Food & Medicine Are EVERYWHERE—A Walk With Wild Edibles Educator, Kim Calhoun

by Hope Horton

It was a cloudy morning during a precious 3-hour grace period between rainstorms.  Six of us gathered at the Nest and dedicated ourselves to discovering the edible plant species living on just a small part of the Hart’s Mill land.  Our guide,  Kim Calhoun, has spent decades developing knowledge about and relationships with the flora in our midst, and we were excited about this chance to learn with her. 

We shadowed Kim as she gently drew us into the particularities of the native plants that flourish on this land.  Right outside the front door, within our grasp at the edges of the trails, towering overhead – it was impossible to stroll more than a few feet before Kim introduced us to another plant friend—delectable, medicinal, or simply beautiful.  She had already whetted our appetites with a cold infusion of Japanese honeysuckle flowers, sipped in the living room before we set out.  We filled a thermos of boiling water to take with us, because chances were excellent that we’d find ingredients to prepare a yummy tea to enjoy after the walk.

Meeting each plant friend was an exercise in close observation.  Are the stems smooth or hairy?  The leaves simple or compound?  The edges serrated or crenelated?  Is there a fragrance?  Are they safe to taste, and what’s does the flavor evoke?  What portions are edible, and what benefits do they bring?  And this list barely scratches the surface of what we can be noticed and learned about the nature of the flora all around us. 

We hovered over about 30 different plants–looking, touching, smelling, and even sampling –most of which were edible and/or medicinal.  Here’s a tiny taste of what we learned.  Persimmon tree leaves are full of Vitamin C.  The sourwood tree leaves taste, well, sour, and add flavor to pesto.  Wild St. John’s wort leaves contain hypericum oil which turned our fingers purple and can help with nerve pain and mild depression.  Lobelia inflata, a very potent plant, has been used to help people to quit smoking.  Violet flowers and leaves are an amazing food and medicine—chop them into a salad or dry and crush the leaves to make a wild greens mix with other plants.  Also field garlic (good for colds), agrimony (helps relieve stress), resourceful person’s pepper for spice (see picture)…the list goes on. 

We encountered poison ivy everywhere.  Kim learned to call this native plant “sister ivy” from a teacher named Frank Cook who noted that when we hear the word, “poison,” we become fearful and shut down to the possibilities in the plant.  Sister ivy teaches us to be mindful of how and where we are walking.  It comes into disturbed areas to reclaim them and help them heal.  It’s also great food for wildlife.  And if you’re sensitive to it, just pick up some jewelweed, rub it on your skin to de-activate the oils.  Or, or make an infusion that can be sprayed on or frozen into ice cubes and rubbed on your skin.

The Elderberry bush growing on the pond dam was the star of the show!  The flowers are so beautiful and full of benefits too numerous to list.  We pulled the creamy flowers from the stems and dropped them into the thermos with hot water to steep.  After returning to the Nest, we sipped the gentle brew while reviewing all we learned on this cool and cloudy morning together.

Foraging is not for amateurs.  It takes knowledge and experience to know which plants-parts-quantities-and preparations are safe to take into our bodies.  In order to harness the medicine of plants, it’s important to develop a close relationship with them over the seasons. Are you absolutely certain that the plant is edible (or is it a poisonous look-alike)?  Has the plant been sprayed or exposed to exhaust and other toxins?  Is there enough of the plant to harvest sustainably?   Today, we were in safe hands with Kim! 

Kim offers classes and events in wild foods and medicine, yoga, energy work, and massage.  Visit her website at



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Harvesting Potatoes: Gleaning Knowledge Along the Way

As part of the “potato head” group which participated in potato preparation, planting, hilling, protecting, and now harvesting, here is what I have learned so far:

