from the Spring, 2021, Leaves of Twin Oaks newsletter
Photo (clockwise from top left): Acorn, Cambia, LEF, Little Flower (Catholic Worker logo).
If variety is the spice of life, then life is good for community living in Louisa. In addition to Twin Oaks, there are several other intentional communities in the county.
How did these all arise? In early 1967, a supporter of the ideas of Twin Oaks donated the land we now live on—that is why we are located here. In the early 90s, we helped found Acorn, as a way of providing a communal living option for the 25 people on our Waiting List. In 2010, two ex-members founded Living Energy Farm, a fossil-fuel-free farm and community. And within the last 5 years, Cambia has sprung up nearby as well. We’re also connected with Little Flower, a Catholic Worker community that offers radical hospitality and does various anti-poverty, anti-military and anti-oppression activism. All of these communities are within 10 miles of us, and it makes for a great “community of communities”.
The advantages of this inter-connected network are many. Most of the other communities chose to settle here due to proximity to Twin Oaks, in order to take advantage of the social and skill-sharing abilities due to that closeness.
We collectively engage in various cooperative activities, including both work and play. If one community needs a skilled person such as a conflict resolution facilitator, or someone with experience repairing a broken well-pump, they need only look as far as the next community over. In this way we provide mutual aid. We share the work of Acorn’s Southern Exposure Seed Exchange business. We have developed a Labour Exchange Program amongst all the communities. It can be fun to spend time working at another community and sometimes very helpful to take a break from one’s home community, for example following a relationship break-up or similar community stress.
This broader network also provides a larger social pool and increased options for inter-community friendships and relationships. One family was “bi-community” for a few years and eventually settled into the one community that they decided fit them both best. On major community holidays, we provide communal shuttles and send people back-and-forth, so we can celebrate with each other without each person having to take their own vehicle.
And when it comes to membership, each community has its own unique commune “flavor.” If a given visitor interested in communal living isn’t quite the right fit for one community, there are several similar-but-just-different-enough options nearby. It’s also not uncommon for members to move back and forth between communities either as dual-members, or, if they realize they are better suited to another commune, to make a more permanent move over to that one, while still maintaining their existing friendships and connections.
We know that diversity is strength and we are grateful for these diverse communities that share this piece of earth with us.
Twin Oaks: An income-sharing, egalitarian ecovillage of 100 people supporting themselves on 500 acres.
Acorn: A consensus-based community sharing income generated from the sale of heirloom seeds.
Cambia: Focused on co-creating a culture of social sustainability and harmony that nourishes us as well as the earth.
Living Energy Farm: (LEF) A zero-fossil-fuel education center developing sustainable technologies that are accessible to all, regardless of income.
Little Flower: A Catholic Worker homestead that practices hospitality and does resistance work around issues of militarism and social injustice.
“From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” Karl Marx
Kat Kinkade, the founder of three successful communal ventures, who re-defined contemporary utopian theory, and who spearheaded the rebirth of a communal movement, improbably spent her waning years living alone in a small house with just her cats and pet rabbits for company.
I first met Kat in 1982, and remained her friend until her death. On December sixth, the day that would have been Kat Kinkade’s ninetieth birthday, I looked her up online. I knew Kat to be a towering intellect and a complicated person, but the Kat Kinkade that I knew, and the legacy that she has left, were not represented in the articles I found. So I want to try here to take a shot at setting the record straight about Kat Kinkade.
In 1967, at the age of 36, Kat Kinkade didn’t merely want to start a commune where she and her daughter could live, she wanted to build a communal movement. After starting Twin Oaks, she founded the magazine, Leaves of Twin Oaks. She edited Communities Magazine and made sure that Twin Oaks kept the magazine afloat by putting in a great deal of money and labor until, many years later, it eventually became self-sustaining. Communities Magazine annually produced a Directory of Communities—the sole reference source for seekers looking for intentional communities. Later, Communities Magazine went online, creating the web site ic.org, still the go-to informational center of the global intentional communities movement.
Kat wrote and published two books, A Walden Two Experiment, and Is it Utopia Yet, about the founding and evolution of Twin Oaks Community. Twin Oaks held the first communities conference a year after getting started. This enduring yearly event (between 100 and 200 participants each non-covid year) has been the birthplace of dozens of additional communal ventures. Kat helped found the network of income-sharing communities, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That organization provided the inspiration, template, and early staff for the much larger, more expansive communal network, the Foundation for Intentional Community.
