[Update August 2019: This article is a couple years old, but it is newly updated. Importantly, It is again true that Twin Oaks no longer has a waiting list.]
For most of the last 9 years there has been a waiting list at Twin Oaks. It is now gone.
People seek explanations for why we dropped down into the mid 80s of adults, when we had been at our population cap of 92 for so long. There is no single reason.
But because there are now spaces available to people who come to do the visitor period, it is worth reviewing why it might be a good time to ditch your mainstream life and consider living in a full service commune.
No Bosses: Our managers are nothing like your manager. They don’t generally fire people, they don’t determine raises or promotions. Instead they organize trainings and make sure the needed materials are available and the machines are functioning properly. Every one of our ‘managers’ also works on the production line. Because all jobs are volunteer, managers who exploit their co-workers find themselves lonely. This drives the MBAs a bit crazy.
No Money: Can you imagine going through your day and not touching cash or credit cards? The commune strives to and largely succeeds in providing all the things people need outside the conventional money system. Food, housing, clothing, medical services, education, and entertainment are distributed freely and fairly. You work your quota (currently 42 hours a week) and all your needs are met.
No advertising: Transformative festivals like Burning Man make a big deal out of being non-commercial and largely advertisement free. For many attendees the break from the constant onslaught of commercial images and invitations to buy things, most of which you don’t want, is a big relief. But you can’t live at these festivals. You can live at Twin Oaks, where if you stay off the internet and don’t read one of the many magazines we collectively subscribe to, you can avoid advertisements indefinitely.
No punch clocks: One of the other things the boss you don’t have is not doing is keeping track of your hours. In this trust-based system you record the different work you do. Our flexible work system means you can always find work in the hammock shop or in the kitchen and if you want to be scheduled you can be, but if you prefer to figure it out yourself each day, that is available also.
No fear: What do you feel if you hear someone behind you in the dark whom you don’t know? While it is not true to say we completely escape all crime, we avoid so much of it that some visitors realize the difference between where I live and where they live is that there has been a constant mostly low level threat for most of their waking hours, which vanishes in this prosaic collective rural living.
It is not just what we don’t have that defines us, the things we do choose and possess are crucial.
We strive to be self-sufficient: We build our own buildings, organically grow most of our own food, run our own businesses, teach our kids, and create our own holidays and culture. The community has spawned and nurtured painters and poets, quilters and woodcarvers. We’ve had folk singers, rock bands, chanters and primal screamers. You can find someone to teach you how to juggle, or program a computer, or deliver a newborn calf. We stage our own theater productions and provide an unusually appreciative audience for visiting performers. We have our own coffeehouses, writing groups, and social clubs.
Economic self-sufficiency means we have seven businesses:
- We make about 8,000 hammocks a year and sell them online and in stores and at the craft fairs we attend.
- We make 400,000 lbs of tofu. We are just starting a new line which will enable us to double production.
- We indexed 60 books last year, mostly with academic presses.
- We have a contract services business which does demolition, elder care, house cleaning and removes the basketball floor at midnight on Thanksgiving at UVa John Paul Jones Arena.
- We do seed growing and wholesale distribution of Acorn’s Southern Exposure organic and heritage seed business.
- We run conferences and gatherings, like the upcoming Womens Gathering (Aug 19 thru 21) and Communities Conference over labor day (Sept 2 thru 5) as well as the Herb Workshop.
- We sell beautiful organic ornamental flowers.
We live lightly on the land: We heat our buildings with sustainably harvested wood from our land. Most buildings have a solar hot water preheating system and half of the newest residential building is off the grid completely, using only electricity provided by the sun, with residents agreeing to keep consumption low and use efficient appliances. We sort our waste into over a dozen different categories and reuse and recycle fiercely. The food we don’t grow we buy in bulk, which cuts down on packaging. We have our own sewage treatment plant, which runs at well-above state required standards and are planning a constructed wetlands. We have 20% the carbon foot print of our mainstream counterparts, mostly because we share things so robustly: clothes and cars and buildings and bicycles and musical instruments.
