Ira Wallace

by Raven Glomus

Ira Wallace is amazing.  She helped found the Acorn community, where she lives to this day.  She also has been a major force in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Acorn’s business, which has been booming during the pandemic, and helped start the Heritage Harvest Festival, a big agricultural exposition in Virginia.  The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) recently inducted her into their hall of fame.  Here’s some relevant pieces from their press release, along with a picture of Ira who, in spite of age and disability, continues working and inspiring folks.

The North American Students of Cooperation Inducts 2020 Hall of Fame

The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) is the bi-national federation that educates and organizes youth and emerging leaders to create and care for co-ops in the US and Canada. On Friday, November 6, 2020 at the annual NASCO Cooperative Education and Training Institute, held online, four cooperators were honored as inductees in the NASCO Cooperative Hall of Fame. The NASCO Hall of Fame, created in 1989, provides broader recognition to individuals who have made a truly significant impact within the cooperative movement. NASCO is proud to honor the 2020 inductees:

Ira Wallace, Founder

Ira Wallace has a lifetime of history in the cooperative movement. Ira has been a member of Acorn Community since the beginning of the community and was instrumental to its founding. Acorn is a 27-year-long experiment in egalitarianism based on living cooperatively with each other and the environment in a non-hierarchal fashion, located on 72 acres of certified organic land in Central Virginia.

Ira is also a prime mover and shaker behind Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE), a worker-coop seed company owned by Acorn that specializes in preserving and propagating heirloom seeds by getting the seeds and practice of seed saving into generations of future gardeners. Ira started saving herb and flower seeds in the 1970s and became professionally involved in the seed business in 1998. At SESE she coordinates education and outreach as well as co-managing variety selection and new seed grower contracts with SESE’s network of 70+ seed producing farms. It is the oldest company in the southeast focusing on heirloom, organic, open-pollinated seeds. Since 1983 Southern Exposure has been helping people in the southeast get control of their food supply by supporting sustainable home and market gardening, seed saving, and preserving heirloom varieties. Ira also started the Heritage Harvest Festival in a back lot at Monticello 12 years ago and worked to grow it to a premier celebration of a vision of America of small farmers and gardeners.

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When I posted this on Facebook, we got a few comments. Here’s what folks wrote, including some replies from me:

(This was in reference to a post on feasting at East Wind and Cara, a former East Winder, said that she “met Ira the first month I was there, she came for some conference or exchange – and she made the most amazing pastries! and we realized I knew her daughter – I’d met her in college”)

Ira Wallace

More 2020 Art Walk

Art Walk at Twin Oaks is an annual event (fourth year in a row!) and this year they included stuff from two other Louisa, Virginia, communities: Acorn and Living Energy Farm. We’ve already linked to one set of photos–here’s more.

(From Twin Oaks Facebook page): MORE ART WALK. Art included various computer programming presentations as well as traditional drawing, painting, crafts, and metalwork.

More 2020 Art Walk

Art Walk 2020

Art is important in communities, and Twin Oaks began this yearly art festival to acknowledge it. Here’s what they said on their Facebook page (which was then copied to the Commune Life Facebook page along with a bunch of pictures.

ART WALK. Twin Oaks 4th annual art event, this year with Acorn & LEF participating.On October 18 there was a day of performances and art created by members was on display in several of our buildings.

Art Walk 2020

The Pandemic in the other Louisa Communities

The last two days we have been looking at the response of Twin Oaks to the pandemic. There are actually six communities in Louisa county (Twin Oaks, Acorn, Living Energy Farm, Mimosa, Cambia, and Little Flower–which is a Catholic Worker community). Today I will look at how Acorn and some of the other FEC communities dealt with the challenges of the coronavirus.

Acorn went into rather drastic quarantine early–one of their founders is still living there and dealing with cancer, so to protect her, they took rigorous measures. Acorn, being Acorn, didn’t document this. Instead, they looked at the effect that COVID-19 had on their business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Basically, when people realized that we were moving into a pandemic, everyone wanted to buy seeds.

