28 May 2012

Building our communities

When we first decided to become home bodies and to make and mend as much as we could, I thought we'd be leading a quiet life and the longer we did it, the fewer opportunities we'd have to go out and connect with others. At the very beginning it seemed like a solitary life, just Hanno and I, working away on our various projects, with visits from family and friends to add interest on occasional days. But as the years have crawled along, that is not how it panned out. We now have more friends than we ever had, we are taken up with this and that, and we fully understand now, that most important of details - we are a part of our community.

I didn't get that part of simple life when I started on my journey. We all know that the products we choose to buy are not those that are commonly sought after and so we'll never see them advertised on TV or hear about them on the radio. No, the things we deal in, the natural products of the region, we find out about them from our community. Now I know that without my community I don't know where the heirloom chooks are being sold at auction, I have no idea where to buy heirloom seeds and seedlings, I don't have a clue where the raw milk and honey is and I have no community to fall back on when things aren't going as well as they might. Our community is the human element of the place we live; it's the knowledge bank for all things local, it's the connection to the history of here and it's part of way forward to the future.

Community is important, not only to find what we need in our homes and backyards but in the sense of belonging to a place. We're lucky here. We live in an area where people barter, there are co-ops and primary producers, and a feeling that the community exists for and because of its people, not just because a town happens to be there.

Of course, there are online communities, and I am proud to be part of our community here and at the Down to Earth Forum. My online friends are a constant reminder to me and Hanno and that we might be working here in our small patch but we're also connected to people doing a similar thing in cities and towns all over the world. Some of us are here because we haven't found a local community where we live, and there are towns that have not developed their own communities.

Communities are a bit like children, they need someone to take the lead. They need that person to step up, wave their hankie and shout: Woohoo, we're over here, we need you to be here with us!

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a woman out west who waved her hankie wrote to ask if I would consider doing a workshop in her town. She and her friends have bought the old local hall and are using part as a vintage themed cafe. They want to use the back for workshops and a space for community bartering. I phoned her, we talked about it and I said that I'd happily come out and do a day-long workshop. I hope it will give them a good start on their business and the workshops they hope to run. It might also be the start of a community of like-minded souls who get together and discover each other and the interests they share. That's all it takes - the initial connection and the determination to keep the group working together.

This workshop will be at Bell in south west Queensland on Saturday 23 June. It will cost $40 each, which will include morning tea and lunch. The red and white sign above is on the flyer advertising the event - it's handmade, to reflect all that will happen on that day. We'll be talking about simple life, making and water-bathing jam and relish and making laundry liquid. Everyone who comes along will take some home, so if you're coming, bring jars with you and some things to barter. The women who own the hall will serve a delicious home made morning tea and lunch and I'm sure we will all have a great day out. I know there will be friendships made and a lot of talking, and not just by me. Let me know (rhondahetzel@gmail.com) if you're interested and I'll get back to you with the details and booking information.

I'd love to know about your local community. If it's a strong part of your local life, what makes it so special? Or are you in one of those places that hasn't developed a sense of community yet?  



  1. Oh this sounds do fabulous. I feel like coming for a quick visit...lol. I have been to similar local markets here in cape town but it's all business related organic food not really sharing and caring. Mmmh maybe we will catch up with the rest of the world soon.

  2. Hi Rhonda

    While reading this post, I found myself nodding in agreement with so many of the points you made.

    You know my community very well, in fact probably better than I do as it is the same as yours.

    Even though I work full-time away from the area in which I live, it is still possible to make and nurture connections within the community. It simple but important things that make the difference. I shop at the local independent retailers, greet and farewell the person who serves me by name, ask advice of locals, attend community events, introduce myself, read the local newspaper and generally immerse myself in what is going on around.

    I am also trying (but without a lot of success) to engender a spirit of community and co-operation amongst the neighbours in our semi-rural setting (we live about 8 km out of town). This is proving to be difficult as we are on small acreages, people choose to keep to themselves, many are elderly and set in their ways or only weekend (or less frequent) visitors. However, I will keep trying.

    Thanks for the reminder of the importance of engaging with our community.

    Fairy xx

  3. Thanks Rhonda, I agree. I feel community is very important.

    We've always existed in some kind of community or tribe, living in a co-dependent manner. It's only lately we have forgotten the importance of community.

    Self-sufficency is a little bit of a myth, and one reason why we can get a bit stressed out and overwhelmed by all there is 'to do'. Because we never used to have to do it all alone. That's why there were 'barn raisings' and 'quilting bees' and 'harvest festival'.

    We have a little community in our townhouse complex at the moment where we know all our neighbours and can ask for a hand (or give one) when needed. Like any community, it's not perfect, but that's the way it works.

  4. I am so so lucky to have my community where we currently live. It can be hard, we move often for work, and every place is a new start. But I feel like I belong here!

    My neighbor swaps pears for my eggs; a lovely lady at the girl's playschool brings in a weekly bucket of scraps for my chooks; the trolley boy and register woman at my local (major chain!) supermarket know my family by name, usually have a little gift for the kids (a matchbox car, or a banana, it's very kind!) and will also tell me the specials of the week so I don't miss them.

