The tofu plant at Twin Oaks is slowly finishing a long upgrade. Here are some pictures of folks finally using the new facility.
The tofu plant at Twin Oaks is slowly finishing a long upgrade. Here are some pictures of folks finally using the new facility.
by Paxus (also published on Your Passport to Complaining)
Spoiler: This post has no descriptions of graphic sex.
“Can I kiss you?” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable question. It was asked across a cuddle pile in the midst of a party up at the conference site where several people were making new romantic connections.
“I don’t really know you very well.” Was the reply I was slightly surprised to hear. But then something really powerful and slightly profound happened. Nothing.
The mood did not change. No one got embarrassed and felt like they needed to leave. No one laughed at the rejection or felt sorry for someone. The party just moved on.
We think and talk a lot about consent culture in the communes. We do orientations for visitors and guests so they don’t make cultural mistakes around initiating intimacy, which is easy to do if you are just mimicking what you see others doing. We explore new types of agreements around boundaries. And the reward for our efforts is we get to take some types of risks, like my friend who got rejected from the make out session.
What this does is create comfort and safety. It makes people feel like their boundaries are going to be respected. This in turn often helps them to push limits out. This reveals new possibilities and new connections.
And thus the party drifted right up to the edge of becoming an orgy. As a funologist, this is something I want to understand. For when you push aside all the sophomoric jokes and embarrassment about what orgies are, assuming they are done in a healthy consent environment, they are daring and liminal events. They change peoples lives.
And in this case, the “almost” does not really matter. Everyone could feel the possibility, we had created the space that was that safe and daring.
The motivation for starting LEF is based in the fact that communities have the potential to be powerful models of sustainable living. You don’t have to worry about all the crazy expense and technology that goes into efficient automobiles if you don’t drive to work. Communities can share resources and integrate their systems of energy use and production in a way that radically changes how resources are used. One person can cook for others, making solar cooking viable. A source of energy, such as high voltage DC coming from PV panels, can be tied to numerous machines. At LEF, we are even building an air-conditioning system (not yet complete) that uses the irrigation water headed to the fields. The operational cost of this air-conditioning system is zero. The installation cost involves a few hundred dollars worth of pipe. You can only do things like that on a community level.
In conceiving of LEF, we were very clear that we did NOT want to be a technology development center. Developing effective new technologies can be very expensive and time consuming. Our intent was to simply put together the proper mix of tools that had been developed elsewhere. Our innovation was supposed to be in the integration of existing technologies in a community setting. We are dependent on these technologies, so we would be daily testing their real-world viability. Our basic residential design is working great. Our heating and integrated DC electrical systems are fantastic, and now we are hoping to support other communities, in the U.S. and abroad, put together similar systems.
Other aspects of our project have proven more challenging. We have learned that we simply cannot buy all of what we need to live without fossil fuel. Our cooking setup relies heavily on rocket stoves. That is not a great solution for Americans, or for people living in crowded cities around the world. We are hopeful that the aforementioned high temperature storage systems, perhaps combined with biogas or a small-scale boiler, represent a more widely applicable and attainable goal.
Other goals appear to be more difficult. Farm traction (tractors, draft animals) is proving to be something of a can of worms. Our woodgas is not working all that well just yet. Even if it does, it is not at all clear if we can make it as cheap, simple, and reliable as it would need to be if it is were to be widely adopted. We are learning more than we thought we would have to about internal combustion engines, and realizing that powering them with farm-grown fuels is a complex question — a question which we may or may not have the resources to answer. Ideally, we could work with other organizations seeking similar goals. We have been trying to do that. Apart from the fact that every organization has a different personality, very few share our goal of keeping things cheap and simple so that the results can be adopted by less advantaged people.
All of this begs the question, what are we doing? Raising our kids and taking care of our own community is a significant undertaking to which we have to give priority. Beyond that, we have to ask ourselves the question of what are our primary goals? Is our most important role advocating a sustainable lifestyle among our peers in the U.S., and providing a living model of what we are talking about? Or will we have more impact supporting people who are already living in villages outside of the U.S.? This former group is perhaps the most important in terms of their environmental impact, whereas the latter group might be more receptive (?) as they already share a village lifestyle. And how much time and resources should be put into improving technologies?
Our current plan is to keep doing what we are doing. We will be opening our doors more in the coming months for events for people to come and see first hand what living without fossil fuel is like. We will continue our outreach efforts abroad. That project is not moving quickly, but we will keep trying. We will certainly continue improving the technologies that we need that seem reasonably attainable (cooking, clothes washing). It is less clear what will happen with issues like farm traction. We need help with that one.
