On the second day of the trip, our group visited an intentional community called The Canticle Farm located in Oakland. The point of this space was to “make sure that even after the systems we have in place fall (i.e. the money system, the political system, etc), people won’t turn on each other.” It was a place meant to instill and share unconditional kindness, love, and wealth through a gift economy in a low income part of the Bay. In other words, it was imagining the “life sustaining society” Joanna Macy and the believers in the Great Turning yearn for, but living it now. The Canticle Farm was housing a practice of pre-formative politics on a person to person scale. The community members didn’t believe in locks, or even closing the door for that matter, they didn’t eat meat out of kindness, befriended anyone that happened to walk by (or in), and many of them tried very hard to not interact with the money system. A man living there even told us that “every time you feel the need to use a dollar, a relationship somewhere is broken.”
While there, we spent most the day with an incredible (and locally famous for Occupy Oakland non violent direct action) man named Pancho, and his friend Adalija, both of whom helped start the project. Their home consisted of six houses on a block where the community members tore down fences in favor of a food forest, chicken coop, garden, and beehives. They spend their days tending to all of these things and interacting kindly with the community around them. The residents practice non violent communication skills, use restorative justice, and play music, practice yoga and meditate regularly. Every Friday, the group hosts free dinners for whoever wants to attend, and the food they grow that they know is more than they’ll need is given away free to neighbors and people who visit the farm.
We began our visit to their home with a half an hour of silent meditation in “La Casa de Paz” (the house of peace), and then broke into pairs to discuss “open ended sentences.” My partner would speak for approximately 2 minutes to complete the sentence “something that lifts my heart is. . .” while I silently, but actively, listened. Then it would be my turn to speak and hers to listen. We answered about five questions in this fashion, including “something that breaks my heart is. . .” and “something that I want to become is. . .” A lot of people, myself included, became instantly emotional during this exercise. I think it was incredibly validating to simply be listened to for a long time about such serious topics. After this, we were set free to explore the space with only “come back with questions about the things you find” as guidance.
What I found was a cat and a tiny dog, a lending library full of books already on my “to read” list, a few Apple computers and some paint samples from a sustainable paint company (to paint the new house they’ve just acquired), an explanation of why the kitchen was kept vegan and as “company-label free” as possible, a top-bar beehive very similar to the one I’m planning to build for my sustainability project, and a long list of the projects the people living there were working on in the community. It was wonderful. It reminded me of the place I’d pictured myself living once I completed high school.
After this, questions were asked and answered and an enormous salad was harvested from the garden. Everyone from our group and some members of the community helped make lunch and then we all ate together. The day ended in song and a sincere promise that Pancho loved every single one of us very much.
After this, I considered heavily what it was I had liked so much about this space. I wondered what aspects of it were things I hoped to see in my future, and came to the realization that I have a yearning for intentional community life. It brought me out of traditional school in 8th grade, in favor of more sincere community building, it brought me to every summer camp I went to and into the Ethical Humanist community, it brought me to Conserve school last winter, and plopped me straight into the hands of Woolman this past January. I had fooled myself into thinking that living alone in a house with a cat was the life I desired having, but Canticle Farm helped me discover that tending a garden isn’t nearly as fun when no one else is going to be eating the carrots you’ve loved, and singing simply doesn’t sound as good without someone else’s harmonies layered in.
After sitting with this experience, I came to the conclusion of which college I’ll be attending in the fall: the one that’s smaller than 200, all of the food is local or sustainable, there’s a garden and bees and active composting that the students can choose to help with, and there is a consent policy that’s truly respected. I also concluded that I’m still confused about what kind of grown-up I want to be, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be the kind that never feels disconnected from the physically community I’m living in. I’m still sitting with my thoughts on how much I believe in the Great Turning, but I’m excited that places like the Canticle Farm even exist. I’m excited that the concept of a better, more loving and supportive world is not only being presented to people who can afford to leave good colleges and jobs to Occupy, but also being brought into low income communities where the people, and the movement, can be just as powerful, maybe even more so.