meaning either (or both) “eutopia,” a  good place or “outopia,” no place.  To this day, we have inherited More’s ambiguity, and we commonly feel that a utopia is a perfect place that does not -- cannot -- exist.



The object of this chapter is to address some apprehensions or preconceptions regarding intentional community by offering a review and comparison of some of the many community-living experiments that have occurred in recent memory. Some of these were the product of the hippie movement, such as The Farm in Tennessee. Other ventures involved mass migration to a new country, such as when Jews displaced from Eastern Europe by escalating violence and alienation settled in then-Palestine in communities called kibbutzim (singular, kibbutz).  The Amish migrated to America during the 18th and 19th centuries, also escaping persecution, and their Anabaptist values led them to insulate themselves into communities.  In contrast to these successes, in the 1970s Jim Jones used a utopian rhetoric and cult methodologies to lure a thousand people to their deaths in “Jonestown,” British Guyana.  An overview of these communities may serve not only to define the Co-op Village by comparison, but to serve as lessons for its growth.

As if offering substance to our fears of utopian movements, the “community” at Jonestown became a national tragedy in 1978.  It was a horror that was rooted decades before with the formation of the Peoples Temple by Jim Jones, the charismatic but psychopathic leader who used communist rhetoric to lure a thousand disenchanted, poor, or otherwise vulnerable victims to an isolated compound in British Guyana. Nearly all of them died there, in a mass murder perpetrated by a few of Jones’ loyal and brainwashed devotees.  Thus ended a journey that had begun with simple attendance at Jones’ church and slowly they were drawn in to his web of lies, calculated manipulation, kidnapping, and coercion. The calculated mind-control techniques that Jones had developed for decades facilitated his manipulation of these people for his own financial gain, twisted psychological satisfaction, and as an ultimate route to lasting, if posthumous, fame.

Amish communities could hardly be more different than the compound at Jonestown. There are nearly 200,000 Amish in the U.S., mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Centuries before coming to America from Europe, the Amish were originally Swiss Anabaptists, breaking away from the Catholic Church in the 17th century.  By the end of that century, they had experienced a split with the Anabaptists and in the 18th and 19th centuries migrated to America to escape persecution. Now, they are commonly known as a reclusive nonviolent religious group wearing uniform clothing and avoiding modern technology such as Velcro and motor vehicles.  Each Amish community itself is small, with less than 200 people – the location must be small enough to be navigated by horse and buggy and the population must fit in a barn for meetings.  While they remain secluded in order to avoid the sins of worldliness, their art and culture permeates the mainstream, particularly in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

The kibbutzim have similarly left their mark on Israel, and are also in other ways similar to the Amish communities, originating from a large migration to escape persecution, and sharing religious doctrine.  They are communities in Israel of about 500 people that have been thriving throughout most of the twentieth century.  The first kibbutz was founded in what was then Palestine in 1909 as part of a reaction to anti-Semitic persecution in Eastern Europe.  The kibbutz movement upheld ideals of community, hard work, and living off the land in the agriculturally barren areas of Palestine. The movement remained strong as it played a vital role in the establishment of the state of Israel, and is at the present time still a vital component of its economy.  Each of the more than 85 kibbutzim is unique in the way it deals with such issues as individual ownership and methods of earning a living, but they share a similar heritage.  Though the focus of the movement has changed from an anti-materialistic back-to-the-land communal ethos into manufacture, industry, and individual independence, the kibbutz represents a very successful community movement.

50 years after the first kibbutz was founded along the Mediterranean, a similar movement grew among the hippie culture in America.  The Farm in Tennessee was founded in 1970 by 250 people of all ages who followed Stephen Gaskin from San Fransisco and set up a remarkably self-sufficient community.  Today, the Farm is well-known for its midwifery practice and sustainable building workshops, and as an example of community living based on compassion and environmental responsibility.  Like the kibbutzim, the Farm has undergone radical changes, especially in the late 70s and early 80s, when the population grew to an obese 1,400 members and the original ideals became diluted.  This led to a 1983 restructuring from a collective into a cooperative, abandoning the communal wealth model for a situation in which members are responsible for supporting themselves and paying dues.  The Farm today is a hopeful, small, 200-member example of communal living.

