WHAT IT IS
The Briarpatch is a system of self-reliance and mutual support, based on the ideas that you are a Briar if:
1. You have an insatiable curiosity about how the world works.
2. You seek to do the work you love and to make a living at it.
3. It is more important to you to provide the highest quality product or service than to get rich, but you recognize that you must make a profit to stay in business.
4. You prefer cooperation to isolation.
5. You prefer honesty and openness to deceit and secretiveness.
6. You believe in independence and personal responsibility.
7. You believe in simple living and environmental preservation.
8. Your financial records are open to your community.
9. It is important to you to have fun in everything you do.
HOW TO FIND A BRIARPATCH
The best way to find a Briarpatch where you live, is to just start one.
1. What’s your purpose? Every business support network is different. Most combine both emotional support and practical business counsel in various mixes. A clear purpose will make it easier for you to attract others.
2. Recruit at least one buddy. If you already meet regularly with a support buddy, the two of you will make the perfect kernal of an organizing team. Each of you can invite another person and you’ll have a support group. As each new person invites their friends and associates, you’ll become a network.
3. Avoid homogeneity. Many groups form around the similarities we see in each other, and that’s ok. But for longevity and innovation and the opportunity to change and grow, make a focused effort to invite people who are different. Of course you will want to invite experts in accounting, law, marketing, and so forth. That’s just good business sense. But also invite all genders and multiple ethnicities, and make a special place for the creative, the strange, and the wonderful.
4. Choose the right meeting place. Bay Area Briars have met in the posh San Francisco Tennis Club, member business board rooms, the meeting rooms in local restaurants, right in the middle of bustling cafes, in school classrooms, at different member homes and just about any place you can think of. Our longest continuously running meeting took place once a month for 6 years in an art gallery where we stored tables and chairs that we brought out each time we met. Mutual support was the main attraction, but members also looked forward to the continuously changing exhibits.
The place you choose will have a profound effect on the “look and feel” of the meeting. Make sure it’s in alignment with what you’re trying to accomplish.
5. Meet regularly and continuously. If members know the regular time and place and that the meeting will always be held, you’ll save on the time it takes to keep everybody informed about the meeting and folks will incorporate the rhythm of the meeting into their routines. Experiment has shown us that support buddies (2 people) should meet once a week, but support groups work best if they meet once a month.
6. Use meeting facilitation techniques. Agree on an agenda, appoint a time keeper, work together to keep the meeting moving. The Bay Area Briarpatch usually spends the first hour giving each attendee 2 minutes to introduce themselves and describe their business. If there are more people than there is time for introductions, the coordinator helps attendees move quickly through their 7 to 20 word “elevator” speeches. Then the floor is opened for brainstorming about individual attendees business needs. These can range from simple resource referrals of suppliers or professionals to shared words of wisdom from hard won experience. The coordinator keeps people to the time limit and at the end, time is made for announcements and networking.
7. Eat Lunch. Meeting over lunch draws more attendees because no matter how busy you are, you have to eat and lunch is a time that no one is expecting you to be at your desk to answer the phone. Many groups are successful at organizing potlucks, but it’s a lot of extra effort. Bay Area Briars held a monthly bring your own “brown bag” lunch successfully for more than 12 years. Participants often brought food to share, but it wasn’t a requirement.
The Briarpatch was founded in Menlo Park in 1974. Fathered by Dick Raymond of the Portola Institute and mothered by Gurney Norman, author of “Divine Rights Trip” in The Last Whole Earth Catalogue, the phenomenon of mutual support for right livelihood and simple living was an idea whose time had come.
Folks involved in the extended family/community that grew up around the Whole Earth Catalogue formed various businesses including a coop food market, a woman-owned auto repair store, and several others. Gurney Norman put together the first Briarpatch Review using Whole Earth’s layout studio. In it he described this new form of socially conscious, mutual self-support for businesses.
Former banker Michael Phillips was a key organizer of the Briarpatch and his efforts were principally responsible for the extended life of the community during the first decade following its founding. He introduced Dick Raymond to CPA Elliot Buchdrucker, insurance broker Werner Hebenstreit, and lawyer Tom Silk and the five of them together raised enough money to hire the first Briarpatch coordinator Andy (Bahauddin) Alpine, who later became the publisher of Common Ground and Specialty Travel Index. Phillips continued to recruit consultants and coordinators until his withdrawal from active involvement in the late 1980s. Up until that time, he traveled to many communities to assist them in starting their own Briarpatches and even got the Briarpatch principles introduced into the World Bank.
In the beginning, Phillips and Alpine started out using the old C.O.Y.O.T.E offices (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics — Margo St. James’ organization that was working for the decriminalization of prostitution) on San Francisco’s Pier 40 to hold free consulting session every Wednesday. Very soon, so many people were coming for advice that they asked Dick, Elliot, Werner and Tom to help out.
From 1974 to the present day the Briarpatch has seen more than 1,000 people pass through it’s membership roles. There were always about 200-300 names on the current mailing list and 100-200 active members at any given time. Hold a lecture by a Briarpatch celebrity and several hundred people might show up. Throw a party and 50 to a hundred people would attend. Hold a workshop on business skills and you could always get a couple of dozen members to sign up.
In the Bay Area there were also several satellite networks in Marin and Sonoma counties, in the East Bay and on the Peninsula.
In San Francisco there were three coordinators: Andy (Baha’uddin) Alpine, Charles (Shali) Albert Parsons, and Claude Whitmyer. Marin Coordinators included Peter Oldfield, Sylvia Gorman, and Michael Stein. East Bay coordinators included Roger Pritchard, Elissa Brown and Portia Sinnot. Sonoma coordinators included Jim Bucheister, Tom Hargadon, Salli Rasberry, and Joan Leslie Taylor. In 1988, on the Bay Area Peninsula, a branch Briarpatch Network was started by Dave Smith and Paul Hawken. It met weekly at the Late For The Train restaurant in Menlo Park for about a year. Smith & Hawken then decided they should start their own business by importing garden tools from England.
In 1974 Gurney Norman published the first issue of The Briarpatch Review. Over the next few years eleven more issues were published with Annie Styron as editor and Tom Hargadon as publisher of the first eight. Numerous volunteers brought out the final three issues. The first eight issues were published as a book compilation by New Glide/Reed in 1978 and entitled The Briarpatch Book : Experiences in Right Livelihood and Simple Living from the Briarpatch Community.
In addtion to the San Francisco, East Bay, Marin, Sonoma, and Peninsula groups, we know about networks offering similar support structures to those offered by the Briarpatch that appeared in the U.S. in Tennessee and Washingtion and internationally in Australia, Denmark, England, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden.