Raven Rocks: The Place and the Idea
(American Christmas Tree Journal, November 1981)

[This article is being presented here as it was written (minus several typos!). We have underlined a few of the places where things are significantly different today. You may click on the link to read about the current situation.]

The easiest answer, and the one most often given when folks ask what Raven Rocks is all about, is that the nineteen of us who decided to purchase this tract of land did not want to see it strip mined.

Raven Rocks is located in the Ohio county in which some 80% of the rural land has been leased or sold to stripping operations. So, ours is a privately-financed preservation effort, in this case aimed at saving beautiful hill lands and several dramatic ravines.

But this answer, however true. is only part of the truth. We had other concerns, besides the concern that the natural landscape not be mutilated and lost. In ten years, the concerns and interests that led us into this adventure have grown and have spawned new ones. We also had some ideas we wanted to try. For instance. we had some ideas about human nature, and in fact got out a modest book on that subject, a book called School for the Young. We wondered, could there be a deliberate education to draw out the best, instead of the worst, of human nature?

One of the ideas that has influenced the Raven Rocks project and the "education" that we attempt here is really a very ancient one. Gerald Heard, historian-philosopher, put the idea this way: The human being depends as much upon giftful employment as upon gainful employment. In other words, it is clear enough that our work must produce what we require for shelter, food, clothing and for our reasonable development as persons. This is the gainful aspect of our employment. But for survival of the distinctly human capacities of the human being, we need something more. We need giftful employment.

Out of the bounty of our energy, the surplus of our goods, the generosity of our spirits, the excess of our capacities, we need to give, and to know that we have given more than we took. We bloom, and can only fully bloom, on the knowledge that our lives have been, in the final reckoning, a plus, that we added something. We wanted to see what the result would be if we, ordinary people keeping ordinary jobs, were to make the practice of giftful employment a more central part of our lives. What would happen if giftful employment made substantial demands upon our talents, time and energy, and therefore touched us a lot more closely than does the writing of an occasional charity check?

Taking the name associated with one of the ravine formations since Indian days, we set up Raven Rocks, Inc., to be legal owner of the land. To the extent that we are able to do it within current custom and law, our aim is to set aside the land as a permanent preserved area, removed henceforth from sale on the speculative market.

Despite this public-interest purpose and our over-all giftful intent, we chose to make Raven Rocks, Inc., a for-profit corporation. That was because we wanted to try another idea: that the public benefit is as good a use for private profit as any other, and that those who would benefit the public do not necessarily need to avoid supporting the many services that are sustained through taxes.

The average age of the Raven Rocks group when the purchase was undertaken was twenty-five years. We could not have earned a lot of money by that time in our lives, nor had any of us inherited a fortune, so it was up to us to earn our way. Former owners of the property had begun Christmas tree plantations, and we set out to learn the tree business as our means of paying for the place.

Each of us out of his regular employment saved what he could and loaned to the Corporation to assist with the payments. But in the long run, it is volunteer labor applied to Christmas trees that is to pay for the land. Our loans along with money loaned by other interested persons will all be re-paid with Christmas tree income. Individuals volunteer as much time as each feels he is able, to get the Christmas tree work done: the planting, mowing, pest control, pruning, harvesting and selling. There's enough work involved in keeping some 45,000 Christmas trees in the production sequence to provide a constant opportunity and invitation to members to explore and to develop their capacities for giftful employment.

To an extent no one had anticipated, this invitation to exercise one's natural giftfulness has attracted non- members as well. A significant part of the work at Raven Rocks is accomplished by non-members who volunteer hours, days and even weeks of their time. These are people who call us, or write, or just step in at one of our Christmas-time stands and ask if there is something to do.

Besides paying for the purchase of the original land, volunteer labor is also used to carry out reforestation, erosion control, rehabilitation of worn out fields, and a variety of land and building maintenance work. As possible, additional land has been acquired, and more will be acquired in the future, in order to secure important watershed areas which could significantly affect the viability of Raven Rocks as a preserved area. The present property includes approximately 1,000 acres.

