The Lifeboat Academy – A “Bullet Point” Proposal
A proposal to secure permanent access to land to develop a model of resilience and regeneration as a permanent community asset.
Problem statement / needs assessment
- Things are already bumpy, and they’re going to get bumpier.
- Climate change and the authoritarian threat are symptoms of societal collapse (not the cause of it).
- The cause lies in our collective delusion – the false beliefs at the heart of the extractive / colonial mindset that gives rise to all the crises we currently face.
- Our social structures are and will be incapable of responding adequately to the climate emergency, so we’re going to have to do things ourselves.
- Our current “economic” system is the primary tool used to maintain these destructive systems, therefore we need to transition as quickly as possible to the Gift or Circular Economy (or at least to create spaces that are protected from these market weapons).
- Collaboration is our secret human superpower, but our ability to collaborate effectively has been damaged by the trauma of colonialism / predatory capitalism.
- There is a rapidly growing “newly alarmed” segment of the population that wants to take action, but doesn’t know where to start.
- We urgently need to find innovative, non-institutionally-dependent ways of responding – in other words, we need to rebuild from the ground up. The Lifeboat Academy at Highgrove Farm and Commons is our proposal for how we do that.
Social Benefits of the Lifeboat Academy
- Training in practical “resilient” life skills
- Modeling high-functioning collaboration practices (Sociocracy 3.0)
- Modeling regenerative agricultural practices
- Reconciliation with Indigenous communities and integration of Indigenous ways of knowing
- Increasing local food sovereignty
- Returning land to Commons ownership and management.
- Providing a (literally) grounded model of “fair share footprint” living
- Providing structured affordable housing for workers that enables them to develop equity
Business Proposition / Market Position
- The core concept blends a place-based experiential learning and retreat centre focused on developing personal and community resilience with an online learning community and support system.
- The concept uses “food sovereignty” and the “fair share footprint” to make sustainability tangible and concrete.
- Food production provides a focus and a metaphor for developing systems thinking and collaborative practices.
- The core income potential comes from “eco-edu-agro-tourism” (EEAT)
- Easiest to build quickly.
- More lucrative than food production.
- Allows a boost to food production income through “value-add” of meals to guests.
- Ultimately, limited by the size of the property and “small is beautiful” design. (See future franchises.)
- The online learning / support provides an additional and more scalable (but also less predictable) income stream.
- Online activities also serve as marketing for the retreat and learning centre.
- Online learning also sows the seeds for potential “franchises” of the model to develop similar retreat centres in other locations. (This could also be an income source.)
- The concept uses “food sovereignty” and the “fair share footprint” to make sustainability tangible and concrete.
- We aim to serve the newly climate “Alarmed” and “collapse aware” (or at least “collapse curious”).
- This is already a large segment – 33% of Americans in 2021 were “alarmed”
- This is the fastest growing segment and growing rapidly.
- Of the “alarmed” almost half are “willing but inactive” and looking for guidance.
- This market is almost completely underserved. Very few are even talking to them about their concerns, let alone providing a support system.
- Can we get demographic data to say more about who the alarmed are – age, gender, income, education, etc.
- As climate, social, and economic disruptions continue, we expect this to be a growing and increasingly wealthy demographic.
- Our people are primarily looking for deep, meaningful experiences of connection, and help making sense of a quickly changing reality.
- The enterprise will be set up as a Social Benefit Corporation (B-corp).
- Our commitment to the community and the environment will be written into our by-laws.
- As part of an on-going experiment, those commitments will be converted into tangible goals against which our performance can be measured (see evaluation plan below).
- We operate as a commons incorporating the insights of Elinor Ostrom’s rules for the commons in our structural design and governance systems.
- We use Sociocracy 3.0 as our operating system as elaborated in our Charter Agreements.
- We aren’t simply an experiment in regenerative food production. Experimenting to optimize our ability to work together effectively is equally important to resilience and regeneration.
- A Stewardship Council with one seat per “fair share footprint” will oversee the operations of the enterprise.
- Seats will be filled to represent a broad diversity of community perspectives, including farmers, students/interns, neighbours, community groups, Indigenous knowledge, and people with useful professional experience.
- The Stewardship Council is bound by the triple bottom line goals of the B-Corp and by the principles of engagement (S3.0 Seven Principles)
- The land will in essence be held in trust by the B-Corp.
- The Stewardship Council will develop agreements (leases) providing access to the resources of the farm to those willing to care for those resources to the benefit of the whole.
- The resources are organized into “domains” which are managed by “guilds” using a Sociocracy circle structure.
- Leases ensure that we “feed the farm first” – that all uses add to the long-term health and vitality of the farm / property.
- After the “farm has been fed,” leases use profit-sharing arrangements rather than fiat rent.
- The company will issue one “full fair share” for each “fair share footprint” of property. Our current working model includes 16 “full fair shares” for about 48 acres of land.
