From the documents "History" and "Are you a Briar?" authored in 1983 by a committee of member volunteers for use in responding to network correspondance.

On this page you will find:

Below, you’ll find the contents of the document “Where Did Briarpatch Come From?” created by a group of volunteers in 1983. The committee was diligent in conducting interviews and researching previous writings, including Seven Laws, The Briarpatch Book, and source material from the Briarpatch archives. Even so, some controversy arose over the difference between this history and the one penned by Michael Phillips in 2002. To address this and avoid future issues, a “history of histories” was created celebrating the sharing of everyone’s points of view and stories about the network.

That said, some factual differences are noted and corrected here: 2002 – Historical Controversy

The Backstory to This 1983 History

By the early 1980s, the Briarpatch mailbox was overflowing with queries from folks all around the world responding to the flag that was raised in Seven Laws of Money and The Briarpatch Book.

Even with apprentice help and volunteer members, we were falling behind in responding to all these sincere queries.

A new coordinator (Claude Whitmyer) had been recruited by Shali and as a first task, he was asked to look at how to make phone and mail communications more efficient.

He recruited volunteers from the membership to come up with some recommendations. The top two most frequently asked questions from our many correspondents were:

  • Where did Briarpatch come from?
  • How can I know if I’m a Briar?

These weren’t questions that could be answered in a sentence or two. The volunteers recommended that a couple of documents be written so we didn’t need to start from scratch every time and the group committed to trying their hand at doing just that.

The next few FAQs required only short simple answers. The volunteers suggested these could be put on the Briarpatch answering machine as part of a 2-minute outgoing message. The coordinator agreed to take care of that message. Using an answering machine also meant that the two-minute message could be skipped by members who just wanted a callback.

In 1983, both sets of FAQ answers were put into service.

We found that the phone message handled the needs of 6 in 10 incoming calls. The contents of “Where did Briarpatch come from?” and “How can I know if I’m a Briar?” displayed on this page made it much easier to respond to written queries. We simply returned a copy of each by mail with a short hand-written note. Time on task was reduced to less than a minute for each letter—a little longer for responding to out of the ordinary queries.


Where did Briarpatch come from?

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.

See 2002 – Historical Controversy for the corrections to the above paragraph.

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 got Dick Raymond, CPA Elliot Buchdrucker, insurance broker Werner Hebenstreit, and lawyer Tom Silk together and 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 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 sessions every Wednesday. Very soon, so many people were coming for advice that they asked Dick, Elliot, Werner, and Tom to help out.

See 2002 – Historical Controversy for the corrections to the above paragraph.

From 1974 to 1994 the Briarpatch saw more than 1,000 people pass through it’s membership roles.

  • Hold an event “starring” a Briarpatch celebrity and several hundred people might show up.
  • Send out a direct mail piece and there may be up to 200 names currently on the mailing list.
  • Throw a party and 50 to a 100 people will attend.
  • Hold a workshop on business skills and up 30 30 or moremembers may participate.

In the Bay Area there have also been several satellite networks in Marin and Sonoma counties, in the East Bay and on the Peninsula.

Coordinators have included:

  • San Francisco
    • Andy (Baha’uddin) Alpine
    • Charles (Shali) Albert Parsons
    • Claude (Br’er Claude) Whitmyer
  • Marin
    • Peter Oldfield
    • Sylvia Gorman
    • Michael Stein
  • East Bay
    • Roger Pritchard
    • Elissa Brown
    • Portia Sinnot
    • Trician Commings
  • Sonoma
    • Jim Everett
    • Jim Bucheister
    • Tom Hargadon
    • Salli Rasberry
    • Joan Leslie Taylor
  • Bay Area Peninsula
    • Dave Smith
    • Paul Hawken

We have also been in touch with networks offering similar support structures to the Briarpatch:

  • In the U.S.: Tennessee and Washington
  • Internationally: Australia, Denmark, England, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden.

In 1973 Gurney Norman published the first compilation of community stories entitled The Briarpatch Review.

An ever evolving team of Network members launched the next effort soon thereafter and published eleven more issues in all.The first eight issues were published as a book compilation by New Glide/Reed in 1978 entitled The Briarpatch Book: Experiences in Right Livelihood and Simple Living from the Briarpatch Community.

Are You a Briar?

How can I know if I'm a Briar?

The Briarpatch is a system of self-reliance and mutual support for small, really-small and one-person businesses. It starts with the ideas that you are a Briar if you:

  1. Seek to do work you love and make a good living doing it.
  2. Have an insatiable curiosity about how the world works and love to learn.
  3. Prefer cooperation to “going it alone.”
  4. See honesty and openness as superior strategies to deception and secretiveness.
  5. Place a high value on personal and social responsibility.
  6. Belive in right livelihood and simple living.
  7. Open your financial records to your community.
  8. Put quality and service ahead of just making money.
  9. See making a profit as necessary to staying in business.
  10. Think it is important to include fun in everything you do.

Are you a Briar? If so, please update your contact information and answer our member questions by joining the Briarpatch Virtual Community.

How Can I Find a Briarpatch Where I Live?

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 kernel 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 boardrooms, 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 timekeeper, 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.