In the past two years my life has changed drastically. I was laid off from one job, then let go from another. My wife and I had to scrape and save, collect unemployment and rent a room. Through all of this, we’ve received unexpected lessons in community.

We decided shortly before we were married to stay put. We set aside grand ideas and opted instead to build our life around our church. Knowing full well that our city was not a booming economic paradise, we had only one thing in our life that really made sense. Having left behind our hometowns for college, we found community here—in this outpost of faith and family. Sacrificing this for a pipe dream of financial stability and comfort seemed foolish. This was our town, our church, our life. Greener grass be damned.

The “little platoons” that we’ve built by grace (certainly not by accident) produced friends who rallied around us when things went south. Friends from our little Eastern Orthodox parish, from my wife’s baby-wearing group and elsewhere have brought us meals, dropped off groceries, and lifted spirits.

In this same time frame, our closest friends very intentionally bought their first home a mere seven houses down the street. We’ve spent countless hours sharing dinners, laughing, mourning, brewing beer, singing and praying together. We’ve begun piecing together a communal life bit by bit in living rooms, backyards, and even on porches.

My wife is currently working for two local non-profits, one of which is just a few blocks from home. When the second job began to look like a real option and my opportunities looked increasingly scarce, we decided that I would stay home with our three kids, write some poetry, and jumpstart the urban homestead. 

As you might imagine, we have not been made exceedingly rich by this arrangement. So now, more than ever, we are seeking to double down on our communitarian efforts. We’ve begun prepping for spring planting, agreeing with our friends that planting the same crops would be less efficient and more costly than growing separate things and swapping. We are planning to rearrange their garage to turn it into a community tool shed and possibly undertake a similar project in our basement: a community pantry. Meanwhile, we are plotting to move more of our friends into the neighborhood if at all possible.

About a month ago, I happened upon Front Porch Republic and began reading voraciously. Seeing names I knew like Wendell Berry and Bill Kauffman, reading one ode to community and place after another, a whole world of likeminded folks opened up for me. I couldn’t get enough. It seems I’ve been a “porcher” for quite some time without knowing it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been calling “the porch in practice.” I’m seeking to translate these ideas into action right here, right now on my “little postage stamp of ground” (as Bill would call it).

Earlier this week, my neighbor and I took to starting a little think tank/volunteer organization. It’s high time we move beyond pipe tobacco and bonfires. We thought it only appropriate that we name it for our little city street, the site of so much joy and sorrow in the last two years. Initially, it was the rather clunky Concord Contrary Cranks Society. We have since changed it to the more elegant Concord Front Porch Society. It is, if you will, a local chapter. We hope to carry on with greater intentionality what we’ve been doing so far by instinct.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I genuinely wish you success with this endeavor. You’re working to create the best kinds of community with little of the assumptions that frighten those of us on the political left about communitarianism.

    • Karen,
      I’ve always been a defender of doing what works. I care little for bullet points and political platforms. My wife is a total lefty. Truth be told, I’ve grown more traditional–a Chestertonian with sympathies for distributism and even monarchy. When it comes down to it though, my only political affiliation is “local weirdo.” I hope to be conservative enough to defend the things that matter and liberal enough to understand that “business as usual” may not be the best way to protect those things.

      What my wife and I agree on is far more significant. We both agree that all work is valuable, whether on not that usurers and financiers that run our economy agree that work is worthy of remuneration. We agree that you take the community that your given and work for it. We both agree on staying put. We aren’t chasing some ideal community or group of people. We aren’t looking to remake Canton for white, middle-class hipsters. We want to protect and build upon what’s already weird and special about it for the people who are already here. (I’ve got a forthcoming article on that very topic and a tourist trap project that is threatening it.) We agree that capitalism is beyond broken and the enemy of the family. We agree that we need creative and prophetic solutions to problems, that our faith requires more of us than punching a ballot for the least despicable in a field of terrible candidates. We agree on the sacredness of all life, even the lives of our enemies.

      I could go on.

      We hope our kids can grow in an environment of solidarity, where people of differing opinions can work together for a better community.

  2. This is a wonderful report from Canton, Nick–thanks very much for sharing it! I find it hopeful in multiple ways. It’s good to see church communities–even what I take to be, given what you write here, a fairly traditional one–that don’t insist upon the man being the breadwinner in any heterosexual marriage (the environment I grew up in was emphatic on that point). It’s also good to see people making things work–or at least attempting to make them work!–both collectively and organically, through friendships and neighborhood connections. The only thing I could add, besides lots of encouragement and applause–and a hope for updates as the months go by!–is to always keep at least one eye on the regional and political landscape as you and your family and friends labor to guide your little platoon forward. After all, you never know when the tax laws or the government grants which enable the non-profits your wife works at to pay their bills and make their payrolls may change or go away, and voting and organizing to prevent that is vital, both for the sake of your family and your burgeoning community porch. It’s a new way of looking at citizenship–or, maybe better, an older way of looking at it: tend to your garden first and foremost, but always be attentive to anything, whether corporate or governmental or both, which might threaten the soil from which it grows. Anyway, best of luck from Wichita!