  • There is something so exciting about those red, blue, and gold potatoes emerging from the soil, watching then spill out from the dirt makes you just want to break out into a dance! Gathering them from the overturned dirt and disengaging the ones still attached to the plant – there is an intense satisfaction and joy to hold those little and not so little potatoes in your hand— some plants have just 2 -3 big ones, others have 8-10 of varying size, so it is often a surprise what is below ground.
  • I can see why having several eyes in one piece is a good thing! My idea that “1 is enough” is valid in that some potatoes will be produced from the plant, but now that the potato project is coming full cycle, I have learned that more eyes means more stalks and more stalks means more opportunities for spuds to grow in the same place…  meaning less work at harvest to get possibly a similar amount of potatoes.  After two hours of digging potatoes for market, I can see this is a good thing, which leads to next point…
  • Harvesting is back-breaking work. I have a 2-hour maximum.
  • Working in pairs is fun and actually makes the work easier! A threesome is even easier, with little loss in efficiency and much gain in speed.
  • In addition to hat, sunscreen, and water bottle, wearing a kerchief or bandanna or a Headwick really helps to keep from dripping everywhere, because, as noted, harvesting is back-breaking work.
  • Even so, I can’t wait to do it again!   

Here is a photo of a normal Johnny red potato plant just spilling over with spuds (thanks Marilyn!), and another of the potatoes prepared for market (thanks Margret!)

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Let’s Get Real About Racism and Racial Equity

by Amy Halberstadt

Seeing Our Blind Spots: Addressing Racism and Working for Racial Equity: A workshop presented by Joe Cole on May 25, 2019

As much as I have studied racism in the United States, both its history and its very present effects on our day-to-day lives…and also as I have learned how White people rarely know the frequency with which Black people and other people of color are affected by past and present racism…and, also how White people themselves are affected…as much as I have studied all of this, I am aware of how much I still have to learn. 

Joe Cole offered a comprehensive and stunning workshop as a part of our Last Saturday series, sponsored by the Membership & Marketing Circle.  (For Joe’s handouts, click here)

Here are a few highlights:

  • There was the early history lesson about how the language of “Black” and “White” was created in the 1600s-1700s, largely to create disunity among all the poor people of both groups in America.
  • Then there was the more recent history lesson which explained how the GI Bill, Social Security, and federal lending practices in the 1950s and beyond worked to sharply increase the wealth gap between White people and other populations living in the U.S.  Similar practices continue today through the overuse of standardized testing, under-funding of schools that serve communities of color and lower-income communities, inequities as to who receives health and retirement benefits, and unfair lending practices regarding home mortgages and small businesses.
  • Then there was the truth that things are not getting better, in fact, they are getting worse.  For example, the median White income is TWELVE times that of the median Black income.  Young Black children are being suspended at almost 4 times the rate of young White children, and, of course, we are well aware of the danger of “driving while Black”. 

The sizeable group at Hart’s Nest shared personal experiences and awareness of racism, feelings of caring deeply about racism and its power to create harm.  Joe shared many handouts to help us examine how segregated our lives are currently and how we might want to change that; how to think more deeply about microaggressions to avoid committing them; and how to think about the questions we sometimes have (that we don’t want to admit to) such as feelings associated with White privilege, including guilt, discomfort with being White, and difficulty recognizing the parts of “White identity” that we might carry (okay, that one is me!). 

And there was a lot of information about the connections between racism and sustainability, and how important it is to be aware of racism so as to create a socially just and fully sustainable community.  Head’s up, Hart’s Mill–this means US! 

People appreciated the pacing and varied activities of the 3-hour session, which began with a meditation to help us relax and focus.  After a break we did some Chi Gung to help engage with our energy.   The opportunity to hear each other’s stories about racism and the possibilities beyond racism was a favorite.  These stories were sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes hopeful, and all were compelling examples of how significantly all of our lives have been influenced by racism.   The many gems and resources Joe offered to help us to understand racism and privilege, as well as how to organize to effect change within ourselves, our community, and the world, were greatly appreciated by all. 

For sure, many of us will continue these conversations further in small groups; we will brainstorm ways to incorporate the themes of social, racial, and environmental justice in our community; and we will be sharing with you our thoughts and ideas.  Please be in touch with what’s on your mind about racism, what you’d like to see happening at Hart’s Mill, and what you can offer.  We’re all ears!

Remember, childcare is available for all of our meetings and events upon request!

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To Market, To Market…

by Margret Mueller
How time flies! Only a few short weeks ago I posted the story of the Community Farm Initiative’s first planting day (see “Community Farming Initiative Gets Off the Ground,” posted March 24th).  And yesterday, Jeffry and I took the farm teams’ first produce to market!
I am happy to report that all items were enthused over and sold out, resulting in Hart’s Mill’s first small step toward repaying our farm loan.
Still to come: more greens, small potatoes, big beets, Gladioli, and more!

