Visions Become Reality:
by Judith Goldsmith
August 1981 / Published in CoEvolution Quarterly, Summer 1982 (vol. 34, page 68) as "h.o.m.e. - A one-stop shop of doing good"

"This is h.o.m.e.," the handcut wooden signboard announces, from the side of Route 1, just on the edge of the little town of Orland, Maine (south of Bangor). And, turning off the highway, in towards the collection of tidy buildings that comprise the main co-operative center of H.O.M.E., Inc., that's exactly where you feel you are - if not your home, than the home of some very good neighbors. Basic needs are cared for here. The co-operative provides a home-base, livelihood, helping hand, and market outlet, and acts as a bootstrap and self-help aid to some 2,000 local Maine residents, many of whom would otherwise be candidates for government aid. And it does it in a warm, loving manner.

There's the main crafts co-op store, full of handcrafted objects made mostly by elderly, sick, or otherwise needy Maine people. Bright potholders, subtly dyed woven scarfs, jars of honey and jam, children's toys and handsome wooden jewelry boxes and bookracks all are neatly tended by several bustling elderly Maine women. Very close are the weaving, pottery, leather, cobbler, and woodworking workshops (one a converted one-room schoolhouse). A little further back is the two story Learning Center, which houses a child-care facility on its lower floor and an adult education center on the upper. Here are given courses in bookkeeping, auto repair, home maintenance, and health care for those who want to add to their skills, and academic classes which permit some 30 local Maine folks to get their high school diploma each year. Across the way is a vegetable stand where the newly self-reliant farmers which H.O.M.E. is helping to create can sell their produce direct to the passing public.

But what you see is only the tip of much larger goings-ons. A stitchery department above the crafts store takes in sewing contracts, such as for quilted clothing for the elderly and costumes to order for performing groups. Project Woodstove delivers free firewood as needed to Maine's elderly, poor and disabled. Down H.O.M.E. Farming cuts hay on donated fields, and sells bales and oats at low cost, loans out small farm equipment, rents out community garden space, gives seminars on farming skills, and works with Heifer Project International. (The Heifer Project donates farm animals to low-income families and receives back the first female offspring of the animal to donate again.) Then there's the Outreach program which responds to family emergencies and problems, and also the recently-established Hospitality House for families going through especially difficult times. Finally, through Self-Help Family Farms, the Co-op buys land and places it in a community land trust. This removes it from speculation and guarantees socially and environmentally sound use of it, as well as management by the users themselves. Small energy-efficient houses are then built on the land with volunteer labor. There are sold at very low cost, with affordable mortgages less then $20,000, with payments about $150 a month) to families who help build them. The houses can be passed on to children, but must be sold back to the land trust if the family no longer wants them. The land trust can then resell the house again at low cost to other needy families, so that there will continue to be inexpensive housing available. The houses each sit on 10 acres of land which the family can use both for tree farming and to grow crops or raise animals, and also to supply itself with the small amount of wood for heat which a passive solar house needs to get through the winter.

The cost of joining H.O.M.E. Co-op is minimal ($10 a year for the crafts co-op, $15 (or even $5) for Down H.O.M.E. Farming) and can be worked off in labor if necessary. Thus the project reaches out especially to those who really need it. For example. of the 200 active crafters, 75% are women, 75% are low-income, and almost half are over the age of sixty.

That's still not all. In the dream box are a swamill and shingle mill to be restored for helping to supply wood for building, a cheese factory to use the dairy products which will soon start being available from the small farms, and teams of work hoses which are already starting to be trained and used to haul wood for Project Woodstove. Farther off in the future are local growing of oats for feed (Maine at one time grew most of its own oats, now imports most of what it uses), and greenhouses to extend Maine's short growing season. But if things keep going as they have been, these dreams too are not far from becoming fact.

I went to H.O.M.E. this summer as a volunteer to see how all these marvelous visions were turning into reality at such an incredible rate. The original vision came from Sister Lucy Poulin just a little over 10 years ago, and many of the ideas for projects still originate with her. One of 11 children, she learned self-reliance when her father died and the family had to learn to use all resources to keep going. H.O.M.E. started with the idea for a crafts co-op in the old frmhouse on Route 1 where local people could sell crafts they had made in their spare time at home for 70% commission. Thus the name - Homeworkers Organized For More Employment. The farmhouse became office space for a growing staff when volunteer labor built a new crafts store, the workshops, Learning Center and market stand. And it just keeps growing.

Sister Lucy has been called a living saint, but it impressed me that I didn't find out who she was until I had been at H.O.M.E. three days. She was around everywhere, with the two Sisters of Mercy, the Franciscan nun, and an Oblate priest who have come to help her, chopping brushwood, ordering lumber, building, and taking care of the draft horses. But the energy seemed to come from everyone. It's hard to tell who is a nun anyway around H.O.M.E. All wear the same blue jeans and sweat shirts and kerchiefs that the volunteers sport. But mass is served each morning at 7 A.M. (this is also a good time to find out more about the day's work) and there is the very strong feeling of a spiritual community.
My work during the week or so I visited was helping put up the roof and shingles on one of the two land trust houses that were being finished, weeding the community vegetable garden, minding the market stall, and clearing brushwood or carrying lumber whenever the need arose. There were also good people to get to know - "downeasters" with their thick slow Maine accent and volunteers from as far away as Texas and Ireland (though most were from nearby in New England).

H.O.M.E. Co-op doesn't really need many more volunteers. A steady stream of young and old people arrive both on their own and with larger groups. The sisters say they can always use help (especially skilled, and long-term) but that H.O.M.E. has gotten about as big as it ought to be. Of course, they can always use donations, especially as government funding is drying up, and particularly because Sister Lucy tries not to encourage dependance on government financial sources, due to the amount of paperwork and humiliation to recipients that these often involve.

But the time has come for other H.O.M.E. projects to be started elsewhere, wherever there is poverty or people who need help to get on their feet again. If you would like to know more about H.O.M.E. Co-op and how they manage to turn visions into reality at such an incredible speed, you can ask them to send you their "This Time" newspaper (six issues a year for $1.25 or however much more you can afford to give). And go make your own dreams for a better world into reality.

This Time
Box 408
Orland, Maine 04472

Excerpts from "This Time":
I remember growing up in Fairfield Center with its dairy farms which were the heart of our community and watching them close down, one by one, and the families having to disperse. Where once 10 family dairy farms and one small dairy existed, now there is only one farm. I have often wondered why this happened. I remember one neighbor who said he was selling out because he could not afford to change to a bulk tank to cool his milk. Why and who has issued these ultimatums to farmers? Some of it was government; some of it was processors. How did they get the power over farming? (Sister Lucy Poulin)

H.O.M.E. Update by Sr. Marie Ahern
We've met with the Orland Planning Board and have attended a public hearing in order to obtain a permit to put a small lumber mill on H.O.M.E.'s land. Such a mill would not only enable us to mill our own lumber for house construction, but it would also provide employment for two people. . . . On March 3rd, and again on April 14th, we met with the Hancock County Planning Commission in Ellsworth . . . A few members of that commisssion evidenced some strong prejudices against the poor and we took quite a tongue-lashing at the first meeting, with statements like: "your family farms program is anti-American" . . . "Don't call it family farms, call it low-income housing. That's what it is." . . . "If you have a single-parent woman with her family in one of those houses, she won't cut her own firewood or help her neighbors." . . . "It takes skill and ability to harvest wood and raise crops . . . the type of people you will get won't be able to do it" . . . and so on and so on. In the face of such attitudes we try not to become discouraged and we trust with continued communication perhaps there will be more understanding.