Land-Based Craft Communities

Will Szal
5 min readFeb 14, 2021
Craft at work: weaving. Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash

What holds communities together across generational flow?

How does craft generate meaning?

How can places become homes?

This blog post is an inquiry into the ideas presented in Sophia Maravell’s 2015 thesis as part of her Masters of the Arts in the Education School of Goddard College.

For her research, she spent about three weeks each in four different land-based craft communities:

I grew up in a land-based craft community of sorts. My parents settled in North Central Massachusetts in the late 1980s along with more than a dozen other families to found the Miller’s River Educational Cooperative. MREC went on to establish a campus influenced by the Fourth Way, which hosts a school for elementary-aged kids (the Village School) as well as seminars for adults. My dad timber-framed the house I grew up in. I spent a year repairing pipe organs at Tracker Organs. I patch my jeans when they get holes in them. I’m interested in craft.

One of the big questions in my childhood community is succession—will there be a generation to take the helm when this one passes on? The parallels are most similar here to the Rochester Folk Art Guild, as they’re also a Fourth Way community looking at succession, although there are things to be learned from the other portraits Maravell offers as well.

This question is part of a larger issue in society relating to place. In their own ways, science fiction author Cixin Liu (in his trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past) and depth ecologist David Abram (in his book Becoming Animal) both agree that to be human is to be part of the planet. And to take this line of inquiry a step further—as the Slow movements and Martin Shaw have—to be human is to be of a place (even if you are a nomad).

In her inquiry, Maravell links “ofness” with craft:

The whole process of eating food grown and prepared at the guild out of dishes made by pottery, and off of cutting boards made by the wood shop, helps me to feel more whole and complete (page 125).

I feel this way as well when I know the person that crafted the glass I am drinking out of and can see them working in their studio, or when I’m sitting on a sheep skin from a sheep that grazed in the fields I frolicked in as a child. Humans, like all life, participate in metabolic processes that transform their environments. To create beauty and further regeneration, these processes require significant craft. The social structures that enable the transmission and evolution of craft define the character of our communities, and implicitly, the quality of our lives. Although the final product does embody the place from which it comes and the hands which crafted it, being able to perceive these subtle energies is much easier when you’ve watched something back through its point of origin.

Last summer I researched regenerative fiber. In reflecting on what Maravell terms “whole processes,” it quickly becomes apparent that—even for a craft enthusiast such as myself—that I rarely am actually there for the whole process. For example, I haven’t met the sheep that provided the wool in the shirts I wear, even if I know its Northeast wool. I haven’t visited the forests and mills that provided the cedar from which I built my sauna. This lack of aesthetic contextualization comes with a relational cost. Even if I’ve met the man that has sewn my jeans, for me, the web of friendship stops there, and I can only guess about the people and places that bred, grew, harvested, spun, dyed, and wove the denim.

Textile is of particular interest for Maravell.

When I weave, dye or farm I feel connected to the earth through my interaction with its substance. In this creative interaction, I also feel connected to my ancestors who were weavers and to a creative energy that flows through me, an essence of creating that is healing and nourishing. The act of creating has an incredible power to heal things because creating invokes connection. I would speculate that in traditional societies, it was just as important to weave blankets for connection and ritual as it was to weave them in order to stay warm in the winter (pages 17–18).

How do our rituals shape our sense of meaning? How do they sculpt our relationships and worldview? Craft both provisions goods for our sustenance, and develops us as mature humans through a lifestyles and practice. When that craft is consecrated with materials from our place, it brings us into a breathing interchange, as opposed to a blind occupation.

This brings us back around to the question of generational flow. It seems that place alone may not be enough to link generations.

A 16 year-old girl in the village who is the daughter of a very successful restaurant owner said she wanted to live in the village when she was older (page 67).

Although this girl goes on to describe that this stems from her relationship with place, it is also worth noting that youth in this community each have a family business to inherit.

Everyone’s sons and daughters in the village work for their family owned business (page 64).

There is meaningful work to participate in, the learning of which necessities strong bonds across generations. Not only this, but families operate inter-generationally out of the same plot of land for many generations.

Most families live with at least three generations in the same stone house that has been in the family for generations (page 63).

Blood family is just one way of organizing community and vocation; I don’t mean to imply that it is the best or the only way. That said, most intentional communities in the United States have a long ways to go before they develop this degree of stability and resilience.

In conclusion, Maravell has beautifully documented four case studies looking at how these questions of relationship with land and craft can facilitate enduring communities. If you’d like to learn more, you can find a copy of Maravell’s thesis here:



Will Szal

Regenerative agriculture, alternative economics, gift culture, friendship.