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.
We expanded our seed production this year. As is always true, some crops have done better than others. We had a drought for most of the summer. Our DC-powered irrigation system kept the crops well watered, but drought made the wild animals even more hungry than usual. As a result we suffered significant deer loss even in crops which the deer don’t usually eat, like watermelons. Even with such losses, overall the harvest looks good. In looking at LEF from a food-self sufficiency standpoint, we are making great progress in figuring out how to feed ourselves. Growing wheat has been really easy. We tried oats, and the rabbits devastated them, but we’ll try again. Our corn crop looks fantastic in spite of the drought. Our white potatoes and sweet potatoes are better than any we have ever grown at LEF, and we have a great crop of lima beans and peanuts. The beans, potatoes, corn, peanuts, and wheat, along with lots of veggies, eggs from our corn-fed ducks and venison from our corn-fed deer, put us very close to feeding ourselves without any industrial food. We are more confident than ever that the question of “can small scale organic agriculture feed us” can be answered “Yes!,” at least given the resources and climate we have at LEF.
There are still a few things to figure out. We need to figure out how to harvest small grains and peanuts efficiently. We will continue to grow our orchards, and eventually wean ourselves off of store-bought fruit. We want to put in a nut orchard (mostly pecans and filberts) so we can grow more of our calories on trees, and maybe cooking oil too. We still haven’t found the right biofuel to run our tractors. And most importantly, we need to how it all fits together. Modern environmental notions are so focused on energy production that the critical issue of how energy fits in the bigger picture gets lost. We get lots of advice about biogas, pumped storage for electricity, all manner of energy production ideas. The critical question for us is not how we maximize energy production, but how energy fits in with our village economy. What if biogas is easy (it mostly is), but takes too much time or feedstock? What if woodgas works, but only with really good feedstock and expensive equipment? How large of a woodland would it take to provide biofuel (wood for woodgas or pines for turpentine) to support a food self-sufficient village? What is the cheapest, simplest way to sustain a village — forever? Hopefully, we can answer some of these questions in the next few years.
LEF In the News (Again)
The magazine International Permaculture is one of the most detailed and extensive permaculture magazines in print. They recently did an article about LEF with a great photo spread. One either has to sign up for a free trial or buy a subscription to view the magazine. The article is an interview between Alexis and Simon Hursthouse. Simon lives in a traditional village in Hungary, where he is trying to blend modern permaculture ideas with traditional village and agricultural life. The website is https://www.permaculture.co.uk/
Now that we have all the permits complete for our main house, we are in a better position to pursue media attention, and thus to promote the LEF idea of wholistic sustainability. Starting around September 18, we will begin sending out press releases. Hopefully, we will have lots to report in the next newsletter.
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.
Zero Fossil FuelTransportation?
Sustainable transportation is an issue that a small community like ours cannot address alone. It is a wider societal choice to build good train and bus systems. But for local transport, we do have options. Do you have to have a minivan to carry
kids around? Not if you live at LEF! Check the photo.
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 announcementis 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.
Living Energy Farm(Louisa, VA) does have space for interns but is not seeking new members at this time. They have completed their main residence and are working on additional spaces for new members.
Acorn (Mineral, VA)is full. Acorn is not accepting new visitors interested in membership until spring 2018. Acorn does have possible internships starting in January 2018.
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.
Compersia(Washington DC) has at least one space available in this new, urban, commune located in the Brentwood district of DC. Compersia has had one intern and might be open to more.
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.