How is the co-op village concept similar to these experiments in history?  How does it differ?  Most importantly, what must we learn from them in order to make this experiment work?  The Village concept must incorporate fail-safes to prevent an unthinkable Jim-Jones event – these preventive measures include the adherence to consensus and the governmental structure explained elsewhere in this book.  We must watch carefully the balance of isolation, not becoming reclusive like the Amish, but avoiding the dilution of ideals experienced by Farm.  We must, however, remain with at least one foot in the great tradition of idealism embodied by those Anabaptists defying the powerful Church, by the Jews in anti-Semitic Russia who dared to hope for freedom, by the hippies seeking to leave behind materialism and violence.  Our imperative is no less sacred for being secular: our ecological fears are amplified concurrently with the destructive powers we are just beginning to understand.  We share with the Farm, the kibbutzim, the Amish, and even the poor souls who joined Peoples Temple, an aversion to violence, a criticism of materialism, and a yearning for a better life.



One child working in California for the Peoples Temple before they moved to Jonestown was sent out to beg.  The begging done by his members was a lucrative source of income for Jones.  He warned the little ones that if they stole the money they received, Jones would know and the offender would be struck down by God.  This little boy pocketed $10 and when nothing happened to him, he quit the church because he saw that Jones was a liar.  His skepticism saved his life.  In addition to begging, the congregation  of Jim Jones was allowed to have outside jobs before the move to British Guyana, but all money earned was to be given to Jones.  Children were made to beg and threatened not to steal because Jones, being God, would know.  When living in California, the congregation made weekly trips to San Francisco and L.A. for choir performances and miracle healings, off of which Jones made a lot of money.

While members of The Co-op Village, of the kibbutz, and of the Farm have the freedom to pursue right livelihood outside the community if they choose, those living in Jonestown as well as the reclusive Amish limited outside contact.  In Jonestown, Jim Jones was the only conduit to the outside world.  He alone had access to the single method of outside communication -- a guarded radio -- and he used his position to convince those living in the community that the rest of the world was falling apart and they had to remain as the last place of true morality.  This isolation was a continuation of the mind-control tactics he used in recruitment and part of the road to the ultimate mass murder he committed.

For Jim Jones’ followers, there was no adherence to the laws of the surrounding area. Jones fled to Guyana with his congregation to avoid paying taxes and to avoid being discovered in his many illegal activities, including fraud, child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, drug abuse, among other things. The capitalist world was painted as evil, and that those in the evil outside world would see any achievements by the Peoples Temple as a threat.  With teachings such as these, Jones fabricated a world in which he was the only refuge of safety and comfort.  It would be easy to resolve that the isolation of the residents of Jonestown was their downfall, and that the village concept should avoid such isolation. 

However, the Amish are isolated as well, believing that the world is full of corruption, materialism, and selfishness.  They particularly avoid seeking modern comforts, love of material things, and self-enhancing activity, which they believe keeps them pure and eligible as a community to enter heaven.  These motivations prompt them to ask, “what fellowship has light with darkness?” (where presumably, mainstream culture is ‘darkness’).  This pious isolation seems overall to have served them well, except where it inhibits medical care and help from social programs. 

The Amish communities throughout the northeast US, as well as the various kibbutzim throughout Israel, each have found their own balance of interaction with the outside state.  It then follows that each co-op village that is built will reach an equilibrium of interaction with the outside world that will be comfortable to those members.  If a group of Mormons takes on the village model and chooses to keep their village secluded, that will be acceptable because the model is basically a tool for use that we hope will help bring the world into balance ecologically, economically, and socially.

