Fifty Years of Communes in America

Twin Oaks fiftieth anniversary was last week.  I didn’t go.

My friend, Aurora, who was there told me that Rudy, one of the Twin Oaks founders, spoke and said that when Twin Oaks was founded (in 1967), they thought a revolution was possible in their lifetime and one of the purposes of Twin Oaks was to show how people could live after the revolution.

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Rudy speaking

Another founder, Kat Kinkade, wrote (in her book, A Walden Two Experiment): “When we first came here we knew nothing of farming or any other way of making a living, other than working for wages in the city.  Some of us had never even done that.  What we did know is what kind of world we wanted to live in.

“…the central idea of the Community has not changed.  We are still after the big dream–a better world, here and now, for as many people as we can manage to support.  More, a new kind of human to live in that world: happy, productive, open-minded people who understand that in the long run, human good is a cooperative and not a competitive sort of thing.”

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Dinner at Twin Oaks

And, slowly, the influence of Twin Oaks began to create that kind of world, at least on a communal level.

In 1974, two more communes started.

In a piece in Communities magazine’s most recent issue (Summer, 2017), Laird Schaub wrote about the founding of Sandhill community:  “In February 1973 I was in a public library and happened across the current issue of Psychology Today.  It included an excerpt from a new book by Kat Kinkade, A Walden Two Experiment.  It described the first five years of Twin Oaks Community, and it changed my life.  …

“Because Twin Oaks was the inspiration and because I’d already done a fair amount of work to reject materialism, we set up Sandhill as an income sharing community, where all earnings would be pooled.”

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Around the same time, at Twin Oaks, they were having problems with getting more people than they thought they could support.  Kat Kinkade tells the rest of the story in her book, Is It Utopia Yet?

“Twin Oaks closed its doors.  It had as many people as it could comfortably hold.  …

“I would gladly have lived in a tent, eaten in shifts, and built sewage treatment on borrowed money, in order to see Twin Oaks answer the challenge of that supply of potential members.  I saw that lineup at our front door, people people eager to join, possibly hundreds of them but certainly dozens, and my response was a whole-hearted welcome–more than that, an excitement, a sense of grabbing history by the tail, a promise of a future community on a scale approaching Walden Two.

“… The rest of that story is the history of East Wind.  I left Twin Oaks, taking two members and some visitors with me, and we set out to form another community which would be like Twin Oaks in every way except one: we would never close our doors!”

East Wind, like Twin Oaks and Sandhill, continues to this day.  But Kat left East Wind after five years, spent four years working in Boston, and then returned to Twin Oaks.

 

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REIM, one of the original structures at East Wind

In 1993, Twin Oaks was faced with another long waiting list.  Kat Kinkade wrote (again from Is It Utopia Yet?):  “In some ways it feels like 1972 all over again.  The big difference is that this time I’m not alone in feeling the urgency of the problem. …

“The only politically practical solution I could see was to start another community, the same conclusion that had, years ago, resulted in the founding of East Wind. …

“It took eight months to accomplish this.  Two other communitarians, Gordon and Ira, joined me in an informal committee to get the new group off the ground.

“… Gordon’s untiring research eventually netted us a rundown but potentially beautiful farm about seven miles from Twin Oaks.  Thanks to Ira’s efforts, Twin Oaks consented to let the potential members have two gatherings…

“Acorn Community was founded April 1, 1993…”

Acorn Land
Acorn land

 

I’ve quoted a lot from Kat Kinkade, and she might have exaggerated her importance in the founding of all these communities, but it seems clear that Twin Oaks directly influenced East Wind and Acorn, and indirectly Sandhill.

When I was at Acorn, I found out things did not go smoothly from the founding.  Apparently, at one point they were down to six members and later went down to two members.  (Acorn currently has almost thirty members and is thriving.) When I asked someone who had been a long time member at both Twin Oaks and Acorn how Acorn had survived, I was told: “Two things: Ira and Twin Oaks.”  Ira Wallace is amazing and determined, but Twin Oaks, having been instrumental in founding Acorn, was not going to let it die.

There are now three newer communes near Twin Oaks and Acorn and, although each of them has been struggling at times, I feel confident that they will make it, because they all have the support of both Twin Oaks and Acorn.

Not all communities make it.  Two of the newer communities that were featured this past year in Commune Life haven’t succeeded.  Quercus is gone and Sycamore Farm is no longer in southern Virginia.  The founders of both of these communities have told me that they’d be interested in writing the story of what happened, when they get time.  (A line that I’ve heard from many busy communards.)

Then there was the Dandelion community in Kingston, Ontario, which was influenced by Twin Oaks, and founded in the 1970s and disbanded around 1990.  I would love to have the story of what happened there.  Nevertheless, Commune Life has been able to have pieces on two current Canadian income sharing communities, The Common Unity Project and le Manoir.

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Photo from Dandelion Community

And there are a bunch of new income sharing communities in the US.

There’s Oran Mór, which is near East Wind in southern Missouri, and the Stillwater Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance, near Sandhill Farm in northern Missouri.  And there is Compersia, in Washington, DC, which just celebrated its one year anniversary in March.  It is the first community spun out of Point A, which is a project that was founded by some Acorn and Twin Oaks members.