We are self-selecting: You cannot simply move to Twin Oaks tomorrow, and strangers who just drop in are politely asked to leave. You need to write us first and link up with one of the regularly scheduled three-week visits, or just take our Saturday tour. During the three-week visit, we orient you to our culture and more importantly, it gives both you and us a chance to live and work together. Then we ask visitors to go away for a month and think about whether they really want to live in our slightly odd and extraordinary village.
[This is the big asterisk part] *But it is not paradise: There are all kind of good reasons why people leave my commune (or never come in the first place.) Some people want more independence, they don’t want to have to ask the health team for some expensive exotic medical procedure. Some people want more of their own space than their own room. Some members leave because they don’t find the romantic partner they want, or the one they had ended the relationship and it is too hard to see their former partner every day. It is hard to make enough money to take long trips or far away vacations (our members get a tiny allowance of $100 a month.)
And then there is this resume problem. If you want to be a millionaire or CEO, you should probably skip the commune step. This is not to say that some members have not used the community as an applied university. And we have had many general managers of million dollar businesses who were in their early twenties. But when they ask you how much you were paid at your last job, your next employer is likely to be unimpressed by in-kind wages.
The real question to ponder is, “Are you ready for a radical departure from what you are used to?” Community could be the answer. And now that there is not a waiting list at Twin Oaks, perhaps this is the right one for you. Here is a recent video by BBC 4 on Twin Oaks
If you are interested in applying for membership click here.
The post originally appeared in the CommuneLife blog.
I do like the phone. Most recently i have been calling communities about coming to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference this Labor Day weekend. It is early enough in the year that we get to brainstorm all manner of possibilities. What workshops they might do in the open space technology section? Who they might be able to bring with them? What kinds of ride sharing is possible? Labor Day is far enough away that people don’t have things scheduled and are willing to consider this, especially the highest ranked communities which i am calling, many of whom are predisposed to coming out again or checking it out.
The Twin Oaks Communities Conference runs a bit like a well oiled machine. We have been literally doing it for decades. We have notebooks which reminds us when to do everything and google drive docs which chronicle many previous schemes and name all the tasks and past volunteers who have made this complex event happen. This year we are putting out the call for presenters quite early. This is not to say that the Communities Conference doesn’t need good organizers. Despite being well understood, there is always something which tests us in putting it on. Transformative movements can’t be content to keep doing what they already do well, we need to expand and touch the lives of more people. And so i was extremely happy when the fine folks at Groundswell Institute agreed to host the West Coast Communities Conference.
Groundswell is a new community, two hours north of San Francisco and founded by radical queer friends of ours, some of whom are ex-Oakers. Groundswell is interested in growing to about 15 people in the next year from the handful they have now. When i asked what type of people they were searching for, there was a short but comprehensive consultation amongst the members present. “Non-heteronormative” was the response (more on this soon).
The physical plant of Groundswell in impressive. It is an ecovillage on over 180 acres of land (with all human activity concentrated on 40 acres). It is a former campsite which can sleep 80 people indoors in cabins. It has a full sized institutional kitchen, pond, amphitheater, dance hall and some amazing trees.
How amazing you ask? Well if you read this blog you know my dear friend Shal is very into trees. We climb them regularly. Shal and i visited Groundswell together last year. When we were on our way, Shal was concerned that this visit to my friends would delay our visiting the big trees of California that he had heard so much about. He was not expecting to be impressed with the trees at Groundswell. We arrived there at night, and after being welcomed with conversation and good food, made our way in the dark to one of the many cozy cabins.
In the morning when Shal came out of the cabin to go to the main house, he stopped in his tracks as he saw the view and the trees. Fortunately breakfast was going to be available for a while, so he could afford to give in to the powerful urge to gaze at the amazing view of Groundswell and the valley and hills beyond. And he saw beautiful trees! They were more human scale than the giant redwoods, but the closest one was magnificent, reaching out as well as up, with big mossy branches at chest level, easy to touch and climb on, which he did. And when he moved on to the main house for breakfast, he found that also had a very impressive view.
Later Kyle took us on a tour of Groundswell, and Shal spent much of the time looking at the views and trees, including spending some time at the Grandfather tree at the top of the hill, from which there is a grand full circle view of the beautiful hills valleys and hills surrounding Groundswell.
