Work: One Hour a Week?

The book “Myrtleville: A Canadian Farm and Family, 1837 – 1967” was given to me as part of a prize for writing “Planning for Seven Generations.”  It is about a family, in the early 1800s, that built a farm from an oak forest near Brantford, Ontario.  When the homestead was slated for demolition to build Highway 403, a large collection of letters, documents, newspaper clippings and other items was salvaged. Beth Good-Latzer, the great-granddaughter of the original settler, combined the material they contained into a compelling history of her family through changing times.

Early parts of the story told of the huge amount of work that was normal to farming  in the early 1800s.As time passed, new tools were adopted and later fossil energy began to run machinery.  In the early years, farming was a dawn-to-dusk activity, more likely to succeed if one could raise numerous children to help.  Aunt Annie was the oldest daughter of the original settler.  Having never married, she spent all of her 87 years in the family home.  She embodied the work ethic from earlier times – every waking moment of one’s life, Sunday excepted, should be spent in productive activity.  Indeed, not long before she was born, the difference between well-being and destitution could be effected by knitting socks or digging one more row of potatoes.

This is essentially the same ethic Gandhi illustrated, by spinning when he was in meetings.  He produced thread to make cloth so the people would have clothes. Always a useful activity, it was particularly poignant as British mechanized textile imports were causing widespread unemployment in India.  One could argue that the same sort of personal creativity is a worthy hedge today against the mechanized forces that presently colonize the entire planet.

Back at Myrtleville, as new tools and inanimate energy took over menial tasks, hard times were far enough at bay that dancing, playing sports or other non-productive activities were no longer a threat to long-term well-being.  After a generation, increasing numbers of people could explore livelihoods that did not involve farming.

I’ve learned elsewhere that the process of innovation, mechanization and automation have continued to make farm work easier to the point where it takes less than one person in a hundred to feed everyone.  The balance between labour and the amount of goods available has tipped from everyone being required to work all the time to where people are expected to concentrate their time on buying and consuming the vast amount of products that machines produce.

Eco-Village Work Requirement:

In an eco-village, three generations from now, we will still be able to draw on many of the clever innovations that make work more productive.  The labour saved by inanimate energy, however, is less certain.  Forsaking fossil energy is one of the design criteria, if not due to the depletion of that resource, from climate concerns.

Four hours a day, on average, is often quoted as how much time people needed to “work” to support their communities in pre-imperial times.  Obviously people living such lifestyles were not striving to maximize material consumption.  Work would have focused on securing nutritious food, adequate shelter, clothing, tools and maintaining the structures within society that enable effective cooperation.  With a culture evolved around non-material activities, we might eventually be able to maintain an eco-village on four hours a day.  Planting and harvest times would surely require longer hours and during the long winter, after indoor work is under control, there would be more free time.

What does this mean for the work to create an eco-village in Lanark?

While four hours a day is an appealing target, it implies an infrastructure already in place.  We may be looking at seven or eight hours, average, per day, or more, to get ourselves to that point.

That said, expecting eight-hour days from participants seems, at present, far more than the current levels of interest could support.  Four hours a day would be more acceptable, tho I’m not expecting line-ups (yet) for such opportunities.

Part of why this topic of work requirement has brewed for so long is my fear that any “requirement” to work will turn people off.  Perhaps it is just my foible.  Would you be willing to work four hours a day if it meant we could actually create an Eco-Village?  How about 2 hours a day, to get started?

Having all emerged from the conventional order, most of us still have both feet and much of our sub-conscious firmly invested in making do within that order.  Nevertheless, our intent with the Lanark Eco-Village project is to pick ourselves up by the cultural boot straps and step outside of the norm to create something new.  Something more suited for the world the grandchildren will inhabit.

For discussion’s sake, I’ll propose one hour a week, averaged over the year, as a indication of serious intent to build a new sort of world on this land.  For those actually looking to create such a new reality, we’ll go on from there.


— Mike Nickerson

2 Responses to Work: One Hour a Week?

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  2. Jane Hanlon says:

    Looking forward to more

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