Marilyn cut about three dozen of the mini pac-choi, which we made into bundles of three or four plants.

Paul and Anthony pulled lots of small beet plants, which were too crowded and needed thinning.

These were rinsed and bundled and sold as mixed-color bunches of super-tender baby beet greens

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A Gentle Green Soak: The April Nature Walk

by Hope Horton

…this experience awakened memories of my childhood…

It was a cloudy, blustery day—a perfect time to step into the shelter of the woods to marvel at what the natural world is offering this Spring.  Margret, Jenny, and I loosely led eighteen (!) people into an intimate experience through  a cozy area nestled between our southern border and the brook connecting the pond with McGowan Creek. 

The path we chose began on higher ground, allowing us to avoid the rain-swamped areas of our better-known trail network.  Very few Hart’s Millers have been this way, and it was a delight to introduce everyone to the charms of this tucked-away spot.

…showing the children how to taste the sweetness of a coral honeysuckle blossom was a highlight…

We stepped from the Hart’s Nest lawn into a woodland carpeted with a filigree of Creeping Cedar.  This plant, a club moss, is among the oldest species on earth – originating around 500 million years ago and memorialized in ancient coal deposits – and its presence seems to bestow a sense of timeless enchantment. 

…it was great to have time to just stop and notice what’s around me…

As we walked along the southern border, it was striking how different the Hart’s Mill forest appeared from our neighbor’s to the south.  We don’t know the full history of this land, but it’s possible that this forest was clear cut, and even farmed, in the not too distant past.  It was certainly planted with pines at some point.  In contrast, the fairly open mixed-hardwood forest next door gave us an idea of what this land may have looked like many years ago—and may appear again some decades hence.

We made our way down a gentle slope, past a rare collection of large boulders—ideal for sitting and gazing, or closing one’s eyes and resting.  The brook at the bottom connects the pond with McGowan Creek and it was bustling, tunefully shifting the overflow towards the wetlands.  The children in the midst had a high time splashing in the water.  It’s a good thing they wore their rubber boots!

It was time to wander and follow our eyes, noses, and feet.  We indulged our senses, gazing at tiny new Tulip Tree leaves, feeling the quiet presence of the trees, scenting the wind, and listening for…well…anything that captured our attention.  People enjoyed this solo time guided by their own druthers. 

…I don’t often sit outside much, and sitting on a rock feeling the breeze and listening to the leaves was so calming…

The whole experience felt peaceful and laced with wonder.*   We headed back to the Nest under a light rainfall to enjoy a cup of hot tea, snacks, and reflect on what we noticed. 

There will be nature experiences every month at Hart’s Mill.  Be sure to check our calendar and catch the next one.  The land is waiting for you.

…it was all so quiet and calming…

*As I was writing this post, this article out of UC Berkeley showed up in my inbox: Why Is Nature So Good for Your Mental Health?  The link is included in case you are curious.





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5-50-500…Let’s GROW and GO! Building Bigger Teams with Evangeline Weiss

By Hope Horton, with illustrations by Evangeline Weiss

A group of 20 LUCKY FOLKS showed up for the March Last Saturday event with the dynamic activist and organizer, Evangeline Weiss of Beyond Conflict.  Evangeline has decades of experience building volunteer teams in the thousands to make positive change in the world.  And she does it by following a few key steps which she shared with us in such an enthusiastic and interactive way that the time flew by!  She even made a cool and colorful booklet for us that walks us through each stage.  

Let’s face it: Hart’s Mill is at a stage where we need to attract more members who are aligned with our vision and mission.  It’s not unusual for a few key people to do much of the work in organizations in the beginning, but at a certain point the system needs more energy.  Evangeline outlined how starting with as few as five core leaders we can attract fifty, even five hundred more.  Sounds impossible?  Let’s see how this works!

