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.
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.
Earlier this month I posted the story of Living Energy Farm’s trip to Arizona to install solar energy systems in Navajo and Hopi homes. Now, LEF is offering kits that will allow you to install these systems in your place. They are pricy, but they work. Here’s what I posted on Facebook:
This is a continuation of yesterday’s post chronicling Living Energy Farm’s adventures as they went out to Arizona to install their solar systems on Navajo and Hopi reservations. Yesterday focused on the trip there–which was trickier than they expected. Today’s post focuses on the actual installations, which went very well.
On the Commune Life Facebook page, I wrote: “LEF finally is able to get to work. Here’s the first report with pictures:”
And here it is:
“In between installations, the LEF crew has time to post a Navajo joke:”
“And on to the second installation:”
“LEF goes on an installation binge–five installations in one day. Here’s some pictures and a story:”
“And here’s the story behind installation number five:”
“And here is the final post in Living Energy Farm’s saga of their road trip to Arizona to bring solar power to native folks there:”
Tomorrow, another question: “Art in Community–Is it a luxury or a necessity?”
Today begins the chronicling of an adventure. Living Energy Farm, a Virginia community that I have called ‘the environmental experimental station for the Louisa communes’, decided to take their solar-panel-and-nickel-iron-battery-system, which makes real off-the-grid living possible to the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona. This was a long planned trip that turned into more of an adventure than even they could have expected.
We reposted their Facebook posts on our site–now I want to post them here with my (Raven’s) comments. The first post was February 28th, where I said: “Living Energy Farm has faced a bunch of challenges in their journey to install solar on Hopi and Navajo reservations, but they are now on the road:”
Here is their first post, right from their Facebook page:
Followed by my post “And here’s the Living Energy Farm crew after a night in Tennesee:”
But “In the next leg of their journey to Arizona and bringing solar to the Hopis and Navajo, the folks from Living Energy Farm run into an unexpected adventure:”
Then, they are almost there. “Meanwhile, the Living Energy Farm road trip adventure continues, with them almost making it to the reservation when a tire blows out with them in the middle of nowhere:”
Then, somehow, I missed this one. From the LEF Facebook page but not ours:
And then, “The LEF crew finally makes it to “the Rez”, but not without a casualty:”
I will end this segment here. Tomorrow, the installations!
Here is the workshop and partial presentation schedule for the upcoming Twin Oaks Communities Conference. The below links are to blog posts on these elements. There is a posted full program (with short descriptions for every workshop are in the newly published program).
There is still time to register for this amazing event. Twin Oaks Community is hosting this event in central Virginia Aug 31st thru Sept 2. There is also great Labor Day (Sept 3) program at Cambia Community, less than one mile from the Twin Oaks Conference site.
May is the month when the organizers for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference ask people to think about Labor Day weekend. Specifically, we ask people what types of workshops they might be interested in offering at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference (TOCC). These come in two broad types.
Fixed Time Workshops: This is the collection of 16 (or sometimes 20) workshops which are selected in advance and are all relating to intentional communities. We are exploring different themes and it is likely we will choose a couple of them. If you are interested in presenting on an intentional community related topic we would encourage you to submit this workshop proposal form. The deadline for proposals is May 31st. These workshops happen Saturday, Sept 1st and Sunday morning. Workshop presenters who are selected for these fixed time slots will get their registration fee waived. And if you are coming from NYC metro area (or south of there) you might be able to come on our totally groovy bus.
Open Space Technology Workshop: There are way too many clever and interesting people at the TOCC to not provide a forum for them to demonstrate or propose their own workshop even if it has little or nothing to do with community. The problem (from an organizers perspective) is which ones do you choose? Fortunately, this problem has been well worked by others and there is a democratic, self selecting mechanism called Open Space Technology. These workshops are giving Sunday (Sept 2) midday into the afternoon and typically we do between 10 and 20 workshops ranging in size from 25 participants (like at a urban squatting or polyamory workshop) to just a couple of excited participants (bird watching or Python blockchain programming).
