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

2014 Spring/Summer Bulletin

April 18, 2014

Dear Friends of Plenty,

It was 40 years ago this spring that Stephen Gaskin stood up in the middle of 500 or so of us young hippies gathered in a meadow in southern Tennessee to meditate and watch the sun rise. He talked about the “idea” of Plenty. The idea was that as we built our community, we should also be reaching out to be of help to other people in the world who might not be as lucky as we felt we were. We immediately agreed that it was an idea worth pursuing.

Over its history Plenty has fielded dozens of projects in some 20 countries, including the US. What’s impressive about these numbers is not the numbers themselves but that a tiny-budget, small-staff organization like Plenty could reach that far. That reach is attributable, at least in part, to the fact that Plenty, like so many small nonprofits, is less of an individual NGO than a strand in an ever-widening web of like-minded, committed people who reinforce, replicate, and expand upon each other’s efforts.

Just in time for Earth Day, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued its latest report. It basically says we don’t have any more time to delay the drastic changes that nations, industries, communities and individuals need to make in order to effectively reduce atmospheric CO2 to tolerable levels, levels that have been rising “almost twice as fast in the first decade of this century as they did in the last decade of the 20th century.” The Chairman of the Panel is quoted as saying, “We cannot afford to lose another decade.” The report included some good news such as the costs of renewable energy options like wind and solar are falling fast and the panel says it detects “a growing political interest in tackling the problem.” (We can detect a bit of eye rolling among US readers about that “growing political interest” but we can try to stay hopeful.)

We hope you enjoy the new Plenty Bulletin, which contains all the Plenty news we were able to fit with as many photos as we could squeeze in. Because we’re only printing two of these a year now (a total of eight pages) and there’s so much more going on than we can include please go to our website and Facebook pages for updates and expanded versions of the Bulletins. Also, we’ve tried to make it easy for folks to donate on the Plenty International website.

I want to wrap up this letter by saying how grateful I am personally to have been involved with Plenty over these four decades. It’s been a constant privilege. When, as young hippies, we declared that we were “out to save the world,” we didn’t think we could do it alone or in a generation. We can’t even say things are much better than when we started and some things, like climate change, are worse. However, it’s apparent that our children’s and grandchildren’s generations have a better awareness of the big problems and the tools that are needed to fix them than we did at the same age. There’s much to do and plenty of us gray-haired flower children are still around to help!

With love and appreciation,
Peter Schweitzer
Executive Director


2013 Fall/Winter Bulletin

November 4, 2013

Dear Friends of Plenty,

While assembling the new Plenty Bulletin we were reminded about how so much of Plenty’s work involves children. There’s “Kids To The Country” and “Books To Kids.” Karen’s Soy Nutrition Program in Guatemala City is about improving the nutrition for children of families living off a huge dump and landfill. Plenty Belize has been largely focused on creating elementary school gardens in the southern Toledo District. When we started Plenty in 1974 we had no idea what kinds of things Plenty was going to be doing let alone how we would pay for it. In the very beginning the Farm Community, five or six hundred young adults and kids paid for early efforts, which mostly involved giving away surplus food grown by our farming crews. In Guatemala after the earthquake of 1976 we had the good fortune of developing a partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency, and we began to get support from friends and family and a quickly growing list of donors.

As expenses mounted we would also send out Farm community volunteers who did construction work and painting jobs. We even had men working on oil rigs down in the Gulf. This was all taking place well before computers and the Internet. Nobody had a website. Social media consisted of land line telephones and US Mail.  We did have a network of ham radios at work centers and project sites and a dedicated crew of techies who helped keep us connected. In fact, it was over a ham radio set up in our horse barn that we first learned of the earthquake in Guatemala via gripping first-hand reports from the scene, so gripping in fact even though we had never attempted a project outside the US we had to go and see if we could help. Of course, as soon as computers became available and half-way affordable we went for them. Now we’re so wired up no tragedy on earth escapes our awareness.

We’re often asked how do we decide which glaring need to respond to. There’s no simple answer. Our experiences in Guatemala with the Mayans opened our eyes to the plight and primary importance of the world’s Native Peoples and made supporting Native Peoples a priority for Plenty. If you’re human the plight of children cannot be ignored. It really bothers us that more than 20,000 children die every day for no other reason than the poverty they were born into. Even here in the comparatively well-off USA, one in four children is living below the poverty line. Sadly, none of this has to be. The resources are there but, as we all know, more than enough for what is needed is being wasted on you know what. Don’t get me started. Next year Plenty turns 40 but Plenty is still a relatively small NGO and we know we’re able to have little effect on those disheartening statistics about children. Nevertheless, it’s also apparent that what we are able to do produces tangible benefits for the people involved and that’s enough to encourage us to keep at it.