There are a number of devices and projects hanging about LEF waiting for skilled and motivated people to work on them. Eddie was a huge help to us in his time here. If you have skills and are willing to get involved, we would love to hear from you. It could be in the long run that we split off a technology development project from the LEF farm. In the meantime, we want to make sure our farm continues to prosper. The work we are doing with open pollinated seeds, food self-sufficiency, and growing naturally disease resistant fruits and nuts feels important too. If you feel like some of these various projects excite you, we would love to hear from you.
From last summer’s activities:
People ask regularly if there are spaces for new members at the income sharing communities. This is a current update on the space availability of the various communes in the US with ways to contact them and relevant guest/intern/visitor policies linked. This information changes with time, so it’s best to check with any community you wish to visit before scheduling your trip there.
Cambia (Louisa, VA) Yes, there are spaces. Cambia is actively promoting its sustainable environmental education program and has space for both interns and new members. This 2016 intern announcement is also current for 2017 and 2018.
Mimosa (Louisa, VA) This reforming new community (formerly Sapling) is interested in new members but is currently working on completing housing to provide space and thus cannot currently accommodate people for more than short visits. Feel free to send them an email.
Twin Oaks (Louisa, VA) is near its population cap, and continues to accept people for membership, currently if you were accepted you could join right away, but there is some chance we will return to a waiting list soon. Twin Oaks does not currently have intern spots available.
Twin Oaks also hosts an annual communities conference. This year it is Sept 1st thru 4th (labor day weekend). If you are seeking communities, this is a great place to discover a bunch of them at once. And here are 7 reasons it is a better place to spend your time than Burning Man.
Ganas (Staten Island, NY) is looking for new members. While technically not an income sharing community over all, Ganas is supportive of the Point A project and the expansion of the communes movement. There are occasionally job openings at Ganas but right now Ganas is looking for paying members.
East Wind (Tecumseh, MO) is full and has a waiting list, but is still happy to have folks come and visit and like Twin Oaks you can apply for membership and be put on a waiting list. Because East Wind has a gender imbalance it actually has two waiting lists, one for males and one for females. There is currently a male waiting list of about half a dozen men. A woman who was accepted now would be at the top of that waiting list, and after three women are accepted, one of the men can be offered membership from the male waiting list.
The Midden (Columbus, OH) is in transition away from being a commune and towards being a NASCO group house in Columbus.
Some pictures from Twin Oaks recent history:
I’ve been hoping to have some of the folks in the communities that I’m going to talk about tell their tales, and I’m still hoping that will happen, but in the interests of transparency, I want to put out some of what is happening.
I’ve heard it said (and have said it myself) that 90% of new communities fail. It’s not a real statistic but it is an acute observation. Anyone working closely with community building knows the stories. (And it’s not that strange–I’ve also heard that 90% of new business fail.)
Many communities fail because people have no idea what goes into building community. I’ve written a piece on this blog on one way not to build community. But even some of those communities that seemed carefully thought out, don’t last, for one reason or another.
At this point, three of the communes that have graced this blog are gone: Quercus, Sycamore Farm, and the Midden. The Midden lasted more than seven years (they bought a house in 2010) and only fell apart recently. (Note: Not completely accurate. See my comment in the comments section.) Quercus lasted (I think) less than a year. Sycamore Farm may have done the best of all–as their community fell apart another community near Twin Oaks and Acorn (called Sapling–we were never able to get anything from them) was also doing poorly. The founders of Sycamore Farm were able to take it over and it has become Mimosa. (As I said, I’m hoping the folks that were part of Quercus and Sycamore/Sapling/Mimosa can tell their stories. Folks involved have said that they’d like to, but communitarians are busy people.)
A lot of this is simply the nature of building community. It’s just not easy–if it was, there would be ten times the number of communities that there are now. Community involves people and people are both wonderful and can be very difficult.
This makes things like Twin Oaks turning fifty a major celebration. I believe that Acorn will reach twenty-five next year and that’s amazing as well. It makes me appreciate both of them and other long lived communities such as Sandhill and East Wind. When you realize how fragile new communities are, you realize both how precious the long lived communes are and how important it is to keep working on building new ones.
