Twin Oaks is a 40 + year old intentional community in Virginia, United States, with around 100 residents. They have managed to figure out a system in which everyone lives there without money, and where everyone and no one is in charge. They would define themselves as a confederation of anarchists and an egalitarian village. There aren’t any ‘rules’, just a few ‘norms’.
Community Labour System
The way it works is that each member of the community dedicates an average of 42 hours a week towards working for the various community businesses. Tofu and Hammock making are the two most lucrative of them all. There are around one hundred other managed work areas to choose on the farm and in the village. Some of these are seed saving and packaging, garden work, managing farm animals, repair work, chopping wood, parenting, heating the homes, teaching in the community school, cleaning, cooking a community meal, to name a few. Everyone has the privilege to choose which jobs they want to do and only the jobs they want to do, and if they choose, can leave a job and go back to it later if they wish with no penalty. No one is ever forced to work a job that they do not like– with the exception of dishes, everyone has to do dishes, and it counts as work hours. They call it a 42 hour average because its not obligatory to work that many hours each week. Let’s say you are one of the garden workers, and in the summertime you end up working an average of 50 hours a week. In the winter then, you have built up enough work ours to work an average of 30 hours a week.
Built into these work hours is a 3 week vacation for everyone, every year. If a member wishes to leave for longer, they need only make up for the work they missed when they get back. If someone has worked over the average hours consistently, they can use those banked hours to take a longer leave without having to come back to extra work. Same with money, everyone gets roughly 100$ allowance every month that they can do whatever they want with. If someone wants to go somewhere but doesn’t have enough cash to do so, in most cases the community will give them the money they need, and the person will simply have to allocate their allowance to paying the community back when they return. There is a process in which members can choose to work a job that is outside the community. Since they are an egalitarian community and everyone is supposed to have relatively equal levels of resources, some of the money earned at the outside job needs to go back into the community. There are two options, either you give one third of your earnings to the community, or you give two thirds and the community will pay for your transportation needs for your job.
Check out this video to learn about their Labour and Governance systems and how they function:
Revenue from Twin Oaks Businesses
The products they make are sold to stores and the public outside the community. For instance, Whole Foods will buy their tofu and sell it in their stores, and Pier 1 Imports and various universities will buy their hammocks from them to sell. The revenue generated by their businesses goes towards the communal financing for housing, food, other material supplies, paying communal bills, and even health care coverage for every community member. Thus, when living at Twin Oaks, there is no need to stress over paying rent, having money for food, being able to afford to see a doctor, or being out of a job in these tough economic times. By working all together and pooling all the money in one place, the people of Twin Oaks lift each other up and support each other. No one has less than the next person, and everyone has a roof and food available to them each day, with no compromise.
Check out this video of a few members of Twin Oaks sharing their experiences about living there:
People at Twin Oaks enjoy the work that they do, so much so that their work lives is an integral part of the community’s social life. There is joy in going to work and interact with the other community members.
Process for Social Conflict
The social and work structure that they have worked out is quite unique, and has been functional and effective for a community of one hundred people for several decades. Like every long lasting community, Twin Oaks also has a procedure in place in instances where the exists a problem between two individuals. If the two (or more) individuals cannot resolve their issues between each other on their own terms, then a neutral third party (usually one person) will assist by mediating a talk between the individuals in question. In most cases if a problem has to resort to a mediated talk, the issue gets talked out, both people feel understood, and all people leave feeling good about the problem and how it is being resolved. However, in the rare situation where a mediated talk is not enough to solve the tension, then a few more neutral individuals are brought in to create action steps and limits (more like temporary conditions to respect or avoid) that both parties of the tension agree to, so that they can continue to live and work in the community without feeling uncomfortable or without impeding on the harmony within the community.
Childcare and Parenting
One other very interesting aspect of their structure is that taking care of your children counts as work hours. This is a true gift for those who are parents, as they do not need to make those difficult decisions about which parent is going to work while the other takes care of the child, or if both parents can afford to even take care of their children at all. As the children grow older, the number of parenting hours a mother or father that count as part of their 42 hour average decrease. This just goes to show that Twin Oaks acknowledges that good parenting is time consuming, a full time job of its own, and very important for raising good people.
