Sorry for my delay in posting; the past few nights I have not had access to WiFi. I think I will do two separate posts for the two communities I visited, then do a Charlottesville post later. (I arrived here in Charlottesville yesterday afternoon.)
So… three days ago, I finally got to visit the fabled Twin Oaks community! (“100 people sharing our lives.”) I encourage you to read more about the community at the link; unfortunately I didn’t soak up all the knowledge I’d enjoy sharing about it during my brief tour.
Briefly, though: it was founded in 1967, making it one of the oldest continually operating intentional communities in the world. Keenan (pictured at the sign) who gave me the tour, said that it seems to be operating pretty similarly to the way it always has. The membership has stayed relatively consistent. Keenan has been there for more than 30 years; his two sons, who also live there, were born there.
My day began with a 17-mile ride from Bumpass, through beautiful country roads. (I did make note of the copious poison ivy in the area! See it creeping up a tree trunk here.)
When I arrived, I found Keenan and his friend Leslie waiting for me, clapping for me as I rode up. Leslie is a former longtime Twin Oaks resident, who had come back for a visit. She currently resides in another intentional community, in the Staten Island borough of New York City.
They both walked me through part of the community, and we stopped at the auto shop where Leslie used to lead an all-women crew. No one in the community owns a private car (I think I’m remembering that correctly) but they do have a small fleet of autos available—mostly cargo vans—to use personally whenever they might need to go into town.
Leslie then stopped to chat with another old friend, so Keenan and I continued the tour. I asked about finances: Do people maintain their personal finances, or throw them into “the pot” on arrival? I knew that the community sustained itself financially via several businesses, including hammock making, seed growing, and—I just learned on the tour—tofu making! Keenan said that new members don’t throw their money into the pot (“that would be too cult-like,” he said with a laugh) but that they are expected to freeze their personal assets while living at the community, in order to put all members on relatively equal financial footing while living together. People can use their own money to go on vacations, or to spend outside the community, but otherwise, people earn a monthly stipend from the community’s businesses, and they live simply, eating much of their own food from the fields, and sometimes even sharing clothes via their “commie clothes” program, so everyone seems financially content.
Members are expected to work 42 hours per week (it used to be 49) and this includes all kinds of “labor,” not just the kind of labor that is typically renumerated in the outside world. For example, cooking, cleaning, and child care are all included under the 42-hour week, as well as any kind of outdoor/yard work, work in the businesses, and even computer work such as indexing books for an outside publisher. People seem comfortable with the “work-life balance.”
We went into the community house/dining area, and I was tickled to see the low-tech but effective ways they have for communicating, such as bulletin boards with handwritten cards, clipboards with proposals and space for members to write their commentary and feedback, etc.
Cell phones are not prohibited on-site, but it is strongly encouraged that people use them only on the periphery of the community, in the parking lots, to encourage low-tech living with more in-person contact, rather than a bunch of people hunched over their individual phones, like most of us do. Keenan doesn’t even own a cell phone; his fellow community member Valerie (who had initially planned to give me the tour, but found herself unable at the last minute because of an injury) asked him to wait for me at the entrance, then emailed me to tell me to look for him at 1:30. Just like in the olden days, that worked out!
One of the last things Keenan showed me was a really cool outdoor dining table that community members had designed and built. It has a hole in the middle, with a seating area for kids inside. Kids can climb in and face the adults on the outside of the table. There is also a “notch” taken out of one side, making it wheelchair-accessible.
Then we went past one of the residential buildings, where Keenan and his partner and their two adult sons live. (Keenan and one of the sons will soon be setting out for a large-loop road trip around the US, similar to my own trip except by car. Perhaps we will cross paths again!)
After the tour, Leslie serendipitously offered me a ride in her Prius over to Living Energy Farm, my next destination about ten miles away, because she was heading there for an overnight visit as well. I accepted the offer, and we had some good conversation during the drive and then the 10-15 minute walk up and down the rustic driveway at LEF.
Thanks to Keenan and Leslie for showing me around Twin Oaks! I’m so glad I got to see the place in person.
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