Groundswell has put out the call for presenters to this event. There will be Open Space Technology at WCCC, just like there is at Twin Oaks Communities Conference, which is an appropriate place for content which might be your expertise, but is not specifically related to community life (permaculture, renewable energy, anti-oppression work, polyamory workshops, etc). Topics appropriate for scheduled portion of the program are listed below, as distinct from the Open Space section. There will also be a number of workshops on topics directly related to community living which will be presented. There is a list of these topics below. Think about your west Coast and especially Bay Area friends and let them know this is happening. Tickets (including one day passes) are available here.
Call for Presenters Living as Community: West Coast Communities Conference, October 9 – 12, 2015, Groundswell Community & Institute, Yorkville, CA (2 hours north of bay area)
Groundswell, an emerging ecovillage and retreat center, is proud to announce a new West Coast Communities Conference. Organized with sponsorship from the Fellowship for Intentional Communities (FIC) and the Federation of Egalitarian Communes (FEC), the main goal of this conference is to provide opportunities for networking and skill building for people involved with the communities movement. Those who already have experience with community will be able to share and increase their skills, while those who may be new to the movement will learn a wide range of models and practices that others have used in starting and sustaining successful communities. We are hoping to have a wide range of community movers and shakers to present workshops, dialogues, and demonstrations. Anyone with interest or experience in worker cooperatives, rural communes, artist collectives, or any other kind of communal enterprise is invited to participate. We encourage people to be creative in the matter and manner of these presentations and ask only that they hold some relation to intentional community. Some possible topics include (but aren’t limited to):
- different approaches to creating communities
- membership and financing
- sustainable building and living practices
- social and organizational skills
- decision-making, consensus, and practices of inclusivity
- diverse communities and diversity within communities
- communications and group process
- conflict resolution
- resource management
- models and sources for community building
- visions and charters
In addition, the organizing team is still looking for help with logistics both before and during the conference. If you are interested in being involved in that way, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. To propose a presentation, get involved in other ways, or for more information, please contact:
Kevin “Faire” Faircloth, Project Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org 714-342-0809
Kyle is organizing the Meet the Communities” so if you are in part of a place based community which wants to present please contact him at email@example.com
Special Communities Salon: On Saturday of the conference, representatives of different communities will have the opportunity to introduce themselves through short presentations to the attendees. In addition, communities are invited to bring tabletop displays to help show off their home. This is a great opportunity for communities to meet potential new members and vice versa. Please contact assistant organizer Faire at firstname.lastname@example.org
With some regularity a young activist will come to me and ask
“What issue should i work on? There are so many important ones to choose from.”
Indeed there are. And some years back i would have found this question quite vexing. Clearly one should do some kind of analysis. Looking at the current state of political affairs, weighing all different possible effects of the various campaigning efforts, examining where the opportunities were, comparing your own skill set to what the various movements need.
Now i think differently. “Ignore the issues, look for the people who inspire you. Look for the group you want to be with and do what they do.” Issues matter, but it turns out that what inspires prospective activists matters more.
In a few hours we will start the communities conference. There has been tremendous work at the site, expanding and improving the kitchen facilities, fixing bridges, putting up domes all over the place. The place really looks great.
But it is not because of the physical plant upgrade, or even the killer program for this event that you should change your weekend plans. It’s because of the people coming. The colorful gang from the Baltimore Free Farm will be attending. Representatives from Ganas and Catalyst Communities in NYC will be here. Most of the income sharing egalitarian communities are sending ambassadors (East Wind, The Midden, Living Energy Farm, Sandhill Farm, Acorn and Sapling). Workshops will be done by folks from Red Earth Farms and Heathcote and The Farm and Dancing Rabbit.
Beyond existing communities there are compelling presenters coming from all manner of groups including Network for a New Culture, Hack RVA (the Richmond Maker Space), Charlottesville Time Bank, Health Care for All and Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).
If you need to be inspired, this group will do it. If you are trying to start a community, useful answers found here. If your idea is going to change the world, you should be presenting at the Open Space on Sunday.
Post Script: The Communities Conference Dance on Saturday night is reliably one of the best dances at Twin Oaks over the course of the year.