- Each “full” share is valued at 1/16th the purchase price of the property.
- “Full” shares can be subdivided into 100 fractional shares.
- Shares (“full” or “fractional”) can be purchased or earned.
- Shares can be held by individuals, organizations, or groups of individuals.
- Shares bring both rights and responsibilities.
- Fair shares are backed by the assets of the B-Corp which includes the real estate value of the property.
- Fair share holders have access to their fair share of resources and obligations to care for those resources.
- Once the B-Corp has paid off the social mortgage, shares can be traded.
- Among other goals, the enterprise is a transition mechanism from extractive capitalism to a sustainable economic foundation (circular or gift economy).
- We recognize that we must function within the current economic system.
- We avoid “market” entanglements as much as possible, leaning into self-reliance, barter, and mutual-aid networks as much as possible.
- Profits are initially re–invested into paying down the mortgage or facility infrastructure.
- Eventually, profits fund the “Golem Trust” which seeks to return more “real estate” to the commons and establish other local “resilience hubs.”
- We are seeking 10-year “social mortgage holders” who are willing to invest in the vision of the enterprise and support the caregiver / farmers.
- Mortgage bonds are backed by the real estate value of the property in case of non-performance.
- Social mortgage holders have access to the equity in the project while they are bondholders.
- Interest on the mortgage is deferred for the first 10-years and forgiven if social performance standards are achieved.
- The B-Corp will make regular principal payments to the mortgage holders.
- There is no penalty for early repayment.
- An interim Stewardship Council will be formed to represent the “full fair share holders.”
- The “operations plan” has already been developed and tested on three existing farms / locations and is intended as a template of best-practices-to-date with an integrated process for continuous improvement and adaptation.
- On the food production side, we incorporate the established model of La Ferme du Bec Hellouin along with other tested techniques to create a carbon-negative, self-sustaining, “whole diet” food system.
- On the effective collaboration side, the heart of the process is an “aim-act-reflect” experimental design that allows continuous improvement of the operational plan as part of the “teachable” content for the retreat centre.
- See “Highgrove Book of the Farm” as the model template
Human Resources and Staffing
- We anticipate 5 or 6 “caretaker / farmers” to manage a 16 footprint facility.
- This allows 10 “guest” spots for learners or interns.
- Guest spots make it easier to scale up over time as capacity increases.
- The “caretaker / farmers” are trailblazers / pathfinders who are willing to live and work in an on-going and public experiment.
- Our staff pool includes a huge number of “frustrated farmers” who are highly skilled in, motivated by, and committed to regenerative food production, but locked out by the current uneven economics of farming and land values.
- The model allows for and demonstrates the potential of different kinds of worker / resource relationships.
- The core team are working to build their own personal equity by generating profits for the enterprise.
- By striving for a self-sufficient homestead model, overhead and operating expenses are minimized. Similar, out-of-pocket labour costs are offset by an exchange for room and board and beyond that handled through profit sharing.
Starting / Capital Budget
- As part of our commitment to transition economics, we attempt to keep our budget as lean as possible, especially avoiding financing or other schemes that tend to impose the logic of extractive capitalism on projects.
- Our biggest budget item by far is the cost of purchasing property.
- This includes both the sale price, plus closing costs, lawyers fees, etc.
- Our current working estimate is $2.3 million CAD.
- Our lean budget basically includes:
- The cost of purchasing the properties
- A minimal amount to purchase supplies to build bunkies for farmer/caretakers (about $25k for 5 bunkies)
- The lean budget is the minimum necessary to allow the project to move forward, but the lack of additional funds would limit the speed at which we could move.
- If the available budget increases, speed to implementation increases.
- An “expedited” budget would include:
- 3 additional bunkies
- Irrigation system
- Haying and grain harvesting equipment
- A “gator” (farm ATV)
- A hay shelter and equipment storage
- A industrial wood chipper
- A milking parlour
- Additional assorted hand tools.
- We estimate approximately $125k for all the above or a “fat” budget of about $2.5million
- Our income streams include:
- Farm production – raw materials including eggs, dairy, garden vegetables, tree fruit and nuts, honey, mushrooms, pulses, and grains.
- Value-added food services – much of the raw materials from the farm will be converted into meals for guests and special events which will increase our income potential for food.
- Guest accommodations – leaning into agro-eco-edu-tourism opportunities.
- Onsite and online educational opportunities including webinars, support circles, and coaching offered on a “pay it forward” model.
- Special events hosted onsite.
- Donations and gifts from those who value the work we are doing.
- Eventually, our working income at build-out from food production to be about $72,000, from guest stays to be about $85,000, and online activities to bring in about $30,000 for a total build-out income of about $187,000 per year.
- Other potential income sources, for example special events or payment for carbon sequestration, are not included in the anticipated income.
