Radical Community Building

Make a home.

Help make a community.

Be loyal to what you have made.

Put the interest of your community first.

Love your neighbors - not the ones you pick, but the ones you have.

Love this miraculous world that we did not make, that is a gift to us.

As far as you are able make your lives dependent upon your local place, neighborhood, and household which thrives by care and generosity and is independent of the industrial economy which thrives by damage.

Find work, if you can, that does no damage.

Enjoy your work, work well.

A Commencement Address by Wendell Barry


          I’ve read this quote at any number of men’s retreats and I always see many heads nodding in approval, but then we return home and the fast lane world we understand immediately how difficult it is to live that life Barry has created in his own community.

         My wife and I know most of the neighbors that surround our home and say hello when we pass on the street and even have dinner occasionally with certain neighbors and yet at an essential level our neighborhood doesn’t feel like a real community.

         As I child I had a good sense of what a neighborhood community felt like. My grandmother knew and communicated almost daily with her neighbors. All the neighbor children played in the street in front of her house. If someone got sick or there was a death in a family everyone chipped in with food and support. Most families had gardens and shared the harvest. The mothers and grandmothers canned fruits and vegetables together. Those women had gone through the depression and World War II and they knew how to work together for their collective support. Although I’m sure those neighborhoods still exist in small towns and within larger cities I am still saddened that I personally know of no one who lives in that world today.

         For me real communities include men, women, and children of all ages and the communities that feel most whole also include racial, ethnic, political, financial and religious diversity. I always feel uncomfortable when I hear people using the word community in reference to their smartphone and Facebook friends.

         Many men and women I work with say they want community especially if they have children. We instinctively know that it does take a village to raise healthy well-rounded kids. The problem is, we have a very hard time pulling that off in a world that is constantly separating us. I’m sure you have seen couples and groups at restaurants all on their cell phones texting someone miles or states apart.

         I love the thought that I can stay connected to my children and grandchildren by Skype or Facetime but that doesn’t compare to being with them in person.

         For many years my wife and I belonged to a community of people who celebrated the major transition times of year together. We came together for weekends closest to the changing of the seasons: summer and winter solstice, Halloween, early February (in former times called Candlemas), May day, and early August (first harvest.) We gathered with twenty or thirty others and created our own celebrations on the spot with singing, dancing, simple rituals and sharing meals. That community survived for over a decade until the rotating leadership got older and pressures of our other interests separated us.

         Fortunately that may be changing. The millennial generation seems to me to be more interested in returning to real community. Many new neighborhoods in our city are being built with homes closer together, with common open space, and meeting halls.

         Other experiments in community development are happening in many cities and suburbs around community gardens and markets. Farm to table events connect food producers intimately with producers.

CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are popping up as young people see connecting with the land as an opportunity. Some inner city neighborhoods are increasing community spirit through gardens and coops.

         Our neighborhood now has a lively community webpage where neighbors can ask for repair and services resources, announce local events, ask for help, and offer free items to pick up. We have agreed to keep the site free of partisan political announcements and philosophical debates.

         Two dear friends, Bill Kauth and Zoe Alowan, have created an experiment in extended family and community. They have made a commitment to a small number of friends whom they share their lives with on a daily basis. Check out their story.


         As one of my mentors, Zalman Schachter, says, “If you want to get it together….you must do it….together.”

* * * * * * *

         If you nodded in agreement when you read Wendell Barry’s commencement address, I invite you take the risk and reach out to a neighbor or friends that live within bicycle range.

Invite a neighbor for tea, coffee, or a meal.

Co-sponsor a block party with food, music, and games.

Create a neighborhood website to share resources and connection options.

Plant a garden in your yard and invite others to tend it with you.

Create a monthly multi-family dinner rotation.

Start a neighborhood dialogue group.

Let me know of other ideas you have come up with to build community.


Tom Daly