Here’s how it happened. It starts with this note on a seed order:

Theresa pointed out:

The comments to this point, especially from Rejoice, further elaborated.

Southern Exposure was forced to put up this notice:

And, in the midst of this, Acorn celebrated Land Day (their annual holiday to commemorate when they were actually able to move onto the land). There was the usual big bonfire. But this year the celebration was a bit different.

Theresa’s note:

And then another invoice from SESE:

The person who was most in the midst of this is Rejoice, a former Acorn member now living at Mimosa, who everyone trusts, and thus became the courier between the communes as well as carefully bringing things back and forth to and from the outside world. To do this job, Rejoice had to resort to extreme measures:

SESE continued doing a brisk business and began putting out information about their business, both before and during the pandemic. The article is linked here.

The start of it says: “As most of you probably know, we’ve been inundated with orders this last month. We’re thrilled that folks are looking to our seeds during this challenging time but we’ve also had trouble keeping up. We’ve had to suspend taking new orders several times now while working to get seeds packed and shipped. We thought this would be an appropriate time to take a look behind the scenes at Southern Exposure.”

Then they posted an article on Seed Saving for all those folks that suddenly realized how important seeds were.

Commune Life also dove into this intercommunal attempt to teach seed saving during the pandemic.

The survey is still online if you want to take it.

Tomorrow, the non response from East Wind.

The Pandemic in the other Louisa Communities

Coronavirus Responses from the Communes

I’m interrupting the Questions republication, to publish some of the posts from around the internet that show how the communes are dealing with the pandemic.

From the Twin Oak’s Instagram account:

From the Commune Life Instagram account:

This is from Boone Wheeler’s Facebook page via the Commune Life Facebook page. The caption we wrote on our Facebook page was: “Boone Wheeler shared these photos of ‘Social Distancing’ at East Wind:”

And finally, although it was published in my piece on Communes and the Coronavirus, I am reprinting it because it is such a classic piece. This is a customer from Acorn’s seed business putting a personal response in the comments line on their order. It reads: “Everyone laughed at me for spending money on seeds, but WHO WILL BE LAUGHING WHEN I HAVE FOOD AND TRADER JOE’S IS STILL A WARZONE, KAREN?”

Coronavirus Responses from the Communes

Consensus 101

by Raven Glomus

One of my commune mates asked me to write this in preparation for work that we are doing on our decision making process. This is just the basics of achieving consensus. There are nuances you learn as you go along.

Consensus is a process of discernment, involving listening to each person that is affected, in order to reach a decision that everyone agrees with or, at minimum, can live with. Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean total agreement, but it means everyone’s concerns must be heard and everyone must feel that they can abide by the decision.

The first step in the consensus process is that someone brings a proposal to a meeting.  The proposal is discussed and concerns are heard. The proposal is usually modified to meet the concerns.

Eventually, when it feels like the proposal has reached a point where most people’s concerns have been addressed, there is a call for consensus.  There are three possible responses that can be made: agreeing, standing aside, or blocking.  

Agreement means that you are in favor of the proposal as it is by the time it has gone through the process or at least can go along with it.  

Standing aside means that you still have concerns but you are willing for the process to go forward.  Usually the concerns of those standing aside are noted. If more than one or two people feel that they need to stand aside, it is usually a sign that consensus hasn’t been reached and the proposal may need to be further modified.

Blocking is a way that any person can stop the decision from being made.  Blocking is very serious and should only be done for principled reasons. Caroline Estes (a consensus teacher) claims that if you have blocked for six times, you have used up your lifetime quota. If a person continually threatens to block decisions, that is usually a sign that the person probably shouldn’t be part of the group, since they disagree so strongly with everything.

Generally it is said that blocking can only legitimately be done for two reasons: the proposal goes against the basic principles of the group or the blocker believes that the proposal going through would destroy the group.  I will add a third reason that only occurs during a membership process: that you feel that you would not be able to live with the person applying for membership. 