For our independent occupations, we work as engineers, doctors, printers, writers, photographers and secretaries. One group of members owns a small ready-mix concrete business; another group prints and distributes folk songs of the world. Most of us at one time or another have served on school staffs, in a variety of capacities.

Members of Raven Rocks, Inc., do not necessarily live on or even near the property. Several, in fact, live more than 400 miles away, in North Carolina. Those who live on the property can arrange to provide for homes for themselves here, and are encouraged and helped to carry out projects on the land which the Corporation considers worthy and compatible with its broad interests and purposes. For instance, one member is re-building pasture lands for a small herd of grass-fed beef. One family has undertaken the complete renovation of an old house on the property to make it a super-insulated solar home.

Another household is building a large earth-sheltered structure, called the Locust Hill project. This rather ambitious undertaking is in the construction phase now, after more than eight years of intensive research and planning. Of the many functions the Locust Hill building will serve, none is considered more important than its potential as a demonstration for other interested persons.

Members of the household responsible for the project, with the aid of other Corporation members and friends, will have built the entire structure. They hope, therefore, to be in a good position to share with anyone else who may be interested what has been learned about such things as earth-sheltered buildings, passive and active solar systems, solar greenhouses, composting toilets, and production and storage of electricity from both wind and photovoltaic generation.

In countless diverse areas, such as wood curing, concrete mixes and their placement, waterproofing materials, insulation, or windmill siting, to name a few, as effort has been made to select approaches and products which seem most likely to prove superior in terms of appropriateness and quality, and then to learn how to make the best use and application of them.

The Locust Hill, for a considerable period after construction is completed, will be open at specified times so that others may see for themselves and hear from the builders what may be of use to them. Printed materials will also be prepared to make more available to others what benefits may derive from this effort.

At the end of the first ten years, if we have learned nothing else from the Raven Rocks project, we have learned how much more each one of us now undertakes and accomplishes than he would have dared to dream of had he not plunged into the initial cooperative and giftful commitment.

Seeing what has happened here, we cannot help but wonder what would happen to our society and to the world in which we live if a greater focus in our lives could be on what we can produce and then manage to share, rather than on what we can acquire and then manage to consume.

Of all the "athletic" endeavors available to us as a human beings, is any more rewarding, more fun, than an energetic productivity that cheerful frugality has kept trim and giftful?

[Soon, we will include the photos which were in the original article.]

[Caption for Christmas tree picture] Part of the over 45,000 Christmas trees in production at Raven Rocks — a cooperative land use project by a group of Ohioans. Sale of Christmas trees contributes money to maintain and expand the project.

[caption for picture of Rockwell house] An old house with an efficient future. This house, now super- insulated, will receive a solar green house addition which will attach under the long sloped roof line on the right. When the greenhouse is in place, a wood burner will supply any back-up heat that's needed.

[caption for LOCUST HILL photo] Locust Hill. A drawing by the architect, Malcolm Wells, showing the south, "solar" face. At extreme ends of the first level are the photovoltaic and solar collector sections. Next to these, moving inward, at each end is a solar greenhouse. Entrance ways are in the center. This multi- purpose building will house on its first floor a large conference space, work shops and a print shop. On the second floor, living quarters for six are provided in three separate sections, along with office space for Raven Rocks Concrete, Inc. With earth cover on most of three sides, and all over all the roof, plus insulation, even though Locust Hill is located in an exceptionally cloudy climate, fully 80% of the heat requirements can be met by passive solar collection. Back-up heat will be provided by a wood burning boiler system. [Much of this has been updated; a new photo and description will be posted soon.]

[caption for solar pole building photo] A pole building, made 100% solar. Raven Rocks members who are building Locust Hill planned and did most of the construction of this solar shop which houses the big ready-mix concrete trucks for winter repair. The completely passive solar system maintains comfortable working conditions even through prolonged periods of sub-zero weather.

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