15 Years of Labor Data

The middle of winter is a perfect time to do reflect on the past and engage in some indoor computing work. At the end of each year at East Wind the ‘Annual Labor Report’ is printed for the viewing public’s pleasure. This report looks at all the various labors that are undertaken throughout the year: cooking, cleaning, food production, factory work, maintenance, office work, community meetings, forestry, and many more. It is a look back on how the members of East Wind spend their time when it comes to contributing labor to their community. This record is not perfect, of course, but in aggregate it is a great deal of reliable data and can provide insights into how things have changed over time at East Wind.

Creating this year’s Annual Labor Report (which is a detailed look at the past couple years) inspired me to dig as far as I could and see what interesting trends might pop out. The digitized records I found went back to 2003. This blog is a cursory examination of the past fifteen years (2003-2017) at East Wind Community through the lens of our recorded labor.

Allow me to provide some background context: each week each member of East Wind fills out a piece of paper (labor sheet) denoting the hours they have worked for the week. The Labor Manager collects all the sheets and inputs all this information into an Microsoft Access database that allows for the member’s labor and various other things to be kept track of accurately (for example, how much leave or vacation hours are available for a member to use). Hours can be claimed in any number of ‘Jobs’ such as ‘Cow Milking,’ ‘Auto Repair,’ ‘Nut Butter Production,’ ‘Kitchen Cleaning,’ etc. Members are expected to do 35 hours of labor each week. For a more in depth introduction to our labor system please click here. Things like cheating and guests who work but don’t turn in labor sheets bias this dataset, of course. These numbers are not absolute and simply serve to give a good idea of the big trends, let’s get down to it:

To start, the tens and tens of different jobs were grouped into three ‘realms’: Industry, Farm, and Domestic. Industry is all of East Wind’s past and present income generating labor areas: Nut Butters, Sandals, Retail, Hammocks, and Drums. Farm is all jobs related to agriculture and land maintenance: garden, animals, forestry. Domestic is pretty much everything else: cleaning, cooking, laundry, child care, non-Industry related office work, auto maintenance, equipment maintenance, community processes, etc.

You can see in the graph how hours claimed under Domestic vary the most wildly over time. Farm has steadily increased from its minimum of less than 10% of total hours in 2006 to nearly 25% of total hours for both of the past two years. Industry is relatively consistent and hovered around one third of all hours up until the past five years when it also accounts for roughly 25% of total hours each year. The following three graphs take a more nuanced look at each realm:

The most obvious trend in Farm is the increasing amount of total hours. The changes in hours for the care of animals reflect various different programs and different managers over the years. Around 2010 a dairy barn was completed and the dairy program continues to grow. At the end of the 2015 the goat program was phased out and with it the twice daily goat herding and milking shifts. The garden was expanded a couple acres in the early ‘10s by the same core group of green thumbs that are members to this day. The increased interest in homegrown food production at East Wind is evidenced in the persistent growth of energy dedicated to agricultural pursuits. What can’t easily be conveyed by graphs is the accumulation of experiential knowledge within the collective.

This graph shows a number of interesting events in the history of East Wind. East Wind Community began in 1973 and initially members supported themselves by making handmade hammocks for Twin Oaks (many founders of East Wind helped to begin Twin Oaks). The hammocks business provided capital necessary to start East Wind Nut Butters in 1981. This graph shows the ultimate decline of the hammocks business by 2005 due to decreased demand and increasing international competition. Twin Oaks still produces and sells hammocks, but no longer is there such demand for hammocks that they need East Wind to also produce pallets and pallets full of hammocks. Utopian rope sandals, originally conceived as a way to use the waste products of the hammocks business, are still made today and the expert sandal maker at East Wind sources rope from Twin Oaks. Also in the early 2000s you can see the East Wind Drums business that was a big spark of interest for a couple years before winding down. For well over a decade now East Wind’s main income source has been the nut butters business.

The Domestic realm is the most messy of the data as it contains a LOT of different jobs. For the sake of this very first dataset exploration blog my desire was to examine only three broad categories for brevity and focus. Surprisingly, the job groupings chosen maintain a relatively consistent distribution of total hours from year to year. Child care and pregnancy are labor creditable just the same as fixing a car or building a new structure (with specific limits detailed in East Wind’s community policies). This category varies the most throughout the fifteen years which is a reflection of the various members that have come and gone. Also, as children age fewer hours can be claimed for child care each week. There are currently four families with two other couples expecting and so child care labor will certainly increase accordingly in the coming years, kudos to the East Wind stork!

There are a million things that can be examined in large datasets. This simple analysis will end with a quick glance at East Wind’s membership turnover. For context, during most of this fifteen year period East Wind has had enough rooms and facilities for about seventy five members to be comfortably living on the land at any one time. Nine members claimed hours every year of the past fifteen (there are several active 20+ year members ) and seventeen claimed hours every year of the past decade.

