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

10 Comments

  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?

  2. 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.’

  3. 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]
    *WorkIMProvement

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

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