Disaster Relief & Recovery

Earthquake relief, Nepal

Training and empowerment of local villagers to rebuild their community

History

The village of Chupar in the Nuwakot district of Nepal north of Kathmandu had all of its 200 houses destroyed in the earthquake of April 25, 2015. The village school was also destroyed, leaving the children with little or no options for attending classes.  Immediately after the earthquake, we began receiving donations from many kind people to provide food and shelter. Two weeks after the earthquake Uttam Rai and I went to Nepal to distribute several tons of food, more than 200 tarps, and to see what more could be done. For the villagers the highest priority was a school. With no realistic prospect of assistance for the village from the Nepal government, we took on the task of raising more funds to build a new school that would include a clean source of water and proper sanitation.

Last summer a team here in Santa Fe evaluated methods of earthquake resistant construction that would be appropriate for a remote village in the hills of Nepal. We considered many factors, and chose improvements to the traditional building method that are affordable and use locally available materials. Frequent “through-stones” (large flat stones that span the width of the walls), single storey construction, and an appropriate length-to-width ratio for a building all improve earthquake survivability. Along with these practices, we adopted a key enhancement: “gabion banding” where periodic courses of stones are enclosed in a mesh material.

Gabion bands were conceived after the earthquake by the restoration architect Randolph Langenbach. These bands substitute for the wooden ring beams he found embedded in the walls of old buildings throughout the Himalayan region that have survived multiple earthquakes. To our knowledge, the Chupar project is the first to use polypropylene geogrid to hold the stones in a band together, allowing a wall to move during an earthquake without collapse.

Uttam and Budu Rai, Thad and Martha Clark Stewart, and I went to Nepal in early February to begin the rebuilding process. In late March the walls of the school were complete, and a “second shift” of volunteers arrived (Neil McKay and David English) to continue with the construction. All volunteers from the U.S. paid their own way to Nepal. The project paid Uttam’s and Budu’s transportation costs as they were essential to the entire rebuilding process. The villagers themselves did the hard labor of gathering, breaking, and moving large stones to the school site, and building the walls — a tremendous effort.

Status

In February it seemed ambitious to think that a school could be built in two months—but it happened! I’m very happy to report that the 6-room school is now complete and classes are being held in the school!  Also, a water system for the school was built and clean water flows from the tap next to the school. A dedicated composting latrine was under construction when we left and is now complete. A new house was built for Budu Rai’s parents and extended family.  Like all families in the village and throughout the entire region, they were living in a rough, temporary shelter. They are very happy to be in their own home now, built on the same ground as the old one that was destroyed.

Technology Transfer

The Chupar project has been attracting attention from other groups and organizations who are rebuilding in Nepal. A group from Nepal School Projects, a Canadian NGO, came to visit Chupar while we were there to see the construction technique. They plan to rebuild some 80 schools that were damaged or destroyed in Kavre district using gabion banding. Also, the Deboche Project, along with Architects Without Borders of Seattle have expressed an interest in the gabion banding approach and may use it to rebuild the Buddhist nunnery in Deboche, high in the Khumbu (Mt. Everest) region of Nepal. The Bridge Fund has shown interest as well. So, it is good that this approach to rebuilding is starting to reach out across Nepal, offering a traditional method of construction with a simple, affordable addition—gabion banding—that, we believe, will greatly enhance earthquake resistance.

Next Steps

The school can now accommodate grades 1-5, an expansion over the old school that only taught grades 1-3. Now the village faces the challenge of finding more good teachers for the school. Currently, if children want to continue their education beyond what’s offered in Chupar, they have to walk over 2 hours each way to schools that offer through grade 10. More children could further their education if the village offered through grade 10. This would require additional classrooms in buildings like those built this spring.

Only 5% of the households in the village have begun to rebuild. The few houses we saw being built are using traditional methods except that they are now only single-storey. The rest of the families will be living in their temporary shelters through at least one more monsoon and winter. When families are ready to rebuild, we would like to supply geogrid that is unavailable to them. About $500 would cover the cost of geogrid for one typical size house.

