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If this is your first time here…

Totally Utopia Update

by Raven

Five years ago (May 22, 2017), I published a post that featured a fictional community I called the Totally Utopia Community.  This was a post about what doesn’t work in community building, and I said clearly that while Totally Utopia was not a real community, it was based on three very real communities that I felt were ‘nearly identical’ in structure and dynamics to the dysfunctional community that I described.  It’s now five years on.  What happened with the three real communities that I was talking about?

First of all, I’m going to add a fourth community that was around at that time which I thought was different and now I see as an unfortunately near perfect example of the problem.  I will call these four real communities, A, B, C, and D.  Here’s what has happened to each of these communities since 2017.

Community A is the one that I know the least about what has happened since.  I visited there for a month in 2013.  It had (as all of them did) an overbearing guy who was driven by climate change fear to demand everyone change.  This guy, in particular, wanted only people who were willing to live in the manner they (he and his partner) demanded–including not only no fossil fuels but no burning wood and getting used to living in low temperature environments  (this was a northeastern US community and winters certainly got cold there).  I’m really not sure what happened to them.  I haven’t really heard from them since.  I saw the female partner (who didn’t speak to me) a couple of times five or six years ago but not recently and there is no trace of them on the FIC website.  Either they are hunkered down, or on to other things, or just plain gone.

Community B is not doing badly.  After many years of it just being the couple and a rotating cast of interns and short-term members (and getting in some good, experienced communitarians who didn’t meet up to the male founder’s standards and were driven off), the founders seemed to have mellowed a bit.  While still following their strong ecological standards, they have gotten a few other folks who have stayed on and they have downscaled their community ambitions in order to pursue the eco-lifestyle that they preach and practice.  While it’s not the best functioning community, they are doing good work on promoting sustainability and seem to have achieved a balance between living the way they want and allowing others to thrive there.

Which brings me to community C, the one that I did not include in my first imagining because I didn’t see the guy in the community as being as overbearing as the others and I didn’t see them as climate change fear driven as the other three.  I also thought they were better at keeping members.  I was wrong.  They are certainly an ecologically oriented community, and while the guy there doesn’t broadcast climate fear as loudly as the others, what I’ve realized is that they have lost people left and right.  Recently, they seemed to have had a really good crew that looked like they might help form a long-term community.  I got very excited about the prospect.  Then the guy in the couple made it clear what he saw people needing to do, so forcefully that all the seemingly possible long term members fled and once again, just the couple was left.  When I was talking with a former communard familiar with the situation, they said they were more hopeful about community C than I was, because of watching what happened to community B, pointing out that it took about a decade but community B is now stabilizing, and maybe community C, which is newer, might do the same in another five years or so–especially if they learned from their losses and relaxed their standards, at least a little.

Which then brings me to community D, one of the chief inspirations for me actually writing the original piece.  I think this might be the exception that completely supports what I was saying.  I started working with the original couple (who I will call K and S) and was very excited about what they were doing, even if K was very overbearing.  I worked with them for a year and a half until I became convinced that (as I have said to many folks) K was very good at attracting people and even better at alienating them.  I left saying that they would never be able to build a stable, long-term community.  I am now living in the stable long-term community that they built, and I still think that I was right and the people I am living with agree with me.  The catch is that the community didn’t really start growing until K and S broke up and K (the overbearing guy) left.  Most folks here say strongly that they wouldn’t have stayed here if he was still here.

What are my take-aways from this five year observation?  I am more convinced than ever that you can’t build a community unless you are willing to listen to and support people.  Don’t get me wrong.  Climate change is real and very scary but you can’t let that fear drive you and especially excuse not treating folks well.    One community seems to be gone or not functioning, the second seems to have mellowed, the third seems to be going nowhere (unless there is mellowing in the future), and the fourth succeeded precisely because the overbearing founder left.

I’ve said that no matter what the mission of the community is, relationships matter.  I can’t say it enough.  That’s in essence what makes the difference whether the Totally Utopia Community succeeds or limps along or falls apart or fades away.  Four communities are a small sample but I’m convinced the lessons are real.  Treating folks well is as much a part of dealing with climate change as any technological or behavioral changes.

(The illustrations are the same ones as in the original article.)

