Becca Martenson: Building Community

As we often stress here on, nearly none of us can expect to become completely self-sufficient. It’s the (very) rare individual who can successfully live as a true ‘lone wolf’ – and being honest, who would want to? That’s a hard, lonely road.

Which is why we so strongly advocate integrating into a supportive community, or building one of your own if there’s none readily available. Having multiple trusted social relationships is a form of wealth in many ways more valuable than money. These are what support and sustain us when our plans fail us, when the situation calls for skills we lack, when we’re physically or mentally compromised. They also enrich our lives in ways money simply cannot, nourishing us as well as encouraging us to become our better selves.

But building community takes time and real effort. Especially in today’s society, where many of the old social norms that fostered community during our grandparents age have been severed by suburban fences, the rat-race workstyle, and the false sense of belonging offered by television and the Internet. So how exactly does one do it?

In this week’s podcast, Chris speaks with his ex-wife Rebecca Allen to share her expertise on the subject. Those who have attended our annual seminars in the past know her deep experience in this area, experience that she’s honed over the years advising Peak Prosperity readers looking for ways to better forge valued relationships in their own lives.

Community is built around a nucleus of relationships. So, you can think about community building as just starting with relationships. Think about building relationships with people where you have shared passion, shared interest, and shared values. Because it’s through the activities that you do where you intersect, overlap, and meet up during the week with others that you build that continuous connection that then expands to become community as more nuclei of these relationships come together.

If I was starting afresh and imagining how to go about building community, whether I was in my current location right now or moving to a new location, I would begin internally and ask what are my passions? What are my gifts? What is most important to me in the world? And then, I would seek other people through volunteering opportunities or through nonprofit organizations or through spiritual communities, or through sporting communities—whatever. I’d find others that share the same passions, interests, and values. Then, it just becomes about beginning to build connection. Begin to schedule activities together and find ways to intersect with the same group of people as frequently as possible. It’s that frequency of connection I think that’s really, really important. Then again, if you can come together with people around a shared expression of some kind – let’s say you are putting on an event together or you are hosting an activity together --t here is something really powerful about coming together with others to create your personal vision of something, whatever that might be.

So, that’s really how it starts. Just start small. Again, we were so lucky to move into this area where there were already so many different circles of community present, but that’s true all over the place. The key is finding the people that you resonate with, finding the people that you share that passion with in whatever way. So, it just starts with simple relationships and then builds out from there.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Becca Martenson (43m:52s)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thank you for the conversation. You have highlighted a lack in my life. As a yachty we have a fluid community. 
I believe that our community is centered around radio schedules. This podcast has reinforced my decision to buy a good HF radio, and get involved with a Yachtmasters course, both for the knowledge and the Community. 

Note to self: I have to avoid weekend sailors. They are rightly afraid of the ocean, and will argue mighty to persuade me of the folly of my ways, failing to acknowledge a greater danger they face by being tied to the ground. I am motivated by a fear greater than theirs. (You understand of cause, that the fears are based on the Great Game, which I am enjoying immensely).

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

PS. About that orchard planting- I love the sheer physicality of swinging a pick. Consider filling the hole up with kitchen scraps before planting. Roses love blood and red meat; bloodthirsty things, Roses.

Thanks Becca…Lots of food for thought…and fun to have a window into your local community associations.
My dominant question while listening was to ask myself what communities that I am associated with have the foundation to endure a crisis or a crash. I think many of us on this site have a core belief that the world will experience a radical change at some point. 

Some communities in my small universe that satisfy that criteria are centered around: food (physical); shelter and homestead; food (spiritual); family safety; and music. 

Farmers keep coming to mind as a subset of our society with community structures that would do pretty well in a crisis.

Community building takes a huge investment in time and energy, so why not make the choice up front and allow those efforts to have a dual purpose. One, to satisfy the immediate need for connection, and secondly to create enduring social structures. Community satisfies a primal need for connection, and we can feel that by joining a dressage club, or a kayaking group, or in contrast we can build groups that share home steading skills and garden expertise, and seek a spiritual connection through thought or music. 



I love the idea of having a sit-spot. When hiking, I like to find a spot to stop, sit, rest, observe and feel. A regular, daily sit-spot is even better. Please share more of these nature-relating practices.
This is an inspiring podcast and has given me some concrete ideas to follow up on. It nudged me to decide to attend the monthly beekeepers’ meeting tonight.

I came across this site several months ago from ZeroHedge.  I like the podcasts.  When I saw you were interviewing your wife, I thought either she was going to have something very substantive to say, or you were at risk of jumping the shark.   Given your track record, I figured she must be good.
In my opinion, there are many people who talk about community and its importance, but they don't know how community works or how to tell if community is really happening or not – often it is a sham, bait-and-switch, or a co-op that is actually a channel for profit distribution, or a book club.  I know there are many who try, and I have tested many.  The best I have found as an "off-the-shelf" franchise (without the dogmatic pronouncements of Mormonism) is the Wilderness Awareness School. 