The project purchased 135 domestic cook stoves from the Himalayan Stove Project. These stoves greatly improve indoor air quality and reduce firewood consumption. The shipment has been held up in Kolkata (India), and once it arrives in Kathmandu it will be stored until after the monsoon. This autumn the stoves will be delivered to Chupar and, as they are distributed, each recipient will be trained in their use.

 

What’s been rebuilt already

  • School building
  • Composting latrine for fertilizer
  • School water system
  • Family homes

What has yet to be done

  • Expansion of school campus (above 5th grade)
  • More cooking/heating stoves to improve air quality and health

Technology for earthquake resilience using indigenous resources

  • Gabion Band Technology
  • Resolving conflicts with government initiatives for building standards

Chupar is becoming a model for other villages, being observed

Halchok Reconstruction Project

Disaster Relief & Recovery

Current Activities and past efforts

Plenty was founded in 1974 to channel aid and support to families and communities affected by natural disasters, and we have provided disaster relief in many countries, both in the U.S. and abroad since then.

Current Activities 

  • Planning by the Nepal team headed by John Vavruska is underway for further work in the village of Chupar, Nepal, including expansion of the new school constructed by the project in 2016 with local labor. 
  • Six portable solar powered high-volume community water filtering units will be on their way to Puerto Rico in mid-June through the work of AidElevated.org, a new Plenty partner.

 

 Plenty’s Relief and Recovery efforts – a chronological summary

Nepal Earthquake Relief (2015)

Plenty began a fiscal sponsorship of two relief and rebuilding projects in Nepal, directed and carried out by skilled and dedicated volunteer staff, which are still in process

Chupar Village

Immediately after the earthquake in April 2015, this relief and rebuilding effort headed by former Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, John Vavruska, went into gear – providing food and temporary shelters for the people of Chupar. Further efforts in 2016 and 2017 included rebuilding homes and a new school, built with local labor using traditional methods and Gabon banding for earthquake stability. Continued support for this village is being planned in 2018. 

Halchok Village

Here is the first letter appeal from the Alsops in 2015, which describes their efforts:

“As you know, Nepal has suffered a terrible earthquake – in fact two earthquakes, one on April 25 and the second on May 12th. Our son Vajra was in Kathmandu, where he was born, for both quakes and witnessed some of the terrible destruction and loss of life in the Durbar square of Kathmandu where he has an apartment, thankfully in a modern, earthquake-resistant house. Like many people, we immediately responded to the earthquake by giving donations to various institutions dedicated to disaster relief. It soon became apparent that much of the most immediate and elective relief work was being done by small groups of Nepalis and expat foreigners who were supplying relief to communities they knew and had a connection with.
One friend in Santa Fe, John Vavruska, set up a mini relief project for the village of Chupar, ancestral home of other mutual Nepali friends in Santa Fe, Uttam and Budu Rai, funneling donations through a small non-profit: Plenty International http://plenty.org/news/ His effort has inspired us. Just after the first quake, Vajra visited Halcok, the village where we lived for over ten years in the 1980s and 1990s. While he was happy to report that his best friend in Nepal, Sukri Putwar, and his family were safe, there had been widespread destruction of the poorer houses of the village. Vajra wrote us on April 28, “I went up to see Sukri at the village. 56 houses collapsed (out of maybe 100?). All the old houses, gone. It’s as if an entire memory has been erased. Sukri incredibly lucky to be alive. Made me realize that the real destruction in Nepal must be up in the little mountain villages, in the stone houses.”

We decided that we wanted to help, and with the eager participation of the Nepali staff in the office we work with in Nepal, we were able to send up a shipment of food and essential supplies to the homeless villagers encamped below the ruins. We are now planning to provide supplies for more substantial temporary housing, food, sanitation and other priorities.

Plenty International has graciously agreed to allow our Halcok relief effort to run donations through their organization, thus making donations tax-deductible in the US. 97% of donations will go directly to Halcok relief. We will be paying our own expenses for travel to Nepal and once there. If you would like to join this effort focused on helping one needy village, please send your tax-deductible donation (checks only please – no credit cards or Paypal), made out to Plenty International and write on the note line “Halcok Relief Nepal”.