Kat Kinkade approached her movement building with missionary zeal. Her mission: a society based upon absolute equality. Kat meant to forge a model of society that would manage to defy the central failure of societies world-wide—the gravitational tendency of wealth to concentrate; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. So, how do you know if a society has attained equality?
“Equality in a community is a relationship structured so that no member envies another. Simple. [Equality creates]a general feeling of fairness, a logical first step in the pursuit of happiness.”
(Kat in “Journal of a Walden Two Commune,” from “Walden House Newsletter,” Aug, 1966, p. 14)
My attitude to every request for special privilege was always the same: “Why you?” In other words, what is there about you that makes you deserve to have more than other people? …
I was known as a hard-nosed egalitarian, and this is one of the reasons people called me “very idealistic.”
(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)
Kat read the novel, Walden Two, about a fictional utopian society written by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner. She became inspired, and wasted no time gathering a small handful of other idealists who saw this book as a how-to manual for starting an actual utopian community.
Even as those first eight pioneers unloaded their bags from a van in June of 1967, adherents arrived, eager to join, but, over the coming years, the community chose, to Kat’s enduring disappointment, to put new applicants on a wait list, allowing the community to grow only at a modest pace. In a few years, frustrated that her cohorts lacked appropriate enthusiasm for growth, Kat left Twin Oaks and founded East Wind community. Kat Kinkade’s goal was to gather up all of those eager young people seeking community being turned away by Twin Oaks and to quickly grow East Wind to several hundred members. Kat drafted East Wind’s initial policies in order to welcome open membership as a means to spur growth. Kat’s stated ambition was for the community to grow to 1,000 members. Yet, as East Wind stabilized at around fifty or so members, contentiousness escalated. Rather then fostering tolerance, strife from open membership caused the community to change direction, slow growth, and become more selective.
Disappointed yet again, Kat Kinkade left East Wind. Eventually, Kat rejoined Twin Oaks where, twenty years later, as Twin Oaks had a growing wait list, Kat set about starting her third communal experiment, Acorn community, essentially an anti-Twin Oaks, and an anti-East Wind. No longer focused on rapid growth, Acorn would remain small. There would be more commitment to interpersonal connection, less focus on written policy. At Acorn, financial rules would be looser than at Twin Oaks, so people could meet individual needs more easily.
All three communities, Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn continue to thrive today.
Although all founded at different times and having differing premises, among these different communities there are structural commonalities:
–A commitment to financial and political equality among all members—no class divide.
–The structure of the community is a corporation. The corporation owns everything. No individual’s name is on anything—not a house, a plot of land, or even a car—therefore, no one person will control decisions.
–Equity accrues to the community—no draining of communal coffers for personal pay-outs if (when) members leave.
–In case of dissolution of the community, communal assets are not divided up among the members—no temptation to dismember the community once it becomes financially successful.
–Labor is valued equally—no tendency to develop a professional elite. This type of labor ideology also recognizes as valuable work that in other societies is devalued and done by the disempowered—often a racial minority, or women, or immigrants, or children—or all of the above.
–Members accepted on the basis of their ability to work and get along with others—no purchasing membership privileges.
Kat Kinkade and I were, bizarrely, both in the same visitor group at Twin Oaks, applying for membership in 1982. Kat was returning from her stint living “in the wilderness” after leaving East Wind. (The wilderness, in this case, was Boston.) While living at Twin Oaks, Kat did not hold back on expressing her disappointment at the many failures of the community. I was surprised to hear the founder disagreeing with the entire premise of the community that she founded, and where she was living.
Part of my disillusionment came from watching the worst aspects of communism in action. I saw a larger and larger part of the community sitting around on the front steps of the dining hall smoking cigarettes and drinking their wake-up coffee at 11 in the morning, and heard them ridicule as “workaholics” the people who made the money and kept the organization together. There was gross exploitation, but in reverse. The proletariat was exploiting the manager.
Particular personalities are watchdogs to make sure that nobody else gets more than them. I just loathe this trait. So little by little I thought, “This is not merely an ugly trait in a particular individual.” Our rigid equality sanctifies envy. You know what I said when we first started this community back in 1967? I wrote, “Equality in our community is that state in which no one member envies another.“
(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 87-89)
It took me about seven years and a fair amount of self-examination, as well as observation of the people I lived with, to discover some unsettling things about my equality theory. People will and do work for the common good…when the Community desperately needs to have a great deal of work done in a hurry, it relies about ninety percent on good will, personal conscience, the labor system, and community feeling…if we’re going to get the other ten percent, we need to add an incentive program of some kind, some method by which added effort gets added reward. I have learned that personal gain is, not a stronger motivation than the good of the Community, but a more reliable one. I no longer preach absolute equality. I live…a rough equality that doesn’t create gross differences or engender severe envy. Give people a little chance to serve themselves on the side, and they will give heartily out of their core efforts for the group.