Totally Utopia Update

Ryegrass, Washing Machines, Hoophouses, and Possibilities

by Raven

Here’s the weekly roundup of what we’ve been posting on Facebook.

Let’s start with what they are doing at East Wind to prepare for the fall.

This post did pretty good.

Meanwhile, at Living Energy Farm,

This didn’t do as well, and barely hit over a hundred viewers.

And at Glomus,

This did pretty well on Facebook.

Finally, when I was up in Maine, I got to see what one of the founders of a Missouri community was up to.

As you can see, this did very well on Facebook.

Ryegrass, Washing Machines, Hoophouses, and Possibilities

Communities Bounce Back – 5 Events

by Paxus (from Your Passport to Complaining)

Most intentional communities took a population hit during the pandemic. Germs and illnesses spread quickly in communities because of how much we share- food, homes, bathrooms, work spaces, etc. With this in mind, most communities that those regular visitor sessions canceled them (at least until there was a vaccine) to protect their more vulnerable members. It was likely the best, safest choice, but meant that members who left communities during the pandemic weren’t replaced with new folx and populations dropped significant. At Twin Oaks we went from 85 members to 63 members at the lowest point (we are back up to 78 now).

The pandemic also forced many to deal with unusual isolation and question our relationship with groups and what people in close orbit are important to you. Intentional community is an invitation to being part of a group designed to foster and take care of each other, and while it does not always succeed the intention and results are favorable (or prove worthy .. or something)

This summer and fall there several events which showcase these intentional communities which are bouncing back or in the case of Serenity Community springing forward from the George Floyd energized racial justice movement.

These events are celebrations of many different identities all seen through the lens of intentional community. If you want to feel what it is like to live with others cooperatively, this is a glimpse.

The Community Festivals, Gatherings, and Conferences are Coming Back!

Mark your calendars, there are several different weekend events which you will want to consider.

  • Serenity Food Sovereignty Festival June 24 thru 26
  • Twin Oaks Queer Gathering Aug 5 thru 7 
  • Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering Aug 19 thru 21 
  • Twin Oaks Communities Conference Sept 2 thru 5
  • QuinkFair Sept 23 thru 26

All of these events are happening in Louisa County and the first 4 of them are all happening at Twin Oaks.  Here are the brief descriptions of the events and how to RSVP.

Serenity Food Sovereignty Festival June 24 – 26

Learn about mutual aid and BIPOC centered intentional communities that focus on restorative agriculture and ecovillages.  BIPOC activists and organizers are working in conjunction with the central Virginia income sharing communities movement to host BIPOC participants and our allies, to bring incredible food and learning opportunities to attendees.  POC farmers will discuss their techniques and challenges and participants will learn about income sharing communities and Serenity Community projects.

White allies can attend this event if they are genuinely interested in this cuisine and culture. We ask white participants to step back and let BIPOC participants drive the conversations and workshops. This could mean your question might not get answered in the workshop or you should hold off on getting seconds.

RSVP via this free ticket survey required (or via Facebook optional).

Twin Oaks Queer Gathering August 5 – 7

Join us for a weekend of queertranstastic fun, learning, workshops, networking, revelry, and more! This is a participant-led/co-created event, so while the organizing team will set up the event site and create a general schedule of activities, the content is largely up to YOU! There is opportunity to lead a workshop, DJ some of the dance party, bring your instruments to jam, offer an interest/identity-based meetup (BIPOC dinner, non-binary lunch, comic book breakfast, etc), and more! Registration fee is suggested at $80 (sliding scale – pay what you can : $40-$140) includes all meals and tent space. Work trade available. No one turned away for lack of funds. BIPOC travel stipends available by emailing us at queergathering@twinoaks.org.

Get all the details at www.twinoaksqueergathering.org

Please RSVP by pre-registering at our eventbrite page!

Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering

The Women’s Gathering is back in 2022! The event will be a three day conference on themes ranging from sex and sexuality to positive relationship building to DIY music, art and movement. There will be scheduled workshops and performance spaces, as well as lots of free time to network, drum, dance and play. Registration fee $85 (sliding scale – pay what you can : $80-$160) includes meals and tent space.

