Visions Become Reality:
by Judith Goldsmith
August 1981 / Published in CoEvolution Quarterly, Summer 1982 (vol. 34, page 68)
as "h.o.m.e. - A one-stop shop of doing good"
"This is h.o.m.e.," the handcut wooden signboard announces, from the
side of Route 1, just on the edge of the little town of Orland, Maine (south of
Bangor). And, turning off the highway, in towards the collection of tidy buildings
that comprise the main co-operative center of H.O.M.E., Inc., that's exactly where
you feel you are - if not your home, than the home of some very good neighbors.
Basic needs are cared for here. The co-operative provides a home-base, livelihood,
helping hand, and market outlet, and acts as a bootstrap and self-help aid to
some 2,000 local Maine residents, many of whom would otherwise be candidates for
government aid. And it does it in a warm, loving manner.
There's the main crafts co-op store, full of handcrafted objects made mostly by
elderly, sick, or otherwise needy Maine people. Bright potholders, subtly dyed
woven scarfs, jars of honey and jam, children's toys and handsome wooden jewelry
boxes and bookracks all are neatly tended by several bustling elderly Maine women.
Very close are the weaving, pottery, leather, cobbler, and woodworking workshops
(one a converted one-room schoolhouse). A little further back is the two story
Learning Center, which houses a child-care facility on its lower floor and an
adult education center on the upper. Here are given courses in bookkeeping, auto
repair, home maintenance, and health care for those who want to add to their skills,
and academic classes which permit some 30 local Maine folks to get their high
school diploma each year. Across the way is a vegetable stand where the newly
self-reliant farmers which H.O.M.E. is helping to create can sell their produce
direct to the passing public.
But what you see is only the tip of much larger goings-ons. A stitchery department
above the crafts store takes in sewing contracts, such as for quilted clothing
for the elderly and costumes to order for performing groups. Project Woodstove
delivers free firewood as needed to Maine's elderly, poor and disabled. Down H.O.M.E.
Farming cuts hay on donated fields, and sells bales and oats at low cost, loans
out small farm equipment, rents out community garden space, gives seminars on
farming skills, and works with Heifer Project International. (The Heifer Project
donates farm animals to low-income families and receives back the first female
offspring of the animal to donate again.) Then there's the Outreach program which
responds to family emergencies and problems, and also the recently-established
Hospitality House for families going through especially difficult times. Finally,
through Self-Help Family Farms, the Co-op buys land and places it in a community
land trust. This removes it from speculation and guarantees socially and environmentally
sound use of it, as well as management by the users themselves. Small energy-efficient
houses are then built on the land with volunteer labor. There are sold at very
low cost, with affordable mortgages less then $20,000, with payments about $150
a month) to families who help build them. The houses can be passed on to children,
but must be sold back to the land trust if the family no longer wants them. The
land trust can then resell the house again at low cost to other needy families,
so that there will continue to be inexpensive housing available. The houses each
sit on 10 acres of land which the family can use both for tree farming and to
grow crops or raise animals, and also to supply itself with the small amount of
wood for heat which a passive solar house needs to get through the winter.
The cost of joining H.O.M.E. Co-op is minimal ($10 a year for the crafts co-op,
$15 (or even $5) for Down H.O.M.E. Farming) and can be worked off in labor if
necessary. Thus the project reaches out especially to those who really need it.
For example. of the 200 active crafters, 75% are women, 75% are low-income, and
almost half are over the age of sixty.
That's still not all. In the dream box are a swamill and shingle mill to be restored
for helping to supply wood for building, a cheese factory to use the dairy products
which will soon start being available from the small farms, and teams of work
hoses which are already starting to be trained and used to haul wood for Project
Woodstove. Farther off in the future are local growing of oats for feed (Maine
at one time grew most of its own oats, now imports most of what it uses), and
greenhouses to extend Maine's short growing season. But if things keep going as
they have been, these dreams too are not far from becoming fact.