Even if you don’t want to offer any workshop there are three types of people who might want to come to this annual event, which often has over 150 participants and 40 plus communities represented:
You want to find an intentional community to move into
You are starting a community with friends
You live in a community and are looking for new members
If any of these three things is true for you, then you can register for this event here. If you want to see who is already coming and who is interested go to the Facebookevent(35 attending and 215 interested so far (May 1), and we have just started our outreach).
Closing all of our building related permits gives us a moment to reflect and consider where we are going next. For the most part, we have done what we set out to do. We have built a small village that is extremely efficient, fairly cheap, and mostly operates without fossil fuel. The integrated solar systems we have connected to our main house and kitchen are working fantastically well. The farm has been developed to a point where it is economically viable, and we are doing good work growing open pollinated seeds. Our work is far from complete. The farm is not fully weaned off of gasoline machines just yet. Our cooking is still too reliant on firewood. But we are making progress on those fronts as well.
We are doing what we said we would do. We have created a model that we think is viable around the world, and we are looking for ways to spread that model. For us, the project has been both rewarding and, at times, fatiguing. Our “to do” list looks rather impossible at times. The reality is that, no matter how talented or dedicated a group of people may be, doing too many things means some projects are well executed and some are not.We are feeling the need to clarify and focus our project better.
Rosa and Pebbles the Duck. Nobody else can catch them!
Given that most of our major construction is done (we may still want to build a greenhouse or other outbuildings), our need for cash flow is reduced. Our thinking currently is that we will, in the future, focus our project more around education, outreach, and technology development. We will be bringing back our weekend intensives, and making them into an in-depth sustainability training program. (Dates to be announced.) We will likely put less of our energy into growing seeds or developing businesses to support the on-site community. We feel like this course is the wisest in terms of maximizing our impact (and our own personal sustainability and happiness in the project). The financial numbers look like they are at least minimally adequate for this new strategy. With the completion of our main house, we are again putting some more work into looking for partnership opportunities with other organizations that might be able to take the LEF model to other locations. We would love to have help with spreading our sustainable model.
LEF’s Nickel-Iron Battery Project
There’s a lot of buzz about batteries these days. Given the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy, effective batteries are critical to providing power if we are going to live without coal and nuclear power. Industrial scale lithium-ion batteries are now coming online. These batteries could, potentially, have a big impact on the round-the-clock viability of renewable energy.
We regularly get people sending us advice about a newer, better battery. The recent article in International Permaculture has prompted some communications about something called LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate) batteries. The field of battery research and development is technical, complex, and expensive far beyond LEF’s meager resources. As far as we can tell, all of the lithium variant batteries degrade with each charge cycle (meaning they have a limited productive life) including the aforementioned industrial scale batteries. The LiFePO4 batteries are destroyed if the voltage drops too low, which presents a problem in climates where solar or wind resources are inconsistent. NiFe batteries, by comparison, have low energy density (the batteries are large for the amount of power they can store). But they do not degrade on the charge cycle, nor are they damaged by full discharge. We have a 100 year old operational NiFe battery. The (now ancient) NiFe batteries made by Edison’s company are regularly cleaned out and used by modern NiFe enthusiasts. The bottom line is that none of the current lithium variant batteries have any hope of making it 100 years.
Even if they did, the rush to make better batteries risks becoming yet another attempt to address environmental problems from a supply-side approach. It is expensive, and ignores the root of the issue. The root of the issue is our lifestyle, and how it is woven together with the industrial, political, and military layers of our society. Even if industrial scale renewable energy systems succeed, they are so expensive and complex that the best we could hope for in decades to come is ever increasing class polarization: an elite class that lives supported by this complex infrastructure while the masses huddle around their smoky fires.
Approaching sustainability with social equity foremost in mind leads to other solutions. We stand by the low-density, homemade or village-made, NiFe batteries as the best option we have seen for providing cheap, durable, stationary, electricity storage for village use. Eddie has been continuing with his mason-jar NiFe project. He has increased the voltage and storage capacity of his units. Sometime this fall we will probably set some of these homemade batteries up at LEF and begin service testing them. Wish us luck.
First stage of batch water heater construction, stripping and cleaning a water heater tank.