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NEWS | Vol. 7, No. 4, January 25, 2007
(Focus On Healthcare Part I)

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News Story

by Mari S. Krueger

Co-op living one affordable housing solution

No one could call David Norris a hippie. The retired salesman grew up the youngest of 11 children on a farm in Alabama, where they grew all their own food.

But now that his own children have grown up and moved out, the tall grandpa with an easy smile lives alone in a 3,000-square-foot home on one acre.

One person cannot fill all that space, he says.

That’s why he’s interested in the Co-op Village Foundation, a group of volunteers who want to start an intentional community—kind of a huge family—despite some similarities to what Norris calls “those ‘70s communes.”

Norris is reaching a point in his life where he’s looking for something better, he says, and a big family working together taps into those old longings for company and community that he remembers having on his family’s Alabama farm.

Jim Costa calls himself the village visionary. It’s an idea he’s been turning over in his head for years. He found several volunteers passionate for the same type of organic, earth-friendly, self-sustaining, secure village, and together they formed the foundation two years ago.

The idea is simple: The village will be made up of 500 people on 500 acres. Its inhabitants are a cross-section of society, bringing all talents and skills. After an initial buy-in of $40,000, everyone contributes 20 hours of work each week in areas they agree to, and centralize tasks and community activities.

Houses are small and more like cabins, because the village shares a dining hall, recreation center, laundry rooms and guest houses. Cabins are small and well-insulated, lowering the need for utilities. Solar power will generate the electricity the village needs, and the village will subside on organic crops of tomatoes, shrimp, fish and whatever else they decide to grow.

It works like this: One person will put all 20 hours into working in the greenhouse. Someone who hates gardening can prepare gourmet meals in the dining hall each night. Another might peal veggies for an hour each day, repair pipes a few hours a week and spend the rest of his 20 hours of work picking up trash or mowing lawns. People who agree to undesirable tasks are compensated by working fewer hours.

Within the village, money won’t be needed, and people will walk or ride bikes. Cars will be available to checkout, and about a forth of the villagers will still be employed outside the village. When someone decides the village life is not for them, they’ll be given back their $40,000 and off they go.

If it’s starting to sound like Big Brother, don’t get scared. The village is run by consensus among all 500 people, and no one has to do a job they can’t stand. But everyone has to do something.

The village will solve 80 percent of society’s problems, Costa says.

He explains that it answers the question of affordable housing, because after the initial buy-in or working it off, there is no more rent, utilities or childcare payments, because someone else’s 20 hours of work involves caring for the kids. There is no individual healthcare, because the village has a doctor and, he says, health will improve anyway, with fresh veggies and more exercise, not to mention lowered stress levels.

No stress? Hey, without bill collectors or the threat of losing a job, with a satisfying job that helps the village of people, who care for each other like family, well, what stress?

“It reverses the need for healthcare because we’re eating shitty food and not taking care of ourselves,” Costa says. “It reverses that. This stops homelessness for people forever. Our primary focus would be food, healthcare, childcare and medical assistance.”

The village is ideal for single parents, Costa says, and also provides for people who might otherwise be put in assisted living care.  

“More than likely, pensions are going to be cut in half in a few years,” he says. “This makes that damage redundant. You don’t need it.”

The Co-op Village Foundation has an option on some land in Marianna, 130 miles east of Pensacola, and is looking for a 500-acre plot closer to Pensacola, too.

It’s on the brink of moving forward, but lacks the initial finances, estimated at $2 million, which is required to purchase the land and buy building materials for the first homes. Costa plans to start building June 2007, with at least 100 village members, growing that number to the full 500 within 12 months.

He’s been contacted by people all over the country asking if they can join the village and is confident there will be no problem finding 500 people to participate. Once it gets started, he hopes the rest of the country will see that it’s a more natural way to live, with trusting and caring for each member of the village.

It’s a good concept, agrees Norris, who along with 34 others attended an informational meeting Saturday, Jan. 20 at Ever’Man Natural Food. However, he sees problems with governing by consensus.

“You get five people in a room, they can’t agree,” he says. “Can you imagine 500?”

Foundation Member Vicki Taylor acknowledges the plan is not fine-tuned, and she welcomes solutions. Nothing is set in stone yet, she emphasizes, and even though they’ve talked about focus groups to run food production and preparation, fun activities, work and dispute resolution, a lot of the “how” needs to be finalized and written down in a workable plan. The foundation needs help from people with the same vision and dream, she readily admits.

“We would like to create a new society, a safe place for our families to live,” Taylor says. “We all have the same vision. We want to make it better for our children and grandchildren.”

The biggest difference in the village will be the necessity to change thinking from self-CENTERED to self-LESS, putting the needs of the community and others ahead of the individual.

The foundation is working on a process of admission and dismissal for people who refuse to play by those rules and equate living in a community to getting a free ride.

But the people who attended the foundation’s Pensacola meeting got over the me-first syndrome with a simple exercise. Taylor instructed everyone to join hands. Everyone is affected by anything that happens to anyone else, she says, so no one in the village can act with disregard to the others. The previously quiet and doubtful group loosened up, people started smiling, and questions became progress-oriented instead of critical.

That’s the goal for the village, too.


For more info on planning sessions and how to get involved, visit co-opvillagefoundation.org