Strange Sights at Twin Oaks

by Raven Cotyledon

I was recently down visiting Twin Oaks and noticed a bunch of what I thought were unusual things and I thought that I would share them, just because I thought that they were interesting. (This is not the best introduction to Twin Oaks, but if you are familiar with the place, you may find this amusing.  We have a lot better information about the community if you look around the site.)

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These tanks were near the dining hall. I had never seen them before.  I was told that they were for the waste produced in the tofu manufacturing.  No one seemed to know what the ‘OOS’ on the sides stood for. I had lots of silly guesses.  Someone thought that it might be ‘500’ upside down, but the tanks did not look upside down to me.

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These signs were in the midst of a bamboo thicket near one of the Twin Oaks parking lots and all but invisible and inaccessible unless you were pretty determined.  I couldn’t read what most of them said but one of them clearly gives the distance from the moon.

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This is the Emergency Bell at Bozo Beach, there, I assume, in case anyone is drowning.  I wondered how often it has been rung. (This is by a pond at Twin Oaks.)

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A statue near Bozo Beach.

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A group of statues meditating near Morningstar, a residence at Twin Oaks

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I saw this sitting right outside ZK, the dining hall.  I don’t know what it’s for or if they even still use it but it certainly looks intriguing.

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This is the Sewage Treatment Plant at Twin Oaks, sometimes called STP.  Yes, Twin Oaks has their own sewage treatment plant.

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The Poop Deck is a humanure toilet with two seats.  The sign adjusts that way in case you want company while you do your business.

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Many people come to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference (or the Women’s Gathering or the Queer Gathering) in the summer.  This is what the site looks like on a warm winter day, barely recognizable to anyone who remembers it from the summer.

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An outhouse at the Conference site, visible through the bare trees.

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Strange Sights at Twin Oaks

Communities Conference Workshops

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).  

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Cambia lunch

Saturday September 1st

9:30 to noon

1:30 to 3 PM

4 to 5:30 PM

Sunday September 2

9:30 to 11

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.

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Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary – Circa 2017
Communities Conference Workshops

Will your community survive an Exodus?

By Paxus of Cambia Community

exodus people walking.jpgOne of the interesting new workshop topics for this years Twin Oaks communities conference (over Labor Day Weekend) is the Exodus Panel, which will be moderated by Taylor Kinniburgh, a member of the Baltimore Free Farm:

Panel Discussion on Surviving Exodus
Sunday, 9:30-11:00am, Registration Tarp

How can intentional communities survive a membership exodus? This workshop will carve out space for community members to share their experiences, learn from other communities, and develop strategies to overcome the challenges of member- ship overhaul. The panel will consist of experienced community leaders that have dealt with exodus to varying levels of success. Failure to deal with member exodus can lead to the collapse of a community, but it take more than recruiting new
members to take on this problem. Communities need to be self reflective about why the exodus took place and this panel hopes to guide participants in how to do that analysis.

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Come with me on a thought experiment.

You knew it might happen.  In the worst case the conflict within your community could blow things up seriously.  Now several of your members are leaving and the future of your community is in doubt.  Often people within the communities movement say “No one is indispensable” as a secular mantra for communities shifting to cover important jobs left vacant when an important member leaves.  But when several people leave?  Well, this is likely no longer a true maxim when the number departing is larger than one.

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When people leave en mass, the group changes and perhaps dies

Certainly, some part of the response of the group left behind must be soul searching.  “What did we do that was wrong?  Could we have taken better care of the group?  What have we learned from difficult circumstance and can we create new policies and practices to avoid it happening again?”

But after this important self reflection is completed, there will likely be a need to re-assess if the mission of the community is still the same after the exodus.  It is possible that the new group of members have a somewhat (and potentially quite) different vision of the future community.  While difficult work, this can be very satisfying and healing to the group remaining.

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The Baltimore Free Farm, Acorn Community and Twin Oaks have all experienced an exodus of members and survived.  Other communities we will discuss did not survive.

There is still time to register for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference over the labor day weekend (Aug 31 thru Sept 2) in central Virginia, 45 minutes from Charlottesville and 55 minutes to central Richmond or RSVP on Facebook

Will your community survive an Exodus?

Meet the Communities

The most important part of the Twin Oaks Communities Conference is not the incredible collection of workshops.  It is not the rich Open Space offerings.  It is not even the Saturday night dance, which is reliably one of the best dances of the year at Twin Oaks.

The most important part is Meet the Communities.

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The FECs newest member – East Brook Community Farm 2017

For the first couple of hours of Saturday’s program, each of the communities present send up a representative or three to introduce their community to the whole group for 1 minute.  There is a script of questions which representatives can answer, but there is a strong anarchist streak among many of these people and they often freestyle.

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Nope – but we are still looking hard for it

Then participants of the event mill around the collection of picnic tables where representatives of the different communities are present longer and more personal presentations.  It is like speed dating, except it is better in every way.  People can meet people who live in these 40 or 50 different communities and try to figure out if any of them are a good match.

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Conversation is the Key – Sky and Victor circa 2016

I have no idea how many people precisely found the community they want to live in at each years Meet the Communities. What i do know is that some of the most important community recruitment each year happens at this conference and this is one of our better tools.  If you have a community which is seeking new members, even if you can’t make the entire event, it makes sense to be there Saturday morning.

