It looks very much like living in any suburb… except…
- there are many opportunities to become easily acquainted with your neighbors;
- there is a large handful of people who are interested in many aspects of sustainable community and authentic living;
- the nearest grocery store and other services are about 25 miles away (a 30-minute quick drive to Kankakee). Most of us like this considering the beauty of our surrounding-rural area..
Living in cooperation in Stelle
We came to Stelle in 2006 when I retired from teaching in a Chicago suburb. We had purchased property elsewhere and were all set to build a solar home in the country and raise much of our own food.
On our quest to learn as much as possible about all-things-solar, we took part in the annual Illinois Solar Home Tour and discovered Stelle. We met some people, put our names on the CSC mailing list, and then came back several times for various events. We fell in love with the community and many of the folks here.
After much soul-searching, we decided to change our plans, put our lot on the market, and we moved to Stelle. We never did build our solar home, but we have never regretted our decision to move here. Instead, we have discovered an authentic experience of community in this place with people who have been practicing it for many years.
In our time here we have discovered that there are some important ingredients to creating successful community. It turns out that it has more to do with our own attitudes and BEHAVIORS than it does the BEHAVIOR of others. We have learned that to EXPERIENCE community, one must:
1. Become a grown-up: one of the tenets of early Stelle was about life-long development. It’s about doing one’s inner work; giving of yourself, honestly and openly, while keeping our egos out of the equation; doing our best, but not needing to determine the outcome. Authentic community requires emotional maturity and a strong desire to cooperate.
2. Spend time together: working, eating, playing, sharing your own thoughts and dreams and listening to others;
3. Let Others be Different: Understanding that those who think differently actually have something new to teach us.
In short, we found Stelle to be a quiet, safe, fun, interesting and welcoming community. It is a wonderful place to live. We feel like we hit the jack-pot.
Choose to be Involved in Community…or Not
There are many opportunities to do community service or to work together to accomplish tasks like community clean-ups, tree-trimming around town, or working in the community garden and orchard. What is important to know is that residents are always at choice should they wish to participate in activities or not. Some folks keep to themselves. Some residents are involved in almost everything. Each of us chooses if, when, and how we wish to be involved in community life in Stelle.
School and Work
For about half of the adult community, life consists of getting up and driving to work into the surrounding areas. Most residents work within a 35-mile radius of Stelle and have occupations of many kinds. There is no single large industry or employer in our area. It is diverse. The other half of Stelle residents either have their own business (usually with the help of the internet), home-school their kids, or are retired.
Most school age children catch the school bus and are part of our Tri-Point School District with schools that are 6-16 miles from Stelle. Many of us sincerely appreciate the simplicity and community feeling of our local school district. It’s a bit like stepping back to the 1960s, compared to the large urban schools today. Our kids have names….not numbers.
And because Stelle is located off the beaten track, it can be an ideal location for children as they grow. Because it is a comparatively safe environment, Stelle children may experience an unusual level of freedom with plenty of bike riding on our quiet streets, open play areas for ball and other games, and the small pond, garden area and orchard for playing in.
The Stelle Community Association is our governing organization, and all residents automatically become participants just by living here. We elect a 5-member board who share the task of doing the business of the community. It is through this homeowners organization that we assess ourselves to handle the community maintenance of streets and greenbelts, run our fresh water and wastewater treatment facilities, and manage other community assets (like our Community Center) or any issues that arise.
In Stelle one is either a home owner or a renter and everyone is invited to participate in committees or run to serve on the board of directors. Our monthly assessment runs about $110 per household, per month. Residents then pay for their water use ($.015/gal.) and for their own utilities which are supplied by Commonwealth Edison (electricity) and the local LP gas suppliers. We have a several PV solar panels and two wind generators in town but they only supply about 5% of the overall power consumed by the community. We are not a ‘Sustainable Community’ but we’ve made a few good starts in this direction.
Other Organizations is Stelle
The Stelle Telephone Mutual, which is owned by all of us, provides telephone, cable television and wireless internet service. Our main building and switching equipment is primarily powered by solar panels.
Center for Sustainable Community (the website you are on now) owns the property west of town which includes the large garden and orchard and partners with Midwest Permaculture (a local business) to develop the land, utilizing permaculture principles. About 25% of the community is directly or indirectly involved with CSC and its programs or co-operatives.
Community Garden and Orchard
Besides the nearly one hundred trees (mostly apple) in the orchard, there are many other fruit trees around town. The community gardens area is open for anyone who would like to grow food with others and share in the harvest. It is an ideal learning situation. Residents are invited to share the bounty in various ways such as helping to harvest the surplus, putting up food by drying or freezing or working cooperatively in the Community Canning Kitchen. The experienced and inexperienced alike work together to preserve food and then share in the bounty to enjoy all winter.
Cooperatives Available to Residents
- Lawnmower and Tool Co-op: a garage in the center of the community holds several mowers and other tools that members share. Included are items such as a pressure washer, carpet cleaner, garden carts, weed whip, table saw, a log splitter and miscellaneous tools. There is a small annual fee that pays for the space, and helps with mower maintenance and the cost of gasoline. Two rules: sign the item out and back in; return it cleaned-up as soon as you are done so it’s available for the next person;
- Garden and Chicken Co-op: members pay up-front for purchase of seeds for the garden or newborn chicks, then share the work of raising the food and harvesting, then get a share. Our basic agreement for sharing in the harvest? If you work a lot…take a lot. If you work a lilttle…take a little. We have been operating this way since 1998.
- We also have a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which also requires members to pay a fee up-front for a weekly share of garden produce, harvested & cleaned for you, and delivered to your door throughout the growing season.
- The Monday Night Dinner Co-op: This has been running continuously for over 30 years. Members sign up on the calendar to cook on a Monday night about once every three months, and then everyone else just shows up at the Community Center, pays $2.00 to the cook for the cost of food, and catch up with their neighbors. The cook for the day shops and prepares the food, sets up and cleans up, then doesn’t cook again until the next quarter. For the next 11 Monday nights, the person who just cooked gets to show up and pay $2 for dinner.
Other Community Activities
We also have opportunities each week to share meals together: For Wednesday Lunch, a couple of hard-core cooks run a little cafe for lunch, with several dishes available for purchase a la carte, and the rest of us get another opportunity to meet with our neighbors in the Community Center and enjoy wholesome, mostly local fare for a great price. On many Friday evenings we have Pub Night. There is usually pizza, salad, soup, dessert, and BYOB. Many neighbors of all ages gather on Fridays for great food, conversation and games.
If you’d like to visit Stelle or participate in any of our workshops, see our Open House page.
Homes or Lots for Sale
There are occasionally homes for sale or rent Visit the Stelle Community Website to learn about these. We also have about a dozen lots remaining for sale. In general, the community is open to alternative methods of building, provided they meet code and fit in with the overall aesthetics of Stelle. See our local real estate person, Susan Fisher for more on these.
For some of us, living is Stelle seems almost too good to be true. If quiet living in a friendly community is what you are looking for, and moving towards a more sustainable and authentic way of living, we invite you to Stelle and join us in the work of CSC.