Please consider adopting Halcok and helping “one village at a time” survive now and rebuild in the future. Thank you.

Ian, Lois, Vajra, and Vasundhara Alsop”

Super Typhoon Haiyan – the Philippines (2013)

Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013 with brutal force. International relief efforts were massive and continue  long-term. Plenty was asked to help the village of Alta Vista on the island of Leyte,  home to about 1,500 people. Every house in the area lost their roof and/or sustained other damage. Alta Vista Elementary School, with 280 k-6th grade students, lost its roof, desks, books and supplies. Plenty provided funds to repair the school and replace books and student supplies. 

 Gulf Coast  (2008 and ongoing)

Louisiana’s Gulf Coast communities are vulnerable to frequent storms and hurricanes and have no protective levee system. The BP oil disaster in the spring of 2010 added a devastating blow to the Gulf’s environment and the traditional fishing and shrimping livelihoods of its coastal people.

In Terrebonne Parish, working with Tribal leaders, Plenty provided emergency distributions of food and clothing to some of the most impacted Biloxi-Chitimacha Indian families. Since 2008, thanks to the efforts of Plenty volunteer Elaine Langley and friends, the annual “Bayou Christmas” has provided toys, books, groceries and other aid to over 100 families.  

Replacement beds and mattresses were provided for 16 families after Hurricane Isaac in August 2012, funded by the Philip R. Jonsson Foundation.

Plenty has assisted the Pointe-au-Chene Biloxi-Chitimacha tribe to complete a raised community center that also serves as a tribal office and hurricane shelter, and house a library and computer lab. The center was completed in 2014.

Supporting the people of the Gulf since Katrina enables us to witness longer-term impacts to the health and wellbeing of these highly vulnerable coastal communities.

Haiti earthquake (January 12, 2010)

The National Palace in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake.

When Haiti’s overcrowded capital collapsed into a deadly avalanche of rubble in the massive quake, Haiti was already the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere with 70% unemployment and an infant mortality rate of 60 per thousand births, ten times greater than the US rate.

Elaine gives medicine to a little girl.
Plenty medical volunteer works in a temporary emergency clinic in the village of Cayes Jacmel after the earthquake.

Plenty assistance to Haiti from 2010-13 has largely focused on health and medical needs:

  • Medicines and supplies for the immediate relief effort, and ongoing to the ADHD clinic in La Vallee; water purification tablets to Le Mabouya, a Haitian environmental NGO in Cayes-Jacmel, (southeast Haiti); and to a clinic in Cape Haitian (central plateau), run by the Haitian NGO Sante Total – $7,000
  • Ten heavy-duty wheelchairs designed for rural use by Whirlwind Wheelchairs – $2200
  • Support for clinical volunteers, and teaching workshops for Haitian midwives on Home Based Life Saving Skills – simple interventions that save mother and infant lives – $1,800

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: (August/September 2005)

Together, these Gulf Coast hurricanes constituted the most devastating natural disaster to hit the U.S. in its history.

NOLA under water
New Orleans was 80% under water three days after Katrina.

Times of great tragedy often generate great compassion, and this disaster was no exception. The world witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of caring and mobilization in response. We are very grateful for the many generous people who channeled their time, talents and funds through Plenty to help.

plastic on roof
Plenty volunteers cover a roof with plastic.

Multiple runs of volunteers and supplies were organized from our home base in Tennessee to assist hurricane victims in Louisiana and Mississippi in building repair, supply distribution, medical care, mold abatement, needs assessment, and more.

Joel gets into it
Volunteers gutted houses in preparation for rebuilding

Other supply and volunteer runs were mobilized from Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. Volunteers came from as far as New York, California, and Oregon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Plenty team in New Orleans.

Food, water, medical supplies, blankets, heaters, clothing, batteries, cleaning and other supplies were purchased and distributed thanks to donations raised from individuals and community fundraisers. 

