After completing a ride and “jump” from the Midwest of Missouri to the East Coast area in Massachusetts heading for the beautiful area around Amherst, where I spent a weekend with a long-standing community – Sirius Community.
Sirius Community is located some 2 hours drive west of Boston, near the city of Amherst, located within rolling hills country covered with extensive magnificent Oak Forests and during the time of my travel in early summer a lush and dense sea of green, feeling the sheer abundance and explosion of production of nature during the warmer months of the year.
Sirius Community was founded in 1978 by some previous residents of Findhorn Community (Scotland) with the intention to create a similar community in their home land. The community was started on 90 acres of largely Oak Forest land with a strong spiritual (but not religious) foundation, with some strong connections to celtic traditions reflected in the creation and regular use of a stone circle, labyrinth, celtic cross and hearthstone. The community practices daily community meditations as part of their spiritual connection and celebrate other events together, but leave more particular spiritual or religous practices to individual members choices. Sirius thus employs ecologically sustainable methods of living and a consensus-style governance process, striving to honor all that is. Sirius Community is based on four purpose driven pillars including spiritual, ecological, communitarian and education.
When getting to Sirius community through the dense forest one first encounters the very large and magnificent Community and Events Centre, which forms the heart of the community and is an immense double level timber construction with a central Octagon meeting and gathering place and two residential (for participants of events) wings as well as large commercial/communal kitchen and bakery, and a large winter garden (conservatory) for dining and food/plant production and a pond, with gorgeous rustic timber beam constructions and timber finishings. The Centre is not only used for community gatherings, events and community meals, but more so as events centre for a large range of courses and events offered by Sirius, in the areas of Permaculture, alternative technology, alternative healing, nature connection, spirituality and much more, which forms and important income stream for the entire community.
Currently there are around 25 people living in Sirius community, with no small children at the moment, but a number of teenagers and the community is seeking to get some younger members with family on board. Members live in five larger shared houses (aside from a number of smaller structures (e.g. smaller individual retreat rooms) for occasional use, which are scattered across the property, where each member (or family) has an own living space, with shared facilities, like kitchen, laundry, workshops, studios, offices etc. The type of buildings vary from older style timber cladded constructions (well insulated though), to more recent strawbale or cobb buildings. Solar hot water, solar PV, wind power, composting toilets, urine collection system, composting, heating with wood from own forest, are standard installations in all buildings, but waste water still needs to go through a septic system due to local authority requirements. Only cooking is done with imported bottled gas. Water supply comes largely from onsite water bores and also includes an on-site swimming pond and a wood fired Sauna, but also uses rainwater collection.
On-site food production is very important for the community with the few (3) non-forested areas of the property dedicated to fruit (fruit-forest), berries and vegetable production, using various permaculture inspired principles, and including a heated (in winter) strawbale glass house to prolong production into the colder months of the year and for propagation. Most of food production is taken care of the community through weekly work parties, supported by interns and volunteers and people working in the community owned CSA, with small areas available for personal use and production, and most produce is used for events and communal meals, but production does not cover all year round and some needs to be purchased from off-site. At the moment only live stock present are chicken for egg production and all food produced is vegetarian.
The community is organised around common ownership of land and assets (as a not-for-profit for educational purposes), consensus based decision making, non-violent communication, shared values and spirituality. The community is represented through a consensus based elected Board of Directors (the 6 member “core group” dealing with day-to-day operations) responsible for financial and legal decision making, but is fully transparent, accountable and consensus bound to all members, where weekly community meetings are used as a forum for decision making and monthly meeting of BOD. The community has established a number of rules for living together, including a multi-tiered dispute resolution process is available and has been developed and well evolved over the years. The income from the events centre is used for the operation and maintenance of the community, where each community member is required to spend some hours per week on community work. Many community members also get income from work outside the community, which remains their own personal income for personal use. External work is required in order to sustain the community. But there are plans to expand the events and retreats offerings in the community but for this more space for events and accommodation would be required, which may be possible by purchase of nearby properties.
To become a member of Sirius a general path most people follow is to attend an event, like a retreat, workshop, community weekend first and then an internship (which goes for 3 months offered 3x per year), where one not only learns about the community in depth but also learns various skills, like permaculture, food production, sustainable living, renewable energy, community building and living etc. and once completed and interested in becoming a member this is voted upon by the BOD, with full consensus by the whole community. Hence the process may take a year or so.
Overall the community is a gorgeous place is very quiet, relaxed and peaceful and has a very slowed down lifestyle in a beautiful forest environment, where it is very easy to get away from things, by taking one of the many paths heading into the forest for some individual meditation or contemplation, before or after work and leisure with the community.
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