But FIRST, a huge appreciation for the people who made this event happen: to Maria, who invited her friend Evangeline to come to Hart’s Mill (a great ASK—see below).  To amazing Evangeline for carving out some time and saying “yes” to this event.  To Nell and George who came early to clean, set up, and greet arrivals (see below under ROLES).  And to all of us who have been working so hard…for so long…  We’ve got so much going for us but need some tweaks (like engaging people in something other than a meeting!).  Intrigued? Read on. 

It all starts with…WHY do we want to build bigger teams?  What’s our purpose?  What inspires us and keeps us going at the end of a long day?  And in particular, why do we want to bring in more people  RIGHT NOW?  We called out some of the reasons why we will persevere, no matter what, until we actualize our vision. 

So, we’re having an event.  RADICAL WELCOME comes next.  How prepared are we to craft a really great experience?  Are people greeted with a smile?  Is there a warm and lively atmosphere?  Do people know where to go and what to do, right away?  Are there snacks and other comforts?  What can we do to help people to be glad they came, from the get-go?  Do our guests feel appreciated?  Be sure to treat everyone like royalty!

And how about ROLES?  Events are multi-faceted and people want to feel useful and valued.  (Just ask Nell and George, who felt really good about their event contributions.)  Are we clear about the tasks that need to get done, and how to do them?  Do people have the tools/information they need to succeed?  (BONUS FUN FACT: Do you know the #1 thing people fight about in organizations?  Answer: Lack of clarity in roles and goals.)  People like to be engaged; to do something that contributes to success.  (Note to Hart’s Mill: find ways to get people involved other than inviting them to observe meetings…at least in the early stages….)

Okay, we’re in the thick of the event.  Notice what happens.  The TALENT SCOUTING portion of the process begins with a debrief.   Who really rocked at their job, worked hard, took initiative, and followed through?  Who has appetite for the community?  What skills did people demonstrate?  Name the folks we noticed and would really like to have more involved.  Reach out to them, ONE ON ONE.  Make a phone call.  Meet for “coffee.”   Find out more about them and how to speak to their passion for what we are doing.  And then ASK, ASK, ASK for what we need.  A STRONG ASK presents a problem, gives a solution, and shows someone how they can help.  

Evangeline suggested that in these conversations we spend half the time getting really curious about our new friend and finding out what calls to them about our community.  But then we need a consistent way to describe Hart’s Mill—a SCRIPT, as it were, so that we all have a common way to describe our community.  In the last quarter, we ask our friend for something we need, that they can provide.  After they say “yes” (of course!), we CONFIRM the request and follow through until it’s done.

There’s a bit more to it, but these are the basics.  This process can be a GAME CHANGER for Hart’s Mill only if we work at it.  We need a common way to describe Hart’s Mill (the SCRIPT).  We’re so prepared for our meetings–how about being just as prepared for events?  Welcome people, assign roles, and follow-up with the stars, one-on-one.  Yes, it’s going to take time and effort, and it’ll be worth it to expand our core group and engage the people who are ready and waiting for what we have to offer.

One more huge THANK YOU to Evangeline!!!

READY?  Let’s GROW and GO!  










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Community Farming Initiative Gets Off the Ground!

by Margret Mueller

Er…on the ground? …in the ground?

However you characterize it, Saturday, March 16 was an unqualified success. Despite a last-minute panic on Friday, when it rained heavily–yet again!–Hart’s Mill’s initial foray into community involvement on the farm was full of laughter, thoughtful negotiations, and diligent work.  Neither the day nor the newly-prepared planting beds could have been more beautiful. Under the guidance of Jeffry and Margret (a.k.a. Seeing Stars Farm), nine new and seasoned Hart’s Millers set right to work, with the specific goal of raising funds to defray our Angel Donor farm loan.  

In a spirit of playfulness, both teams have whimsical names.  The Potato Heads learned how to cut up large potatoes so that each chunk had one or more eyes. Furrows were dug; three varieties of potatoes set in place and covered with soil. These spuds will be dug early, and sold as containers of tiny mixed red, white, and blue gems.


Meanwhile, team two, The Glad Rads, which includes the Gladiolus Gladiators and the Beet Beat, were digging furrows for gladiolus corms. We now have one 95-foot row of future glads and Asian lilies! Having flowers on the farm will be such a treat. The team’s next long row consists of multiple varieties of beets; the idea being to bring eye-catching multicolored bunches to market.