The members of the Farm still advocate for this balance, as they always have, minimizing reliance on the fossil-fuel power grid and adhering to what the Farm calls “right livelihood.” Right livelihood is a Buddhist principle requiring integrity between one’s work and one’s values.  For example, if the collective intention of the members of the Farm is to live sustainably, then a member working outside the community, say in Nashville, should evaluate the ecological impact of that job.  Is the 45-mile drive each day, relying on fossil fuels, worthwhile?  How does this affect the environment, and how could that money be better spent?  Is the work very important and worth the sacrifice?  This involves thinking not so much about the good for oneself, but about the common good.

The Co-op Village members will face similar choices, and should be encouraged to discuss such issues.  Right Livelihood is an element of any successful community. The Amish hold strictly to their ethics by avoiding contact with the outside world – this, as well as their avoidance of higher education, limits their pool of available occupations.  Some Amish are branching out while maintaining their integrity, for example building homes that are competitive because of their refusal to make much profit off the sales.

The Kibbutzim set out in the beginning of the century to live off the land and restore the vitality of the human being through hard work, very similar to the Amish.  Although much has changed for kibbutzniks, including manufacture and even tourism as methods of livelihood, much consideration and debate centers around adherence to values.  Where there is no discussion on right livelihood, as in the monologuous power held by Jim Jones, there is a sick or dying community.

The community relies not only on its integrity, but the physical integrity of its ecosphere.  Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, home to the largest settlement of Amish people, has the most productive soils in the country.  Amish farming practices probably account for this fertility: they grow a diversity of crops incorporating woodlands and pastures, employ crop rotation and fertilize with manure.  Moreover, the Amish rely very little on fossil fuels, and have been shown to use less energy than other farmers while producing the same yields.  The “old-fashioned” mindset of the Amish who are distrustful of modernization has led them to more slowly adopt or completely avoid farming practices such as the use of tractors and manipulation of animals to produce more.  It appears that what seems unethical to the Amish are often the very same practices avoided by modern organic agriculture, and the result has been a successful stewardship of the land.

Land stewardship and ecological living, although not entirely embraced by the Amish, are basic tenets at the Farm.  Because they are a much smaller community and not reclusive, their impact on the environment has not been limited to the land on which they farm.  The Farm is active in educating others in environmentally sustainable living, on every topic from vegetarianism to building techniques to solar power use. 

Similarly, the kibbutzim began their life with ideals of hard labor and living close to the land, based on Biblical passages and religious yearning.  Today, many kibbutzim use organic and biodynamic methods to grow food that feeds the community.  Some kibbutzim, such as Sde Eliyahu become centers for agricultural education, spreading the organic ideals by educating other farmers and sharing knowledge.  Like the Farm, this is their contribution, in addition to their stewardship of the land.
The Co-op Village hopes to incorporate these ideals, stewardship and sharing knowledge.  While the impulse is to invite a vigorous dialogue and share the knowledge and experience we will surely build up, one must recognize the intention of the Amish and their results.  Because they wished to remain separate from “the world” in order to remain purely themselves and avoid corruption, they have greatly slowed their adoption of new techniques.  This delay resulted in them being allowed to see the consequences before they adopt a new technology, such as tractors compacting the soil when it should be aerated to be healthy.  The Village must remember to keep its center.

Individual ownership of items and money is an issue all communities must address, and often one that figures into the very reasons for founding a community at all. Of the bubble economies of the communities studied here, the kibbutzim and the Farm began as experiments in holding money and possessions communally, and both have abandoned the practice. 

The kibbutzim originally maintained strict rules against propriety, believing that communal wealth would reinforce community togetherness and reduce materialism Community was forced, or strongly encouraged, by such practices as disallowing married couples to sit together and disallowing teakettles in homes to encourage people to come to the dining halls.  Also, gifts of money and goods were put into a common pot for everyone’s use.  One important problem developed:  when members were not paying utility bills themselves, they had no incentive to conserve.  The return of private accounts led to more moderate usage of resources.  Gradually, this practice evaporated and the practice of maintaining equality by providing items which become popular so that no one is deprived of, say, a TV or radio.  Today, the issue varies between individual kibbutz. Kibbutz Tammuz requires that one have a full-time job and that one’s paycheck be turned over to the community, in turn for receiving a household stipend.  Now that kibbutzniks have begun to lead more private lives, with dvds and internet like other families, group activities are much less attended.