Consensus has been the decision process at Acorn for many years, is usually used by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in their meetings, and has been used or considered by many other communes.  Glomus Commune is now considering it as our method of decision making.

Two resources for more information about consensus are: On Conflict and Consensus by C. T. Lawrence Butler and Amy Rothstein and ”Consensus Basics” by Tree Bressen.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda Schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman 
  • Raines Cohen 
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Consensus 101

Communes and the Coronavirus

by Raven Glomus (with assistance from Theresa Glomus and JB East Wind)

The subject of this post will probably not surprise anyone. In one way, I hate to add to the constant drumbeat of coronavirus stuff.  It’s all our news feeds are filled with and it gets tiring–to me, at least. On the other hand, I think that it’s important that folks know what the communes are doing about this pandemic. 

In some ways, the communes are great places to ride out the pandemic. At this point, they are all rural and a bit isolated. It’s fairly easy to disconnect from the social world and you don’t need to feel isolated, since you have other people who are just as isolated with you.  It’s perfect–until someone somehow gets the coronavirus. 

This is the downside of the communes. We share income, we share a mission, we share our stuff. We also share germs. Once someone in a commune gets the coronavirus, everyone is probably going to get it.  There is also more back and forth between the various communities than there is contact with the outside world. That means there is also the likelihood of it rapidly spreading from commune to commune.

So what are specific communities doing to deal with the coronavirus?

Twin Oaks had been talking about quarantining sick folks in one cabin and only allowing caregivers in and out.  The caregivers would not be allowed to eat in the dining hall, to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Now, as of Saturday, Twin Oaks is in full quarantine/locked down mode.  No visitors are allowed except for essential services, such as UPS. Members leaving the property without the consent of the Planners won’t be allowed to return until the pandemic has abated. 

They have cancelled visitor periods for March and April and all Saturday tours at Twin Oaks have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

At Acorn, they quarantined themselves early. They have instituted thorough sanitation procedures in every area of the community. These include thoroughly wiping down surfaces that people interact with, and even nearby surfaces that might not be interacted with.  For off farm business trips, members have been instructed to wear gloves during the entire trip, to drop off items at designated areas and sanitize priority items, and then discard gloves in designated trash areas and sanitize hands with hand sanitizer immediately.

Acorn further instructs that if a person is having difficulty breathing, they should have a designated emergency person take them to the hospital. That person should prepare to shower upon returning to Acorn and put the clothes they wore immediately into a washing machine (with hot water), sanitizing all surfaces of the washing machine. 

Anyone at Acorn who feels sick or shows symptoms of the Coronavirus, has been told to stay in their own room. They have been instructed to stuff a towel under their bedroom door, keep a window open as much as possible, have a designated person bring them meals, and have a stock of snacks in their room. If they need to leave their room, they should wear a mask and sanitize all knobs and surfaces that they come in contact with.

Read the center gray bar

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Acorn’s business) has posted the following on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/SouthernExposureSeeds/posts/10156779388296254 

At East Wind, they have had two community meetings to discuss the Coronavirus. They have stopped visitor periods for April and have effectively made a prohibition on guests.  They say that they have a solid amount of food and could be well situated to weather the pandemic.

Economically, their nutbutter business has been impacted with a drop in sales to those who use our product as an ingredient in their manufacturing (some examples are juice and snacks). On the other hand, the distributors that they work with are experiencing large spikes in sales. It seems unclear if they will lose money due to the virus but it is definitely a possibility.

Being one of the most rural communities, East Wind has yet to see the full extent of impact it will face. As things change, they may start taking more serious actions, but of the various communes, they think they may be in a pretty good place in terms of being prepared and isolated.

Here at the Glomus Commune at East Brook Community Farm, we are smaller and are looking at people coming here on a case by case basis. We have told people who just want to visit not to come.  With other people, who are planning to come here on a long term basis, we are checking on their health status and whether they are coming from a high risk area before giving them permission to come. As with all the communes, things are changing daily. 