Member Turnover (indicates how many members of various membership lengths were still active during the column heading year)

Compared to other five year stretches that can be picked out of the fifteen, the past five years indicate a decreasing amount of turnover. There were 55% more five year plus veterans active in 2017 than in both 2007 and 2012. Historically, groups of people have come and gone in waves. It seems there is good energy and cohesiveness with the current crop, let the good times roll.

This has been a fun project and I enjoyed making this little presentation. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. Until next time, cheers!

Post written and graphics created by Sumner


  1. I think it is really neat that you compiled this data. What I am most interested in is the increase in membership lengths. With so many members staying at East Wind, is there a long wait list for new people to join?

    • Hello Nick,

      I believe we are just at capacity currently. Visitor periods for the year will start in March and by summer I would expect to see a membership waiting list. You can email ew.membership@gmail.com and they would know the specifics on the waiting list.

      When I first came to East Wind in 2015 there was a twenty person long waiting list, right now it is nothing like that!


      • (I read your reddit post, so this is about that)

        You said that you quit your job and went to live at the community a couple of years ago, did you visit the community before then or did you go and decide you didn’t want to leave?

        Also, how large is member turnover? If we were to visit and everything goes well, but there aren’t any spots, how often do spots open up?

        • Back in the winter of 2014 I decided to quit my job and visit East Wind and Twin Oaks. I visited East Wind in March 2015 (March is the first visitor period of the year at EW) and Twin Oaks the following month. I came back to live at East Wind June of 2015. Living here has been more exciting and more interesting than any other living situation I’ve been in (my four years at Indiana University rank second, plenty of book learning but not a lot of practical skill acquirement). As long as I’m learning and feeling challenged I will stay here. Right now I don’t plan much more than 18-24 months ahead (I was taking it year by year when I first got to EW).

          I do not have exact figures on member turnover. I could dig back into the database to figure that out, but it would probably require a lot more work than this little post did. Perhaps for another post!

          You should email Warren, the membership manager, at ew.membership@gmail.com if you want to get an idea of visiting and the waiting list. I just confirmed that currently there is no waiting list, but the first couple visitor periods of the year are already booked up and it can be expected that a list will start by summer. Spots open up often. People drop membership, members go on ‘leave’ (vacation essentially), etc.

  2. Hi Sumner,
    Nice post! Lots of great information. I too am impressed by the member turnover stats. Do you have any inclination to make a similar table for child member turnover? It would be interesting to see how many children are at East Wind and how that’s changed over the years.

    Are there any plans to increase capacity or is the community happy with 75 (+stork-acquired additions)?

    • Child member turnover would be more difficult to parse, as I mentioned to Joshua perhaps I should do another post on the specifics of membership and membership turnover.

      Right now there are four children age three and under and one child age twelve (who goes to public school). Four newborns are expected in the next two years. Families come and go, but tend to stay for longer periods than individual members.

      There are no explicit plans to increase capacity. However, we are in the process of finishing a new showerhouse. After that comes dining hall/kitchen expansion and a new dormitory to be built. It is quite possible that within the next several years the total capacity may increase a bit.

  3. I have a question about accrued vacation. At what rate does it accrue, and are there members who travel within that time allotment (and how do they do it).

    Also, I have an industrial sewing machine that I use to make bags and backpacks of all kinds. Would there be a place for a piece of equipment like that? (Juki ddl8700).

    There is so much inspiration here. I am grateful that I came across the latest documentary. It really made me smile. Honestly, the thought of such a change also made me a little scared!!! I am thinking very seriously about applying for a visiting period. The lifestyle just seems so calming and connected. Thank you for doing what you do so well.

    • Hi Matthew,

      Thank you for your kind words. I will caution you to manage your expectations. Things certainly are good here right now, but this is not utopia!

      Vacation essentially takes two forms: leave and hours. Every member has a labor quota of 35 hours a week (this is adjusted down for those over the age of 50) and if a member works over quota then those hours go into their ‘labor bank.’ You can leave the farm ‘on hours’ for vacation. As long as you have hours in your bank you retain your room and continue to receive a stipend each month. The other way to go on vacation (usually longer periods of time) is to take leave. Every provisional member gets one year of leave. This means that once you become a provisional member (which happens automatically following the visitor period if there is no waiting list and you haven’t been concerned out) you can decide to leave the farm for up to one year to get all your affairs in order before returning to start your official one year of provisional membership. Upon becoming a full member (all provisional members are voted on after one year, simple majority vote) you receive one year of personal affairs (PA) leave. This leave can be used at any time, but you must take a minimum of two weeks of leave at any one time. Every five years, roughly, each full member gets their PA leave filled back up to one full year. PA leave is different than hours because you don’t receive a stipend and you can seek outside employment with no expectation of income earned to be given to East Wind. You can hold your room for up to four months into a PA leave and you get first dibs upon your return. People often use PA leave to go on long vacations and also do seasonal work, etc. If you email Warren at ew.membership@gmail.com he can give you more details on how hours and leave work. There is definitely a lot of flexibility.