 Learn more at womensgathering.org

RSVP via Facebook or email gathering@twinoaks.org 

Twin Oaks Communities Conference

If you are looking for an intentional community, or if you are in a community looking for new members, this is the event for you.  The Twin Oaks Communities Conference brings experienced collectivists and communitarians to central Virginia over the Labor Day weekend. We expect at least 40 different communities to be represented, workshops in intentional community specific topics, and open space so you can bring your own content.

The Twin Oaks Conference Site gets busy

There will be an opportunity to tour the communities of Louisa county (including AcornCambiaCommunity of Peace,  Living Energy FarmSerenity and Twin Oaks).  There will also a separate Monday (Labor Day) program hosted at least at Acorn and Cambia.

The Twin Oaks Communities Conference is a kid friendly event which can accommodate many different dietary needs- meals and tent space are included in the registration fee. Full price adult registration is $125, full price youth ages 6-17 is $40, kids 5 and under are free. Early bird discounts, work exchange, and scholarships are available.

RSVP via Facebook or Pre-register on our eventbrite page.

QuinkFair

QuinkFair! is a celebration crafted to spark personal and collective positive change and healing. Through a colorful and chaotic mix of exhibits, interactive art, music, guides & readers, workshops, dance, books and your own curiosity, we will seek experience and insights as a catalyst for personal growth and cultural change.

Quink is about transformation

Inspired and influenced by several festivalsQuinkFair asks every participant to step away from being an amazed audience and into being an inspired co-creator.  If you want to be entertained enjoy a music festival, if you want to become someone new come to QuinkFair.

Adult tickets are $160 (or $128 if you buy early) and kids between 6 and 17 are $80 (or $64 if purchased early).  Kids under 6 are free.  This is a camping event and food is provided. 

QuinkFair takes place not at the Twin Oaks Conference Site (like all these other events do) but instead at the beautiful Happy Hills land in Mineral VA.

RSVP via Facebook or Pre-register on our Eventbrite page. Tickets go on sale June 1.

Internships available

If you are interested in supporting the first 4 events all hosted at Twin Oaks you could apply to be a Conference/Gathering Intern If you want to help manifest the QuinkFair celebration consider applying to be a Festival Intern

Communities Bounce Back – 5 Events

Taking Care of Yourself to Live in Community

by Raven

I often point out to people planning to join a community that their first duty, once they get there, is to take care of themselves. This is important.

The main reason to take care of yourself (under any circumstances but especially in community) is not that you are a great or special person, but because every person in community is important and everyone has work to do and the only way to be able to do that work is to take care of yourself.

I’m currently living in a farming community.  The farmers use certain tools to do their work and they take care of those tools because they need them to do the work that they want to do.  In a sense, the tools of community building are the people who live there.

Many folks have heard the story of the announcement made on planes before take off.  If the oxygen level in the plane gets too low and the oxygen masks drop from overhead, passengers are told to put the mask on their own face before helping anyone else out.

If you aren’t in good shape, you are not going to be able to help anyone else.  And there’s a lot of work to do in any community but especially in an income-sharing community.  In a commune, we need each person to take care of themselves first–just so that they can be in shape to take care of others and the community.

There’s a lot of work to do on a commune, but the first and most important work is to take care of yourself.

Taking Care of Yourself to Live in Community

Ferments, Flowers, and Land Day

by Raven

Here’s more stuff from the last two weeks on Facebook.

Fermenting vegetables one of the safest methods of food preservation.  SESE reposted a piece on how to do it.

The link in the picture won’t work but here’s a working one.

This post did pretty well on Facebook.

At Glomus, we’re just celebrating seeing flowers again.

This one did okay on Facebook.

And finally, it was recently Land Day at East Wind (which is the celebration of the anniversary of them getting their land).

This also did pretty well on Facebook.

Ferments, Flowers, and Land Day

Corn, Collards, and Dancing

by Raven

Yet more catch-up. Some today and some tomorrow.

At East Wind, they’re planting corn.

This post did pretty well.

At Acorn, it was about collard seeds.

The link in the picture won’t work (because it’s a picture of a link, rather than the real thing) but this will.

This post did very well on Facebook, which wasn’t a surprise to me because almost anything featuring Ira Wallace does well.

Finally, LEF is known for many things, but dancing isn’t usually one of them.

