Learning about the Briarpatch

“Having a place means that you know what a place means . . .
. . . what it means in a storied sense of myth, character and presence . . .
. . . but also in an ecological sense . . .
. . . integrating native consciousness with mythic consciousness.”

“Find your place on the planet.
“Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”

“stay together
learn the flowers
go light”

Gary Snyder

This website is an ever-evolving work in progress. If you encounter broken links, missing information, or you just want to suggest a change or addition, we invite you to use our contact form to let us know.

Take Everything We Say With a Grain of Salt

Launched in San Francisco in 1974, Briarpatch has had a long and colorful history. We still exist so our long history creates a writing challenge regarding past and present tense. We’ve done our best to use past tense for things that are history and present tense for those we’re still engaged with. If you encounter something on these pages that interests you but you’re not sure if it’s still around or happening, feel free to use our contact form to get clarification.

Websites and blogs make it easy for people to share their accomplishments (or brag, if you will). That’s one of the things they were invented for.

Br'er Rabbit, he say "Howdy!"
Br'er Rabbit, he say "Howdy!"

You may find our “braggadocio” annoying, provocative, or controversial. You may not like our tone or attitude. If so, that’s understandable.

Different people are, well, different. We just are.

We’ve got our experiences and worldviews and we intend to remain true to them. We hope you have the courage of your convictions and we’re not asking you to change.

We’re happy to engage you in a dialogue. Our preference is a conversation aimed at mutual betterment.

We’re not interested in the thoughts of trolls, the arguments of provocateurs, or the debates of the ill-informed.

If you find yourself at complete odds with us, please remember this: 

You can click away from here anytime you like.

Life is too precious to waste time on things that fail to make the world a better place for us all.

That said, we are ready, willing, and able to share what we think we know (or at least our stories about it) and to hear about your experiences and adventures — all in the spirit of best wishes and hope for a better future.

So for you who feel an interest in or an affinity with our stories and the culture they reflect, please join the conversation.

Oh! One more thing . . .

Nobody Has a Monopoly on "The Truth"

We Encourage Independent Investigation

For every story of ours, seek out 10 stories from someone else. Watch for trends, patterns, and commonalities. When you find them, see if they add value to your life. If our contribution happens to be included in what you find valuable, that’s what we are hoping for. But hey! We could be delusional.

You may be right. We may be crazy, but we just may be the lunatics you’re looking for.

Apologies to Billy Joel

Briar Tip: Never believe anything—on the Internet or off—unless you can find three independent, widely respected sources that agree. Even then, maintain a healthy skepticism and ask to see the actual data.

Intrigued? Want to know more about the Briarpatch contribution to history and society? Read on . . .

Who Are These Briars?

Where Did They Come From?
What Have They Been Up To?

Many Briars began their adult lives as artists, musicians, “makers,” or cause-driven activists, especially for environmental or social causes. Like many of those who pursue those creative outlets, we quickly felt the “real world” need to pay the bills.

As the earliest Briars set out to discover how to make money without compromising our values, we discovered the keystone strategies of honesty, openness, and community support.

Repairing the Roof - A Cooperative Venture

Willing to fail fast and often, we made many mistakes. The more mistakes we made, the more we learned. The more we learned, the more we were able to develop an entrepreneurial spirit of (ad)venture without compromising what we believed in.

Among the values and causes we have championed in the past and even today are:

Over time, by cooperating and sharing, we uncovered superior strategies for success.

Br'er Rabbit Family Picnic

Our “data” consists of:

  • Nearly 20 years of observation and interviews with hundreds of members through regular business consulting sessions, monthly networking meetings, parties, and other gatherings and exchanges.
  • Feedback about courses we delivered to members and the public (see “Briarpatch in Education“)

These have provided a rich knowledge base about tactics and strategies that, in turn, served as the basis for two handbooks of recommended tools and practical actions:

Marketing Without Advertising: Easy Ways to Build a Business Your Customers Will Love & Recommend (by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry)

Cover Marketing Without Advertising

Running a One-Person Business: Business as Lifestyle by Claude Whitmyer and Salli Rasberry (with Michael Phillips)

Cover Running a One-Person Business

What is the Briarpatch?

The Briarpatch is a system of self-reliance and mutual support for small, really-small, and one-person businesses.

In the Briarpatch, a business is any creative, cause-driven, or entrepreneurial project that must be economically viable across time.

It all starts with the idea that you are a Briar if you:

  1. Aspire to right livelihood and simple living
  2. Seek to make a good living doing work that you love.
  3. Are passionate about learning and have an insatiable curiosity about how the world works.
  4. See failure and mistakes as essential learning tools.
  5. Prefer cooperation to “going it alone.”
  6. Practice open books with your own tribe and community.
  7. Place a high value on personal and social responsibility.
  8. Put customer and stakeholder relationships ahead of just making money.
  9. Understand that profit, or at least a positive cash flow, is necessary to stay in business.
  10. Want to have fun in everything you do.

The “Briarpatch Society” was a concept advocated by Dick Raymond of Portola Institute. Among other projects, Portola worked with Stewart Brand to publish The Whole Earth Catalog.

The first actual “network of friends in business” was the San Francisco Briarpatch founded by Michael Phillips.

We also created networks in San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, & Mendocino Counties and on the San Francisco Peninsula

We supported networks in Maine, Minnesota, Tennessee, Washington, and Washington D.C. as well as in Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Japan, New Zealand, and Norway.