In the early years of Plenty we had a refurbished Greyhound Scenic cruiser bus that read in the destination window on the front, “Out To Save The World.” It’s necessary to be bold when you’re young and believe you can do anything.  Forty years ago if you had told us that people and nations would still be blowing each other up in 2013 we would have said, “no way.” We figured, no we knew, after Vietnam, that war would soon be abandoned as a means of solving our differences. That was self-evident to us. Over the past 4 decades we have learned that our species’ capacity for selfishness and animosity is almost the equal of our capacity for tolerance, generosity and love. Almost, but gratefully not equal to. And therein lies the hope that lifts us out of bed in the morning to try again to do something beautiful and worthwhile, anything. On our worst days, a simple kindness given or received can be enough.

Thanks for all the good and beautiful things you do and thank you for your heartfelt friendship. The longer we do this, the more we appreciate you.

Yours truly,

Peter Schweitzer
Executive Director

Spring/Summer 2013

We’ve always operated from the premise that everyone on earth pretty much wants the same things: peace, love and happiness, a chance to live a productive, fulfilling life, good health for their children, clean water, nutritious food. We all want these things but not everyone is lucky enough to have them, or even the chance to get them. One of the primary reasons we decided to create Plenty is that we were troubled by the realization that human life, at its most basic levels, wasn’t fair. Certainly when it comes to the availability of land, food, clean water, peace, all the essentials, where you are born can mean everything, including your chances of survival past the age of five. We have no idea how the location of a birth gets “decided,” but if we’re going to have any hope of addressing the conditions of poverty, we need to assume that where you’re born is an accident none of us can take credit for. Some of us get lucky. That assumption implies some responsibility on the part of the lucky to try and make the world more fair, more just. Everybody knows what’s fair and, in our experience, most people try to practice fairness in their lives. We believe that practicing fairness is the key to eradicating chronic poverty for, as Gandhi reportedly said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” We have a motto: “In all fairness there is enough to go around, plenty.”

I remember in the early days of Plenty, mid 1970s, we used to talk about how the US had 6% of the world’s population but used 30% of the world’s resources. I did a little research and learned that those numbers haven’t changed very much except the US now has 5% of the world’s population but still uses 30% of the world’s resources. We also manage to contribute half of the world’s solid waste, according to the Sierra Club. Then there is the matter of how we use that 30% of the world’s resources. According to the Washington Post, the US spends more on its military and defense than the next 13 nations combined. Meanwhile, not to beat a dead horse (no animals were harmed during the writing of this sentence), US per capita average annual carbon emissions are twice the per capita global average. Heck, we’re blowing up Appalachian mountains to get at the coal! But here’s some good news: the US now gets more of its energy from renewables (wind, solar, hydro etc.) than nuclear plants and more so every year since 2011.

These days, in the development circles that we are tuned in to, there’s a school of thought that says, directly helping individuals, families or communities is a waste of effort, and what really needs to happen are efforts to bring about structural change because, as things stand, the game is rigged in such a way that the rich and powerful pretty much get their way, a way that too often acts like a boot on the necks of the poor. Another school, and one that Plenty more or less belongs to, is the “Small is Beautiful,” “Local Self-Reliance,” “Think Globally, Act Locally” school. That’s not to say we don’t completely support the structural change school; we just don’t have a lot of sway in that one. Recently we’re seeing that the IMF is starting to realize that their traditional strategy of forcing governments receiving IMF loans to cut spending drastically in order to immediately reduce debt and interest rates has actually caused more harm than good. Glance at some of the newer World Bank publications on their website and you will see language that might just as well appear in a Plenty Bulletin, talking about grass roots, village-scale development, global warming, inequality, moral imperatives, and sustainable technologies. Good words but the IMF and World Bank have a hard time walking the talk due to their huge size, top/down governance and lack of transparency. Nonetheless, we welcome the suggested evolution.

We need both schools to be fully engaged and, from our vantage point, it certainly appears that there will be more than enough work for both for the next seven generations and beyond. So be of good cheer! It’s not going to be boring.

In the new Bulletin we touch on some of the program highlights in 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. These programs will remain active for the foreseeable future. We are exceedingly grateful to get to do these things with people we love working with, and that includes, as our dear Onaway friend John Morris liked to say, “your good selves.”


Peter Schweitzer
Executive Director


2012 Fall Bulletin

In putting together this new Fall Bulletin, we were struck by the photos of the people in El Salvador holding on to their new tools with such an evident sense of appreciation and resolve. We’re so tool-rich in the US it’s easy to forget how critical basic inexpensive tools like wheel seeders and post-hole diggers can be for people with no access to a neighborhood hardware store and no money besides. Board member Robert Reifel spent a month on Pine Ridge Reservation this past spring and when he came home he told us he thought one of the best things we could do for the Pine Ridge gardeners would be to start getting them more garden tools—hoes, shovels, wheelbarrows, and the like. We’d like to do that. We are estimating that around $200 can buy a full set of tools for a Pine Ridge garden.

