Like 4-H for adults, Green Wizard lodges & Ruinmen's towers

I live in a small city in which I find it difficult to join or generate community. A large enough population leading to anonymity by default, combined with most residents just doing their usual 9-5, combined with me being introverted and not already part of a religious group has me feeling like there is neither a way for me to contribute my skills/interests nor to learn more from others.

I joined the university extension's Master Gardener program in hopes of both learning more about gardening AND sharing my plant-geeky enthusiasm with others. In reality it hasn't quite lived up to my hopes. I'm required to present university research-based information and there are distinct channels through which to do that. The typical audience for MG information is middle to upper class, well-educated whites in spite of the fact that our population is at least 1/3 latino. I haven't seen an effective bridge to cultivate relationships with immigrant gardeners who may have experience gardening in dryland regions and there's only one project that I know of that focuses on bringing gardening to lower income folks who might benefit from greater food security.

So that hasn't panned out, exactly.

I looked into Odd Fellows and Masons (or Order of the Eastern Star, since I'm a woman) but I'm not so interested in "merely" a fraternal order that's involved in philanthropy, though that's noble.

I can't tell you how often I think about - and hear from others that they'd love - something like 4-H for adults. 4-H is also run by university cooperative extensions but it's only for kids 18 and under. It's structured so that the kids use Roberts Rules of Order to make all club decisions. It relies on adult volunteers to run projects that kids sign up for and there's a method of tracking what they learn so that they can see the results of their efforts. Projects are diverse (depending on what volunteer leaders can offer) and range from raising livestock (or showing pets if that's what the kids have access to), woodworking, cooking, cake decorating, container or other gardening, fiber arts (knitting & sewing), robotics, and photography. I'm sure some clubs have other projects ... my oldest daughter did archery, for example, through 4-H, etc etc.

I was thinking of doing a little reading up on the history of 4-H to see if I could glean info about how the founders went about founding it. How does one up and start a fraternal order or a community education organization?

I'd love (LOVE) to be part of a group that twice or three times a year listed group opportunities for things like woodcarving (spoon making!), fermenting, spinning/knitting/weaving, beekeeping, etc. A small group of people who come together, having contributed to the whole by attending monthly meetings and paying a small amount to go into organizational coffers, who have skills to share and who want to learn from each other sounds like an amazing thing.

I could see this fitting into the grange system, perhaps - or being started from scratch?

What ideas might you all have about such a thing?

Networking is gonna be key for taking GW into the future. Maker spaces are becoming increasingly popular. Bike clubs are springing up, offering members training on how to repair and maintain their bikes. If your church has a community garden, maybe you could organize potlucks with produce from the garden.

Facebook is a good place to find like-minded people. I just googled the ham radio group in town. They have a Facebook page!

Try looking for homeschoolers in your area.

One method is to simply start hosting DIY/Skillshare classes.

Find 1 friend who will come to your first class and then hand out flyers, email, and facebook. Every student gets on your mailing list for future classes. The location is free: houses/garages/gardens/farms/forests.

Then you encourage the attendees to teach their skills. You could also invite guest teachers to get more variety. At the beginning of each class you can introduce the teacher and give a 5 min introduction to green wizardry and see if anyone gets interested.

I think starting small and unofficial is best. Later when you have a solid crew, you can make it official.

I just went to a sourdough sorghum bread class in a collective house. They were using Google Forms to have people sign up and answer a few questions. Even though I didn't know the people who lived in the house, it felt really comforting to go to a house to learn something and eat really good food.

vortenjou's picture

Driftless Folk School in Wisconsin got its start this way - people who wanted to learn and share practical skills taught courses in their homes, barns and church basements until those ran out of room. There is a North House Folk School in northern Minnesota, as well, for further investigation.

Locally, our community college's adult education track has a lot of handicrafts classes, and some regulars - that may be an existing community to tap into.

Any other "historic preservation society" near you that may already have some of this programming? For example, Sons of Norway has cultural modules including woodcarving and weaving, and presumably an audience that uses them.

Here in North Dakota, every town has some sort of historic village site where they've trucked in antique buildings and set them up as a mini-museum tourism draw - and partnerships with the local crafts guilds may benefit both. (The local woodcarvers' group has partnered with Buckstop Junction for a permanent display case and demos at their "Old Settler's Days" festivals.) Both types of groups seem generous with their resources if you can provide the volunteer work needed to run the events you have in mind!

Any quilters' guilds near you? Ours seem to operate on exactly the model you describe - take in dues, members run classes once or twice a month, and book national teachers for yearly events. They may be able to share how they got started.

Best of luck!

If one was near me I would join in a heartbeat.

I love the possibilities posed by the information in this thread. I'm also wrestling with the idea of how to move into a more structured arrangement for the Green Wizards group down here in Australia. I have never even heard of the 4-H but is seem to be an amazing resource. As others have said, the battle against Facebook groups is an uphill one, but I do believe that it is challenge worth taking on. In my experience there have been a handful of people willing to make long journeys to have deep discussions with similarly minded folk.