It takes courage to build new communities, but Twin Oaks, etc, wouldn’t be around unless someone made the effort.
originally published in Communities magazine, issue #175, Summer, 2017
East Wind Community is a founding member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) in the hills of the Ozarks. East Wind Nut Butters, founded in 1981, is equally owned and operated by the members of East Wind Community and is currently its dominant source of income. East Wind Nut Butters produces peanut, almond, cashew, and sesame seed butters. East Wind Community is composed of 73 members who live on over 1000 acres of beautifully forested land.
Here I am again, sitting at a desk dazed by a big bright monitor. Scrutinizing spreadsheets. Writing emails. Staring at the weather. How did I allow this to happen? I came to East Wind to get away from all this, didn’t I? That is what I thought I wanted, at least. Of course, everything besides the familiar humming of a computer and the ringing of phones is different.
After graduating from the honors business school at Indiana University in 2012 I didn’t have many plans. While my friends sought higher education and high paying jobs I had little interest in either. Disillusioned with the state of the world and the society I grew up in I came to desire an alternative to what I was observing on a daily basis. Three years and some Google searches later my discovery of IC.org led me to schedule visitor periods at East Wind and Twin Oaks.
In March of 2015 I made the two-day bus journey towards southern Missouri to make my intrepid first visit to a fully income-sharing community. A month before, my year stint as a secretary for a small family business ended when I decided to pursue this incredibly different path. That tiny amount of time spent in the office workforce of America proved to be invaluable in the role I was soon to fill.
Nearly immediately I fell in love with East Wind. The land, the people, the sense of opportunity and promise. After visiting East Wind and Twin Oaks for “official” visitor periods and checking a number of places in between I knew that East Wind was where I wanted to be.
I lived and labored at East Wind for about seven months as a “working guest on the waiting list.” Essentially this meant that because the membership of East Wind was at its legislated full capacity of 73 people I had to wait to become a member. Benefits such as having a room, receiving a $150 dividend each month and full medical coverage did not apply to me. However, I also was not beholden to the rules concerning working for East Wind’s dominant business: East Wind Nut Butters. All members who wish to receive their monthly dividend must work a set number of hours (the “Industrial Quotient” or simply “IQ”) each week. This number is determined by the General Management Team of the business and ranges from zero to eight. I was not required and in fact was discouraged from working IQ hours during my time as a working guest.
For a young man looking to learn about food production and homesteading this could not have been a better arrangement. East Wind’s weekly labor quota is 35 hours. These hours can manifest from gardening, cow milking, building maintenance, cooking, cleaning, working in the business (“IQ” hours), and a plethora of other things that community values as useful labor. Without the burden of having to work in the business (I worked just three factory shifts in the first seven months I lived at East Wind) I was free to pursue passions known and unknown. Gardening, woodworking, cow milking, cart building and maintenance, and food processing consumed both my mind and body. I could not get enough and learned more practical skills than I had in my 24 years prior.
This time was precious. Finding friends. Bonding with an amazing new partner. Coming into my own as an adult. Easing into the idea of East Wind being home. My existence was relatively carefree and I was grateful to have found such a special place. Not being a member meant that no serious responsibilities fell upon my shoulders.
Often, while sitting at this desk in front of this ridiculous screen, I am reminded of my college days. Listening to Ratatat, Beethoven, anything nonlyrical really and reading, studying, analyzing. Except this is an actual challenge. This is the real world. Decisions with consequences. Responsibility and accountability to oneself and others. No grades, just results and outcomes. I am a manager. I am an entrepreneur. These are the roles I play at East Wind. A business with three million dollars in sales a year can’t exist long without a group of people taking on particular niches and holding such positions to maintain stability and continuity.
An active sales manager and a vision of where the business was heading were desperately needed when I first began working in the office for Nut Butters. Everything else was already in place. Delicious and nutritious nut butters made fresh in daily batches. A production team composed of experienced and talented individuals working together to manufacture tried and true, simple and wholesome, one- and two-ingredient products. A meticulously managed warehouse full of almond, cashew, peanut, and sesame seed butter. An established regional brand with an impeccable food safety record.
East Wind Nut Butters was doing everything right in terms of producing high quality staple foods, but its major failing was in being sluggishly responsive to an increasingly competitive health food market. In 1981, when the business was founded, all-natural and organic peanut butter was a true novelty. Look at your grocery store shelf today and you’ll see that today’s market is saturated with more nut butter brands and varieties than ever before. All-natural, organic, claims of “Superfood!,” etc. abound. It’s easy for a small brand that relies on word of mouth and that barely advertises to get lost in all the marketing noise.
