By Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry

Who We Are

The Briarpatch Book is a flag we are holding in the air to find people like ourselves. “Briarpatch” is a word that conveys a set of values: openness, sharing, and serving people through business. The Briarpatch consists of several thousand people throughout America who recognize and have found each other through shared interests. What we have in common are our business values and the joy and excitement we feel about our work. Many hundreds of us in the San Francisco Bay Area already know each other on a face-to-face basis through the Briarpatch Network, and our community is growing exuberantly.

This book is a collection of our first eight Briarpatch Reviews, which have given the members of the network and our friends a glimpse into the lives and businesses of other Briars. These articles reveal how a Briar’s life is an expression of his or her personal values and include much of what we have learned in running our businesses—our successes and failures, how we got started, and how we are growing. We have included countless examples of ingredients that have made our lives happy and our businesses fun.

Our concern as Briars is the celebration of life and business. We find joy in business, and our businesses are gems radiating the excitement of our lives. The Briarpatch is a network of small-business people who have three values in common: we are in business because we love it; we find our reward in serving people rather than in amassing large sums of money, and we share our resources with each other as much as we can, especially our knowledge of business. We share management and marketing information, legal and technical know-how, names of suppliers, and what general practices work and do not work. We are committed to keeping our books and financial records open. Our customers, employees, friends, and relatives know how much we earn, how much our supplies cost, and anything else they want to know about the financial workings of our businesses.

We share naturally because we love what we are doing, and we are open because our practices are honest. If you share these values, then you, too, are a Briar. Welcome. This book is for you. We have reprinted these first eight issues of the Briarpatch Review because of growing national interest in the Briarpatch and because the Review, even with its faults, gives the most accurate picture of who we are.

A History of the Briarpatch

Dick Raymond is the father of the Briarpatch concept which emerged in early 1973. Dick also is the founder of the Portola Institute, which has been the catalyst for several community-based groups and the publisher of the revolutionary Whole Earth Catalog. interestingly, a book called The Brier-Patch Philosophy had been published in 1906; it presented a nineteenth-century naturalistic/religious view of the rabbit world in which everything worked out for the best in the long run. Dick did not know of that book, and ironically his idea grew out of a much different experience. He and many others in the early 1970s were disturbed by the endless Viet Nam War and high inflation rates. Many within Portola were predicting an apocalypse, with the economy falling in shambles around our feet. ln this milieu, Stewart Brand was examining the tools for post-apocalyptic survival and planning in his new Co-Evolution Quarterly.

Dick’s Briarpatch idea grew out of his image of a dinosaur-like demise of existing large businesses. In his first visions of the Briarpatch, he saw the giant corporate dinosaurs unable to find food for their enormous profit appetites. He visualized a business apocalypse, using such terms as “living with joy in the cracks” to describe the new sub-society in which “the cracks” referred to his apocalyptic earthquake image. The Briarpatch was to be the social system for survival, with Briars using the tools of living on less, sharing with each other, and learning through new small businesses. To this, Dick added the positive value of doing it all with joy. ln his vision, Briars were to be doing what they loved most, secure from the ravages of the crumbling culture around them. Their lack of material possessions and small-scale living would appear to others like real briar patches—thorny places so unappealing to the greedy people around them that, like rabbits, Briars would be safe.

Dick and I were close friends and worked together on various Portola projects. Although I personally didn’t believe in an apocalypse, I loved his Briarpatch idea for its joy and wisdom and quoted Dick’s definition of the Briarpatch in The Seven Laws of Money, which Rasberry and I were writing.

Dick lived south of San Francisco in suburban Menlo Park, where the Portola Institute is located and where the very first Briarpatch journal was compiled by Gurney Norman. Gurney edited and published this first journal called the Briarpatch Review and sent it free to a select mailing list of friends and users of the Whole Earth Truck Store. Gurney is one of our spiritual heroes and the author of “Divine Right’s Trip,” a novel first published in the Last Whole Earth Catalog. His Briarpatch Review described the new Briarpatch Auto Coop, which had started that summer in Menlo Park, the Zen Center in San Francisco, and various Portola projects. The journal had a subdued but glossy layout in tablet format and was published in November 1973. The Seven Laws of Money was nearly ready for the printer by that time, and we encouraged subscriptions to the new journal on the last page of the book. However, Gurney moved on, and there was no community in Menlo Park to put out the second issue.

