Re: small business/job creation in cohousing
From: Judith Bush (
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2011 07:55:36 -0700 (PDT)

Jerome and Craig,

This email response to Jerome's query and Craig's followup in yesterday's 
Digest is a joint effort of Phil and Judith Bush at Cobb Hill in Hartland, VT.  
We appreciate Craig's plug for Cobb Hill Cheese and are fans of Jerome's 
research and writing about affordability in relation to cohousing.  We're glad 
to share our decade of history with small business and job creation in this 
intentional cohousing project.

The intention in planning for a community in a rural VT setting was that the 
three key components of farming, residential life, and commitment to 
sustainable (footprint conscious) thinking would be the basis of developing our 
practices here.  The one for-profit business that existed before Cobb Hill was 
built was the vegetable CSA and dairy of a couple who were two of our founding 
members.  The community supports this livelihood endeavor through sharing land 
and barns at no cost, volunteering to help at key times, and more formal 
bartering.  This first business was already organized as a partnership of the 
farming couple; the other agricultural enterprises that followed all developed 
in this model: partnerships of various community members who could provide the 
capital and labor to start and maintain the businesses.

These enterprises range in scope from those like the CSA and dairy which 
provide some level of livelihood or economic return to the partners to 
enterprises that might be termed labors of love.  A cheese business that buys 
most of the milk produced by the dairy has grown to producing more than 20,000 
lbs of cheese per year.  In 2010 one of the cheese partners started a frozen 
yogurt business to use some of the milk that the cheese business could not use. 
 She devotes full time to the two businesses, and the cheese business has the 
equivalent of one other full time person divided among other partners and 
employees.  There is a maple syrup business that taps 1,000 trees.  In a good 
year it produces over 200 gallons of syrup, providing a very modest return to 
the partners.  Another group keeps sheep, primarily for meat production.  Other 
small scale partnerships, producing no or little significant return, are 
mushrooms (recently started with a good growth potential) and beekeeping, which 
produces some honey for the partner's use and helps with pollination in the 

There are two community-run endeavors.  One is chickens for egg production at a 
level that, during high production periods, meets the community's collective 
demand for eggs.  Our overall forestry program is also, in some senses, an 
enterprise, since we occasionally harvest trees for timber or pulp sales as 
part of a ten-year forest management plan.  We are lucky to have a forester who 
is a community member.  He volunteers some time and is paid for some time, as 
we are currently engaged in an aggressive effort to rid our woodlands of 
invasive species as part of a federally-funded effort to improve the forest.  
Revenue from sales of timber and pulpwood are minimal but do cover some of our 
forestry expenses.

A land use committee is the clearinghouse for community decisions about new 
enterprises.  Accountability to the community is accomplished through annual 
enterprise reports.

Donella Meadows was a driving force in the establishment of Cobb Hill.  Her 
vision included establishing a research and practice institute as the third 
component, along with a residential community (cohousing) and sustainable 
agriculture.  Dana died during the construction of Cobb Hill, but the 
Sustainability Institute (SI) that she founded went on to provide full or part 
time employment to a number of Cobb Hill residents, many of whom are scientists 
and engineers who were drawn to Cobb Hill by the appeal of a professional 
livelihood within a farm- based community.  Most of SI's projects have spun off 
into separate organizations or self-employment, including the Sustainable Food 
Lab, Climate Interactive and others.  These non-profit businesses provide even 
more employment in "FTEs" than the combined agricultural enterprises.  Several 
other Cobb Hill residents work at non-profits in the region and beyond, 
sometimes creating meaningful links to this community in the process.   

Now, at the 10 year mark of being a community, we are taking a fresh look at 
what we've done in a process of organic growth.   We want to be mindful of the 
changes that are happening in the world as we make decisions for a second 
decade.  The opportunities of growing food and having productive land, climate 
change and community resilience are on our minds as we engage in planning for 
the uncertainties of the future.  Developing ways to share our experiences here 
in formal and informal ways, possibly as an enterpise in itself, is part of our 
vision for the future.

Phil and Judith Bush
philipwbush [at] 
jbush [at]

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