Communes are semipermeable and still quite connected with the larger society. We are all going to have to see where this pandemic goes. 

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda Schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman 
  • Raines Cohen 
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Communes and the Coronavirus

The New Steel Building

by Raven East Brook 

Back in March of 2013, when I was visiting Twin Oaks, there was a snow storm which knocked down power lines and both Twin Oaks and Acorn were without power for several days.  Acorn got their power back sooner than Twin Oaks, but it came with a price.

From a blog post I wrote on my own blog at the time: “…when the power went out, someone ran into one building to rescue some baby chicks that were being kept warm by an electric heater and apparently moved the heater to the wrong place. When the power came back on it started a fire that turned into an inferno that destroyed the whole building.  Very fortunately, this wasn’t a building anyone lived in and no one was hurt–but there was thousands of dollars of damage, including their communal clothes supply and there was at least one automobile nearby that the heat of the fire literally melted the bumper.”

This was a building at Acorn called The Steel Building and it was basically a Quonset Hut.

1200px-Building_built_of_corrugated_steel
Not the building at Acorn but a typical Quonset Hut

What was left after the fire was a steel shell, basically the curved roof/walls.  Somehow it kept its shape in spite of the extreme heat. It leaked when it rained but the community still used it to store stuff, often covered with tarps.

Last year Acorn tore the shell down and apparently they sold it for scrap metal.  In its place they put up a new building, made of steel (bright blue steel) but hardly a Quonset Hut.

IMG_0190

It has lovely details, like a spiral staircase going up the outside:

IMG_0191

What I was told was that they were still in the process of moving things into the building, and it was just beginning to be used.

IMG_0193

It will be used for many purposes, much as the old steel building was, and has a wide door on one side so it can be used for automotive.

IMG_0195

Here’s the final side.  

IMG_0197

When I visited Acorn last year, there were lots of new things there, but the new steel building stood out.  I think that this lovely bright blue structure is a definite improvement on the old dull gray building they tore down. 

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

The New Steel Building

Associate Status

by Raven

I was talking with Ryn, who had been staying here at East Brook Community Farm for several months but is also an Associate member of East Wind. East Wind is one of a few communes in the FEC that has an Associate status. I know that Acorn used to have Associates (and may still have them) and they are considering creating this status at East Brook.

Ryn sent me a copy of the East Wind policy on associate members. East Wind has had Associates for a long time, perhaps dating back to the 1980s.  Basically an Associate member is required have a room at East Wind for at least 60 days during any given year and to be away from the community for at least 60 days during a year. An associate member is therefore a part time member in a community. Being part time at one of the communes allows you to spend significant time at other communities.

spring-2016-29-of-152-1024x685
East Wind’s membership in Spring 2016

Associate members at East Wind can own their own cars and vehicles and they can hold jobs outside the community, something that full members at East Wind can’t do.

Being an Associate member gives you a lot of freedom to go back and forth between various communities and therefore Ryn believes that it creates the “social glue” that can hold the communes together.  Associate membership allows you to hang out for decent periods of time with people from different communes and get and spread the news about what is happening at various other communities.

Ryn pointed out that when there was at least one member that went back and forth between East Wind and Acorn, the two communities grew closer together, and when that communard settled into one of the communities and dropped membership in the other,  there seemed to be more tension between the communities.

Nov-18-Group-photo
Acorn’s membership, November, 2018

I am always a believer in creating more options for people.  Living part time in several different communities is an important alternative that some of the communes offer.   It’s not for everyone (I wouldn’t want to live part time in several places) but I think that it’s an important and useful option that benefits not only the people who take advantage of it, but the income-sharing communities at large.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks! 

Associate Status

Bonfires, Mushrooms, Cats, and Cults

Autumn at the communes.

From the Commune Life Instagram account

Bonfires, Mushrooms, Cats, and Cults