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The Hoedads of Oregon were founded in 1973. CoEvolution's resident cowboy J. D. Smith wrote this account of their success in 1976. Since then tree-planting cooperatives have sprung up absolutely everywhere in the American West The longhairs of the '70s are reforesting this side of the continent and within that little errand something even profounder may be going on.
-- Stewart Brand, in the Next Whole Earth Catalog


A CHINESE FELLOW ONCE SAID, IN translation, that one process of revolution is the dialectic progression from mutual aid societies (neighbors putting up hay together), through the cooperative movement, the worker's collectives, the commune, to the community, in all its full-blown national importance. When the wheat farmer figures out that he doesn't need a business agent, and his friends are too busy to help, he builds up a farm coop, a storage elevator, and goes to talk to the bigtime millers as a group. This is a producers' cooperative, a good cheap way to buy gearlube in bulk, but mostly a marketing device.

The Hoedads are a two-hundred person membership cooperative involved in the business of reforestation. They are legal in the state of Oregon, bondable, mobile, and able to work thinning, planting, tubing, or slashpiling for the United States Department of Agriculture, (the Forest Service.... a bunch of inattentive tree farmers selling wood four or five generations of tree away from what is being planted). The Hoedads take their name trom the basic tree planting tool a long hoe affair with a curved handle like on a carpenter's adze. Doesn't take much of a linguist to figure out why it is called a hoedad.

I'm not a Hoedad. The only tree I have planted since gradeschool Arbor Days was a three foot redwood the day after my daughter- was born I planted it under a PG&E powerline. Before you rush off to become a Hoedad be advised that two hundred treeplanters in a work cooperative have some trouble keeping each other in work west of the Rockies. They don't need the membership, even though it costs a thousand bucks to be a member, taken out of wages in a three year penod. In April of this year the Hoedads had five hundred thousand dollars worth of work under contract, most of it in planting. That sounds like a lot of money until you divide it by two hundred, six months and the fact that climbing around the mess the loggers leave, poking in a tree every ten feet, can be shitty hard work.

I first met a Hoedad in Idaho about two years ago. Idaho is where the Sierra Club is considered to be a bunch of Californians who live in big redwood houses and think that a tree screams when the chainsaw bites the bark. I was holed up at a hotsprings and working in a sawmill. The Hoedad hopped the rocks up a washed-out road beside the River of No Return, in a Japanese pickup truck, first rig to make it up the road that year. I baked the Hoedad a loaf of bread and stole her heart for awhile.

This Spring I met her again, this time in the Mountain Tavern in Tiller, Oregon. She was late, so l had plenty of time to belly up to the beer, taste the jukebox, shoot pool with a helicopter pilot, and listen to the bartender's tales of twenty hungry Hoedads ordering burgers: "Heck, I just got to where I'd hold the sandwich up, call out what was on it and give it to the first person with the money. That much long halr I Just can't keep track of."

I was counting the beans in a half a bowl of chili when a pair of hands went over my eyes. Hoedad women are broad in the shoulder and hard of palm; I knew the lady I was waiting for was in the bar with me We drank a tew beers together, held hands, and tried to short circuit a few years with our eyes. More Hoedads started drifting in. Three crews were planting in that area. There was talk of hundred dollar days, sunny soft slopes where a planter could scalp away the overburden on the clearcut, poke the hoe- dad down into the dirt, fit In a young seedlin, (two or three years old), and toe the dirt back into place fast enough to make, by piecework, a hundred bucks a day. Fat city. I was buying drinks. We were in the Umpqua National Forest. They were camped six or eight miles up the creek. Did I want to go to camp?

THE CREW MEETING

A Hoedad camp smacks of the New Depression. This one belonging to the Cheap Thrills crew was on an old landing where the trucks had come to get the butchered timber when it had been logged. There were a couple of nice big warm canvas and lath yurts, a smaller tent, a vintage house truck, and a few light travel lrailers. We tiptoed across boards plunked down over the wet areas and snuggled into my Mama's quilts around the woodstove in the center of one of the yurts. Before sleep we talked of the dialectlc, of the politics of doing what you mean to do, of the need for federations to supergroup the cooperatives in the northwestern part of Ecotopia, of the need for constant intention, which is to say: "Say what you mean, but mean what you say."

A little while before dawn I wandered outside to pee and waded into six inches of new wet snow. The Hoedads plant most of the winter in-sloppy Oregon drizzle. Next to the hoedad and the tree sack rain- gear is the important tool of a coastal reforester. You can't plant trees in snow, though, because you can't see where to put the trees. The Umpquas had us snowed out. There was a big temptation to go back and wake up the bartender. Thc Cheap Thrills folks called for a crew meeting instead, to discuss the issues that would be brought up at the General Meeting in Eugene.

The crew is the basic Hoedad family unit. Groups of fifteen to twenty people, the majority being men, travel, work and camp together. There are twelve or so crews with proud names like Red Star, Mud Sharks, Cougar Mountain, Cheap Thrills, Different Strokes, and TNT (Tabasco 'n Tofu). The crew elects or appoints people to bid work through Hoedad Central (bondable), has its own treasurer, its own set of books, and is the initial resting place of the money from a contract. It pays, therefore, to have an interest in crew politics.