When I heard early on in the podcast that Becca was on the board of the Vermont Wilderness School, I was excited to hear the rest and hear about her community-building experiences.  These flesh and blood experiences she describes are the proof of commitment to the shared ideals and shared values of the group, as well as living by example.

I hope more people listen to and learn from this particular podcast because she nails one of the few solutions to the problem of how to recover our humanity from all of the financial problems, resource constraints, and robber baron approaches to digital efficiencies. 

I know feel I have a deeper connection to and understanding of your work.  Part of life is finding the others…





Some thoughts from the "Bible Belt"

I've often wondered what it is about music that helps bind a church community together. I think it may be the key element to keeping a diverse group of people together. The sermon sure doesn't do it. For many that is time for a nice 20 minute nap after a grueling week.  A newly published paper presents intriguing evidence supporting that hypothesis.Chris Loersch of the University of Colorado and Nathan Arbuckle of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology argue that music developed “as a form of social communication, a tool to pass information about the group’s shared mental state to a number of individuals at once.”

“As it became increasingly adaptive for humans to live in social groups, various biological and psychological mechanisms evolved in order to maintain a group structure,” they write in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “We hypothesize that human musicality is one of those mechanisms.”

We have a bluegrass band in our church with a marvelous diversity of members. We have a New York Times (3 times) best selling author, a cedar cutter who plays a mean fiddle, the wife of the "wealthiest guy" in town on bass, a lady who just lost her husband and is blossoming despite her grief and natural shyness, and a peak prosperity member who has found a new passion for rhythm guitar at the tender age of 63. 

It's hard to describe to someone else the power and joy in music until it actually courses through your veins, but I think it might one of the most powerful forces for unity that we have. 

I really appreciated Becca's insights into building community.  She obviously brings a combination of intuitive understanding of this dynamic and a wealth of experience in it.  However, one thought that hit me over and over again while listening was that I am stuck in a feeling of time scarcity as opposed to time abundance, and until that dynamic changes, forming community is always going to take a backseat to other things.
In my life, those other things are: a job that takes up 50-55 hours of my time each week, two young kids at home (8 and 4) and a wife who works full-time outside the home, and a borderline obsession with homesteading our 1.3 acres as intensively as possible along permaculture principles.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention trying to get a side business started up and going that will enable me to transition away from F/T employment working for someone else.

A couple of other factors are that I have an introverted personality and find large groups of people to be extremely draining, and after growing up in the country with parents and grandparents who homesteaded before it was "cool," I have a difficult time just hanging out and socializing with other people – I much prefer (and am much better at) bonding over shared productive activity.  Instead of spending the day hanging out over a BBQ, I'm the type who would rather spend the day working with a few other people to dig up a new garden plot to include postholes and fencing, then kick back and have a cold beer after we're done.  In my life, this preference does not find many like-minded people.

So I guess my question (if it is one and not a statement) is how do I switch from the current feeling of extreme time scarcity – not nearly enough time to get the things done that I want to get done – and transition to a sense of time abundance – which allows me the opportunity to socialize with other people and form the kinds of bonds necessary for community?

Quick answer to a complex question is that you may have to change who your close friends are. Perhaps you could put extra energy into searching out a community that supports your vision so that time spent with them is  productive time and you won't feel the "time scarcity" that you are talking about. We have dropped a lot of relationships in favor of those that are like minded. I love golf and tennis and grew up in a very sports oriented home, but that stuff is gone from my life with no regrets. If you can find just one close friend who shares your dream, that would be a great place to start. In our small community we have a lot of folks who are preparing, but they tend to keep a low profile for obvious reasons.  Maybe you could stretch your boundaries and go to some meetings and seminars and workshops that you don't normally attend and find your community that way.

I find it really hard to believe that music can bind communities together.
My experience does not match that.
I rather think that the churches are bound together because they are fulfilling a basic human need.
Just as we have a human need for food (even dining halls bind communities together), sex (binds a couple together), sleep (sleepovers, camps), so too a church is fulfilling a basic human need in community, and gains community out of that act.
What is that basic human need? I think it is to seek and worship/obey one’s creator.
It is not for nothing that Augustine wrote, “You (God) made us for yourself, and we remain restless until we rest in you.”
If I’m right, you’re going to have trouble faking it.

…of hearing this beforecool.

   I don't have time to do much research on this, but one thought might be establishing a group that does work for each other, via some type of work-exchange bartering system?  Kind of like how Habitat for Humanity gets groups of people to work together on a common project.  But in this case, you all could be working for each other (and getting to know each other in the process).  I did a quick search and came up with the following site:  It is kind of like the "Time Dollars" idea discussed there, but different in that it would involve the group working together on projects for each other (so you build the social relationships/community at the same time).

   It would still involve time and work to organize, so it still would be a challenge to get it started with a busy schedule like yours.  But it may be worth it if you get to know people who are actually willing to work to help each other before that becomes even more important than now.