I’m seeing a theme here; color!


Meanwhile Jeffry and I moved on to our own work, while remaining available for any team questions. It was such fun catching snatches of distant banter and watching young John Michael rove around taking on small tasks here and there. Before long, here came Anthony, racing along the farm perimeter, pushing John Michael in a wheelbarrow! It would be hard to say which of the two was having more fun.


Work wrapped up around 4 p.m., with plans to meet again soon. In a week the cilantro and some Asian greens will be direct-seeded, with more greens, basil, and parsnips to follow as the season progresses.

Please stop by anytime and see what’s up on the farm!

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A Walk in the Woods: the Frog Song Musical

by Hope Horton

It’s been a wet, chilly spring but there’s plenty happening on the land.  Hart’s Mill has ten  ecosystems across its 112 acres and each one has its own character and species mix.*  When Margret Mueller and I got together to plan this nature walk, we decided to head  towards the 13-acre splay of streams, trees, and wetlands along our eastern border.  Bloodroot and Spring Beauty have been gracing the brown ground with bright white blossoms since late February.  Flowering Red Maple trees dot the canopy with sprays of magenta.  And with all the rain we’ve been having, the beaver dam displays are numerous and impressive.  


March 16th was a great day to take a nature walk.  The day dawned clear and breezy and seven members met up at the pump house to start heading over to McGowan Creek.  We took a detour to Hart’s Ease, where a Honey Locust festoons itself with fearsome thorns along its trunk and branches, with remnants of foot-long seed pods scattered at its feet.    From there, we headed north towards Cob Haven, pointing out 3 species of conifers nearby: Loblolly Pine, Virginia Pine, and Red Cedar.  At the top of the Far Field, we stopped for a visit with a lone Willow Oak, marveling at its tiny acorn caps and copious branches.  Then we headed into the woods.  


There are 22 species of deciduous trees that I’ve seen on the land so far, but many are immature, unsuccessfully competing with the Loblolly pines planted in the late 1990’s after a clear cut of several large stands.  Not so along McGowan Creek.  Due to the steep slopes and regulations protecting wetlands, this rich strip has gorgeous mixed hardwood trees around 80-100 years old, including magnificent American Beech, Tulip Tree, Red Maple, Oak, and Hickory, while Ironwood and Black Willow proliferate nearer the creek.   

I took this picture a few days later, after a a heavy rain. The dam has been breached. I wonder what it will look like in a few days after the beavers take stock?

Since trees are just starting to bud, the winding wetland expanse is still visible.  McGowan creek, thickly braided with canals and swollen with beaver ponds, is a rich refuge for birds and animals alike.  We walked up to the edge of an impressive beaver dam, the first of many dotting the stream like beads on a string.  Beavers are nocturnal, but the effects of their tireless labors are visible by day in the way that their dams gracefully sculpt the wetland and by the many pointed tree stumps their extraordinary teeth leave behind.  

As for birds, I’ve spied wood ducks, geese, herons (blue and green), and egrets in this area, but they are very skittish and easily spooked.  They steered clear of our group, but I know they’re out there for the quiet seeker.

And speaking of quiet, the wetland is anything but this time of year.  Gazillions of frogs and toads sing their hearts out in a concert that can verge on deafening.  Though they were a bit shy with an audience, we heard spring peepers, bullfrogs, tree frogs and many other amphibious utterances as we strolled down the path.  

Margret, our fungi forager, pointed out Hexagonal Polypore (Neofavolus alveolaris) clustered along a few beech tree branches.  The six-sided pores and golden color evokes a honeycomb.  Some sources say it may be edible but its taste and texture leave a lot to be desired.  Best to consume it in with your eyes only.  


Our group was full of questions, comments, and exclamations of wonder as we wrapped up our walk.  We all felt energized and curiously connected after sharing this attentive conversation with the natural world, together.  

Redbud blossoms

As the Spring unfolds, every precious part of our land will unwrap many flora-and-fauna gifts and surprises.  Each tree, animal, bird, flower, rock, fungus, and soil type has its  story, gifts, lore, and singular beauty, and we’ll be exploring many more as our nature walks continue through the spring and summer.  

Keep an eye out for the next offering in April.  If you have particular knowledge you’d like to share, or something you’d especially like to experience, please be in touch.  We’d love to have you join us!  