We realized early on that providing tools to people wanting to be able to better support their families and communities should be a focus for Plenty. As we survey the precarious and turbulent state of the world, which we can pretty much do every day, thanks to the Internet (a blessing and a curse), we are reminded that small is beautiful, and we remember the far-reaching benefits of local, sustainable

The Louisiana Gulf Coast was slammed by Hurricane Isaac at the end of August. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Coast has been battered by four powerful hurricanes, and a major tropical storm. In every case many of our native Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw friends living around Pointe-aux-Chenes and on Isle de Jean Charles got flooded. Plenty has made a commitment to replace beds and bedding that were lost by sixteen of these families. These folks still haven’t recovered from the BP oil disaster in April 2010. Our Books To Kids project, that has been replacing books lost to storms along the Coast since 2006, itself lost over a thousand books that were stored in Slidell, Louisiana, where Isaac caused significant flooding.

Compiling a new Plenty Bulletin always makes us appreciate anew the vital and inspiring projects that we’re collaborating on thanks to the support from all of you, our donors and friends. Chuck Haren just came back from a marathon six weeks in Guatemala and El Salvador with reports of exciting developments in the community agriculture and nutrition projects in both countries. At Pine Ridge many more Oglala Lakota residents are trying their hand at organic gardening. Plenty Belize is breaking new ground in innovative village solar power. Books To Kids has now delivered more than 99,000 books and has opened a “Kids Reading and Tutoring Center” in Williamsburg, KY in the heart of Appalachia. Kids To The Country counselors are saying “It was the best summer ever!” (Of course they always say that.)

Happily we’re seeing thousands of these kinds of appropriate projects and thousands of small NGOs like Plenty in the US and in the countries where Plenty is working, and we all basically agree about the kinds of things that need to be done. When Plenty was first launched by Stephen Gaskin and the Farm Community in 1974, I don’t think any of us had any idea what we might be getting into. Nevertheless, we soon found ourselves involved in a lot of compelling projects, the support started building and never wavered, and thirty-eight years later we just want to say thank you again.

Yours truly,

Peter Schweitzer
Executive Director

P.S. The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) for 2013 is underway. This is the only authorized solicitation of federal employees in their workplace on behalf of approved charitable organizations. If you work for the federal government, please choose Plenty for your contribution – CFC #

Spring 2012

It’s easy to grow up in the US and know next to nothing about the original inhabitants of what we call the Americas. For us, through Plenty, we’ve had the good fortune to meet and get to know peoples like the Mayans of Guatemala and Belize, the Caribs of Dominica, the Mohawks of New York, the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge, the Garifuna of Belize, the Wailaki of Northern California and the Biloxi-Chitimacha of Louisiana.

Most of these people happen to be materially poor, certainly compared to the average middle class American. Yet, what they have to teach us contains the key to our survival as a species. Whether or not we’re very good at it, one of the best things we have learned, and continue to need to learn and practice, is humility. There’s a saying that has been attributed to the Nez Perce people: “Every animal knows more than you do.” Let’s just take a moment to ponder that intriguing thought.

In the excellent book, A Seat At The Table, which is Huston Smith’s interviews with Native Americans, Charlotte Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota says: “All things that live on the earth are children of the earth, and they are our relatives. I don’t have a greater right to live than a tree does. An elk doesn’t have a greater right to life than a fish does. We all have equal rights. Our ceremonies teach us that everything desires to live, and because we were created to make choices, we can perform ceremonies that will enable all life to live together and to live well.”

Such thinking certainly wouldn’t make for a winning political platform in the United States. It’s based on an acknowledgement that we’re not only part of each other, we’re dependent on each other and, in truth, ultimately responsible for each other’s wellbeing.

We love that through Plenty hundreds of good-hearted folks have been able to make a positive difference in other people’s lives, that we’ve gotten to know thousands of different people and learned that we’re all very much the same. We love that working together with people around the world on projects to improve the health and wellbeing of their families and communities helps to alleviate fear and cynicism and makes us all more hopeful about a human future that our children and their children will share.

At the same time, it’s clear that all that is being done is not enough. We will always need to do more, but when we wake up in the morning we can be grateful for another chance to try.

Our spring Bulletin contains reports on most of the work Plenty is currently involved in and plans for 2012 and beyond, and we thank foundations that have most recently provided grants to support this work. I wish that we could thank every one of you personally because, while foundations and funding agencies contribute up to one-third of our budget, two-thirds comes from you and other individual donors and groups.

Plenty’s individual donors are like family to us. There are just a couple thousand of you but, gracious, you sure are faithful and generous. Even the foundations who fund Plenty are primarily what are known as “family foundations,” so we can say for certain, it’s a family affair, which is just the way we like it.

Yours truly,

Peter Schweitzer
Executive Director

PS: Kiowa proverb: “Walk lightly in the spring. Mother earth is pregnant.”