Check out this video of a mother talking about her parenting experience at Twin Oaks:
Part of the parenting responsibilities are home-schooling the children. They have a community school called the Unicorn, this is where kids go every weekday from 9-noon. Here, the kids up to ten years of age learn basic things like reading, writing, mathematics, history, science, art and so on. The people who teach these courses are community members who are passionate about those topics and who want to teach them. After school, it is each parents responsibility to teach their kids anything else they want them to learn. This way, the home schooling is done in a collective manner, and takes some of the stress off of the parents needing to teach their kids everything, even topics they aren’t strong in themselves. If every subject was being taught by someone who was excited about it, it enhances the child’s learning experience exponentially. I had a 7 year old tell me his favourite course was Latin! I was pretty impressed.
The most recent building added to the community was a sort of retirement home, a place for elders who need some extra care. They go there to be taken care of until their days peacefully end. They make a point in taking care of those who need it, and this building is a standing testament to that.
Community’s Impact towards Sustainability
Twin Oaks is an intentional community, not an ecovillage. By this I mean to say that they are still on the grid in terms of electricity. This is something a few individuals in the community are aiming to change about it in the coming years. However, because every aspect of the way they live is communal, they end up being a lot less impending on their environment. Instead of each person electrifying their own houses, they live in co-housing style buildings, which ends up cutting down the amount of electricity needed significantly. Not every single family has their own lawn mower, leaf blower, blender, and so on, these types of tools are shared. Because they use wood burning stoves to heat their houses, there isn’t a dependence or a bill for that outside the community. They also grow a large percentage of their food, they make their own bread from organic wheat grown less than 100 km away, raise all their own meet and make their own cheese. [I really enjoyed how there was always an abundance of fresh bread and cheese to snack on (so much for my gluten and dairy free diet!), all made possible by allowing bread makers to contribute their wonderful bread in exchange for work hours.] By sharing resources openly with the rest of the village, the community’s resource consumption actually ends up decreasing and in many ways they are much more sustainable compared to a regular town of 100 people.
My Personal Experience at Twin Oaks
I had a really nice experience visiting Twin Oaks. Most people there were very welcoming and extremely friendly. I made a few really good friends and bonds during my visit. There was a small number of their members who seem to get tired of visitors being around, and would rather not engage with them. Understandable? Perhaps. All in all, if you are around their neck of the woods, I definitely recommend visiting this community! What they have achieved is pretty remarkable, they are an interesting and unique example of how a community can decide to structure themselves. Here I would like to give a shout out to my friends Christian, Hawthorn, Tony, Claire and baby Grace! All my blessings! <3
If you want a really nice hand made hammock, and want to support a great initiative, visit: http://www.twinoakshammocks.com
Twin Oaks also has a sister community that they helped found about 20 years ago called Acorn. They are only a few miles apart. Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to visit Acorn during my time in Virginia. All I know about them is that they are a community of about 30 people and they make decisions based on consensus. If anyone has a video they would like to share about Acorn, or contribute their experience there, please write to [email protected]
Most Valuable Take Home Lessons From Twin Oaks:
- Find solid work, governance, economic, and social structures that work for the community and towards it’s goals.
- Find a way for the community to be financially sustainable and comfortable.
- Community living is certainly a commitment that one needs to be willing to make. In my humble opinion, it’s worth it.
- Communitarian life styles have much less impact on the environment due to the reduction of resources needed and wasted.
- Given the proper conditions, settings, and structures, it is possible to live in a well functioning community with no leader or central authorities.
NOTE FROM WRITER AND FILMER
These videos and text about Twin Oaks are part of a Valhalla Series called Trippin’, in which other communities, projects, people and groups are highlighted. The purpose of this series is to demonstrate the diversity of ways in which a community may structure itself and function. These videos and blogs are meant to share experiences and ideas from other initiatives order to inspire an idea or structure for those who are working through this process themselves. For those of you who aspire to start a community or are already starting one, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. We must learn from others, especially those that have been around for a while. This series is also meant to show the faces behind this global movement, the personalities of the people involved, so that viewers can see that these are real people, regular people, just like you, who are doing this.