I respect your position Michael, and have to ask if you make any music in your life? …that would include singing enthusiastically in the shower ?  I wonder if the need to have a spiritual relationship with the creator is a personal thing found on a one to one individual basis? Maybe people bring that to "church" and share the experience rather than find it in church? Just a thought…I think some of the successful charismatic churches realize the power of music and almost abuse it. Lots of random thoughts…but I have decided that faith and music are 2 key elements in my life.

Hot water.

And shelter, food and love.

Those are my basics.  :)

Agreed…Except for in Texas it might be "cool water", or sometimes "Any Water" at all. But Texas is full of natural ironies. Today we are flooding after years of drought.  Never had a spring this wet in the last 20 years or more.

Sorry for the delayed response to this great thread!  I'm not used to having conversations via computer- I'm such a Luddite. 

Valeo- I was so surprised to find someone who knows about Wilderness Awareness School, our beloved sister-school on the west coast.  Have you done the Art of Mentoring program there or elsewhere? What is your connection to WAS?  

I would say that the Art of Mentoring (a workshop on community building and nature connection- and a whole lot more!) is one of the best places people can go to experience what a village community can feel like.  In Vermont, our Art of Mentoring workshop usually has 100-150 participants ranging from very young children to elders and all life-stages in between. So many aspects of community are explored and embodied such as the role of elders in community, peacemaking, music as community glue, storytelling, celebrating all life-stages, rites of passage for adolescents, and the importance of local food prepared with love.  

What makes our local neighborhood community so unusual is that many folks who have been in leadership roles at the Art of Mentoring - in VT, CA, Canada and the UK- happen to live on our street.  We have deep social capital because these people are all passionate about community building and have been actively studying, practicing and teaching about it for years.

If anyone is interested in learning more about the Art of Mentoring, here's a link:

There are also programs in CA, WA and Ontario this year.

In response to the comments from pinecarr and CAH, one thing I recommend is that people experiment with small scale bartering.  The thought of trying to organize a big system to do something like that leaves me exhausted laugh , but I practice small scale barter all the time. I trade counseling sessions and organizational development work for all sorts of things:  housecleaning, getting my garage organized, garden work, and flower and veggie starts in the spring.   My neighbor across the street is a barter genius!  She supports many local farms with organizational development and trades for CSA shares, loads of compost, local awesome meats of all kinds, labor and more.
In your own work, see if there is something you can offer for trade instead of money.  You build relationship in the process and it is very satisfying.  


I hear you!  Time scarcity is a major issue for most folks in the US.  If some of your scarce time is spent on your homestead, try the permaculture principle of stacking functions:  have a small scale "class" on a homestead project (killing chickens, laying sheet mulch, pruning raspberries, beekeeping, companion planting etc) and invite a couple local folks over to learn about it.  You get help with your project, make connections with neighbors, teach people your homesteading skills and it doesn't have to be a big extroverted event. For us introverts, a few extra people for an hour or 2 is plenty.  You get to set the parameters exactly to your comfort level.  If your neighbors aren't interested in homesteading, put out a note on your local permaculture list-serve about the class and see who shows up.

Chris and I have done this many times and find it a really good model to follow.

Good luck!

Yes!  I completely agree with you and loved your description of your church blue-grass band. That sounds fantastic and I echo how important music can be to bring people together in a joyful and spiritual way.  Here's to unity and connection through music!

There is that wonderful analogy of our time being compared to a bucket and into that bucket go big stones, smaller stones and sand.  Time is the bucket–a fixed amount–the stones and sand are our activities. 
Listening to your 'introverted' (I'm not sure that fits you very well) comments on your problem I would suggest looking at the big stones in your life-- family and work, smaller ones-homesteading and side work, sand -brushing teeth etc.  It would seem that combining family time with opportunities to socialize would be a start to channeling effort into the same direction.  Anything you could do to lessen the time spent with the other big stone(work) and not lose you job would be also very profitable.  Also, look at the smaller stones in your bucket and as Oliveoilguy suggested–drop the ones not needed.  I, like Oliveoilguy, have passed the kids at home time of life. It is a blur in my memory so I empathize with your feeling of time crunch.  It too will pass–much too quickly. With my grandkids around on a weekly basis I find that it takes deliberate planning to make the best of the time I have with them.   It's a personal thing with me, but the time with kids is my most valuable investment hands down.  For example, doing your homesteading activities with them as partners may take longer, but you are teaching them at the same time.  Family is the most immediate community we all have. If I were in your shoes I would put my main effort there.

My father played French horn well.  During WWII in Europe he found himself a number of times in places where he could play with a borrowed instrument.  He said that to sit in a room of individuals who don't share your language and/or culture and play a piece of music together instantly creates a community.  It may not be long lasting but it is real while it lasts.  War is one of the most destructive forces against culture, music is a quick restorative.