Saturday, April 07, 2012

"Twin Oaks", in the Virginia Piedmont, is an "Intentional Community" of shared living (with manufacturing businesses); report on my visit today


Today, I visited the Twin Oaks Intentional Community, about ten miles SW of Mineral, VA, about 40 miles NW or Richmond, in the Virginia Piedmont, about 500 feet above sea level.  By chance, it is located fairly close to the epicenter of the Aug. 23 Virginia earthquake but sustained little damage. The website is (website url) here

The Community is one of about a thousand “communities” in the United States built around group living.
From a “policy” viewpoint, these kinds of places are important because they represent a new effort toward local sustainability, and they could become very much a way of life if the whole country ever had a huge catastrophe.  I must add here, that I think there is a trade-off or balance between local sustainability and individual innovation, when it comes to the progress and good of society as a whole. 

Back in 1980 and again in 1984 I had visited the Lama Foundation in New Mexico, while living in Dallas.  Lama is somewhat dedicated to spiritual practice that crosses all major faiths. I remember a leader there named Marigold who said, “she came here to come to the woods, not be away from something.”  It is located at 8600 feet in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, north of Sante Fe and Taos.  It had a huge wildfire fire in 1996 but has since rebuilt.

By comparison, Twin Oaks is entirely secular.  It has about 95 members, including some children.
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The three hour tour was conducted by “Wizard”, 60, who has actually lived at Lama and dropped out of “middle class” life in the 1990s.
   
The Community follows a principle of shared income, and allows residents a very modest allowance (in addition to room and board) for excursions outside the property.   The medium of exchange is actually work hours, in “.1 hour” increments, almost as if they could be represented by a currency.  An adult resident (up to a certain age) is required to put in somewhat more than 40 hours of work a week. Much of the work is performed in the Community’s main businesses, which largely comprise hammock manufacture, tofu preparation (from soy), and indexing academic books.  The hammock and tofu “plants” are extensive, if relatively simple and straightforward in technology. They are quite impressive to see.  Jobs in these plants tend to be repetitive and “hard” but are done equally by men and women.  (Women outnumber men slightly, and there are some families with children, which get larger housing spaces.)  Work credits are also given for cooking (in the common kitchen, which is large), cleaning, childcare (for others), etc.  Some kids are home schooled and some go to college. Health care insurance (and even dental) is provided inexpensively through the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (about 35 miles away).  That makes me wonder if there is something to learn from this in the health care debate. 

There is even a hospice under construction.  There are a couple of common recreational areas where DVD movies are shown and music is performed. There is Internet access.  Use of media used to be frowned on as interfering with socialization (or “social capital”) but now is much more accepted.

There is a solar panel facility in the fields, and some of the larger housing units have solar panels. 

The property is large, almost a square mile, and the tour probably involves about two miles of “hiking” along many wooded trails on the property.  Buildings, a mix of residences and factory spaces, appear at regular intervals, making the property seem like a “kingdom” as if it could be diagramed on a board game space. 

Many of the residences have a rustic appearance. (One of the recreation rooms actually had a board game out called “class warfare” and I had never heard of it.)  The tour imparts the feeling of “being on another planet” (but Lama conveyed that impression, too.)

It may come as a surprise to some people to find manufacturing done domestically by “intentional communities” where assets are shared in common.  (No, the hammocks and tofu won’t be outsourced to China.)

There is a waiting list for residency, which is partly explained by the economy. Someone can do a “try out” visit for three weeks.  The application and interview process is lengthy, with many questions.

The community says it is committed to the principals of absolute equality with respect to gender.  There are or have been a few gay and transgendered residents in about the same proportion as the general population.
The community may have different ideas about modesty and appropriate appearance than the world at large.  There is a common “lend library” for clothing.

When people live in the community, they surrender their vehicles.  They must rent vehicles to leave the property.  Many bicycles are also available.

Of course, it’s impossible to have a “moneyless” shared-living community without some kind of local political structure.  There seems to be a lot of “bureaucracy” and a lot of “rules”, some of which are necessary because of the dilution of the use of money in a conventional sense.

Besides Lama, I also recall a quasi-community called Understanding, in Arizona and southern California, in the 1970s, which I have discussed in my blogs and books.  It had been founded by Dan Fry.  One of its concepts had been “The Area of Mutual Agreement”.

Update: April 9, 2014

There is a directory of these communities.  Here is the link on the "Fellowship for Intentional Community" on the Acorn Community Farm, nearby.  

The Acorn's own link is important to visit, and has many pictures on its blog.  I don't understand how the bonfire was cultured to imitate a human form. The values of the group become more apparent in the posts about their events and celebrations.  This seems more "radical' than Twin Oaks, but that's just an outside anthropologist's first impression.
Last picture: an intentional community on a space station, itself part of a model railroad. The wood chips outline the boundaries of the community, which lives with 19th century technology. 

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