    • Russell,
      I appreciate your comment.
      When introducing my wife to “the porch,” I made sure to point toward your work as well as Elias Crim’s. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read on your blog and Solidarity Hall is a godsend.
      As stated in my response to Karen above, I have a certain little “c” conservative philosophical bent, but I’m not married to the usual conservative talking points. My wife is a total pinko, so you and Elias are folks I can direct her to as evidence that she is more than welcome to be a porcher.
      I sometimes wish I had a word to describe my own perspective. Most of the time I’m quite happy not to give it a name. I definitely believe in tradition, family, community, womb-tomb sanctity of life, and I belong to a theologically conservative faith. But I also believe that capitalism, sucks, that women are people and have the right to have their complaints about crap male behavior heard out, that the earth needs protecting, that we could pay reparations to black and native folks quite easily if we’d take a year off from spending billions murdering people in other countries, and that “breadwinning” need not be financialized. I win bread for my kids by baking it myself occasionally. And I”m working toward feeding them as often as possible with my own labor out of my own garden.
      I’ve joking told my wife that John Medaille is my Obi Wan and Bill Kauffman, my Yoda.
      It used to be the norm that we talked about food as something we grew and made our ourselves or traded with the neighbors to get. The industrial revolution stole a lot of men from their homes and land and families. Eventually it did the same to women. The military industrial complex still wrecks families. Now we have judges trying to make women more equal by giving them the “privilege” to be drafted to kill and be killed for the state too.
      Our goal is for both of us to have fulfilling lives and meaningful work. For her that means honest work toward the end of bettering our city, which both of her jobs allow her to do. My goal is to use my writing skills, teach my kids to love the permanent things, and turn our little plot of land into something that provides for us directly. (At some point it occurred to me that the “means of production” were right under my feet, going to waste.)
      As for local sociopolitical concerns, we are gradually working to get more connected. There’s a library levy sign in our yard right now! My wife attends neighborhood association meetings. I’m looking into volunteering with a non-profit that starts community gardens around the city.
      I’ll definitely keep up the reportage on CFPS and Canton.

  3. Hi, Nicholas,
    We’re neighbors, just a couple hours south of you in Toronto, Ohio. Best of luck with your garden! Soil’s better up there (nice glacier), but the hills here let us use gravity to rearrange generous hydrology. We’ve found that poverty, faith, and gardens make a good foundation for community —
    pax hominibus

    • Thanks for chiming in.
      City soil can be a gamble, but we’ve been fortunate. Our neighbors had an excellent haul last year. It was fun to walk down the alleyway and see their giant sunflowers and cornstalks.
      We’ll be growing beets, cucumbers and peppers for sure this year. Our tomatoes were not great last year, so we’ll probably barter with the neighbors for those. We have a steep hillside up front that we are slowly landscaping because its a pain to mow. My wife had the idea to include some edible cover in the mix. She wants fresh mint for mojitos in the summer. I really want to try a pumpkin patch this year. Grow some pie pumpkins. Tasty and makes for easy fall decorations.
      We are definitely creeping our way toward simplicity, a full life on modest means. Our faith community has been everything to us. As for gardening, I take very seriously St. Paul’s admonition to mind your own business and work quietly with your hands. We live in an era of abstracted labor and constant busybody activity (especially online). I don’t know whether statecraft qualifies as soulcraft, but I’m positive that fingers in the soil pair well with prayer in the heart.

  4. A humble suggestion–start a business. With a storefront, not home-based. It’s probably the best, hardest, most satisfying thing you could do for yourself, your kids, and your community.

    • Brian,
      My wife and I have spit-balled about the possibly of starting a business in the future. I’m leaning strongly toward a used book store. The particulars are what complicates that. I would want a walkable business in my own neighborhood. Not an impossibility as we live in an old part of town not besieged by BS zoning laws. An other problem is a lack of start up capital and the question of whether or not a book store is actually what Southwest Canton needs. I don’t want to start a business just to make me happy, I would want to meet a community need. Finally, the most immediate issue is the ages of my children. My oldest is 4, middle is 2, youngest is 6 months. They need me to be a full-time pop for now. My neighbor wants to start his own brewery in the neighborhood and cater as much as possible to the neighborhood, not just to the tourists from the suburbs. My crazy fever dream is that we would open a combination brewery and localist bookstore where we could host neighborhood association meetings and get rowdy about the politicians and big businessmen, saving the neighborhood, etc. But yes, I’d much rather has means of making money rather than just money (which I don’t have anyway) to leave to my kids.

      • Well, certainly every neighborhood NEEDS a public house, with on-site brewed beer and books for sale and a life-sized portrait of Chesterton on the wall.
        You should view your kids as an asset, not a liability. They give you an easy excuse to make a 5 year plan to open your business. Also, in your situation all you need to do is break even to stay even with where you are, and any “real job” will have its salary balanced out (or worse) by child care costs, to say nothing of the other time and money and stress involved.
        As for capital expenses to start a business, imagine what you can do where you are, compared to what the expenses would be if you were in Columbus, or (shudder) a big city like NY or LA. You’re in the perfect place.
        If you start a business, your kids will never say they have to move, because there are no jobs there.

        • “Well, certainly every neighborhood NEEDS a public house, with on-site brewed beer and books for sale and a life-sized portrait of Chesterton on the wall.”
          I wholeheartedly agree.
          “You should view your kids as an asset, not a liability.”
          Certainly not what I intended to imply. I’m thinking maybe more of a 10 year plan though. Believe me, I’ll have them till the garden and swinging hammers ASAP.
          “As for capital expenses to start a business, imagine what you can do where you are, compared to what the expenses would be if you were in Columbus, or (shudder) a big city like NY or LA. You’re in the perfect place.”
          Agree.
          “If you start a business, your kids will never say they have to move, because there are no jobs there.”
          Assuming the business succeeds. But I take your point.

          Thanks for the encouragement.

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