My next goal is move into a more action/practical orientated space. As dtrammel has said there are limits to what can be done at this stage but I just want to make sure that I operate at or near those limits. To that effect I'm considering starting meetings in a more formal manner followed by a guest speaker or member giving a presentation on some topic that relates to the Green Wizardry project. Afterwards the normal unstructured discussion period can continue. I also intend on starting a lending library that will provide access to many of the books that Mr. Greer has mentioned of the years.

Does anybody have any further thoughts or ideas that might work well? Aspects of 4-H or fraternal organisations that are worth copying?

I have had similar experiences here in PA.

I finally found success in feeling community in a non-profit board training leadership group, They are all over the country - google leadership and your county name to see if one exists. This is the national organization site, but not all local groups are members

Its a group of 26 people, we are doing a year long course together and we each are serving on a different non-profit board in the county. The sharing has been phenomenal. Most are in their late 20's and I'm almost 50 so its been fun to be with someone other than my age.

Hope that helps

David Trammel's picture

I happened to re-notice the title to this thread and thought to myself, now wouldn't Green Wizards and Ruinmen have the same building BUT then I thought, Green Wizards along with their gardens and lecture halls, probably maintain a library with lots of books and such.

Ruinmen would have labs and workshops, and would sometimes be experimenting and tinkering with things that might just explode and catch fire.

Guess they might want a little separation after all, lol.

Spoon-making is not that hard. I did one out of cedar. You take a food-safe hardwood (beech, maple, not cherry whose bark contains cyanide compounds) or not too aromatic softwood (pine, cedar) and saw or hatchet it into a piece about 2.5 inches wide, 1 inch or 3/4ths of an inch thick, and as long as you want the spoon to be. Then you place a small, roundish live coal on the thickest end, let it burn a hollow in your spoon-plank. Take out the coal, sand the burnt place, and burn it down again until you have the depth-of-spoon you desire. Not too thin or the sanding-down process will break through the bottom of the bowl of the spoon. Then you carve away the excess wood at the corners of the burnt bit and pare down the length of the plank to make the handle. With a good, sharp whittling knife it is not too difficult and kind of fun.

The rest of the task is to sand, sand, sand, and that is kind of tedious but no worse than knitting lots of plain rows. After the spoon is shaped and sanded, put on a light coat of food-safe oil (olive, walnut, safflower,etc.) to finish it.

it DOES sound easy -- so it could be a basic thing offered to community members who want to get together and share or learn a new skill. And then all the folks who make spoons could show them at the county fair and get more people interested... opposed to just me, sitting on my porch, by myself, making a spoon.

David Trammel's picture

I agree with what you are proposing, and agree alot too.

I hope that this green wizard project ends up morphing in to a fraternal organization, with chapters far and wide, a close knit community that will always open its doors to fellow members as they travel a world in collapse.

There is also alot to be said for a formal group like the Freemasons. I have read from Greer how those organizations were both popular and very useful for people living in the past in unfriendly times like the 1900s and I can see how they will be when times are tough again as I expect the next 50 years to become.

That being said, most such organizations are struggling for new member. Today's people don't have any experience with them and seem to prefer hanging out on Facebook. I think web based forums like this and small local chapters who meet over meals are going to be what we can accomplish for the next few years.

Maybe as the Internet prices itself out of most peoples' budget, and it become useful to interact with your neighbors beyond a simple hello when you get out of your car, we will see it happen.

You and I, the people who are older might never hear it, but I do beleive our children and their generation by our age will hear this conversation.

"You going to the Tower meeting tonight?"

"Of course, I wouldn't miss it."

In response to this, "Today's people don't have any experience with them and seem to prefer hanging out on Facebook."

My local public library is moving toward creating a makerspace (admittedly some of the things they want to be able to offer are kind of techie/resource using (3D printing) and not so "retrotopia" but still...

I think the surge in popularity in knitting in recent years (and in knitting clubs and circles) and in craft classes for things like scrapbooking indicates that people want real experiences and they like to make things.

Over in Sonoma County (a few hours from me) they have a print shop where they offer letterpress and bookbinding classes.

Some of these activities are jumping on the "hipster" love of vintage - but except for the fact that they become boutique activities (pricey, partially due to the social capital of partaking in something vintage), they show that not everyone is only interacting online.

A town near me has Tour de Cluck - people ride around town on bikes and look at chicken coops.

There's an organization in the same town that's trying to pair beekeeping folk with urban yard-owners to place hives in town and get more people active in beekeeping, and my senior center offers woodcarving and painting for seniors.

My sense is that such an organization as we're discussing here, could help unify many disparate "guilds" - give opportunities for people to volunteer (to lead/teach, which is fulfilling to some) and remove the barrier of cost for some of the "fancy" stuff that doesn't need to be fancy.

I doubt that without a concerted push by thoughtful people, this wouldn't "morph" into an organization of any sort.

Not trying to dismiss what you've said, because the obstacles ARE large. I'm trying instead, to encourage the discussion about ways to further what we'd like to have available to those who come after us.

I'd love to join such a group as well!