One of the first decisions I made after being elected as the General Manager and Sales Manager of Nut Butters was to change our label vendor. Going with a smaller, more local printer reduced costs significantly and also made changing the labels less of a hassle. East Wind has always relied on the quality of their products and word of mouth to maintain business. I liked that the advertising budget was incredibly minimal. I don’t like the idea of “selling” someone on something they don’t need. However, marketing nutritious staple foods to the general public is sufficiently palatable to my ethical standards. Making clear on our labels why East Wind Nut Butters is different than the other brands was a top priority. “Single Ingredient: 100% US grown Valencia peanuts.” This phrase would have meant very little to me two years ago. Until recently I was unaware of the fact that most peanuts are imported from China and India and that there are many different varieties of peanuts. The nice thing about US-grown Valencia peanuts is that when you roast and mill them they make a nice, thick, nutrient-dense peanut butter. With Chinese peanuts there is a need to add things like palm oil, hydrogenated oil, excess salt, and sugar to make the peanut butter something a person might actually find tasty, though still not something a health-conscious person would want to put in their body.
Making slight changes to our labels is a relatively small decision in the grand scheme of things. What about expanding business? A larger facility and new products? Radically changing the business model? These are all considerations that any entrepreneur thinks about. When to scale up. When to drop products and when to introduce new ones. All of these bigger decisions have a context. Context is of the utmost importance for any business. I am one of 73 equal owners in this business. I am not a Silicon Valley cowboy with angel investors and a dream. Keeping a level head close to the Earth is my top asset. Any big project needs to be thoroughly thought out in the full context of East Wind. More than that, it needs to be effectively communicated if it is ever to become a reality.
If you want to make a major organizational change and have this change be effective you need to communicate clearly to those who will be affected. Such an effort cannot be a top-down, out-of-the-blue affair. Constantly eliciting feedback and figuring out the priorities of a community of 73 people takes a lot of time and energy. Communication attempted by an individual to an entire community can be difficult and it is in this realm that I still have much to learn. Patience and planning are prerequisite to any ambitious endeavor in this setting.
East Wind meetings can be boring by their very nature. No one intends them to be, of course. They require a lot of deliberation, and involve long spans of waiting to speak. The standard meeting, in which we rotate through single speakers talking and everyone else listening, is not the most efficient way of discussing a multi-faceted idea. Redundancy and tangential lines of thought quickly dampen any sense of momentum. On occasion, I am reminded of how I felt during Occupy Bloomington circles.
Typically, less than a third of the community is in attendance for community meetings. All meetings must be proposed by a member of the community and 10 percent of all members must sign the proposal to get the meeting scheduled. At some points in the year there will be no meetings “on the stack” and weeks go by without having an “official” community meeting. At other points there is a lengthy list of issues—policies on how common spaces are used, an idea to repurpose a defunct building, policies on pets—and very consistent weekly meetings. Many meetings see less than a third of the community participate. Not everyone cares to spend an afternoon talking about things that may not affect their lives much.
The most contentious issues and votes are the most well-attended. Budget meetings and membership votes pique plenty of people’s interest, but even for these I’ve learned to expect no more than half of the community to be in attendance. The format of the meeting, the weather on the day of the meeting, and the location of the meeting have a significant impact on how many people attend and how productive the meeting is. The meeting format at East Wind that has become commonplace is by no means set in stone and those with the energy and the will find more creative ways of percolating their ideas through the collective East Wind conscience. Exploring this art can be vexing. I have come to believe that the commune setting is the ultimate teacher due to its all-encompassing scope. How can humans live with each other? What type of society are we shaping? How are we to live?
Such considerations are rarely given much time or energy in the majority of the corporate world. Really simple ideas like growth and monetary profit dominate. By ignoring the living Earth and the interests of others it becomes possible to make decisions that are close-to-optimal through that limited lens. It’s easy when you look at numbers on a spreadsheet and all you have to do is maximize profit. Clearcut rainforest and cheap palm oil, abused workers and cheap imports—if you don’t see these things and don’t think about these things then it is easy to go about your day in a society that rewards you for your “success.” The ability to deny is a strong evolutionary trait. It exists within all of us. It can allow us to make sense of this world. It can allow us to make sense of this world in the worst ways. Feeding into these habits is a culture founded upon endless growth and destruction; a culture of convenience and consumption; a technoutopia of iPhone cults and pick-your-own realities created by a web of social media platforms.