The meeting took place in the central yurt. We started by passing a long stemmed, heavy yet intri- cate pipe full of talk-and-stare weed. A chairperson was selected. Folks squatted in with their knees up around their ears and got down to business.

Did the Hoedads need a general store? There was a real need for a group-buying operation to supplement the existing quartermaster's function, but was a retail store worth the hassle? It was moved, seconded, and unanimously decided that should a Hoedad General Store ever come about, it would be a workers' collective within a membership cooperative. These folks were serious.

What should happen to the Hoedad General's $70,000 cash reserve fund which thc membership receipts and administrative withholding had created? This was a tough one. Should it be used for a treeplanters' retirement parcel Hoedad Acres or loaned out to movement folks with no cash funds? Nothing was decided. Well enough should be left alone. It was nice and warm in the yurt. Let the cash rescrve fund grow.

What about a womens' crew? Was it separatist and away from the move toward federation? A group of woman Hoedads wanted to try planting together, without the sexual competition and "you are so cute when you plant trees" bullshit that comes with almost any American work situation. There are about sixty woman Hoedads, some of them loners, somc of them coupled up with men, but most of them workers in their own right. I watched men's eyes drift out into the snow and imagined that I was losing my old lady to a new misunderstood power. Wasn't it sexist to split off like this? Couldn't more women become Hoedads and go for gradual change within the cooperative? It was the old rub: as a woman you couldn't vote against a notion like this, and as a man you could vote either way. There were mostly men in the yurt. It was decided that the Cheap Thrills crew would support the womens' crew at the general meeting in Eugene, in a week. Could I come?

THE GENERAL MEETING

The WOW hall used to be owned by the Woodmen of the World. It was built in a time when the prime timber was still in the stump, before yarders and balloons and helicopter logging, when it still took labor to harvest the tree crops. The Hoedads had slushed some money into the hall to save it from burger kingdom and were now renting it for their quarterly meeting. It was a nice place, in downtown Eugene, with a Grange hall feeling. Outside twenty folks cooled their Vibrams and watched the traffic. A Spanish Cinl War veteran with bushy eyebrows taped political messages to the powerpoles. One of them read like this:

0n Lonelyness
As an idle man
I find too many things to do,
that I have no time
to be lonely
Besides, It would be
deadly
boring to me.


Starting a meeting on a sunny Sunday isn't a cinch. There was an oval of stiff chairs on the meetmg floor, a bunch of risers along the side, and people spilled here and there. The president acted as chairperson. Should we read the old minutes or rely on memory? The legalists prevailed. If the old minutes were going to be adopted then they damn well should be read. Someone was sent crosstown to get them. It was a slow beginnhlg in the right direction. Meeting was part of work. Criticism and self-cnticism are parts of the dialectic. I was beginning to learn about movement.

Over the course of the next two days it became evident that the Hoedads are, as a group, involved in all phases of reforestation and are expanding the definition of their work to the benefit, perhaps the radicalization, of the industry. Take herbicides for instance. The Forest Service contracts out work to chopper companies to spray 2, 4-D and 2-4, 5-T on recently logged areas to limit the broadleaf growth. These chemicals are horribly close to Agent Orange, the defoliants used in Vietnam to uncover the Ho Chi Minh trail and ruin the agricultural base of the revolutionists. They cause birth defects. The Hoedads voted a thousand dollars for research into alternatives to spraying. They argue that with a little use of people all unwanted vegetation can be turned into energy, into wood alcohol or sheep fodder. Solve the problem with people, not poisons.

The tree crop has to be thinned, weeded, and the standard government method of doing this is to let a thinning contract, which is chainsaw work, just walking into the thick of it and knocking down everythillg but the strong plants, leaving the rest jackstrawed on the ground to rot into the forest floor. Thc Hoedads have begun to get thinning contracts. They talked of ways to utilize the slash, run portable stud mills, make two by fours out of the unwanted trees, and end up with a few houses out of each thinning contract.

The question of the womens' crew was brought to the floor. A woman read the title poem from Monster by Robin Morgan. The shuffling began; the "tee hee" jokes sprinkled through the crowd. Some things aren't meant to be decided by two hundred people. The Hoedads compromised: if there were ever to be a new crew addded to Hoedad Central, then it would be the Women's Crew. Meanwhile a crew of women were going to plant together anyway, just to see how it worked.

You can judge a political movement by its parties. There were five kegs of beer and two bands that night at the tree planters' boogydown Somebody asked me if I was a CIA agent. Somebody else said that by writing about Hoedads I would bring government attention. (He was legal but a little underground.) The dancefloor was getting muddied up from the wafflesole mountain boots tracking in that part of Oregon. I had the feeling that two hundred active members is about as big as a cooperative can get and still have fun at a party. Somehow the rain and the beer were getting me down.

On the train back to California we passed a big derailment, with boxcars strewn out in a riverbed like thc Lord had dropped his Mahjong set. I envisioned five hundred people picking up the pieces. In the Sacramento Valley I wondered whether farm workers might not do better as cooperatives than as unions, and who was in charge of naming race horses. In all I was convinced that the Hoedads had their shit together. They had a legal, cooperative structure, their own credit union, a gypsy lifestyle, enough work to keep a little ways from foodstamps, no gurus, and a vision of a labor intensive energy-efficient forest of the future. I wondered it they would ever become a collective .


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