I went to H.O.M.E. this summer as a volunteer to see how all these marvelous visions
were turning into reality at such an incredible rate. The original vision came
from Sister Lucy Poulin just a little over 10 years ago, and many of the ideas
for projects still originate with her. One of 11 children, she learned self-reliance
when her father died and the family had to learn to use all resources to keep
going. H.O.M.E. started with the idea for a crafts co-op in the old frmhouse on
Route 1 where local people could sell crafts they had made in their spare time
at home for 70% commission. Thus the name - Homeworkers Organized For More Employment.
The farmhouse became office space for a growing staff when volunteer labor built
a new crafts store, the workshops, Learning Center and market stand. And it just
Sister Lucy has been called a living saint, but it impressed me that I didn't
find out who she was until I had been at H.O.M.E. three days. She was around everywhere,
with the two Sisters of Mercy, the Franciscan nun, and an Oblate priest who have
come to help her, chopping brushwood, ordering lumber, building, and taking care
of the draft horses. But the energy seemed to come from everyone. It's hard to
tell who is a nun anyway around H.O.M.E. All wear the same blue jeans and sweat
shirts and kerchiefs that the volunteers sport. But mass is served each morning
at 7 A.M. (this is also a good time to find out more about the day's work) and
there is the very strong feeling of a spiritual community.
My work during the week or so I visited was helping put up the roof and shingles
on one of the two land trust houses that were being finished, weeding the community
vegetable garden, minding the market stall, and clearing brushwood or carrying
lumber whenever the need arose. There were also good people to get to know - "downeasters"
with their thick slow Maine accent and volunteers from as far away as Texas and
Ireland (though most were from nearby in New England).
H.O.M.E. Co-op doesn't really need many more volunteers. A steady stream of young
and old people arrive both on their own and with larger groups. The sisters say
they can always use help (especially skilled, and long-term) but that H.O.M.E.
has gotten about as big as it ought to be. Of course, they can always use donations,
especially as government funding is drying up, and particularly because Sister
Lucy tries not to encourage dependance on government financial sources, due to
the amount of paperwork and humiliation to recipients that these often involve.
But the time has come for other H.O.M.E. projects to be started elsewhere, wherever
there is poverty or people who need help to get on their feet again. If you would
like to know more about H.O.M.E. Co-op and how they manage to turn visions into
reality at such an incredible speed, you can ask them to send you their "This
Time" newspaper (six issues a year for $1.25 or however much more you can
afford to give). And go make your own dreams for a better world into reality.
Orland, Maine 04472
Excerpts from "This Time":
I remember growing up in Fairfield Center with its dairy farms which were the
heart of our community and watching them close down, one by one, and the families
having to disperse. Where once 10 family dairy farms and one small dairy existed,
now there is only one farm. I have often wondered why this happened. I remember
one neighbor who said he was selling out because he could not afford to change
to a bulk tank to cool his milk. Why and who has issued these ultimatums to farmers?
Some of it was government; some of it was processors. How did they get the power
over farming? (Sister Lucy Poulin)
H.O.M.E. Update by Sr. Marie Ahern
We've met with the Orland Planning Board and have attended a public hearing in
order to obtain a permit to put a small lumber mill on H.O.M.E.'s land. Such a
mill would not only enable us to mill our own lumber for house construction, but
it would also provide employment for two people. . . . On March 3rd, and again
on April 14th, we met with the Hancock County Planning Commission in Ellsworth
. . . A few members of that commisssion evidenced some strong prejudices against
the poor and we took quite a tongue-lashing at the first meeting, with statements
like: "your family farms program is anti-American" . . . "Don't
call it family farms, call it low-income housing. That's what it is." . .
. "If you have a single-parent woman with her family in one of those houses,
she won't cut her own firewood or help her neighbors." . . . "It takes
skill and ability to harvest wood and raise crops . . . the type of people you
will get won't be able to do it" . . . and so on and so on. In the face of
such attitudes we try not to become discouraged and we trust with continued communication
perhaps there will be more understanding.