Groups: Turning Profit in the Rural System


The Gardens Group manages gardens on Rural System enterprise environments.

Say you own a forest and you want to make money off of it.  Do you clear-cut the forest and call it a day? Some might say yes: exploit that resource while you have it and enjoy the money in the short-term. Others, like our team here at Rural System, ask if there are other ways to make a profit off a forest or other tract of land. Unsurprisingly we find our answer already playing out in natural systems. In ecosystems you find creatures living off of other creatures or even off of inorganic minerals in the most astonishing ways. No source of energy goes unused.  Our answer?: Diversify!

So our founder, Dr. Robert Giles, set to work trying to imagine just about every possible way a person could turn a reasonable profit on their land without destroying the land in the process. By now his list is quite impressive, including everything from woodworking to wildlife control (the “pest force”) to even profiting from ponds. Each of these business avenues would be organized into a separate “group” or “enterprise” using resources from Rural System “enterprise environments.” The idea is that these businesses would work with resources from multiple enterprise environments in a cluster, or even multiple clusters, to more efficiently market products and services on land under Rural System management.

Profits from these businesses would be pooled, and would then be allocated based on the percentage contribution of each group.  This arrangement is more stable for all businesses involved. Each group has a record or reputation for a percentage contribution to total profits, so if a group has a poor quarter while other groups do better, that group will still receive stable income. Much like the benefits gained by managing properties in clusters, connecting the groups in the Rural System provides unprecedented stability for otherwise small, unpredictable businesses.  For example, a woodworking group on its own might have a hard time setting up shop, but in a system with a logging operation down the road and a general store in which to sell products, the group has a better chance surviving.

But best of all, this system of small groups spreads out the load on the environment. What might be damaging as a large scale endeavor (logging) may not be damaging at a smaller scale and could be sustained for a longer period of time. A clear example of this is detailed in Five Benefits of Small-Scale Farming. The groups of Rural System together make it possible, through their diversity, to increase profit benefits while reducing costs to land health.

Some links in this post lead to Guide to Rural System (, a site featuring in-depth, comprehensive coverage of Rural System concepts, actively updated by Rural System founder Robert H. Giles, Jr. since the mid-1990s.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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