gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

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.

possibilityI 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 possibility3evenings 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.possibility4possibility2

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.

12 thoughts on “A day at the Possibility Alliance

  1. sojournable says:

    I love this, I really do. I’ve been dreaming of such a community for probably over 10 years. There was a place called Dancing Rabbit, I looked into once. I’m not debt-free, so I couldn’t just walk away from my responsibilities. I love this idea though. And would love to make it a reality one day. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Mari says:

      Hi Sojournable! Actually, Dancing Rabbit is just about 40 miles from the Possibility Alliance. They have a lot of natural building going on there as well. Mother Earth News featured a story of a guy who built his own little cob house there for $ 3,000, and is now living mortgage- and rent-free. So that kind of decision takes away a lot of the financial burden. But you’re right, it’s not easy for most of us to take the kind of leap Ethan and his family and community have taken.

  2. Jason says:

    If debt is stopping you from traveling to cool places like this you should consider going Vanabode style. Just Google it there is nothing like it and my wife and I have traveled this way since we were 33 (basically enabling us to be retired super young).

  3. Mari says:

    Thanks, Jason! That sounds interesting — I will look into it. And well done for managing to achieve that level of freedom in your lives!

  4. Mark Weerstra says:

    what do I need to do to receive information about this community on 110 acres in northern Missouri ,and any info about staying their for a week with family!!!!

    1. Mari says:

      Hi Mark, this article in Mother Earth News has their contact info at the very end of the article:

      Good luck — I hope you get to go!

  5. Hoop Rider says:

    thank you for sharing your experience so simply and sweetly in this post.

    the comment from sojournable made me want to put out a welcome to folks who want to find a place with this spirit on the west coast. we call it Freedom Farm, and it is on Lopez island. i’ve been here a year and am trying to help this be a place where we support real freedom for all beings. it is in the initial stages of establishment, though the land was in use as a small farm for a few decades that we know of not too long ago.
    i have never been to the possibility alliance, but am very inspired by them. i found out about it when i traveled around the U.S. on the Hoop Tour ( that is also when i became the superhero Hoop Rider, attending the ride that year in Michigan. this year i am putting on a superhero ride that will begin at Freedom Farm!
    all are welcome. throughout the year we welcome folks to come out and participate in this project on a worktrade or visitor basis. please come help us help the world!

  6. Mari says:

    Wow, thanks for stopping by! I recall someone mentioning Freedom Farm to me — perhaps it was the Possibility Alliance folks. I checked out the farm’s Tumblr page & love to see all that you’re doing there on Lopez Island. Blessings for the initial stages of your farm and community!

  7. richard says:

    very cool, it takes a certain person to live that life these days and Northern MO can be tough land.

    as a side note, I would share my great-grandfather’s perspective on tilling and plowing Missouri soil around Hermann: “better to have a mule than a horse, as a horse will work himself to death, while a mule will just stop when pushed too far”

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