Katrina relief work also led to the creation of Plenty’s ongoing program, Books To Kids. 

Hurricane Stan: (October 2005) Guatemala

Torrential rains caused deadly mudslides around Lake Atitlan in the department of Solola, which killed at least 600 people and displaced thousands in the traditional Mayan communities of this area. Plenty provided $8,700 for emergency and longer term food relief, which was coordinated through Plenty’s Central American Food Security program partner Asociacion De Desarollo Integral Belen (ADIBE) and their soy foods processing facility, which is located near the affected area.

Tsunami: (December 2004) India and Sri Lanka

On December 26, 2004, a devastating tsunami struck 1,356 miles of Indian coastline, destroying or seriously damaging 883 villages and affecting 1.2 million people. Over 10,000 people died in mainland India. We were asked by a trusted colleague working in India to support  a project to assist pregnant women and children. $2,870 was utilized for playgrounds for children in two villages (Chinoor and Velangiriyan Pettai), as a way to help them in their trauma recovery. The remaining $5,577 supported a project to provide pre- and post-natal care, nutritional food and vitamin supplements, vaccinations, psychological counseling, and special needs assistance to 276 pregnant women and 391 nursing mothers living in 25 villages that were devastated by the tsunami.

Hurricane Iris: (October 2001) Belize

This category 5 hurricane swept through southern Belize in October 2001, destroying homes, crops, and rainforest. Plenty Belize staff and volunteers set up outdoor emergency kitchens in 5 villages, where residents and the Plenty crew produced and distributed over 1000 lbs. of high protein dry cereal and drink mixes and coordinated other aid delivery in the area. Funds raised also purchased tools and seeds to enable 275 farming families to begin replanting. We assisted our longterm friends the Toledo Cacao Growers Association to  set up 4 village tree nurseries with drip irrigation by solar water pumps. About $17,000 was raised for these efforts from individuals and small grants.

Hurricane Mitch: (November 1999) Nicaragua

Plenty raised $5,726 through individuals and two small grants for Hurricane Mitch relief. Plenty built 2 houses and repaired three others, installed two neighborhood water wells, and supported a local woman’s group MUPROVI (Women Producing for Life) in the town of San Juan de Limay, by donating food and supplies for their temporary Olla Comunal (community kitchen). The community kitchen served approximately 80 kids one meal a day, 5 or 6 days a week for several months. Two Plenty representatives drove a load of medical supplies and house wares from Texas to Nicaragua, and donated their four wheel drive Toyota truck to help move supplies to families who lost homes and more in the hurricane. They also worked with MUPROVI to replant trees and re-establish vegetable gardens in the year following Mitch.

Guatemalan earthquake: (February 1976)

Two years after Plenty’s founding, we began our international work by responding to a massive earthquake that struck the Guatemalan highlands, killing over 23,000 people. Early relief efforts involved volunteer carpenter crews from the Farm Community who began rebuilding the town of San Andreas Itzapa and outlying rural communities. Deep underlying conditions of poverty and social inequality were revealed through this work, and seeing an opportunity to provide longer term assistance, the Farm Community, through Plenty sent more volunteers with health care, farming, communication and related skills. Initial relief efforts evolved into a multi-year program involving hundreds of volunteers, partly funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). 1200 homes, 12 schools and several clinics were rebuilt, a radio station established, agriculture and nutrition projects, health care training, and a free clinic provided services, and orphaned and malnourished children were cared for by Plenty volunteers.

adobe rubble 2
The earthquake in Guatemala killed 23,000 people and left a million homeless.

 

Itzapa camp crew portrait2
Plenty Guatemala volunteer camp, 1977.

Tornadoes in southern US: (1975-76)

In Plenty’s earliest years, we helped our neighbors in times of need, responding to local disasters by collecting and transporting truckloads of food, blankets, and clothing from Plenty headquarters at the Farm Community in middle Tennessee to tornado and flood victims in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.

Books To Kids

Since 2006 Books To Kids volunteers have distributed free, quality books to disadvantaged children in Louisiana, Tennessee, and most recently, rural Kentucky. As of June 2018 over 250,000 books have been provided to children through schools, families, community centers and libraries.