A sustained Briarpatch Review needed a real Briarpatch network to nourish it, and San Francisco was the ideal community in which such a network could be created. The two principals in that venture were Andy Alpine, a former lawyer and researcher, and me. We both lived in San Francisco and had met while working on another project. We got along wonderfully, and I hired Andy to do some work for me in sex research and to search for a waterfront office where I could offer small-business counseling. Andy finished the research and found the office by May 1974, and I opened the office in June.

Three months later I found that I needed help. I had been giving free advice to small-business people and potential Briars once a week, helping many to start their own businesses. They would get their advice on Wednesday and start following it. By the next Monday they needed a truck, by Tuesday they wanted a bookkeeper, and I wasn’t around to help them with the necessary follow-through. Andy was the perfect person to help out, and he was willing to do it. He needed $250 a month, which we initially raised with six-month pledges of support of $50 to $100 from Lew Durham; Dick Raymond; Elliot Buckdrucker, a CPA friend; Werner Hebenstreit, an insurance broker; Tom Silk, a lawyer; Ron Wilton, a film producer; and me. My free business consultation and Andy’s follow-up grew into the Briarpatch Network, a community that agreed to support Andy after our six-month pledges had run out.

Lew Durham, who was a founder of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church’s radical 1960s social-change programs, played a role twice in 1974. He was one of the founding contributors who supported Andy’s work, and in July he helped put on a conference concerning right livelihood and business. The conference was held at a camp eighty miles south of San Francisco, with twenty-five to thirty people attending. We all had great fun, and many of those people became part of the Briarpatch Network.

Although an actual Briarpatch community existed by the end of 1974, the original Briarpatch Review of Menlo Park had been defunct for twelve months, and letters were piling up from readers of The Seven Laws requesting information and subscriptions. Dick Raymond was encouraging anyone who was interested to take responsibility for the long-overdue next issue. Annie Styron and I had dinner with Dick and his wife one evening in November 1974 and left that night committed to doing the Briarpatch Review together. Annie had worked on the Whole Earth Catalog and on Ram Dass’ Be Here Now, published while she was living at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico. She was excited, skilled, and energetic, and we worked wonderfully well together.

Our eight-page sample Review was distributed for comments at a Briarpatch Network garage sale, and by April 1975 we had the first issue published, with much help from Judi Johnston and other friends. Everyone came to that first issue-collation event, which turned into a party and thereafter a tradition. The people who help put together the Review are mentioned in each issue, and they all are wonderful and essential.

Since our first issue, several changes have taken place that should be noted here. Kris Anundsen became a major contributor, typist, and editor from the second issue onward. Andy Alpine took the name Bahauddin in late 1976 after study and initiation in a Sufi order and was joined by Charles Albert Parsons as co-coordinator of the Briarpatch Network. Annie Styron worked with Kris and me on the six issues up to Summer 1976 and then moved on to other projects. Recently we received a vital injection of new help and support when Tom Hargadon joined the staff. He is a lawyer, bar owner, and former urban planner who took over subscriptions, accounting, and mail and distribution tasks. Deon Kaner joined us on the Fall 1976 issue, helping us with layouts. I worked hard on the seventh issue to provide a smooth transition among the staff and felt comfortable leaving the eighth issue to the new crew of Tom, Deon, and the replacement for Kris-Aryae Coopersmith, our new editor.

Few projects have been so rewarding in our lives. We feel that the enormous efforts involved are worth it when the love and appreciation of our readers come through via the mail and when new people have arrived to carry on the Review.

With All Our Blemishes and Freckles

ln this compilation of the first eight Briarpatch Reviews published in San Francisco, we didn’t edit our mistakes or leave out calendar events that have long passed. They are part of our history.

When Annie and I and our friends were designing the Briarpatch Review, it was important to us to reflect the spirit of the newly emerging Briarpatch Network and to encourage others to create a similar kind of journal for themselves. To us, high-gloss perfection was not necessary; in fact, it was undesirable.