The individuals involved with Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple could not keep their own wealth, and there was absolutely no financial independence.  Collection of social security and government checks was a substantial source of income for Jones - all members were required to turn them over.  Jones convinced every person who joined to turn over all individual property, including homes, cars, jewelry, and millions of dollars of real estateThe Had followers, especially a lawyer named Tim Stoen, manipulate the federal and state governments so that he could remain off their radar while collecting social security and foster-care checks for the people he had brainwashed and was housing in substandard housing.  The manipulation of governmental agencies by Jones and their failure to catch this cult before it became a mass murder continues to baffle and enrage survivors and family members of the deceased.

The Amish and the Farm have no restrictions on personal ownership or income, although both share a distaste for consumerism and greed.  The Amish believe that striving for material things is one of the evils of worldliness, and that it can lead to an exaltation of the self.  However, in Jonestown, while no one was allowed to own anything, the prevailing reason for that was Jones’ own greed.  He owned everything of value, including real estate, furs, jewelry, and other valuable that he insisted members must hand over to him if they were truly committed to “the cause.”  The Co-op Village, of course, will have no identified leader to coerce members’ belongings away, and neither will it require members to give up their tea kettles.  The Co-op Villages’ approach to ownership will be more like that of the Farm, with communal spaces and property, but with respect for individuals’ own property.

Since 1983 on the Farm, members must support themselves financially, but originally resources were pooled.  The communal wealth system of the founders who traveled out to Tennessee from San Francisco made it possible to by the original land at $70 per acre, and build a successful community.  Eventually the complications of the system as well as the enormous population size were overwhelming and a change was made to the current system wherein there is officially no shared wealth.  However, there are many common spaces and some community-owned property, such as farm equipment.  All of the members of one urban kibbutz, Kibbutz Tammuz, work outside the community and it has no enterprises of its own. still

In the Co-op Village, no one's forced to give over their 401(k), but wealth will generally be shared as one family.  There will probably be a period of about 20-30 years during which we transition to this communal wealth as people become more comfortable with the community atmosphere of sharing.  Upon joining, there will be a fee, just as there is for new members of the Farm.  The Amish are almost always born into the community, and kibbutz members sometimes do not pay a joining fee at all.

Joining a community such as the ones we’re studying often involves a typical process of visiting, expressing interest, visiting more, finding a mentor, and attending some classes or orientation, and often a fee as mentioned above.  While the Amish are very suspicious of outsiders and the compound at Jonestown has been abandoned for nearly 30 years since the massacre, the Farm and the kibbutz are open to new members.  The Co-op Village also has an open-door policy.  Anyone interested in the community will be allowed to apply, just like the Farm and the kibbutzim, and the application process is very similar.  Jones recruited his members specifically for traits that made them easy to manipulate, and he used mind control techniques on them that were later found highlighted in his library.  For example, the initiations into the community increased incrementally in their commitment and their demands in order to make it difficult to leave, the idea being that once a person has gone so far they are unwilling to admit they’d been wrong all along.  Researchers are still baffled at how well his strategies worked.

Anyone is free to leave and then return at the Farm, the kibbutzim, and the Co-op Villages, but the Amish face shunning if they leave and will never then be allowed to communicate with their families thereafter.  Jim Jones was famously enraged by those members who managed to escape and especially by those who formed a group to try to stop him.  The Co-op Village will of course allow members to come and go as they please, and help members who leave to regain their footing in the outside economy.