Books To Kids was started by Nashville, Tennessee resident Jim Selin, who had assisted Plenty in relief efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Jim saw first hand the devastation experienced by families in New Orleans and wanted to help.

Books To Kids Program Director, Jim Selin, with kids in in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans in May, 2013.

Books To Kids is a way to help children move beyond trauma, cope with the difficulties of economically challenged neighborhoods, and ultimately, to increase their academic success.

Books To Kids promotes literacy and a love of reading.  With these skills, children are better equipped to make informed life choices. The program focuses on children up to age 11. These are the years when a child’s academic foundation can have its most powerful effect on both the child and their family.

Thirty four percent of the children in New Orleans live in poverty; the national average is 20%. (Source: Annie Casey Foundation Kids Count 2011). Poverty and early stress impact not only a child’s day-to-day life, but also the choices and opportunities she or he has to create future happiness and success.

Most of the children served by Books To Kids live below the poverty level, with the vast majority on the free or reduced lunch program at school.  In short we strive to reach those in greatest need. Over 7000 kids are served annually by Books To Kids.

After Hurricane Sandy blasted coastal New York and New Jersey, Books To Kids distributed books in neighborhoods that had been hit.

Book acquisition operates year round. Books provided are chosen utilizing guidelines regarding illustrations, language, and content.  Volunteers help with acquisition, distribution and related tasks. Volunteers:

  • Acquire quality books from libraries, families, thrift and used book stores, yard sales, and other sources.
  • Process, box and label books for distribution.
  • Transport the books to schools and community centers, which distribute the free reading materials directly to children.

About four distribution runs to the Gulf coast area, Middle Tennessee and Appalachia take place annually. Current Gulf Coast distribution sites include

  • Arise Academy Charter School, New Orleans
  • Mildred Osborne Elementary School, New Orleans
  • Boothville-Venice Elementary School, LA
  • Arabi Community Center, LA
  • Point Aux Chenes community, LA
  • The Lower Ninth Ward Literacy project, New Orleans
  • Isle de Jean Charles families, LA
  • Abney Elementary School, Slidell LA
Kids living on Isle de Jean Charles, an island off the coast of Louisiana that is gradually eroding into the Gulf of Mexico, examine their new books from Books To Kids.

Current Middle Tennessee sites include Highland Park Elementary School in Columbia, The Farm School and Kids To The Country program in Summertown.

Sites in rural east Tennessee and Kentucky include Mountain Communities Parent Resource Center/Wynn Habersham Elementary School in Campbell County, Tennessee, and the Books To Kids Reading and Tutoring Center in Williamsburg, Kentucky. The Center also distributes books to elementary schools in Whitley County, Kentucky.

Research has demonstrated the correlation between the number of books in a child’s home and their academic success. That is why the majority of Books To Kids books, while distributed in schools, are destined for students’ homes, to be shared with family and friends.

Books were given away during the Literacy Parade in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans in May, 2013.

Some books are donated to school libraries and some are used in accelerated reading programs.

Volunteers in Tennessee and New Orleans keep building new relationships with school principals, community center directors, and other children’s programs that suggest additional sites where books are needed and will be distributed.

Maria Prout, Principal of Boothville-Venice Elementary School says:

”When Jim brings books we organize them and set them out on a table in the library with a sign that says “Free Books from Mr. Jim”. We encourage the teachers to take their classes to see the books.

The children are then able to take home books they select. Since we’ve been able to build up our school library, we wanted to give the kids the opportunity to actually take books home.

The teachers work with the kids on how to organize their home libraries according to genre, author. Sometimes a student will bring back one of the books that they particularly liked to offer them to other kids or ask their teacher to read it to the class.

I would like to see more books from Plenty because our big push right now is literacy. The more we can get books into the hands of the parents that they can read to their kids and the more we can get books into the hands of the kids, the better our community is going to be.”