(Kat inIs It Utopia Yet?1994, p. 46-50)
Kat, in her later years, tried to gently moderate the extreme egalitiarianism embodied in Twin Oaks’ policies—the very policies that, years earlier, she had drafted. Kat, as a community planner, created communal labor budgets that allowed people to write music, articles, books and plays—as well as to perform music and plays. Kat was part of a group that re-worked the labor system to allow more individual flexibility (Members who worked more hours each week would gain more freedom from labor constraints.) Kat established a committee that offered labor and money grants to individual members for their personal hobbies or needs. To allow people to travel, Kat created a seniority-based vacation fund. Kat supported the community in creating an income incentive program that allowed a member or groups of members to work “off the system” for money to fund personal and group projects.
However, Twin Oaks was populated by idealists why had been drawn to Kat’s earlier writings about absolute equality—many had not kept up with Kat’s own evolving ideology. Each of Kat’s proposed “liberalizing” policies was approved only over resistance, or allowed only on a temporary, experimental basis. As Kat lost political influence these policies were re-examined, cut back, or canceled completely. Currently at Twin Oaks, every one of these policies that Kat favored has been undone.
Kat Kinkade eventually just wanted to live on her own. In 2005, at the age of 74, she moved into a small house near Twin Oaks, paid for by her daughter. Soon after that Kat was diagnosed with cancer. In 2007, once she began to seriously decline, Kat moved back to Twin Oaks, and died in July of 2008. Her daughter, Josie, a doctor, said that her Mom received Rolls Royce care those final months at Twin Oaks.
Online these days, uninformed critics of communal living refer to Kat Kinkade as a guru—they paint a fearsome picture of her as a domineering presence. Kat provided leadership, but she did not have the traits typically associated with a guru. She started a new community and, once it was on its feet, she left. By this means, Kat ensured that other leaders emerged, overcoming the problem of “founder’s syndrome.” Kat did not feel threatened when members aspired to leadership, rather, she sought out and encouraged leadership in others. Far from being the keeper of the ideological light, Kat was often critical of whatever community she lived in, this granted space for other members to step forward as the public face of the community. Kat actively disliked acolytes. She gave short shrift to anyone who could not engage in a lively intellectual debate—she was pleased by members who could cogently disagree with her.
Being willing to actually change her mind was the key attribute of Kat’s that allowed her to be so effective. Kat believed in honestly looking at her own beliefs—even deeply held beliefs—to see if they held up in the light of new information. Kat believed in trying things out—experimenting—then examining and accepting the results of those experiments. Because Kat Kinkade grounded her actions and policies in reality-based information, what she created endures—three thriving communities and a thriving communal movement. Thank you, Kat.
We have had snow for months here at Glomus Commune and we are still waiting for it to clear, but there is snow and ice at all the communes. Here’s some pictures of it from our Facebook page and various Instagram accounts.
First, here at Glomus:
And at East Wind, they are very excited about the Ice Pillars that have formed:
Twin Oaks contributed a video of one of their creeks in the snow:
We published on Wednesday about how Twin Oaks has been helping the Acorn Community with the Seed Racks portion of their business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Apparently, folks from Twin Oaks have also been going over to Acorn and helping them directly with shipping out seeds. Here’s a little video from the seed room at Acorn.
Keenan Dakota from Twin Oaks added this comment when the video went up on our Facebook page:
Acorn Community’s business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (aka SESE), is probably the most successful of any of the communal businesses, and with the pandemic, it seems to have become even more successful. In fact, Acorn has more business than they can handle and has been really good about sharing the business with other communities, starting with their neighbor (and the commune that helped start Acorn), Twin Oaks.
One of the parts of SESE is their wholesale business–selling seeds to garden stores and other businesses that then sell seeds to individual customers. Because these businesses display the packets of seeds in display racks, the wholesale wing is called Seed Racks and Twin Oaks runs that part of the business. Recently, with the increased sales, Twin Oaks had to create a larger space for the business. They put up a piece on Facebook and we copied it to the Commune Life Facebook page.
As you can see, over three hundred folks looked at this, and we got five responses.
I think that it’s great that the communes can support each other.
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.
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”)
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.
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.
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.
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.”