Forgive my digression. Where I came from, what I was born into reminds me of what I wish to avoid passing down to succeeding generations. My motivation is in building something; building upon an inheritance that many lay claim to. We stand on the shoulders of giants. My contribution to this legacy, whether footnote or volume, remains to be seen. The manner in which I manage East Wind Nut Butters defines me, both externally and internally, whether I like it or not. Respect for a job well done is accepted awkwardly. Scorn for a mistake, typically self-inflicted, is not taken lightly. The trap of thinking that my work in the business is, in isolation, my most important role in community is an easy one to fall into.
The delusions of grandeur that consume my ego at times are not always useful. A solid block of manual labor working in the garden or a grounded conversation with a fellow communard soon alleviates the problem. For this relief I am grateful. Ambition that is constantly checked is potently transformative. This has been my experience at East Wind. Leaders here are servants, and servants are leaders. I am one of many and in this I find comfort. We live to serve. It sounds religious or like a corporate tagline, but the sentiment is sound. Serving each other. Serving your landbase and watershed. Serving the living systems that allow for your existence.
What is it to lead in community? It is subtle. It is pronounced. It is the patience and foresight to wait for the right time and let energies flow organically. Generally, people want to help and people want to make things happen. For the biggest projects it is a matter of anticipating the roadblocks and the bottlenecks and eliminating or reducing them to maintain high participation and morale. My two years at East Wind have been sufficient to accumulate a small amount of wisdom on the matter. Two more will bring a greater grasp. Everything in due time.
As I sit here at this desk listening to Washed Out and finishing up an email by click clacking on the keyboard I take a break to stare out the window and ponder possible futures. I have never experienced such optimism and passion for life. Total engagement. This weird and wonderful place, this income-sharing commune has provided the environment, the proper context, for my potential to become kinetic. Where am I? Where is East Wind? Where shall we head?
Sumner is a 26-year-old white male attempting to live a moral life in an age of decline. He desires to create and build. Gardening, cow milking, maintaining East Wind’s fleet of hand carts, and dishwashing are some of his favorite labors. In his downtime he plays various card and board games or spends time with his lovely boyfriend. On nice sunny afternoons you will find him and his friends along East Wind’s mile of Lick Creek. Recently, he has become enthralled with birding and taking pictures of our avian friends. By the time this article is published you should be able to see some of his bird pictures, amongst many others, on the eastwind.org website.
This labor day the oldest, largest, egalitarian, income-sharing commune in the country, Twin Oaks Community, is hosting the annual Twin Oaks Communities Conference. This conference is an unparalleled opportunity to learn about, learn from, share, teach, and network with communards, communitarians, and cooperators experienced and aspiring. This year’s theme is particularly exciting as the conference tackles the topics of inclusivity and social justice. Read more below about this year’s conference and register now to reserve your space.
Communes, cohousing communities, ecovillages, co-ops, and other Intentional communities of all kinds are a response to problems in society. They are a recognition that some of the essentials that make community what it us, mutual support, love and caring, sharing lives and livelihood in a meaningful and satisfying way, are lacking in the world. Not all intentional communities share the same political or social views. Some mirror the trend towards isolationism and protectionism we see politics today. But most value, at least in theory, diversity, equality, and sustainability, and want to help create a world that works for everyone.
Intentional communities have a unique opportunity to address oppression and privilege. And while most value diversity, they often struggle to achieve it. Why? This is one of the questions that will be addressed through many of the workshops at the conference this year. How do racism, classism, hetero-cis-sexism, and other forms of oppression play out within intentional communities? How can they become truly accessible and inclusive spaces? How can people with privilege, especially white people and men, let go of their privilege or put it in the service of others? How can intentional communities help address oppression in larger society, both directly and by providing accessible and relevant alternatives?
The theme of this year’s Twin Oaks Communities Conference is Inclusivity and Social Justice. Held every year on Labor Day weekend, Sept 1 – 4, 2017, in Central Virginia, this conference is a unique opportunity to connect with other community builders and seekers, and experience community while learning more about it.
In addition to covering other topics of interest and importance to intentional communities, like legal structures and fundraising, and the usual opportunities for networking and sharing, we’re excited to host this opportunity for intentional communities to look at how they are perpetuating these issues and how they can become powerful agents for real change.
Here’s a selection of workshop titles (a full list of current confirmed workshops can be found here):
We look forward to seeing you there! Register here.