Riverside Community

August 21st– September 2nd 2016

Of all the little adventures along the way, there is one place that stands out. Its name is Riverside.

Riverside is an intentional community that got a mention in a previous post. Since it worked out that I was going to stay here in Motueka for a while, I’ve made it my business to get involved with the community at Riverside where I can. It’s all well and good to decide you want to up sticks and chuck your lot in with some agrarian community, but the reality will always be that a community consists of people and a shared culture. Which means that every single one of them can be as vastly different as different countries. It made sense to get to know some people.

The whole plan of coming to Motueka was to check out what this meant. What were the different communities like? How do they work? Again, you’re best to look back over the post about the Alpacalypse for a discussion of that. But Riverside stands out as something a little different from the rest. It’s probably fair to assume its age/maturity (it is the oldest intentional community in New Zealand) plays a part. But it is unique in its guiding principles too.

It’s a socialist experiment in the truest sense. It is a living attempt at Marxism (Wikipedia) which seems to be working better than most to create a true socialist community. It is a community defined by: equal rights to decision-making for all members; requirement for consensus of all members before action (with due process for sticking points); relinquishment of any income into a shared purse; voluntary abstinence from the use of any prior savings; a nominal allowance paid to all members equally; equal access to community resources (such as activities, vegetables and milk); mutual respect; transparency and engagement of the greater community. It’s a real attempt at “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs”. After a probationary period of 3-4 years, a member is a member for life and will be afforded the same rights throughout. The idea is to level the playing field of individual resources.

Karl Marx and Friederich Engels were very perceptive in their assessment of the interaction between the ‘classes’. We see the ‘revolution’ playing out between their proletariat and bourgeoisie in movements such as “Occupy”, Community Savings Pools, Timebanking, alternative currencies, Tiny Houses, and numerous other initiatives designed give new access to the use financial assets (in addition to labour). Riverside seems to have created a stable model of just such a thing. While definitely not wealthy, the community has access to a different level of funding than any individual in the group would otherwise have.

It’s not a model that will work for everyone. But then, no model ever could. There are most definitely social, financial, political and psychological pros and cons. But it is a far cry from some of the more anarchist, commercial, idealistic and ‘cult’ie alternatives. The biggest consideration is that it is really set up for a lifelong commitment. People can and do come and go, but the choice to forsake personal savings in favour of contribution to a shared purse has far-reaching consequences to life after Riverside both in the short and long term.

My interview with Riverside began with a coffee at the café. A chat with one of the long-term members. Him and I just shooting the breeze and exploring his story. Next in line was the office lady, a more recent recruit, who had a very different point of view. It was clear that no one person could tell me what it was like so it’s been a process of thought mining and relationship building. I met ex-members who split off after long residency and now trial their own (blocked) ideas. Some are happy, others frustrated; some disgruntled and others at peace.

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Naaaw. Feeding time at the calf-ateria

In the last month or so, I’ve also been volunteering my time and labour to help out where I can. This has been mostly on the dairy farm, but has also taken me up in the hills out the back to plant some trees. It has been during this period that I have started to realise just how BIG it is. Riverside is a huge portion of Motueka/Lower Moutere! I had no idea. It is also host to a very famous little house truck.

Many of you may have seen this video about the Castle Truck, for now at least. Having now visited it in person, I can assure you it is every bit as cool as you might imagine. It’s pretty inspiring to see what people can do with small spaces and a bit of clever design.

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Jola and Justin’s house (AKA the coolest house ever)

It was interesting to think about what the video has meant to the couple who own it too. The video went a little bit viral and from what I understand, it’s led to a lot of extra work for Justin and his incredibly innovative mind. Obviously, this is great because he gets to follow his passion and it allows him and Jola to live a lifestyle that suits them.

For me though, the main point has been to trial the community. That means getting to know people, first and foremost. Of course, the membership will grow and change. So even if I do decide to apply, it will be a fluid thing. However, there will remain a core membership and those who choose to stay longer than a year or so seem to share a lot of similar attributes… which I like.

This week, I had a new experience. Actually, I had two. The first was getting a full load of cow shit directly in the face. The slimy warmth it spread over my body as it slipped under my apron and inside my overalls was second to no thermal underwear ever created. Mmmmmm 😉 It was probably one of the grossest things I’ve ever experienced. I apologise for not snapping a selfie with the ‘full coverage’. I admit, my priorities lay in first cleaning up.

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It’s not all shits and giggles at the dairy farm, but sometimes the shits cause many giggles

Alas, I digress. The experience I wanted to discuss was a men’s group. This too was at Riverside… in a teepee, no less. However, I realised during the writing of it, that it deserves a separate post. So click through to it here.

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Inside a teepee

If you’d like to know more about Riverside, you can check out their website here:
http://www.riverside.org.nz/

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