Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Home Echo

Terry Winkelmann & Phil Rudd are trying to create community where they are: in South County St Louis. Terry grew up in the neighborhood where she and Phil have their store Home Eco at 4611 Macklind Ave, where they’re trying to inspire and support St Louisans to be more sustainable and ecologically conscious. It was my pleasure last Monday to be on hand at their store to help bang the drum for their efforts.

Their store is the only one in the city devoted solely to environmentally friendly products. They’ve just been open for two years and are still trying to figure out a product mix that will be a successful business. Right now they’re trying a wide variety of things—everything from natural bristle vegetable brushes to rain barrels; from low VOC paints to seminars on the basics of photovoltaics.

Last month they offered a Monday night class on beekeeping (only two showed up). This past Monday they offered me—fielding questions on Everything You Wanted to Know About Intentional Communities. There was an lively audience of 15, who kept me hopping for about two hours.

One of the most interesting questions was whether I thought it was wiser to try community in the city or in the country (the poser was particularly worried about the potential of imminent economic collapse). After assuring the questioner that I didn’t have a crystal ball that was any less foggy than hers about the proximity of urban breakdown, I advised that it was a matter of style.

I equivocated by declaring that community was needed everywhere. I’d advocate for a country life if you were especially concerned with violence, or the security of one’s food source. I’d lean toward city life if you wanted the chance to help more people, or preferred the cultural richness of the urban stew.

In the case of Terry and Phil, they’ve made the choice (at least for now) to try the city, using their store as a lightning rod for attracting interest in cooperative living (based on the stock-it-and-they-will-come theory). Terry came from a traditional Catholic upbringing—her neighborhood is just south of The Hill, St Louis’ stronghold of Italian culture. She developed seriously Green-shifted values as an adult, and is now back home, offering to her traditional neighborhood an echo of decades past, where household products and building materials were more benign and contained far fewer polysyllabic ingredients.

I was excited to meet this couple in their 30s. Not sure of how best to manifest community, they have nonetheless rolled up their sleeves and are trying something to live out their values. They are an excellent example of the kind of people FIC had in mind four years ago when the Board adopted Creating Community Where You Are (CCWYA) as part of our mission.

The reason I was at Home Eco Monday night was that Terry had stumbled onto my blog one day while web surfer last winter, and invited me to speak at their store. Though it was months in advance, we agreed on August because I knew I’d be on my way to Virginia for the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference (happening Aug 14-16) and could stop en route without any extra driving. Terry and Phil provided overnight accommodations in the basement of their post-WWII brick bungalow (with Meggy and Socks, the resident cats), and I thoroughly enjoyed swapping stories with living, breathing prototypes of the Fellowship’s CCWYA constituency.

I’m hopeful that next visit, we might be able to set up a Community Dialog in St Louis, where I can return to facilitate a conversation among attendees to explore their personal interest in community and cooperative living. Perhaps it will spark a forming community—or at least a more vibrant, engaged neighborhood. Blogging is the proselytizing equivalent of floating bread on the water, and it’s fun to see some of those seeds find fertile soil.

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