The kibbutzim are currently the largest of the communities studied, at about 600 people per kibbutz.  The Amish district, which is the smallest unit of government, oversees about 100-200 people.  There are 200 people on the Farm, and the Co-op Village will support about 500.  Although Jonestown is extinct as a community, it is worth mentioning that at the time of the massacre there were more than 900 people there. None of these communities restricted membership based on age or gender, although gender dynamics vary.

The Amish woman is a domestic, caring for the children, sewing, cooking, tending the garden, doing the washing and cleaning, but not working in factories or an outside job.  Her occupations are not subordinate, however, they are a boon to her family and rewarded by her community.  The men tend to the farms, work in paid professions, and occasionally help with more rigorous household chores as directed by their wives.  The men make official decisions and speak up in church, whereas the women follow the literal interpretation of the bible indicating their voices should not be heard in the church.

The gender dynamics and sexual perversion at Jonestown are hardly worth mentioning in this context, except to say that they were a direct outgrowth of Jones’ psychological perversions, and no one was safe from his discrimination and abuse.  The Farm’s seminal period, however, was during the sexual revolution and the birth of second-wave feminism, when both genders were encouraged to break free from traditional gender roles.  With young families, the trend is and has been to a somewhat traditional setting, with a father as breadwinner (as well as diaper-changer) and a mother as nurturing childcare provider.  The collective interest in home birth, breastfeeding, and attachment parenting could be related to this trend, because of the tendency of a mother to remain in close contact with a breastfed baby for a long period of time.  As children get older, mothers tend to become free to engage in professions full-time and become more independent.

Women wanted to and were encouraged to work in the fields just as rigorously as men and the kibbutz communities originally freed women from what they saw as the obligation of constant childcare by setting up communal childcare.  This had the dual purpose of demoting the family as a central unit of consideration and promoting the community as the primary unit.  Much has been written on the experiences, sometimes negative effects, leaving them to cry and suckle only every 4 hours, of children cared for communally in these settings, and the practice was eventually abandoned completely in favor of what we would see as a more typical day-care environment.

On the Farm, children grow up in a safe, gated community surrounded by caring and supportive adults.  Children will be similarly cared for in the Co-op Village.  Young families will be encouraged to have time together and enter into preschool or elementary school at their own pace.  Children will be allowed to enter public school nearby or the school on site at the Co-op Village. 

Amish families average 7 children, and they are never educated past the 8th grade when they enter “rumspringa” or the period when they experiment with modern ways and ultimately decide whether or not to commit to Amish life.  Families in the kibbutz are honored, whereas early in the life of the movement the community was often revered above the family.  The early kibbutzim put children into communal housing where they were allowed family time only 4 hours or so a day.  Many studies have been done since then on the psychological effects of this practice and it has since been abandoned in favor of traditional day care.  In stark contrast, children at Jonestown were abused, neglected, and certainly not allowed schooling of any kind.

Education in the Co-op Village is seen as a lifelong endeavor.  Career-switching, sharing of information, and simple soul-searching will be abundant.  Advanced education such as college, whether used to return to the community or to venture forth on one’s own, will be encouraged and provided for if financially possible.  Of the other communities in this study, only the kibbutz provides for advanced education.  The cost of higher education is on a much larger scale than the simpler life of intentional communities, and even when it is seen as a priority, tension remains over its outcomes.  Are the students in question going to come back and return their knowledge to the community or simply leave?  Will they study a vocation that is needed within the community, such as plumbing, or something they may dearly love but for which the community has no outright need?  These questions require compassionate answers and considerable attention.

One hopes that some of those students will pursue education in the health sciences and then return to care for the community.  This is the ideal for the Co-op Village, whose rainbow of alternative and allopathic healers would ideally provide for the medical, dental, and psychological care of the whole person, of each person.  However, with a self-selected community of 500 people, it will be necessary to seek outside care in the area of, say, dentistry, if there are no dentists or hygienists living in the community.  Open-heart surgery will undoubtedly be the job of local hospitals.