They write: “We´re a working farm and #sustainable technology laboratory, but we´re also an #intentionalcommunity —and that means dance parties!”

This also did well.

Tomorrow, Ferments, Flowers, and Land Day…

Corn, Collards, and Dancing

Communard Interview #5: Irena

Irena is a long time Acorn Community member.  She works in many ways for Acorn’s business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and often works closely with her partner Ken, who joined Acorn a few years before Irena did.

Raven: What got you interested in community living and how did you first hear about Acorn?

Irena: I first heard about intentional communities at a presentation that was coordinated by the Center for Environmental Studies at my college, Williams College. I was intrigued, and convinced that I wanted to explore and learn more about what intentional communities are like. After graduating, I put some significant time into researching communities, because it seemed like most of the jobs I was considering out in the mainstream world were disconnected from the effects of the work, like working in an office to do advocacy work for various environmental causes. I wanted to do work that included working with my hands, and I wanted to do work where I could more directly see the effects of my work. I feel like a lot of jobs and a lot of other businesses out there are really more disconnected. The people doing customer service might be really far away from the people doing order fulfillment who might be really far away from the people doing management. Here, there’s a lot more cross-training, and when we switch roles it can help us understand each other’s jobs better. 

As I was researching intentional communities, I had already gotten really interested in sustainable agriculture.  Community living felt like a pretty good fit because I was pretty sure that I wanted to do something with my life related to sustainable agriculture, but I didn’t just want to have a farm and grow vegetables or whatever.  I didn’t want to just grow food and sell it and have that be my whole work. I also felt like I didn’t want the level of isolation that I pictured as typical of that kind of work in agriculture. So I researched a bunch of intentional communities and read about  intentional communities in the FIC Communities Directory.  

I was already interested in visiting Acorn at that point, but that was years before I first visited Acorn. Instead I visited and later moved to the Fellowship Community of New York, which is to some degree income sharing, but without as much sharing of income as Acorn has. There are a lot of expenses that people paid for individually out of their need-based stipend, and there are more scheduled types of work in various areas that center around elder care. I lived at the Fellowship Community of New York for a total of about three years but spread over three different times. In between I saved up a little bit of money and traveled in Ecuador and traveled in Thailand and India and visited a whole bunch of different farms and did volunteer work. I visited Forest monasteries in Thailand, and I learned about seed saving. It was just before I left for Thailand that I did my first very short visit at Acorn, around the beginning of 2008.  I came back as an intern in April of 2009, and then after another few months at the Fellowship Community of New York, I came back as a member in January of 2010.

Irena

Raven:  What is the work that you do here now?

Irena: We all wear a lot of hats. Our work is very seasonal. In the winter, I do a bit of customer service, answering phone calls from gardeners and farmers who buy Southern Exposure seeds. I also answer some emails, which I’ve done more of in some previous years than recently. A lot of years I’ve managed the back orders, trying to make sure that those get shipped out on a regular enough time frame. Some years I’ve managed the needs packing list, making sure that orders that were waiting on a particular kind of seed to get put into packets get sent out after those seeds are packed.  I’ve done a very wide range of other office jobs too. I fill in on a lot of them every now and then. This past winter, one of the big jobs for me has been packet printing. I do pretty much all of the resizing of containers. When we’ve packed enough seed from a bucket or jar that it can fit in a smaller container, I move that and tell our database what the new sizes are.  

I run the Southern Exposure seed donations program. A lot of organizations write to us asking for donations of seeds and I send them packages. We have donation seeds mostly that were packed for the previous year, but also some that for various other reasons become donation seeds, as opposed to standard seeds for sale. Those go to organizations doing many different kinds of cool projects, including seed libraries and seed swaps and school gardens, as well as community gardens and other sorts of gardens that give to food pantries. This also includes various other organizations that are working towards hunger relief and organizations with more complex missions related to sustainability in agriculture.  

Over the past few years I’ve developed screens and frames for small-scale farmers and homesteaders to clean seeds that they saved on their farms. These have been on my back burner because they’re time-consuming, but it’s one of the pieces of my work to cut and bundle screens for seed cleaning. That’s year-round work.