      An industrial sewing machine sounds great! There is certainly a number of places it could be put and I’m sure some people here would be excited about it.

      I’m glad you liked the documentary. Yes, when I first was making the mental and physical leap of leaving my old life I encountered fear as well. As I dove into the income-sharing secular commune world I tried to reserve judgment and hold no expectations and this mindset served me well as I first visited East Wind, Twin Oaks, and Acorn. I’ve been at East Wind three years now and I’m sticking with it for at least another couple. A much better choice than graduate school!

  4. Thank you for your reply. Now I have a lot to ponder. But I likely will apply for a visit (if not this year, next year). It would also be fun to put my gh4 (4k camera).

    Oh, last question for the forum board (I’ll refer the rest to the membership email). Are there any “lifers?” Is that rare, and if so, why?

    I do understand that it isn’t Utopia. Heck, even ‘utopia’ isn’t utopia. 🙂 Thank you again!

    • I just got into videomaking myself and continue to do a lot of photography (both hobbies I picked up since living here). It would be fun to collaborate!

      There are certainly lifers. One of the founders of East Wind is still a member (not continuous membership, however). There are a number of people who have lived here 30+ years. I would say there are about 5-9 people living here who will undoubtedly be buried on this land. Obviously, most people’s memberships don’t last more than ten years.

      Haha, that’s right! Utopia is indeed ‘no land.’

  5. gosh … someday maybe someone will do a more remote/ancestry type deal for those same #s. I know we have them. [well, had them] I did labor and resource accounting for a year. When we changed from assigned labor to the WIMP* program – – it got more accurate. [vs someone doing all networking vs ANY of their assigned tasks]

  6. This was interesting; I wonder what the distribution graph would look like if the breakdown included 10 year and 20 year members?

    • Thanks for the interest! I’m not sure exactly what you are asking about. I only have fifteen years of data to work with. There are nine members who were active in all fifteen years. Some of these members have been active for over three decades. There are also ten members that are active in ten to fourteen of these years.

  7. Yeah, I think you got it; add a line above the top graph that says, “10+ years,” a line above that that says, “15+ years,” and a line above that that says, “20+ years.” Also shoot me an e-mail I would like to know some of your thoughts on product development!

  8. As I look at this bottom chart of membership should I assume that people come to here and once they make it past 5 years they tend to stay?

    • Not necessarily, just that at this point there is a larger number of people who have lived here for five or more years. Members with five to ten years of membership leave, but probably at a lower rate than members with two to five years. I don’t have exact calculations on turnover, but will look into membership data (as opposed to labor data) for a future post.

  9. So I’m reading that East Wind brings in roughly 2 million a year and I think at the moment there are about 70 something people there. My question is, is there a meeting where all the members gather and go over how much money was made, paperwork to prove it, that year and where it all goes too, hows it’s spent and whats left in profit, etc..? And I’m sure every member doesn’t have access to the East Wind bank account, so how many people have access or is it just one person? Does East Wind offer dental insurance? Do some members have bigger homes than other members? Do knew members have to live in small run-down shacks that are infested with bed bugs, lice, roaches, and scabies? Do knew members have a chance to build their own home? Sorry for all the questions, it’s just kind of hard for me to believe that there is absolutely no douchebaggery going on with 2 million dollars a year. Do you pay cash for everyone’s healthcare or is everyone on an insurance plan? Say I’ve been a member for 3 years and find out I have a health problem thats gonna cost $100,000 to fix, will the health plan pay for it? I would like so much to live in an egalitarian community I just don’t know if I would trust there to be no corruption with that much money.

    • We have had profits of $450K to $850K in the past four years or so. Nowhere near 2 million. Healthcare expenses are paid in cash, subject to the Medical Committee’s decision. We had someone flown off the property in a helicopter for $40,000 in an emergency situation. Not every conceivable health treatment will be available, but definitely dental, eye, necessary treatments, etc.
      All financial statements are public with quarterly reviews and an annual budgeting meeting. Clothes are provided for. There is an additional $150 annually for full members to purchases boots, socks, and presumably clothes (although it is referred to as ‘the boot budget’). People may spend their own money on clothing, but also labor areas (such as Ranch, Garden, etc) can purchase clothing and equipment for individuals as seen fit.
      Housing is acceptable, not infested, mold being the biggest issue (manageable). Members can theoretically get a house built, but hasn’t happened in a while. New members have the same chance of old members as getting a particular room or house (room rolls by dice).
      Multiple people have access to East Wind’s bank account. The finance manager is elected annually. The same people, in rotation, deal with the taxes and accounting for the most part.

  10. Oh, and clothes. $150.00 is what I heard everyone gets paid a month and at that amount, there’s no way it’ll buy the proper clothes one needs exp for the winters you guys have there or does everyone have to wear hand me downs? Surely everyone gets some kind of yearly allowance to buy good quality clothes with?

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