The balance between outside help and self-reliance is maintained by all the communities studied, except of course for Jonestown, whose members were infamously neglected and undernourished. Of particular interest are the Amish, who have a delicate relationship with healthcare providers. Although they eschew contact with outsiders, they also have no members educated above the 8th grade.  Thus, they must find English doctors who they trust.  The complications only begin there, however.  They do not take out health insurance or rely on aid, so paying medical bills can be a bit of a problem.  Because of their distrust of and isolation from the outside world, they have no knowledge of pharmaceuticals and distrust strong medicine or pills.  Because they favor personal integrity and bedside manner over advanced education (which they tend to distrust) they tend to visit more often chiropractors or alternative healers.

For the Co-op Village and the other (sane) communities, healing begins preventatively, with lifestyle.  The healthfulness of a pedestrian lifestyle is interrelated with the other elements of community living. It encourages fitness, enjoyment, community intimacy, and communication among members,  among other benefits.  A pedestrian atmosphere and often a natural setting are shared by all the communities in this study.  We cannot look favorably upon Jonestown given the circumstances, but members of the Farm, the Kibbutzim, and the Amish have all reflected on the joy inherent in this type of living. We hope that the Co-op Village’s small atmosphere and reliance on biking and walking will not only improve the health of its members but also build intimacy and fun into everyday life.

The nutrition of the community is similarly vital to its health.  Sharing community meals – a practice embraced by all the other communities, generally helps contribute to a joyous, intimate lifestyle. All communities addressed in this chapter grew at least some of their own food, even Jonestown.  In fact, eating nothing that one has grown oneself is an aberration of modern life wherein our food travels many miles to reach us, causes the consumption of a great proportion of our fossil fuel consumption, and relies on cheap labor. 

 Jim Jones, however, relied on slave labor.  Once he and his most loyal members had duped others into joining his Peoples Temple, he coerced, kidnapped, and brainwashed them into moving to his compound at British Guyana, where his elite and very loyal armed guards oversaw people working in the fields, punishing them if they stopped for even a moment. The only thing that could be grown in the weak soil was a local root vegetable called, “eddoes.”  This and rice constituted the diet for everyone at Jonestown except Jim Jones, his loyal members, and his guards.

The specific diet eaten by these communities is directly linked to their ideologies.  The Farm was originally strictly vegan and may have relaxed its standards slightly, whereas kibbutzniks eat Kosher meals.  Both enjoy foods grown at home.  The Amish diet of homegrown foods includes meats, eggs, and dairy, and they have a tendency to over-sweeten and overcook their foods which are already heavy in carbohydrates and fats.  This nutritional danger may be counteracted by the Amish lifestyle of daily hard work.

Life in the early kibbutzim was laborious as well, although the hard labor was not forced as at Jonestown.  It was instead an integral part of the back-to-the-land ideals of that communal movement.  For decades, the kibbutzim subsisted mostly on their own agriculture. In more recent years, they have branched out into other livelihoods such as manufacturing and tourism.  The extent to which each kibbutz grows its own food depends on that community’s industries and abilities. 

The Farm also grows much of its own food, and an intention of the community is to have as small an ecological footprint as possible – a goal that the Co-op Village concept shares and that is necessary for the continuation of life on earth.  Living sustainably in this way necessitates not only living off of what can be grown on the land locally, but also being mindful of what one actually eats.  The awareness of this “footprint” of consumtion is why the Farm was originally vegan, and why it remains largely vegetarian to this day.

Although part of the Farm’s seminal culture was drug use for spiritual exploration, Gaskin has since abandoned the practice.  Drug use is not allowed, while alcohol and tobacco use is discouraged.  The Amish similarly disapprove of them as unhealthful, but pipe tobacco and cigars are tolerated in some districts. Drug use was a vital part of Jones’ systematic mind control; anyone who tried to escape was subsequently drugged and constantly watched by the guards. Alcohol was available as a reward for loyalty, especially to his guards. Toleration of these substances will be determined at the Co-op Villages by consensus.  Illegal drug use will not be allowed because of adherence to all state and federal laws.

