Woolley Mammoth: Part One

     In the interest of showing that there are many roads to your homesteading or farming dream, we’re profiling folks who are living the life and learning the lessons.  If we can give enough examples, maybe something will inspire or help you along.

     This time, we meet with members of Woolley Mammoth, an intentional community in Washington.

–Mike (PRH)

The McMansion is the status symbol of choice for most aspiring 1 Percenters. Monstrous homes, thrown up in a hurry with a mixture of stone, brick, cheap labor, and pine, they’ve come to encapsulate all the excess of the early 21st century. Home movie theaters, gigantic kitchens where no one cooks, bedroom suites for toddlers, swimming pools, and his/hers bathrooms and showers with an array of nozzles to hit every crevice you forgot you had. All on a quarter acre lot in a subdivision filled with more McMansions. Communities that say, “We made it. We are free (ahem),” from behind the security of an electronic gate.

You’ll find developments filled with these homes in the affluent suburbs of any major city. You’ll find some in the country where the inhabitants have retired to dreams of horse farms, green lawns cut short, and golf carts. What you typically won’t find, though, is an egalitarian community, built by consensus, with an open invitation for others to come and live a homestead life.

The Woolley Mammoth community exists in such a building. When the greed of the sub-prime mortgage finally met with reality, in 2008, many half-finished McMansions were left abandoned by their developers. Just outside of Sedro-Woolley, WA, Jeff Krauss bought one of these abandoned homes and hatched a plan. He began finishing the home and converting it to a residence that could sustain a community. He installed wood stoves, solar panels, converted a room to a yoga studio and invited some folks along for the ride.

One of the Woolley’s residents, Corianne, is a woman I went to high school with. We met up, a few years back, at a reunion. She is an artist, mother, and go-getter. When she informed me of her plans to move across the country and live in an intentional community, I made sure to stay in touch. I contacted her, recently, and asked if she would share her experience of finding and living in an intentional community. I also got perspective from two other residents atWoolley Mammoth, Jeremiah and Valya.

PRH: Thanks for taking time out to answer these questions. I’d like to start by asking how you came to live at Woolley Mammoth.

Corianne: We moved to Washington from Michigan 18 months ago to live in a different intentional community that we found wasn’t a good fit for our family. A year ago I started searching on Intentional Communities.org, and though I found many great communities, they didn’t seem to fit my family. I had just about given up on my dream of community life, until finding the Woolley Mammoth.

PRH: What drew you to living in an intentional community?

Corianne: My husband and I grew up in Downriver Detroit, but always felt out of place there. We started looking into intentional communities over a decade ago. Our first visit to one was to The Farm in Summertown, TN.  We appreciated the sharing of resources and people living in harmony with the land.

We wanted to raise our family to live life “actually” instead of “virtually,” and find a balance in the tech-filled world we live in. We wanted to reconnect with a more self- sustainable, natural life.  We wanted to learn how to do this, and teach our boys how to raise food and animals, and live in harmony with other people. We choose the Woolley Mammoth because of their lack of religion or strict “guidelines” that other communities have, also the emphasis on being a haven for artists and musicians and a permaculture focus. Moving here was the opportunity we had been seeking, and that we moved 2700 miles away from our extended family for. We realized that we found our tribe, our home, our place to grow.

PRH: How did you get your family on board? Was there resistance?

Corianne: There was not much resistance in my immediate family. My boys have embraced the many influences of amazing people they’ve met here. They learn an understanding of accountability and how their actions not only affect the four of us, but also the entire community. My boys have learned to reconnect with nature and are learning to play multiple music instruments. They love to learn and are thriving here.

Our parents resisted us moving so far away, for a bit, but they also know the opportunities we are able to explore here surpassed what we had available to us in Michigan. They think we are pioneers.

PRH: How would you describe the Woolley Mammoth?

Corianne: A huge, ever evolving, beautiful home overlooking the amazing Skagit Valley, which is filled with biodiverse farmland and pastures. Our house is filled with
authentic, creative people who are teachers and students in music, growing and preparing food, raising animals, natural remedies, low-impact living, communication skills, inside and outside home and property additions, repair, and improvement, and in what some consider “lost art” or “renaissance” skills – such as spinning wool and tanning animal hides.

PRH:  How many people live in Woolley? Please describe the layout?

Corianne: This is an ever-changing number. We have a variety of short and long-term residents. Currently, we have 10 residents: My husband and I, our 2 boys ages 14 and 11, along with 2 couples and 2 single people. We are taking applications for new residents.

The Woolley Mammoth is a four-story, 9000 square foot house. We have 9 spacious bedrooms, and plenty of community space. We have a yoga/aikido room, a stage in our great room for music, a large kitchen/pantry, pool room with an unfinished pool, sauna, outdoor bath, many work spaces, and a greenhouse and garden. We also have 11 chickens, 6 goats, 1 cat, 1 dog, lots of fish, and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay — I am kidding about the partridge, but we do have plenty of native birds, deer, elk, coyote, raccoon, rabbit, frogs and other wildlife we share the land with.

PRH: If the WM had a mission statement, what would it be?

Jeremiah: We are a place to live, learn, experiment, and grow as an example of a truly positive future for humanity, arrived at in our own unique way. A collective effort that excels in its ability to meet the needs and healthy evolution of all life, starting with our own lives.

PRH: What roles are important in the community and who decides who fills those roles?

Corianne: We make decisions based on consensus, and people volunteer to fill roles as needed. We are very fluid in creating systems when need be, and discontinuing when they don’t serve the greater good, or when people get the hang of a system that works for all of us. Other than the owner of the house, who manages the main finances of the house, we don’t have specific roles, particularly because of the somewhat transient nature of our community.

We are not a community that developed “together.” People move in and out of the community on a fairly regular basis. That said, we do take on roles sometimes as needed and sometimes as they just ‘happen,’ both from need and the particular skills or talents of the individual. Some of us have expertise and interests in different areas, such as carpentry, or farming, cooking, singing, cleaning, and we share knowledge and efforts to fill the needs of the house.

This can, sometimes, be problematic. We must watch for ourselves that we don’t “overfill/over-do,” at a personal level: there is always work to do, and one can expand their work here to fit any available time, then suddenly realize that all their time is going to house activities, neglecting one’s own needs and goals – as with anything that one cares deeply for, it’s a delicate balance.

Having things not be ‘written in stone’ works quite well for us. One important goal is to remain fluid and organic in the way that we are established, and in the way that we grow. The firmest model is of consensus. We come to a full agreement on most decisions.

We don’t, as individuals, have a large financial stake in the community. So it’s not, in some ways, as difficult as it would be for communities that are built “from the ground up” with large financial buy-in. However, when we do embark on large projects, such as our community garden and purchasing materials and plants, bulk-food purchases, or in livestock purchases and upkeep, we do work together to make more difficult financial decisions. Not every house member is involved in each area.

In part 2, we’ll explore daily life and roles a little more, as well as how the community works with its neighbors and employs permaculture strategies.

One thought on “Woolley Mammoth: Part One

  1. Pingback: Woolley Mammoth: Part Two | Punk Rock Homesteading

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