Other things that I do in the winter include various kinds of problem solving in the office.  Lately I buy and stock the seed saving supplies and gardening supplies that we sell. I keep trying to find more time for creating website content like writing blog posts and articles about seed saving and about gardening and about other other things related to gardening.  I’ve also written some about cooking. 

Some things I do in the summer, or I should say in the warm half of the year, include growing some seed crops and growing some trial crops and harvesting things for food and continuing to do smaller amounts a lot of the things that I do in the colder half of the year. I attack the Johnson Grass, which is an invasive species, and also at various times of year I attack the poison ivy and the bamboo and the ailanthus (also called Tree of Heaven). Lately I’ve also been doing a little bit with the visitor program, inviting people to come to Acorn for visitor periods and to explore the possibility of membership.  

Also year-round, I do a little bit of housework, especially in terms of kitchen cleaning, but also various other areas of housework.  Sometimes year-round,  I do town trips, going on errands to get things, not just for myself, but for other people who request them. During the pandemic our town trip system has not been as good as it used to be. Another thing I’ve done a lot of, in a lot of different seasons, is basically trying to improve our processes, especially in a way that takes jobs off Ken’s plate, because Ken is so busy all of the time. There are too many jobs that few people here know how to do besides Ken.  Ken and I have put a bunch of energy over the years into increasing transparency around those jobs.   Together we have written a bunch of articles for Acorn’s internal Wiki to give clear explanations for everybody about what those jobs require and how Ken does them.

Irena harvesting sesame for seed for customers to plant

Raven: Why do you think that income sharing communities are important?

Irena: One reason that I think income sharing communities are important is that they give us models for how people can live in a way that doesn’t require as much money per person as the predominant models in our wider society. By pooling income, we can buy more things in bulk and we can share things that the more typical household would have to own for itself. Though these days Acorn has a whole lot more money than it used to, I still do think that being an income sharing community helps us to share things in ways that can reduce our expenses and the environmental impact of the resources that we’re using. I think the way that income sharing communities provide these different models is really important because our society needs a lot more models of living together that go beyond nuclear families, and that includes how people can support each other in raising children and how people can support each other with things that they’re struggling with, although I think that can happen even without the income sharing aspects of the communities. 

A big part of why I think income sharing models of community are important is that income sharing communities can provide models of business that are not as capitalist as the predominant models of business. Our kind of egalitarian community is also conducive to having more egalitarian models of business. Other worker cooperative models also serve this purpose to some extent. I think the world really needs a lot more models of business that are more egalitarian and that don’t just bring in huge amounts of money for the people who get to the top.  Another thing that I think is really important about the models that income sharing communities provide is that in a lot of cases, including ours, they value how we work in a way that most other economic models don’t. That helps with reducing power dynamics associated with gender.

I also think it’s just really helpful that income sharing communities increase the number of different models that are out there for how we can organize ourselves. Even within the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (which is a group of income sharing communities similar to Acorn), there are so many different structures in different communities. I think providing a broad range of different models of how we can organize ourselves is one of the things that’s really great about what communities are doing.

Raven: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Commune Life readers?

Irena: I really want to get Acorn a bunch of new members. I especially hope we get new members who have an interest in growing egalitarian models and in growing sustainability focused business and creating stronger networks of communities.  Also in taking care of our land.  We’ve got 72 acres of land here and it includes a lot of woods and a lot of fields that we could be putting to much more use than we are. In some years we’ve had livestock on them. This year our only livestock is our chickens and ducks.  We have the gardens and we have several small orchard spaces.  This year we’re putting in a new well and the infrastructure that we have here, the buildings that we have here, has been increasing and getting much better over the time I’ve been here. The improvement that I’ve seen over the nearly 13 years that I’ve been here is really dramatic in terms of our buildings, and our business is booming.  I hope this year we will welcome several more members who are enthusiastic about sharing all this with us and about using it to grow the movements that we are part of.

Communard Interview #5: Irena

The Collaborative Living Conference

by Raven

This was probably the most exciting post we put on Facebook over the past week:

Here’s a few more that I didn’t put up on the Facebook post: Care (one of the organizers) just outside the space; Thumbs doing the intro to the whole event; and folks dancing in the evening.

Unsurprisingly, given there was a lot of pictures in this post featuring people, it did very well on Facebook:

The Collaborative Living Conference