- Likewise, the EEAT potential assumes standard BnB room rates and occupancy rates. There is no separate anticipated income from the educational aspect. Similarly, online education could be considerably higher.
- Our performance will be tracked in the following ways:
- We document all farm produce including its calorie and macronutrient content and compare against the equivalent to the annual dietary needs of 16 people.
- We track energy usage on the farm including kilowatts of electricity and liters of gasoline or any other petroleum products.
- We attempt, where possible, to document the footprint of any equipment or materials brought onto the farm. The footprint of durable goods is depreciated over the expected useful life of the item. Any used or salvaged materials are considered to have zero footprint.
- We document the number of visitors to the farm and the number of “visitor days” as well as the number of people “on-boarded” to level 1, level 2, or level 3.
- All participants in any educational activities will receive an invitation to complete a feedback survey. The results of these surveys will be analyzed and reported annually as part of the farm’s annual winter planning process.
- We will document the number of new “Lifeboats” established. Lifeboat coordinators will be asked quarterly to provide a list of activities or actions their lifeboat has engaged in. Failure to provide any activities for more than three quarters will mark the Lifeboat as dormant.
- We will conduct an annual soil survey to document the depth and living soil carbon as a measure of carbon sequestration.
- We will conduct an annual survey of farmers, interns, and guild members to track overall happiness, quality of life, and effectiveness of collaboration systems.
Implementation Plan / Phases
- Phase 1 – Immediate
- Begin recruiting “Interim Stewardship Council”
- Work with CoHo BC and Foodlands Cooperative of BC to develop purchase agreement
- Seek “Bond holders”
- Begin recruiting fellow farmers
- Continue to build online educational offering – aka The Lifeboat Network
- Phase 2 – Foundation Building
- Build 5 bunkies and augment kitchen / shared space to provide space for 6 farmers (or interns)
- With farmers in place, build on initial food production potential
- Pigs with feed
- Consolidate garden production
- Add dairy goats
- Build on chicken flock
- Begin recruiting “Fair share holders”
- Produce additional “bunkies” for guests
- Host Permaculture Design course and other “big picture” engagement events.
- Begin hosting guest / learners
- Phase 3 – Evolving the Model
- Continue to augment food production while reducing overall footprint.
- Continue to support the development of the Lifeboat Network and the establishment of 100 new Lifeboats.
- Ben and Roland have 9 years experience developing the model on three different farms including experience with:
- Chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, and cows
- Gardens and soil web health
- Ben has a PhD in sociology and social psychology with 25 years experience working with the emotional dynamics of teams and effective collaboration. As a result, he comes with an established reputation and client list of organizations and individuals who would be prime candidates to use the retreat centre.
- Roland has Masters in art history with experience creating transformative experiences in “non-ordinary reality”
- Ronnie has 10 years experience working with student affairs and community organizing, along with deep experience living and working in community.
- Our current project partners include: [add to list and stewardship council develops].
Why the Salish Sea? Why Pender Island?
- Our current location provides many advantages.
- The Salish Sea (and the Canadian side of it) provide a relatively stable social democracy and robust local economy that is relatively well-insulated from potential climate shocks.
- Likewise, we are well-integrated into our local community on Pender Island with many well-established relationships with potential project partners.
Do 16 “Fair Share Footprints” mean we are only feeding 16 people?
- No. The idea of the “fair share” is primarily designed to give a concrete focus to the abstract idea of “sustainable footprint.” While we hope to create the equivalent of a full-diet for 16 people, this could be shared out as, for example, 10% of 160 people’s diet or 1% of 1,600 people.
What is a timeshare-cropper?
- The timeshare-cropper idea recognizes that there are many people who dream of exploring a more rural and resilient lifestyle, but who are tied to an urban area due to job or family responsibilities.
- The timeshare-cropper combines the idea of a timeshare with the idea of farming. Imagine four people splitting a “fair share” – each would have access to the resources of the farm 25% of the time and have 25% of the obligation for care.
- The structure of the “fair share” is structured in such a way as to allow for diverse needs of different members of the community.
What is the Golem Trust?
- The Golem Trust idea was inspired by Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchet in which one Golem, who are treated basically as slaves and commodities, is given his freedom when he is given the receipt of his purchase. He then dedicates himself to work and use whatever money he earns to “purchase” and free another Golem. Those two Golem then work together to free another, and so on.
- Our hope is that our model proves financially successful enough that profits can be used to enable more real estate to be purchased and brought under commons ownership.
How does the on-site education process work?
- We offer a “choose your own adventure” framework.
- We hope most will come for the “Gumboot Bootcamp” – an immersive, 10-day experience that introduces our operating systems, provides direct experience doing a variety of farm chores and projects, and allows them to join any of the existing guilds as an apprentice. We’ve developed a formal “on-boarding” system to facilitate the learning process.
- Guests can come to enjoy and experience the farm in a less structured way, by coming for a day or a few days to join in with farm activities as they are able.