*For descriptions, see the excellent Forest Stewardship Plan prepared by the Eno River Association in 2014.

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Far Loop Trail NOW OPEN for Walkers!

By Anthony

Hart's Mill trail mapThanks to an intrepid band of Hartsmilers working through a cold misty afternoon, the Far Loop Trail in the big southeast leg of our land is now passable all the way around. Margret M and Margaret A, Jeffry, George, Paul, Hope, Nell, and Anthony all helped to clear the last segment on the farthest southeast corner of the land — in what we used to call the Forbidden Territory because it is so far out and for so long seemed so impenetrable. There is more work to be done to make the pathway more commodious and level, but is still fully walkable now. I have yet to measure the length exactly, but my guess is about 2/3 mile. — that’s after about the 1/3+ mile hike from the village area to the trailhead.

Our crew celebrated this “Golden Spike” moment when we joined both sides of the loop trail.  Lots of other people worked on this trail too at earlier workdays: I am sure I won’t remember everyone, but those I do remember include Vanessa and Lizel, Tara and Rick with their son John Michael, Virginia, John, Amy, Lisa, and Tami and Whit from Earth’s Turn.  I’ll give myself credit for routing and blazing the trail and plugging away at clearing sometimes alone or with a few others, but it’s been the workday energy of crews like today’s that really made it happen. The hot chocolate at Hart’s Nest at the close of the day was a great treat too.  Many thanks to you all!  

Next steps will be continuing upgrades along the route, and this summer we have plans to build better access on a 100-foot  boardwalk access along the downstream edge of the beaver pond (right now the access is a bit farther downstream and a bit muddy) — stay tuned, and get ready to come help build on future workdays!  

Now, everyone please come and use the trails. The best way to maintain them is to walk them often!  For a map of all the land’s trails, click here.  Enjoy!

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HOUSING WITH A TWIST: Fresh ways of thinking about ownership

by Hope Horton

Hart’s mill family home prototype

The purpose at the heart of Hart’s Mill is to help heal the brokenness in our social, economic, ecological, and cultural systems.  We are doing this at a time when the need is great but the pathways are not clear or easy.   Money and ownership matters are among the most complex and convoluted for members to face.  Yet we persist and remain determined to realize our regenerative vision and guiding principles.

In this spirit, 18 members gathered for the February Last Saturday event, hosted by the Financial & Legal Circle.  Together, we absorbed and confronted the realities, myths, and opportunities surrounding home ownership in today’s out-of-whack economy.   We also came to some clarity about how to move forward on some key issues.   

Paul began the session with a review of the limited equity housing cooperative (LEHC) model, which was consented to by the General Circle on January 28, 2016.  (Click here to view Paul’s complete presentation.)  In brief:

  • A cooperative is an enterprise formed by a group of people to meet their own self-defined goals. It is owned and run by members to serve its members (not its remote stockholders). 
  • Members buy a share in the cooperative at a price set by the members. Members also pay a portion of the monthly carrying costs to cover the blanket mortgage, insurance, maintenance fund, etc. 
  • An LEHC owns and operates housing exclusively for the benefit of its members, who voluntarily—and with a sense of purpose—agree to limit the resale value of their equity holdings (e.g. share value) to promote long-term affordability (rather than short-term, market-driven gain).

Next on the docket, Katy set about busting the myth of traditional home ownership as a great financial investment.  This model is a deeply embedded in our culture; it’s an essential promise of the American Dream.  But does it really pan out when you look more closely?  Consider the financial meltdown of 2008 when millions of people lost their homes as a result of unscrupulous lending practices.   Even setting tumultuous economic downturns aside, a good financial investment is usually defined as one that provides stable and consistent growth that exceeds the rate of inflation where assets retain value, have low maintenance costs, and are easy to buy and sell. 

While this can be the case in hot housing markets such as San Francisco (and Durham, at the moment), the data tell a different story overall.  You may be surprised that the personal finance blog, Observations, reports that the average annual home appreciation adjusted for inflation from 1900-2012 in the U.S. is only 0.1%  Moreover, treating housing as an investment has led to a widespread and unsustainable shortage of affordable housing, and ensuring long-term affordability is one of Hart’s Mill’s core values.  