Dawn LaFonte, Principal:

”Thank you so much for the visit and the books you graciously brought to Pointe aux Chene and Oaklawn Jr. High. The students were delighted to have them. We frequently have visits at Oaklawn Jr. High by students who are mentally and physically impaired.

The law states that they must be included on a regular school campus, which delights me. However, we frequently don’t have materials on their level.

Your last drop of books to me had several wonderful Indian stories on their level. We shared them in the library and they were so excited!

The regular students in the library were excited to read to the challenged students as well. That was a blessing I did not think I would see!

Thank you for making such an important difference in the lives of our students. It means so much!”

Taking into account all expenses of acquisition, transportation and distribution, each book is provided to a child at a cost of approximately 55 cents.

Our greatest need is to add more volunteers and funding to continue and grow Books To Kids. Your donations and support are greatly appreciated!

For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/bookstokids or contact info@plenty.org 

2014 Fall/Winter Bulletin

November 2014

Dear Friends of Plenty,

  You’ve probably heard by now that Plenty’s founder and mentor, Stephen Gaskin passed away on July first of this year, right before our annual Plenty Board meeting. He hadn’t been directly involved with Plenty over the past few years but, without his original inspiration and vision, Plenty would not have been born. I first met him in 1968 in a church basement in San Francisco where he was holding meetings with a couple of hundred hippies on Thursday nights. Over the course of the following year these meetings grew to about 1,500 and they filled a local rock and roll hall, the Family Dog, on Monday Nights. Stephen would sit on a low wooden platform, talking without a microphone and lead a conversation related to the things we were all thinking about in those days like spirit and energy, war and peace and what could we young hippies do in a country and a world that we believed desperately needed some kind of spiritual awakening. We viewed Monday Night Class as the Continental Congress for the Second American Revolution, a revolution that would be nonviolent and motivated by love, but a real revolution in the sense that we wanted to live very differently based on our discoveries of who we were and what it means to be human. Of course, the late sixties and early seventies were traumatic times with the ever-present specter of an insane war in Vietnam and the assassinations of icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Then came the shooting of four students at Kent State by the National Guard on May 4, 1970.  That was on a Monday and that night, when we were gathered in the Family Dog as usual, the voices for arming ourselves and taking it to the streets were especially loud and insistent. It truly felt like the country was on the brink of a generational civil war and Stephen played a pivotal role as a voice for peace, pointing out that, in the first place, we couldn’t win a shooting war and, most importantly, our revolution would be rendered worse than meaningless, just another sorry chapter in the immensely stupid and self-destructive cycle of violence that seemed to have forever plagued our species.

On October 12 of that year, about 200 of us headed out across America with Stephen who had been invited on a speaking tour at universities and churches and community centers and town halls. We had moved into school buses fitted out with beds and kitchens and wood stoves. The first gig was in Minneapolis. We went to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Nashville, Boulder, CO and dozens of cities and towns in between, finally ending up back in San Francisco with the understanding that it was time to put our money where our mouth was.

The first step was to make a community where we could live together. We decided to head to Tennessee, to get away from the political noise on both coasts and where we might be able to afford land. We got lucky and found a thousand acre farm for $70/acre. In the beginning we were just learning how to farm and feed ourselves and deliver babies and deal with no running water and no electricity. We were very poor but we still felt like we had more than enough to be able to share. Because we had always been committed to effecting change in the world, the next natural step was to start Plenty. Through these early years of the Farm and Plenty, when we were pretty green and wet behind the ears and learning how to get along with each other (by 1974 when we founded Plenty there were about 600 of us) Stephen was an essential guide and I don’t think we could have made it without him. The rest is history and we actually have a book in the works (“The Roots of Plenty”) that will be out before year-end. On top of that, the Farm and Plenty are on display in the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville as part of an Intentional Communities of Tennessee exhibit until the end of November. Imagine that.

I’d like to sign off with love and a big thank you to Stephen for his courage, vision and perseverance. I want to make a special plea for our friends and colleagues, Bisi and Mahmoud Iderabdullah who manage Imani House International, which has a clinic that’s on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia. Two of their staff have died from the disease. They need all the help we can give them. The new Bulletin is full of stories of people who inspire. They’re all on the front lines of the global campaign to make things better, to find and create solutions and to take care of others. They deserve our help.