The design that you see here evolved from our having made a series of careful choices to impart a warm and exciting down-home quality to the Review. For instance, the page size is obtained by folding a standard 8 1/2″ by 14″ sheet in half. We decided to print the first issue of our Review on heavy, rough paper because we liked the texture and because the paper was relatively inexpensive. We chose the mimeograph process since we felt that most people have access to a mimeo machine should they want to do their own “Review.” Annie and I felt that color was vital to express the joy and excitement of the Briarpatch and that with Mimeo we could afford the luxury of going beyond black and white printing. We had been impressed with some beautiful color mimeograph flyers we had seen posted throughout San Francisco that had been created by the Neighborhood Arts Council, a marvelous group dedicated to stimulating indigenous art within neighborhoods. Like homebaked cookies, each poster was unique. We got in touch with Arlene Goldbard, the woman who had designed the flyers, and she generously helped us print the first Review. In our second and third issues, we combined color mimeograph with offset printing. In our later issues, we moved totally to offset printing as the mimeograph process had been taking too much time. Annie and I found a friend who would print the Review at a very low rate and who also was willing to learn to use color on her offset machine.

In this book, we have limited ourselves to two colors, which helps keep the sales price low while still giving us the warmth color provides. We also have changed a few graphics in cases where our original experiments resulted in unreadable pages. Because the Briarpatch is so much about learning for each of us, the blemishes and freckles in our work are part of what we gladly share with you.

The Publishing Deal

The publishing of The Briarpatch Book is the result of natural alliances. New Glide Publications originally was the publishing arm of Glide Church, which helped with printing many issues of the Review and where I am employed as business manager, Rasberry is a partner in New Glide, and Ruth Gottstein, another of the principals in the company, and her husband are members of the Briarpatch Network.

This book is co-published by New Glide and Reed Books, the newly formed West Coast subsidiary of Addison House. Our publishing contract is unique. Instead of a standard royalty arrangement, we share with the publishers in the profits of the book once all production and marketing expenses have been paid.

Pricing Our Books

Why price our books at exactly $8.00 (softcover) and $15.00 (hardcover)? Traditionally, publishers and booksellers would recommend prices of $7.95 and $14.95 so that the books would appear to be in the cheaper $7 and $14 price ranges. Based on this kind of thinking, products sold in our culture are priced at $3.99, $6.98, etc.; so why aren’t we doing it?

It is important to Briars that the integrity of our lives carry over into our businesses. Following the example of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, we are open and accessible in every way. The openness in business that so clearly joins us together extends to our pricing. Cutting one cent off a price to make something appear less expensive is part of a deceptive game that many business people play and that we in the Briarpatch discourage. ln our culture, we don’t use deceptive pricing in “professional” relationships between client and supplier. For example, there is never a $19.95 charge for a visit to a dentist or veterinarian. We would be embarrassed by such phoniness. ln Japan, a culture noted for its honesty, all prices are in round numbers; so we know this could be a business reality in our country. 

Join Us

We have raised our flag. If you are an alternative business person and are committed to service through creative labor, we welcome your support, articles, and comments. Join us, please, and subscribe if you want to become more directly involved.

Click a button below to join us or just hang out. Add your name to the mailing list if you want to receive our newsletter or announcements about parties, public events, and workshops, webinars, or courses.

The first button will take you to our virtual community on Ning. This is where everything members hang out share details about their businesses in a directory format. Registering to join involves a short questionnaire about you and what you’re up to “business-wise.” This is the button to click if you’re deeply enmeshed in a creative project, non-profit cause, or money-making enterprise and you want to take advantage of Briarpatch Member Benefits.

The next button allows you to join our other online group at Facebook. There’s no registration to fill out and anybody can join. The Facebook group exists as a convenience for our members and friends who find they spend a lot of time there. This is where everything starts and where all announcements and activities are shared first.

The groups are good for anybody and best for you if you’re uncertain about engaging us or you’re not self-employed yet and just want to hang out with like-minded people.

Facebook has nearly 130 “friends” and the most interaction between Briarpatch members and friends of Briarpatch.

The virtual community on Ning has almost 100 members, is made up of 100% people in “business” functions as our membership roster and directory.