Interning at Gingerhill Farm Retreat, through the Sustainable Living Course or a work program, offers a host of benefits. Interns obtain an expanded understanding of sustainable agriculture, a retreat from the physical and mental stress of a fast-paced, toxic lifestyle, and an opportunity to re-center mind and body through meditation, exercise, and healthy eating. Perhaps one of the most beneficial aspects of the Sustainable Living Course is the community living experience that we offer at Gingerhill.
What is Communal Living?
Communal living is often associated with the youth counterculture of the 1960’s. Historically, communal living was an integral part of anti-establishment organizing. Those living in communes believed that living in communities instead of small family units would promote values that would combat sexism, racism, and violence. However, today it has become less an issue of politics and more of practicality. The sharing and conservation of resources are central to the intentions of modern communal living endeavors.
Communal living assumes many different forms. Intentional communities, communes, co-housing, eco-villages, and co-ops are just a few examples of communal living operations. These communities are premised upon an interest in living close to others, sharing facilities and values, and promoting cooperative living and consumption.
Those who stay with us at Gingerhill do not simply become classmates and coworkers in sustainable agriculture. Rather, they form a community of individuals that share communal space, practices, and ideals. In many ways, the “sustainable” element of sustainable agriculture depends upon the existence of a harmonious, conscientious group of individuals committed to the improvement of the farm, the community, and the individuals that comprise it. Thus, without a shared set of rules and values pertaining to how we treat the farmland and each other, a community based on sustainable agriculture rapidly becomes unsustainable.
Communal Living and Sustainable Agriculture at Gingerhill
For most of human history, the family unit consisted of both immediate and extended family. The model nuclear family is only a product of the 20th century, and it primarily dominates in the West. There are benefits to living in small family units in isolated housing, such as greater privacy. However, more and more people are finding that the negatives–the isolation, loneliness, and exhaustion of resources and energy–outweigh the positives.
What does community living look like at Gingerhill, and how does it benefit the individual? At Gingerhill, we offer a communal living experience that combats the loneliness of the mainstream way of living while preserving individual privacy. Interns in sustainable agriculture are typically granted private living spaces. However, they share a kitchen, leisure areas, and a bathroom. Individuals have the option to gather socially when they wish and retreat into their private spaces when necessary.
In many ways, the principles of communal living parallel our sustainable agriculture methods. At Gingerhill, we do not view any organic matter as pests or waste. Every plant contains nutrients and therefore has a contribution to make to the eco-system, whether it forms new soil or creates a natural barrier for walkways. Similarly, we view all the individuals in our community as having a unique and positive contribution to make. Though our strengths and weaknesses differ, we recognize that we all have an obligation to contribute to community development.
Communal Living and Personal Development
Community living is a process of learning and living together as a functional whole. Workers and interns on our farm share meals, exercise and meditation sessions, and lessons in sustainable agriculture. They also share an outdoor kitchen, restroom, shower, and farm experience. In order to sustain these practices and spaces, each individual must strive to help the community function at its best.
Communal living compels individuals to recognize how they are contributing, both to a physical space and to a social environment. The individual becomes aware of how the tasks they complete, the words they say, and the energy they put forth alter the state of the communal whole. By learning to tune into the needs of the community, interns and workers cultivate conscientiousness and a sense of personal responsibility. By extension, interns also improve their capacity to organize, manage details, listen, and work in a group.
In many ways, communal living is actually a process of deep self-discovery. Becoming conscious of your impact upon a community often reveals facets of yourself with which you were not previously in tune. Where do you lie on the spectrum between introversion and extroversion? Are you a talker or a listener, a facilitator or a mediator? Do you tend to express, repress, or work to change your negative thoughts and habits? As the door to understanding yourself opens, the opportunities for personal growth multiply.
Social Life in a Community
Communal living creates many opportunities for socializing and fun. Interns and workers often share meals, conversations, and laughter. Staying at Gingerhill features many gatherings and events. Most recently, our community had a “Fry-Day Sunday” and made use of our fry cookers. Living in a community provides the opportunity to get to know a diverse group of individuals, and we find ourselves becoming close friends with individuals that we would never have approached in our “regular” lives. Additionally, we have found that as we become invested in the community, contribution becomes secondhand. Cooking, cleaning, and providing supplies for group meals often happen collectively without any planning. With the personal and social opportunities that community living provides, it is safe to say that communal living is an experience that everyone should have.