We’re on the road, on the way to our new home. Three days of driving 10-12 hours a day has brought us from the West Coast to Missouri. Yesterday, we took a break from driving to spend the day at the Possibility Alliance, a 110-acre homestead in northern Missouri. And now I’m frankly struggling to find the words to match my impressions.
I first heard about the Possibility Alliance in January from a friend. I was intrigued rather than thwarted by the fact they don’t have a website (although you can read about them here and tḧere), or an email address. They live without petroleum and without electricity, except for a single landline phone.
It is this off-grid aspect of the community that easily grabs our attention, so stark is the contrast with the average American high-consumption, high-energy use lifestyle. The residents use bicycles and trains for transportation, and horses for hauling and tilling. All the buildings and other structures are made using either natural building methods, reclaimed lumber, or locally milled wood. The houses are heated with wood, and evenings are lit by candles. Other low-tech methods come into the picture: hand-washing laundry in basins and a wringer, grinding grains with a bicycle-powered grain mill, sweeping the floors with brooms, etc. And as you might guess, food comes mostly from their own orchards, gardens, cows, goats, and chickens.
Yet to over-emphasize this aspect of their life is to miss the larger vision of the Possibility Alliance. In their own words,
The Possibility Alliance and the Still Waters Sanctuary is a service and educational center practicing and teaching simplicity, self-reliance, peace, gratitude, and community service.
It’s not just about organic farming, or permaculture, or being off the grid. Self-transformation, social activism, and peace-building are equally crucial elements of their vision. While the residents come from various spiritual traditions, or none at all, they all commit to engaging in those practices that help them become more kind, less greedy, less judgmental people. But they also reach outward through social engagement and non-violent activism: they work with inner-city communities to provide shelter for the homeless, establish community gardens, and start bike co-ops. They collaborate with local schools, and their Amish neighbors, and other communities and projects. They offer workshops and courses ranging from half a day to a couple of weeks, and every year host several apprentices. The classes and workshops, like the Possibility Alliance itself, function on gift economy. By reducing their needs, the core community of seven adults and two children are able to live with annual operating costs of about $ 9,000 a year. (No, that’s not a typo. $ 9,000 a year.)
Their way of life is an experiment, as Ethan Hughes, one of the founding members, explained to me. They are engaged in a creative exercise of imagining, and trying out, a way of living differently — to see what it might look like to free oneself from the dictates of consumer culture and its mindless excesses. What makes them carry on is that this way of life makes one so much more fully alive.
And alive is how I felt as I spent the day helping to plant a field of pink popcorn; seeing a strawbale building workshop in progress; sitting under a giant elm tree talking to Ethan, who told us about the Possibility Alliance’s story and vision; meeting the newest kid goat, only two days old; harvesting mulberries with two little girls by shaking them off the tree onto tarps spread underneath; and taking a quick dip in the pond to cool off after a hot day. And the people we met — such kindness, and the serendipity of connections we realized we already had.
So, friends, that takes away from you and me the excuse of being able to say that it is not possible to live differently, that we have no choice but to have big carbon footprints. Imagine the possibilities.