So how much is a share in Hart’s Mill going to cost?  (Remember, we’re talking about a share in EVERYTHING—112 acres of land, a farm, outbuildings, low energy costs, shared resources, community support, etc.)   Paul looked at this from a lot of different angles and results have been strikingly similar: we need something like 60 shares of $40,000 each to raise enough of a down payment to secure financing to build the village.  While this is as yet preliminary and uncertain, it’s a place to start.

Here’s where we asked for help from the group.  Remember, a share is an equity investment in the entire community.  And the larger the share payments are, the lower the monthly carrying costs will be per member.  Even so, the share price will be a chunk of change.  Can we live with this?  And if so, how should we set the basis of a share?  Per adult?  Per square footage?  Per living unit?  Something else? 

We broke into small groups to wrap our heads around these questions.   People understood how this preliminary, per-share cost was calculated and generally considered it to be fair and reasonable—even a “bargain” in one member’s words.  But is this going to be affordable, particularly considering the diverse spectrum of members that we want to attract? 

As for how to set the basis for a coop share, Making it “per adult” seemed as if it had the most support overall.  Several ideas for promoting affordability were put forth, such as adding a surcharge for those who can afford it, offering a share discount or giving partners a break. How about assessing a lower basic share cost for everyone and working out how to raise the rest in some other way?  Or, could people buy more than one share to lower carrying costs?  Can we set up an internal, low-interest fund to help members purchase a share?  As you can see, it was a lively and creative discussion. 

The next question concerned the “limited equity” part of the equation.  Are members willing to put a cap on the amount of return on their investment rather than allowing the housing market to dictate price?   It was Hope’s turn to speak about why she supports a LEHC.  First of all, she stated that how we structure ourselves matters because this will dictate how our community behaves over time.  Our current economic systems are set up to maximize profit, benefit individual interests, and avoid responsibility if others are harmed.  Hart’s Mill, on the other hand, seeks to be financially self-sustaining over the long term by genuinely serving our relationships with each other and the land. 

Citing the book, Owning Our Future, by Marjorie Kelly, Hope summarized two conflicting architectures of ownership:

  • Extractive Ownership has a financial purpose: Maximize profit and minimize risk for short-term gain to benefit individual interests.  Owners are absentee, disconnected from the life of the enterprise, and trading focuses solely on price and profits controlled by capital markets on autopilot.
  • Generative Ownership has a living purpose: Create the conditions for life over the long term with ownership rooted in human hands and controlled by those who are dedicated to a social/ecological mission.  Profits are permitted but not maximized, thus balancing fairness and responsibility. 

Hart’s Mill’s values place us securely in the Generative Ownership category, and the LEHC is a generative financial model.  Hope concluded by expressing the vision that Hart’s Mill could break this ground in North Carolina and inspire other communities near and far to do the same.

We again broke into small groups to consider two more questions:

  • How committed are you to the limited-equity approach?
  • How do you feel about rentals?

Limited equity received unanimous acclamation in the group.  As one person put it, “we’re not in this for the money.”  As for rentals, people felt that this should be an option, especially for visitors checking us out, for new members who wish to get to know the community before making a commitment (and vice versa) and for others who want more mobility and flexibility.  We could generate income as a guest house.  Might it even be possible to set up a rent-to-own arrangement?

How to structure rentals was a more complex question.  Would we allow absentee ownership?  What if the co-op managed all the rentals (no landlords)?  We’d need a cap on percentage of rentals vs. owner-occupied units for financing purposes.  And what voice would tenants have in governance and decision making?    

Bob the builder

This 3-hour gathering was anything but dry!  Everyone was engaged in the topics and time flew by.  As usual, some felt that there wasn’t enough time to fully absorb the complex issues and offer useful feedback.  But overall, members reported being grateful for all the great information, the clarity of presentations, and the creativity of participants. 

The Financial & Legal Circle greatly appreciated the attention, input, and ideas received on these crucial questions.  Much acclaim was given to Paul for organizing this session, to the presenters, and to other Circle members for their support.  Want more?  The Financial & Legal Circle wants YOU!   Please contact Paul at Voss[at] if you’d like to get involved.  




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