    It's the incidental meetings I like, too. For example the old chap from the assisted living home who was standing by the meat cabinet and suggested corned beef for our Sunday dinner. I'd never cooked it before, but I gave it a try to his specifications, and it was absolutely incredible! I'm keeping an eye out so next time I see him I can thank him.... And maybe get a few new recipes ;)

  5. I loved gardening australia last night, all about developing community - with your neighbours, sharing surplus from the community garden, even in the vege garden with companion planting.

    I also find paid work an opportunity to network, I have workmates with gardens and swap my produce with theirs or they give me interesting things like macadamia nuts and bunya nuts - from their well established trees and I bake friands or biscuits and share some of them with the giver.

    We now have a community garden at work that we look after together in lunchbreaks and anyone can pick something from for their lunch. It's great!

  6. The workshop in Bell sounds great, I checked the map, it's a four hour drive from here, maybe a bit far in a day. I live in a busy and vibrant community, here in northern NSW, that I'm involved in a number of different levels and have made good friends through my involvement in various groups...sitting on the Board of the Women's Service/Refuge, part of the newly formed Art Co-op, the environmental action group, as well as being an SES volunteer. There's so much more on offer though, farmer's markets, wholefoods stores, and all the vilages in the surrounding Caldera have their own communities too, raising awareness, running workshops etc that I can dip into and out of as I choose. Like you Rhonda, I never thought retirement and the "simple life" would be this good, this busy or this much fun.

  7. I think we lost community because of the rise of the super-market and the decline in formal religion. There were a lot of organised activities in a calendar year due to the local parishes. Another decline has been in Parent and Friend groups at school. Without members there is no-one to organise school functions or fund raising.
    Music changed and instead of social functions, the scene has moved towards loud bars where no-one can hear or engage in a decent conversation.
    I'm really pleased to see people moving back into halls and using them constructively for the community again as they were once.
    We are so lucky to have a cafe in our midst that would be perfectly at home in inner city Melbourne but they go about their days so humbly and lead by example in the community. They hold a free growers market to encourage fair exchange of organic back yard produce and they have allowed education groups to use the cafe after hours. They only buy local and seasonal and make those opportunities available for the wider community. They encourage artists with free space. They are so much more than a cafe. http://suburbanjubilee.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/more-than-cafe.html
    is a link to how dynamic a cafe can be for a community.

  8. Good morning Rhonda,
    Very thought provoking post this morning. Having two elderly parents, one with dementia, living with us , makes it difficult to engage in the community. This is for a season and later on we will hopefully be able to get out more. Having said that we share veggies with our neighbours. We know if we or they need any help someone is always available. I have noticed there is a lot more emphasis on Community Gardening now days, which brings folks together in such a wonderfully productive way. I've enjoyed the comments today and wish the folk in Bell (such a sweet name for a town) a very successful workshop.
    Blessings Gail

  9. For various reasons we are planning to move from where we currently live. Influencing where we will choose to move to, as important to us as real estate prices and local facilities, is whether or not the area has a sense of community.

  10. g'day Rhonda & followers

    we have a small local market here run by an iron of a woman who tries very hard to get the community involved but sadly people here are not that interested.
    i've never been involved in communities, only a few parent & school groups over the years. i stay at home much of the time doing my own thing these days.
    the young these days don't have any sense of community & alot of places don't encourage it anymore, not the important stuff anyway; theres mostly the internet cafes & game rooms around now.

    this was a very interesting post


    selina from kilkivan qld

  11. My husband and I have been working on building a community in our neighborhood. Last year we hosted a party and almost none of our neighbors attended despite being invited formally. We haven't given up yet! I figure we'll just have to be a little more persistent and make sure the food's extra good at the next get-together. When I was in graduate school, I helped motivate a bunch of competitive young adults to become a group of supportive friends, so I know it can be done. It might take more cookies this time, though...

  12. look forward to meeting you in person Rhonda at Bell. I've already booked into your workshop!

  13. Thanks Rhonda, for everything you do for your local and social communities - we are all richer for it

  14. Thanks Rhonda for everything 'you' do for your local and social communities - we are all the richer for it!

  15. Oh Rhonda, how I would love to attend your workshop in Bell. You see, it is my home town, where I spent the first seventeen years of my life on a dairy farm seven miles out of town. I remember school "speech nights" in the old hall - how lovely that someone has bought it. My parents sold the farm due to health reasons more that 40 years ago. I've been back several times to school reunions where it is great to catch up with people from that era. But it is too far for a day trip from our place, however I do intend to meet you at the library in Toowoomba on 13th June.

    We are blessed with a good community in our local area which is centred on a small primary school, a hall and one house. The hall doubles as a pre-school and a church. Twice a month we have craft days there where women can learn new skills or just bring along their current project to work on. And once a month there is a social BBQ. It is a great place to live.

    Lyn in Northern New South Wales.