The consensus process itself is a unique feature of the Co-op Village concept.  The Amish govern themselves within their districts democratically, but decision-making power is in the hands of ministers and deacons who are ordained and never retire.  Though there have historically been legal issues over school attendance and other matters where the mores of the Amish conflict with the laws of the state, the Amish have a deep respect for government.  They pay all taxes except social security because they do not accept it themselves.  They do not accept welfare and they refuse to rely on help, believing staunchly in self-sufficiency. Members who violate the rules of the community are shunned or split off into splinter communities.

The Farm, however, manages itself with an elected board, town meetings, and community voting – a method they refer to as close to consensus but not quite.  Although Stephen Gaskin was the driving force in the creation and progress of the community, he maintains that he is a teacher not a leader.  The non-hierarchical nature of the community reinforces his assertion. Each member has a vital role to play, and there are no social positions.

The kibbutzim are similarly democratic, run by a system of coordinators and secretaries who lead committees overseeing particular areas such as farming or education.  These positions are held temporarily and service is seen as a duty for all.  The kibbutzim comply with all of Israel’s laws.  Crime rates are very low, and serious crimes are reported to the authorities.

Jim Jones was the single decision-maker at Jonestown, teaching his followers that he was actually God. He used every method he could –violence, mind control, careful selection of members, propaganda, forced drugging, and more -- in order to have his way.  He was a manipulative, drug-addicted sadist whose destiny as a cult leader was evident even in his childhood.  He acted out the very same scenario that happened at Jonestown, taking in animals, making them trust him, and then killing them and holding elaborate funerals.  When local press finally began to catch on to his perversion, he fled the country for British Guyana with his followers, taking some children while their unwitting parents were at work. This was just one more way that he lured some parents.  It is important not to understate his genius and his perversion in order to avoid confusing Jonestown with a genuine intentional community. 

There was no system of governing at Jonestown, only Jones himself.  No other community studied here has a single identified leader.  The communities of the Farm and the kibbutzim provide excellent models for the Co-op Villages.  Consensus and rotation of leadership are major ways that the Co-op Village will avoid such a tragedy. Also careful admission processes and adherence to the laws of the state will assure that each member is treated fairly and compassionately by the other members.

Generally, the communities so far have shared a spiritual path – the Amish share theirs Anabaptist roots, the hippies on the Farm shared Gaskin’s spiritual leadership, the kibbutzniks are Jews although many communities are or were founded as atheist endeavors.


When describing communities, I have not been entirely ignorant of the ideological problems of what exactly qualifies a community as “successful.”  Because avoiding all reference to whether or not a community is now a success or failure would be difficult, I have considered only the crudest elements of success in my estimation.  Evaluating the success of communities is essential if we are too look to them for our own learning and for the benefit of our future communities.  For the purposes of this chapter, a successful community is one that has maintained relative longevity, generally benefits economically and environmentally to the surrounding area as well as its members, holds onto a measure of self-sufficiency, manages to adhere to at least some of its founding principles, and does not overtly cause harm or death to its members.

Located across the globe, intentional communities are not merely small bubble societies with their heads in the sand.  Their vitality and compassion are models for living and hope.  The time has come for the community model of living to insinuate itself into the fabric of modern life.  The transition from the alienation and environmental disaster of modern life can be seamless for those who prefer only small changes to their lives or it can be revolutionary for those who are longing for a new evolution.  However, what it must be is available.

A popular internet site, “Intentional Communities,” or, is a definitive resource in finding and building community.  However, most of the communities are simply a few folks sharing housing and trying to be mindful ecologically, or very expensive gated communities.  Few communities provide the kind of large-scale and replicable solutions that the Co-op Village project has been designed to address.  The first Co-op Village will be an experiment in practicality, a living blueprint which could then be offered up as a model for the next Co-op Villages, wherever they may be.

Levitas, Ruth, The Concept of Utopia, Syracuse UP, 1990, 4

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