And all this traces back to the founding of Twin Oaks, fifty years ago.  Yes, there is a longer, wider world communal history, which the folks at las Indias sent us some of.  And, yes, there were income sharing communities in the US long before Twin Oaks.  (Though, sadly, Oneida and Amana have been gone for many years.)

But Twin Oaks is now fifty, has a hundred members, and is going strong.  For the people who question whether another world is truly possible, I say, “Yes. Look at Twin Oaks.”

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Twin Oaks fiftieth anniversary photo

 

 

Fifty Years of Communes in America

Ira Wallace: A Seed With A Story

from the Acorn Community Blog  May 1, 2017

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Ira Wallace: A Seed With A Story

Allowance versus Box of Money

There are not very many places that do secular income sharing.  But those that do come in two broad flavors.  For those of us who spend a lot of time talking about income sharing, these two different approaches are sometimes given the shorthand “Box of Money” and “Allowance”.

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All full income sharing systems are in agreement about communalizing the vast majority of expenses:  Medical expenses, food, housing, clothing, education, transportation, costs connected with children, pets, various emergencies – these are all covered.  Everything that falls solidly onto the “needs” side of the sometimes vague needs vs wants divide is covered. It is the small things and the things at the needs/wants margin where we struggle.

Should i be paying for your beer (especially when i don’t drink)?  Should i be paying for your vacation to the beach?  At Twin Oaks we have “solved” this problem by giving our members an allowance which is typically around $100 per month.  You want to smoke cigarettes, you can have up to a $100 habit.  You have to be at the premier of the latest Marvel superhero movie, that is your discretionary call.  By giving people allowances, the commune avoids having to agree on a whole bunch of small, and oft divisive issues.

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The more radical solution is the infamous “box of money”.  In a number of European communes, including some of the larger ones, there is a physical box of money and when you need some, you go take it.  Sometimes you need to write down what you took it for, in other places there is less concern about this.  But if you are using this approach, you are agreeing to have whatever conversations and consensus is necessary for everyone to trust each other enough to let them spend the money they need to spend to live the life they want to lead.

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In the US, the existing “box of money” communes are smaller.  Compersia in DC, Sandhill in Missouri.  Allowance based communes include Twin Oaks, East Wind and Acorn, the largest three members of the FEC.  Although Acorn, with its anarchist orientation, straddles the boundary by empowering any member to spend up to $50 on anything for the community that they think is a good deal.  In the three years i lived there i did not hear anyone complain at a meeting that someone had misused this privilege.

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Some of the trade offs between the “allowance” and “box of money” systems are obvious, but many we are still exploring. We know that using an “allowance” system makes room for differences of opinion to exist without being resolved or even seriously addressed. Is that a good thing because it saves time and preserves privacy or a bad thing because it doesn’t drive us towards mutual understanding and critical reflection? We know that using “box of money” system allows for a greater diversity of spending patterns and priorities among members. Is that a good thing because it more easily makes room for people from diverse backgrounds and in diverse situations or a bad thing because it doesn’t drive us always back into the communal economy, looking for ways to meet our needs with each other rather than with money? As more examples are created here in the States and as we build better bridges of communication across the Atlantic our understanding of the dynamics of egalitarian, cooperative economies can only flourish.

Allowance versus Box of Money

A Cornucopia of Communes

Pictures of most of the communities featured in Commune Life over the last year.  (All communes are in US states unless otherwise noted.)

Acorn, Mineral, VA:

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Baltimore Free Farm, Baltimore, MD:

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Cambia, Louisa, VA:

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Compersia, Washington, DC:

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East Wind, Tecumseh, MO:

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las Indias, Madrid, Spain:

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Living Energy Farm, Louisa, VA:

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Oran MórSquires, MO:

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Quercus (disbanded), Richmond, VA:

Porch music jam on our snazy palette-finished porch

Rainforest Lab, Forks, WA:

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Sandhill Farm, Rutledge, MO:

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Sycamore Farm, Arcadia, VA:

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The Common Unity Project (TCUP),  Gitxsan Territory, Hazelton, BC (Canada):

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Twin Oaks, Louisa, VA:

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A Cornucopia of Communes

Radical Sharing

by Raven

Sustainability is important to many people. Some of the newer income sharing communities, such as Living Energy Farm and the Stillwater Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance, focus on reducing their carbon footprint, but Twin Oaks, a large, older communities, has never been very concerned with this, and still uses almost 20% of the resources of an average American.

The reason is that Twin Oaks embraces what Paxus refers to as ‘Radical Sharing’.  Twin Oaks has 17 cars for nearly 100 people.   (To compare, a hundred average Americans probably have 67 cars.)  They share tools and bikes and even clothes, not to mention books and musical instruments and, of course, income.

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Truly, most communities, even co-housing communities which are sort of at the other end of the spectrum from income sharing communities, do some degree of sharing.  However, most of the income sharing communities, by their very nature, do much more sharing than simply income.

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Car sharing board at Twin Oaks

Acorn also shares cars and bikes and tools and clothes, as does East Wind.  And at new communes such as Cambia and Compersia the work of building the community is shared.

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Car key cabinet at Twin Oaks

I have a button that I wear sometimes that says “Consume Less, Share More.”  In the communes this type of radical sharing is a daily reality.

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Radical Sharing