The Long Spoon Collective is a group of six adults, male and female, mostly young, who grow food on several sites throughout Saugerties, construct tiny houses at no charge for those who want them and hope to pioneer a new local economy based on giving instead of money.
While many young people are choosing to settle in cities, members of the collective believe future economic shocks from surging energy prices and climate change will render such density unsustainable. Like many who moved to the area in the ’60s, they’re interested in getting back to the land. And despite their conviction that we’re on the verge of global economic meltdown (or maybe because of it), they’re quite idealistic. Members plan to donate surplus food to the hungry and speak of a more fulfilling and spiritual system of exchange that’s more about “what you can give, not what you can get.”
The collective got its start when founder and native Saugertiesian Chase Randell, a Skidmore graduate with a master’s degree in humanistic multicultural education, became involved with the Sustainable Saugerties Transition Town group last summer. He, along with Karuna Foudriat, a former Waldorf school teacher and current divinity school Ph.D. candidate, and a group of supporters, began to grow food on a local farm. Their first crop, appropriately enough for Saugerties, was garlic.
Randell and Foudriat were joined by Frank O’Leary, who knew Randell from Skidmore, and recent émigrés from New York City Jared Williams and Lala Montoya, permaculture experts who recently returned from a year in Kenya. Collective members are committed to growing their own food and living as much as possible without using money. Foudriat, the lone boomer in a group dominated by millennials, says members show impressive dedication. “I’ve been deeply inspired by the many young people I’ve joined with. They are actually living sustainable lives, as opposed to just talking about it.”
Housing is another big issue for the group. As people fan out from the cities in the future, they’ll need housing that’s sustainable but not too dense. The answer? Super-small free-standing houses that use a fraction of the energy of a typical house. The collective has built numerous such houses throughout the area. They use salvaged and donated materials almost exclusively. One source of materials is unwanted buildings on private property, which they’ll take down for free in exchange for the materials. They do not charge for their labor or sell the products of it. Several members of the collective live in tiny houses themselves and use primitive technology like rocket stoves and cob ovens to cook without using electricity or propane. A free three-day educational workshop at one of the garden sites was held recently to teach supporters how to use these techniques.
The gift economy model the collective embraces depends on developing positive relationships based on mutual needs for food, housing, and healthcare instead of transactions where money changes hands. “It’s about what you can give, not what you can get,” says O’Leary.
This way of appraising value can lead to unorthodox transactions, as O’Leary demonstrated recently when he traded his car to someone who needed it for a bicycle, which he now uses almost exclusively to get around locally.
The collective hasn’t managed to do entirely without cash yet. According to O’Leary, four of the six core members work full-time in the collective gardens and on construction projects. A fifth works freelance for a few weeks a year and devotes the rest of the time to the collective. A sixth is supported by a spouse. Others who have jobs but support the collective’s purposes make occasional donations as needed: gas for the truck, for example. The core group itself will take odd jobs if necessary to meet expenses it can’t avoid. Group members are trying to reduce their needs to minimize the need to participate in the traditional economy. For example, in August, core members will challenge themselves to live for the month completely without money.
The Long Spooners are actively welcoming new members who can lend their time and muscle to growing food and seeking property owners willing to let the group establish vegetable gardens and edible forest sites. Produce would be shared between property owners and collective members, with the surplus given away. They are establishing relationships with food pantries and other organizations that distribute food. They are also connecting with local restaurants, exchanging wild edibles and greens for food scraps they need for compost, and have connected a local commercial farmer who is losing access to the land he farms with someone who has land to which he can move his operation.
Although based in Saugerties, the collective sees the entire Catskills and Hudson Valley region as ideal for the transformation they envision. Besides having a good climate for agriculture and a major river for transportation, it has something that O’Leary considers beneficial beyond geography. “There’s a magic here that lends itself to resiliency,” he says, noting that the region has survived various extractive industries and efforts at industrial exploitation intact. “There may be some kind of spiritual protection from the Native Americans who lived here,” he suggests.
The social climate is special as well.
“This is a place where people are already focusing on these ideas,” said Randell. “There are already people here building underground houses, yurts, planting sustainable gardens.”
Because the group’s mission is not simply to feed and house themselves in an uncertain future but also to provide education and assistance to others, the close proximity to large urban populations is seen as a strategic plus; an opportunity to reach out now to people who would like to join or support them as well as later when unprepared people will be in need of help. They believe it’s vital to develop an alternative to the way most people live, and have found satisfaction in an approach that emphasizes community and self-sufficiency. And they are quite certain that there is no time to delay the transition.