“There is a real advantage in putting brainpower together, pooling resources together, time together, and care of children together. It’s not just based on financial incentive but the social and cultural incentive of working together and building for ourselves” — Dom Hosack
Earth-Bound Building (EBB) is a construction cooperative based in southern Maryland. They came together with a mission to provide ecological and affordable construction services to Black and brown farmers with less access to resources. As Climate Justice Alliance’s new Frontline Communications Coordinator, I recently interviewed Dom Hosack, a worker-owner with Earth-Bound Building and CJA’s Regenerative Economy Fellow, to learn more about the Earth-Bound story, its formation, and the support of the Our Power Loan Fund.
Tell me about yourself and how you got into this work.
I’m a baba (father), I collect splinters for a living and I’m a worker-owner with Earth-Bound Building. We’re a construction cooperative based in southern Maryland. I’ve been with EBB for the past 5 years. Before that, I was a teacher, switched to public health, and then wanted to get my hands dirty and really understand the world. While I was studying food access and food sovereignty, I met Blain who’s the founder of EBB, in DC. We’ve been building together ever since. Earth-Bound grew from there.
Earth-Bound was put on the map but most people don’t know the story of Earth-Bound Building and how you all came up?
We say Earth-Bound flowered out of the Black Dirt Farm Collective (BDFC). BDFC is a network of farmers, educators, parents, and healers providing workshops and direct services to farming communities across the region and the US. They have strong relationships with farmers in the Mid-Atlantic and one thing many farmers had in common was needing affordable and durable infrastructure. We started with building high tunnels (greenhouses) for farmers. By supporting them, we realized we should formalize our processes and turn this into a real business. Over time, word spread among the local farm network about EBB and more jobs started to come in. We found our lane providing construction services to farmers and now we’re branching out into affordable housing, natural building, and design. It’s an exciting time!
Starting a business can be really difficult, especially the dynamics a worker-owned cooperative might bring. How did you all get through the hard times of starting up a worker cooperative and being sustainable? * A worker-owned cooperative is a business owned and managed by its workers. This means every worker-owner participates in decision-making democratically. Check our resources on worker-owned cooperatives here!
Yes! Starting any business, cooperative or otherwise, is super difficult. Most small businesses fail and many are on thin margins for years. We had to learn how to administer the business, find clientele, and scale-up. One thing we did was commit ourselves to professional development so that we could be competitive in our industry. We are direct when delegating responsibilities and managing expectations internally. We self-assigned various aspects of the business. For example, I handle our finances and set clear expectations. Accountability within cooperatives is important. We have to maintain healthy and trusting relationships, centering our own healing as individuals is important in being fully present for the work. That’s one thing that we have all collectively acknowledged and work towards.
How did you connect with the Our Power Loan Fund and learn about non-extractive financing? *non-extractive financing are loans created to support small business enterprises, providing financial capital to support their work. These loans don’t require repayments greater than a business’ surplus, and borrowers are not required to make repayments until they are able to cover operating costs, including salaries.
We really needed a truck and hauling trailer so that we could move material, equipment, and most importantly, ourselves to our growing number of job sites. The interest rates for a Black cooperative given the financial, and in some cases legal background of our cooperative members, the conventional way of financing seemed like we were going to get screwed. Right around that time the former ED of CJA, Angela Mahecha Adrar, reached out to Blain and told him about the Our Power Loan Fund. We had just done some hurricane relief work in Puerto Rico with CJA and so the idea of financing our vehicle through them seemed safer and more value-aligned, we jumped at it. It was through that process and working with our Loan Steward, Lupe, attending the Just Transition Finance training that we learned what non-extractive financing was and how powerful it can be to finance and capital.
For many communities speaking about money and finance is not normalized, a lot of stigma surrounding it. How can communities shift their relationships to finance?
The word “finance” has a negative connotation amongst our folks because it is usually associated with debt, big banking, or loan sharks. I think it is important to understand that finance and all its mechanisms are simply just tools. Unfortunately, we live in a society that chooses to use these tools for oppression, to swindle people into high-interest rate loans, foreclose on their homes, crush them with debt.
On the other hand, finance has the ability to add value, provide livable wages, affordable housing, and capital for communities when used more justly. That is a major takeaway from our experience with the Our Power Loan Fund. When the playing field is shifted and resources are governed by institutions that we can trust, there are huge amounts of potential for communities to thrive and that is a key part of the world we are trying to build.
I’m really excited about shifting the narrative around those tools. I think for communities of color there is a real advantage in putting brainpower together, pooling resources together, time together, and care for children together. It’s not just based on financial incentives but the social and cultural incentives of working together and building for ourselves.
Everyone wants to know, what’s the long-term vision for Earth-Bound and what are you all building toward?
We want to turn to creating educational opportunities for Black, brown, queer folks & women to learn the trades in a space that isn’t machoistic. There is a serious skills gap in the construction and trades industry and through the right training, there could be Earth-Bounds in a lot of communities. One future project is building a workshop that’ll be used as an educational space.
As we’re winding down I’m wondering how can folks learn more, connect and support the Reinvest in Our Power Loan Fund? (I asked Lupe, Our Power Loan Steward, who joined us for this conversation.)
Lupe: I would encourage communities to confront that fear, which is justified, the fear of understanding finance and capital because even if you want to abolish something you have to understand it. All the wealth in the world belongs to Indigenous, Black, and oppressed people. Anyone with wealth or a funder seeing this should know all the wealth that you have belongs to the people. We fight the world of injustices and build the new world, the one we want.
Reinvest in Our Power is a collaborative vehicle aligning groups to address inequity and democratize wealth by reinvestment back into communities. It works to move money into community wealth-building efforts, like Seed Commons, a democratically-governed cooperative of local, non-extractive revolving loan funds that invest in projects owned & operated by frontline communities to build economic democracy rooted in ecological integrity. The Our Power Loan Fund is a proud member of Seed Commons. We fight the bad by building the new!
You can learn more about the Reinvestment Campaign, Our Power Loan Fund & Just Transition Finance Training here & about what Earth-Bound Building is up to here!