With thanks to you from all of us at Plenty,

Peter Schweitzer

To view the Fall/Winter 2014 Plenty Bulletin simply click this link:
Plenty Bulletin Fall/Winter 2014

Plenty Bulletin Fall/Winter 2014

November 2014

Dear Friends of Plenty,

  You’ve probably heard by now that Plenty’s founder and mentor, Stephen Gaskin passed away on July first of this year, right before our annual Plenty Board meeting. He hadn’t been directly involved with Plenty over the past few years but, without his original inspiration and vision, Plenty would not have been born. I first met him in 1968 in a church basement in San Francisco where he was holding meetings with a couple of hundred hippies on Thursday nights. Over the course of the following year these meetings grew to about 1,500 and they filled a local rock and roll hall, the Family Dog, on Monday Nights. Stephen would sit on a low wooden platform, talking without a microphone and lead a conversation related to the things we were all thinking about in those days like spirit and energy, war and peace and what could we young hippies do in a country and a world that we believed desperately needed some kind of spiritual awakening. We viewed Monday Night Class as the Continental Congress for the Second American Revolution, a revolution that would be nonviolent and motivated by love, but a real revolution in the sense that we wanted to live very differently based on our discoveries of who we were and what it means to be human. Of course, the late sixties and early seventies were traumatic times with the ever-present specter of an insane war in Vietnam and the assassinations of icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Then came the shooting of four students at Kent State by the National Guard on May 4, 1970.  That was on a Monday and that night, when we were gathered in the Family Dog as usual, the voices for arming ourselves and taking it to the streets were especially loud and insistent. It truly felt like the country was on the brink of a generational civil war and Stephen played a pivotal role as a voice for peace, pointing out that, in the first place, we couldn’t win a shooting war and, most importantly, our revolution would be rendered worse than meaningless, just another sorry chapter in the immensely stupid and self-destructive cycle of violence that seemed to have forever plagued our species.

On October 12 of that year, about 200 of us headed out across America with Stephen who had been invited on a speaking tour at universities and churches and community centers and town halls. We had moved into school buses fitted out with beds and kitchens and wood stoves. The first gig was in Minneapolis. We went to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Nashville, Boulder, CO and dozens of cities and towns in between, finally ending up back in San Francisco with the understanding that it was time to put our money where our mouth was.

The first step was to make a community where we could live together. We decided to head to Tennessee, to get away from the political noise on both coasts and where we might be able to afford land. We got lucky and found a thousand acre farm for $70/acre. In the beginning we were just learning how to farm and feed ourselves and deliver babies and deal with no running water and no electricity. We were very poor but we still felt like we had more than enough to be able to share. Because we had always been committed to effecting change in the world, the next natural step was to start Plenty. Through these early years of the Farm and Plenty, when we were pretty green and wet behind the ears and learning how to get along with each other (by 1974 when we founded Plenty there were about 600 of us) Stephen was an essential guide and I don’t think we could have made it without him. The rest is history and we actually have a book in the works (“The Roots of Plenty”) that will be out before year-end. On top of that, the Farm and Plenty are on display in the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville as part of an Intentional Communities of Tennessee exhibit until the end of November. Imagine that.

I’d like to sign off with love and a big thank you to Stephen for his courage, vision and perseverance. I want to make a special plea for our friends and colleagues, Bisi and Mahmoud Iderabdullah who manage Imani House International, which has a clinic that’s on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia. Two of their staff have died from the disease. They need all the help we can give them. The new Bulletin is full of stories of people who inspire. They’re all on the front lines of the global campaign to make things better, to find and create solutions and to take care of others. They deserve our help.

With thanks to you from all of us at Plenty,

Peter Schweitzer

To view the Fall/Winter 2014 Plenty Bulletin simply click this link:
Plenty Bulletin Fall/Winter 2014