May 30-June 1, 2013
Shannon Farm Community is one that did not make our initial list of “must visits”. However, it has turned out to be one of our favorites, as shown by our voice recorded notes we take (a whole 26 minutes of them!) =P. A combination of awesome people, beautiful land and opportunities for jobs and right livelihood type of work makes it incredibly appealing. We were also greeted by the most incredible show of fireflies that you could imagine. Every start mimicked on a miniscule format right before your eyes, better than any light show.
Shannon, as they explain on their IC page, is composed of roughly 60 adults and 30 children. They first formed in 1974 and organized their community based on a doctoral students thesis on community living. Based on that thesis, they had their land zoned to ~113 building sites, of which 30 are currently occupied, that are placed in small neighborhood clusters to help encourage community on the human scale. They have a pretty equal distribution of age groups, with the largest two being between 40 to 60 and 0-20 (parents and their children). They collectively, through a land trust, hold 520 acres, of which 70% is wooded and the rest is dedicated to roads, buildings, pasture land, gardens, an acre+ lake, and a community orchard.
What differentiates Shannon from many communities out there are their bylaws, or the things you agree to as a member. As you’ll read, they’re incredibly general! How they manifest these bylaws into action can take many forms and can leave a lot of wiggle room for interpretation. They have done a good job of manifesting their bylaws into some pretty positive agreements and action. So here they are, taken from their visitor guide:
We affirm and promote the following values:
1. Belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person regardless of gender, race, age (young or old), sexual orientation, financial resources, property, or income;
2. Respect for the right of all to express their own beliefs about the nature of reality;
3. Concern about each other’s well-being;
4. Sharing power and responsibility to shape our community through a consensus decision making process characterized by a cooperative search for solutions that fulfill and protect the needs of all concerned;
5. Commitment to resolve conflicts without violence, take responsibility for our own actions, communicate directly and honestly, be sensitive to concerns of others;
6. Stewardship of the land and ecologically sound use of our resources;
7. Expectations of membership in Shannon Farm Community include participation in building community through physical, organizational or social work, involvement in community events, and paying dues.
We added it to our list of stops since we did not stay for the three week East Wind Visitor Program. Even though we were able to visit, it wasn’t for long; only two and a half days. Upon contacting the community, we were connected with Craig, their current go-to person for visitors, who turned out to be an incredibly helpful liaison. He put us in touch with multiple community members, who each hosted us at their homes for each meal of the day. The amount that people reached out to very short term guests left us feeling genuinely welcomed and cared for. This was not expected, as we heard (and experienced) over and over that people in community are busy and may not have the time and/or energy to dedicate to welcoming and getting to know visitors. As an added benefit, Craig also set us up with a bed in their common house, Monacan. This took us from the normal camping spot named the Meadow, which is fairly isolated in a draw between two neighborhoods on the ridges, into a space where their mailboxes are housed for all community members and where a small group of people live. This was a huge perk, not only to get a break from camping, but because of the people it helped us to meet. It was clear that Shannon Farm had the ability to make visitor experiences stellar and some of them were eager to do it.
The first Sunday of the month is their Community Meeting and that’s when they request that first time visitors try to come to visit in order to get the clearest idea of what you’re getting yourself into when you join. This is when they as an entire community come together to discuss big decisions that effect each other. As a member you’re not required to go to these meetings (and some people haven’t in a very long time), but you are strongly encouraged. If you feel passionate about anything being discussed at the time of your membership, you can show up, get the scoop, and vote. They operate under consensus based decision making, which is an impressive undertaking for a community of their size. Generally, their processes is to form and hold committees made of a smaller number of people that discusses and research issues small and large that would then be brought to the group at large when ready for a vote. They do reserve the right of deciding issues by a 60% majority vote if, after multiple times of being brought back for a full consensus vote, they can’t come to any kind of agreement. Although they reserve this right, they’ve only used it twice since 1974, which is a huge testament to how well they can work together.
As mentioned above, Shannon holds it’s 520 acres in a land trust. This prevents any one person from owning any of the land besides the home that they built or purchased. This, depending on your philosophy, has benefits and drawbacks. Drawbacks may be that you may not have a financially secure and stable investment in the land at Shannon. Land is generally considered a good investment over time and they prevent you from making it there. You also may not be able to manage the land in whatever way you see fit since as a community, they have general agreements on sustainable land use and in order to make any large changes, you have to approach everyone. Some benefits that they’ve been able to manifest are incredibly stable housing prices (houses are generally priced at 1/4 the amount of houses outside of the community because they value affordable housing and they have their land paid for), forests that haven’t been clear-cut and sold, and co-managed agricultural land.
For me, Adrian, Shannon is a very attractive community. I never really knew that I might be able to live in Virginia. I imagined a southern state that is holding onto its southern heritage and truly had no idea about the landscape, people, or climate. While Shannon is not all that close knit (they have no scheduled communal meals, only one meeting every month, and not much is shared beyond the obvious unless you organize it with another member or a few other members in the community), there is, of course, a lot of potential. For me agricultural pursuits come before any of my other interests. I’m simple, really, and having land to guide and one or more people to work with will keep me happy. The thing about Shannon is that it has that and then a diverse group of people (the majority whom are older) to socialize with. I’ve come to realize that for myself the order is farming and then socializing somewhere behind it, while the opposite is true for many community oriented back to the landers. Afton, where Shannon is located, had the benefit of being 30 minutes from Charlottesville and the university there. The university brings with it a lot of cultural benefits and a very progressive community in what is a pretty patchy (red and blue) state. There’s clean water, the blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah valley, a diverse community of people, what ever comforts of modern living a person chooses to take in (internet please), and a climate that lets you grow figs and loquats while grazing sheep inbetween. We were only there for three nights, so it’s really hard to say how true my first judgements are, but I would like to stop by for a couple more before we leave for WI. We shall see.