The first several years of our story are chronicled in the following three books: 

  • 1974The Seven Laws of Money by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry with Dick Raymond, Stewart Brand, and Jug ‘n’ Candle.
Cover Seven Laws of Money
Cover Briarpatch Book

From 1974 through 1994, the Briarpatch saw more than 1,000 people pass through its membership roles. Since then there have always been 200 to 300 names on the current mailing list with 100 to 200 active members at any given time. An active member is defined as anyone who pays dues or takes advantage of any member benefit on a regular basis. Such benefits include:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, active members exceeded 400 in any given year.

  • Hold a panel or lecture by one or more Briarpatch celebrities and 200 or more people attend.
  • Throw a party and 50 to 100 people attend.
  • Hold a workshop on business skills and up to 30 or more members participate.

In the past several years, a monthly mastermind group has been meeting online using Zoom video conferencing. Supported by a core group of about 60 members from the U.S., U.K, Sweden, Japan, and Italy, these monthly meetings are attended by a different collection of 10 to 15 individuals each time.

To learn more about both our past and present, click away on this website. Visit our “About” page. Check out the navigation links on any page for History, Resources, Bookshelf, or Contribution for even more in the way of articles, posts, books, ebooks, or videos including more books by Michael Phillips, Salli Rasberry, Claude Whitmyer, and other Briars. Visit the blog or contact us to stay in touch.

Br'er Rabbit borrows a cabbage.

What People Say About the Briarpatch

"I have been having a super time for over a year now attending the monthly online Briarpatch meetings whenever I can make it. I am currently in transition from professor to 'starving artist' as a Briar much the same way as I was in transition in '76 when I called Andy Alpine on Lynne Gravestock's cue and became a Briar. I have had many transitions aided by people power in the interim, but this one feels really great.

"Today I was doing some cogitating on Briarpatch and I started to fill in some of the missing pieces. The bookkeeping business that Michael Phillips helped me set up is still thriving in an expanded iteration; I gave it over to Glen G. Bowden in the early 1980s and he's done really well with it. About five years ago I had the occasion to be at a lunch with him, hosted by a former client, in a fancy restaurant in Jack London Square, of all places.

"I would like to be able to offer support in some capacity or other as I feel supported. What that might look like, I have no idea."

Lisa Kippen
Lisa Pickhardt Kippen
Fine artist and teacher

“Some of you may be familiar with the Briarpatch Network. This group is an association of over 500 small business members, who believe in open accounts, business honesty, and information sharing. The network has been so successful that other groups have formed in Canada, Japan, Sweden, and Finland. It contains every type of business, including fashion design, furniture manufacture, ranches, restaurants, circuses, libraries, bars, theatre groups, educational institutions, professional services, and health clinics.

“The Network aims to improve business viability, within a basic framework of honesty and openness. Studies of it have shown that:

“1. Competition is a poor model of the real world; co-operation is more accurate. Members set their own prices with relatively little reference to competitors.

“2. Profit has a detrimental effect when treated as a primary goal.

“3. Social costs (environmental responsibility, etc.) are rewarded when included in business pricing.

“4. Honesty is a major factor in business efficiency; dishonesty has negative effects and the extent of harm is proportional to the degree of dishonesty.

“This is the reality in small business, where the consequences of a decision are close to the decision-maker. But the basic ethical and business environments are the same as the ones in which Microsoft, Exxon, et.al. operate.”

Edwin Humphries
Mottahedeh Development Services

Are You a Briar?

“In an ultimate sense, the Briarpatch Society consists of people learning to live with joy in the cracks. But, more particularly, if you are positively oriented and doing (or actively seeking) Right Livelihood, even willing to fail young, and concerned with the sharing of resources and skills with members of an ongoing community (or affinity group), and especially if you see yourself as part of a subsociety that is more committed to ‘learning how the world works’ than to acquiring possessions and status, then you must be a Briar.

So howdy, Briar.*

Richard "Dick" Raymond
Dick Raymond
Briarpatch Evangelist

* “Our Alliance: What is a Briarpatch Society?” by Dick Raymond. From The Seven Laws of Money by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry, p. 189 (Random House, 1974).

If you know other Briars or you’ve spent some time learning about Briarpatch, then you know best whether you’re a Briar. If you ever considered yourself a member of the Briarpatch Network or one of its sister groups, then “Yes!” we think of you as a Briar too.

Even if you’re just now learning about the Briarpatch, you could be a Briar and just never called yourself that. The group links listed below are the online networking spaces for members and friends. There are no dues required. All giving is voluntary. Visit the Briarpatch Dues and Donations” page, * if you wish to join or to make a gift or tithe.

Sharing the Milk

* Fifth & Sixth Laws of Money: You can never give or receive money as a gift.

If you’d like to share or help in any way, that’s wonderful! We can’t wait to hear from you! Use our contact form to start a conversation or visit any of our online group links listed below.

You Are a Briar!

If you feel an affinity with what you’ve learned about us so far or a desire to learn more, then you are a Briar. Old or new, you are welcome!

Rabbits Holding a Meeting

Welcome, Briar!

Let's build something together!

Join, add to, or update your information by visiting the

Briarpatch Virtual Community at Ning.com.

When you fill out or update your profile there, your contact information and the answers to our member questions are automatically added to our database. After that, you’ll get notices of upcoming meetings, courses, parties, and other events.

Repairing the Roof - A Cooperative Venture

Many of us also hang out on Facebook. You’re welcome to join us there, whether or not you have registered to join at Ning.com beforehand. If you join the Ning group, you get access to Briarpatch member privileges. If you join the Facebook group, but not the Ning group, we consider you a “friend of the Briarpatch” but not yet a member.

We invite you to visit the experimental group spaces listed above where present-day Briars and friends are playing. We also invite you to refer your friends too, if you think they would want to benefit and/or contribute.

Still not sure?

Still not sure if you’re a Briar?

We invite you to continue to check us out or engage us in a conversation . . .