Community Indicators from the Seattle Farm Coop

People often ask me, “how do you know if a community is healthy and thriving, particularly through online cues?”  As some of you know, I lump these into a category I call “community indicators.”

Two harder to quantify indicators are love and a sense of humor. Today I’d like to observe a bit about the power of humor.

This morning as I was reading the daily email digest of the Seattle Farm Coop, humor was abundant. The warm kind, not the sharp point of a stick (funny to some…) Here are a few snippets:

One response to a classic Q&A (which yielded some great suggestions beyond the one I’m sharing):

Date: Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:32 am ((PDT))

Fellow urban farmers,

Bindweed is slowly overtaking my garden.  Has anyone successfully eliminated it their garden and how did you do it?

I’ve tried hand-weeding and (reluctantly) roundup, though neither with obsession, and my efforts did not even stop its spread.

Please send me your advice if you’ve been able to get rid of it!

The conversation evolved to include horsetail weed… My favorite response:

Date: Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:35 pm ((PDT))

I use psychological intimidation with my horsetail, and it’s worked! Every time I see a horsetail, I pick it, and I tell the plant that it has become a great delicacy and that every single one of its children will get picked and eaten. I make loud “nom”ing sounds. My garden, which used to be so rife with horsetail that I called the place Equisetum Acres, is almost horsetail free now.

Passing along information from other sources, in this cases the West Seattle Tool Library (network weaving!)

 *Power Tool Drag Races*

You really haven’t lived a full life until you’ve witnessed The Power Tool Drag
 that take place in Georgetown every year, hosted by The
Hazard Factory
.  It’s even better when you participate!

This year’s races will take place on June 9th so we definitely need to get started “refurbishing” some of our otherwise inoperative tools in time for the competition.  If you’d like to help out and just stop to see the process, please either drop us a line ( or stay tuned to the Tool Library Website or our Meetup Page for more details.


 Date: Mon Apr 30, 2012 2:00 pm ((PDT))

Anyone lose a goat?

News flash from the City of Seattle: On April 20, the Seattle Animal Shelter received a call about a goat that had wandered into a woman’s house when she left her door open in the warm weather.  She went into her house to find the goat lying on her bed.  Animal Control Officers picked up the stray goat and brought him to the Shelter. The Shelter held the goat as a stray but no owner showed up to claim it, so it will be adopted by a farm outside Seattle.

I have pics but they didn’t paste in–email me directly if you’d like to see.  The goat is white/gray with dark grey splotches and horns 6″ or longer.

While us Seattlites would like to say “only in Seattle,” what I observe are community indicators of a healthy community with both a thriving online and offline life. In this example, humor peppers the posts, and after a while, I can almost feel the smiles as I read. Now don’t mistake this for fluff. This community is very domain/content oriented. They are serious about raising food in an urban environment and taking care about how it is done. The humor is the warm part of this ‘electronic” communications.

Offline the community is also very rich. There is of course, the warehouse where people buy their urban farming supplies where we get our chicken feed. There are the potlucks (almost always with homegrown, really great music) and swapmeets. There are volunteer opportunities (I’m manning a Coop booth this Sunday at a local plant sale.)

What I sense is that  the “daily rhythm” of the community’s life is online on the email list. Lots of questions are answered — I have learned more about chicken health than I would ever have imagined! People are HELPFUL… ideas, borrowing tools, reusing materials that would have otherwise been thrown out but for that bit of electronic text communication.

Sometimes there are dustups — usually around political or contentious issues. But they pass.

What does it take? No mistake, there is an amazing volunteer leadership that carries the coop forward, because it is NOT a community that is all talk. There is a physical warehouse to be responsible for. There is stock. There are cash transactions. I bow down to that small but amazingly productive and passionate core — yes, another community indicator.  AND the vibrant voice of the wider community and periphery.

I love communities and I enjoy observing and participating in their indicators. What are some of the indicators you are enjoying in your communities?

2 thoughts on “Community Indicators from the Seattle Farm Coop”

  1. Great post, Nancy! It’s so helpful to see examples of organically grown and fostered communities of practice functioning in effective and sustainable ways. Pointing to the nuanced indicators beyond traditional metrics helps me to broaden my understanding and get a greater sense of possbilities than my narrow perspective…reminding me that some things that are difficult to measure are essential to the ultimate metric of ROI (whether or not that is the stated goal) and must not be forgotten in the charge to quantify everything. (I sincerely hope noone creates a category for measuring humor on their CoP evaluation tool!)

    1. I hope there is no humor metric, but that we pay attention to humor. 😉 Today someone asked about theory of change in CoPs. I have not seen the two put together, but one theory of change for me in CoPs is that we learn from what we pay attention to! 😉

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