  16. Hi Rhonda
    It was so lovely to meet you in person at the Maroochydore Library. Thank you for a wonderful talk. Our community is definitely richer because of people like you who share so much knowledge. Thank you

  17. Lors, it was lovely meeting you too. Hanno asked me to pass on his thanks when you commented again. He REALLY loved his gift, so a big thank you from him.

    See you in Toowoomba, Lyn.

  18. When we moved from the city to the farm we are living on, I initially felt so lonely and isolated, missing family and friends terribly. But then, over the past three years I have seen wonderful changes for my family. We have become a very close knit community of families on this farm, and have formed strong friendships with some of the farm workers too. We educate at home and we set up a weekly co-op where other home educators came from the surrounding area for shared art, music and other extra murals. This was a perfect way to make new friends and support others on their journey. Recently I have begun selling some of my home made products at the local farmers market just outside the nearest town. This one Saturday morning a month has done lot to connect me with other members of our wider community. Meeting new people and getting to know them means more to me than the small sales that I make.

  19. I am doing this 'community thing' at the moment and just recently blogged about it. Our little group meets once a month and it is great getting all these like minded people together.I think the thing is, if you don't have a group...then you have to start one yourself...it's easy and I am surprised how many people have come forward once I put my hand out in friendship!

  20. Hi Rhonda,
    I'm sorry to say that I am soon going to give up my involvement with community building. I have been involved on the committee with the local permaculture group for the past 4-5 years (the group has been around for about 15 years). However, it seems to be more difficult now to attract people to the free meetings, to get them involved in attending events and especially to get anyone to be on the committee or help to organize the group functions.

    I am going to have a break and spend my time putting into practice everything I have learnt (and a lot of things you talk about, Rhonda).

    There are great examples of communities getting together, though. Have you heard about Hulbert St in Perth, WA?

    Anyway, thanks for your efforts in building this community.

    Regards, Judith

  21. Hi Rhonda
    Sounds wonderful but as I am here in Blighty tad far for me to travel! lol I wish there was something like this where I live. As I am a full time care its not something I can start up as I would not be able to devote the time and dedication needed. I did try and join a craft(ish) type group over at the working mens club just opposite where I live but was not made to feel welcomed. so stopped. Like some of you other readers it is quite isolating so we are lucky to have found you.
    Have a wonderful day with everybody
    all the best
    Rachel UK

  22. Hi Rhonda

    That is a very thought provoking post. I think that the demise of the corner store contributed to the lack of community feeling and responsibility which is the lot of our modern day life. I remembered how people used to chat in the corner store and usually knew everyone in the street. It is inspiring to hear how you are involved in your community.

  23. Hello

    I wish I could come but I live in Canada so....I hope you give your blog readers a full account of your day.

  24. We live in an outpost of about 15 families, so of course the sense of community is very strong. It just seems everyone is involved in everyone's life, for better or for worse. :)

  25. We live in an outpost of about 15 families, so of course everyone seems to be involved in everyone's life, for better or worse. :) There's always visiting, bartering, borrowing, and of course the children playing together... one family homeschools, in other families the children stay home until a far more advanced age than "normal". We're loving it. :) We feel more at home here, after having been here only several months, than in our old neighbourhood where we lived above 3 years.

  26. Hi Rhonda. I live in a large town in the middle of England and there is absolutely no community feel here at all. A couple of Christmases ago my neighbour's boiler broke down and they were without heat or hot water for two weeks over Christmas. He was chopping wood to put on a fire to keep warm and my other neighbour complained about the noise of the wood chopping - unbelievable selfishness.
    I spent about 8 months away in a small village in Devon and in a very very short time I felt part of a community. The relief was enormous and I felt such a feeling of security and wellbeing.
    We are selling up and moving there this year and I am so looking forward to leading a more 'real' life where peole pull together for each other. Lily. xxx

  27. I have come to the conclusion that being self sufficeint is not just relying on one self but a community of like minded people. You laid it out beautifully! Thank you.

  28. I have just come out of a close community, particularly with my neighbour who was my age, and our kids were the same age (3 days apart with the olderst). I have found it heartbreaking and difficult quite often. I really miss that companionship, especially having little children home with me. I miss it now being in regular suburbia. I know my neighbours names but that's all. We've decided we'll move at the end of the year back into a tight community by moving into college housing whilst hubby is studying. YOu live in super close proximity to other families, and share all the joy (and sometimes frustration) that comes with it. Hooray! Homemaking in community... I actually love it!

  29. Well I live in the best community ever! I live in a small village 30ks from major town and shops. We have a pub,post office, general store, pre school and school . We have various community groups like craft groups, cwa, play time for the littlies, volunteering at the school in the vege garden, group for the retired generation, tennis club, pony club, progress association. I belong to a book club where I meet different people working, retired, stay at home mums etc.There is a village market place once a month that sells vege, fruit, soaps and nick nacks. There is about 80 or so kids at the school where we all know the childrens name and family. it is a wonderful place to live. Glenreagh NSW.

  30. I live in a great growing and evolving community which is only 18Km from Brisbane city, in a place called Moggill


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