It might be just the most important place to meet new members for your community or your new home.

 

Meet the Communities

Pictures from the West Coast Communities Conference

Pictures from Raines Cohen, Cohousing California,    captions  by GPaul Blundell

(Also see GPaul’s report on the conference)

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The conference was at Terra Madre Gardens outside of Escondido, CA, all of 40 miles from the Mexico border. Hot and dry, succulents seemed to be having a grand old time and even the oak trees’ leaves had spikes like hollies as if to say “keep your thieving mitts off of my water!”

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Welcome to the conference! Here’s an orientation board.

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The folks at registration came up with a colorful way of communicating what you were seeking in an intentional community.

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Much conversation was had over the delicious food cooked by the crew at Terra Madre Gardens.

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Sky opens the conference on Friday night with some framing thoughts for the weekend ahead.

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Alayha, the event’s MC (and occasional cosmic clown), gets the crowd warmed up before one of the workshops.

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The dining area was always active with conversations large and small.

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GPaul and Betsy share their thoughts on a panel at the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures from the West Coast Communities Conference

Report from the West Coast Communities Conference

by GPaul Blundell of Compersia Community

The Twin Oaks Communities Conference has been happening for decades at Twin Oaks in Central Virginia and every year bring together communitarians and communards, experts and students, founders and seekers from all over the communities movement. It is, without fail, an incredible and, for many people, transformative experience. There is a catch, though: it’s on the East Coast and it’s always on the East Coast (because it’s always at Twin Oaks). The further west you live the harder it is to get to and so it is hardest for the folks on the West Coast.

Three years ago, a solution was born: the West Coast Communities Conference! Hosted for the first two years at the Groundswell Institute in Northern California this year a new organizing team stepped up and moved the conference to Southern California just outside of Escondido.  This year I had the good fortune to get to attend both communities conferences. In contrast to Twin Oaks, where it rained steadily for half the conference, at Terra Madre, the proto-community, organic farm, and event venue that hosted the West Coast Communities Conference, was sunny and dry as a bone. Instead of dense deciduous forest we were surrounded by bare scrubby hills built of sun bleached boulders.

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But those are superficial differences. In many ways, the conferences were a lot alike. Both attracted a mix of community seekers and community veterans with a sprinkling of students, researchers, and people from outside the movement curious to look in. Both had lots of valuable workshops and panels and drew some big names in the communities movement. Both were great networking events, connecting existing communities with community seekers and sparking all manner of other valuable relationships and connections. Both mixed structured content with unstructured networking time and serious work with relaxed recreation.

There were differences, however. Twin Oaks is the oldest largest secular income sharing egalitarian commune in the US. Twin Oaks provides the basic infrastructure and support and does a lot of prep work and clean up but all the attendees of the conference pitch in to cook and clean and play with the kids and keep the whole event running smoothly. This keeps costs down and recreates the cooperative and collective effort that is the basis of communal culture. Terra Madre is a private farm and event venue. The staff there did all the food prep and serving and volunteer opportunities, though present, were more limited. It was interesting to watch the conference participants repeatedly ask the staff if they could help and get repeatedly rebuffed. One unfortunate effect of this was that the necessary ticket price for the WCCC was noticeably higher than the TOCC and a lot of people who would have liked to come ended up discouraged by or unable to pay the ticket price. How many were discouraged, of course, is impossible to tell and the price could likely never get low enough to not draw any complaints.

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Another difference was in what sections of the communities movement were represented. The Twin Oaks Conference, which is co-sponsored by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, is free to attend for any member of an FEC commune and most FEC communes send a small delegation most years. Additionally, being hosted at Twin Oaks means that a good share of Twin Oaks members will wander up to the conference at some point during the weekend. The end result is that the conference is crawling with communards and egalitarian income sharing communes are an inescapable presence, bordering on the conversational default, most years. The West Coast Conference this year was, of course, hosted at a venue that is not an intentional community (but might be one day) but was also primarily organized by volunteers from within the co-housing portion of the movement. The networks they reached out to were mostly co-housing networks, a couple co-housing networks were event sponsors, and many of the workshops were geared towards a co-housing audience. As such, the majority of attendees and the conversational default at this year’s WCCC was co-housing, not communes. In fact, out of about 60 speakers and attendees only Sky Blue and myself were currently living in an egalitarian commune (and we were both there as speakers and organizers for the event). That being said, there were a handful of egalitarian community oriented attendees and my workshop on the hows and whys of income sharing was both well attended and so popular that several people insisted I lead a follow up session during the open space portion of the conference. A few people left inspired and some hopeful connections were made.

I think that the general lesson here, and the lesson for the egalitarian communities movement specifically, is an unsurprising one. An event, like a community, is shaped by the people who organize it. No matter the stated goals or self-conception, the people who show up to make it happen will quite naturally bring their own perspectives and interests to bear on their work. If we want the West Coast Communities Conference to be more effective as an organizing nexus for egalitarian community we need to step up and devote our time and resources to making it happen. The promising news is that, both at the conference and on the travels around the West Coast before and after it, I saw copious evidence that people are hungry for solutions to the problems that egalitarian community addresses. There is interest in the ideas and experience that we have to offer and there are individuals and groups circling around and looking for an opportunity to get together and transform their lives. The soil is rich. If we attend to it, beautiful things can blossom forth.

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Report from the West Coast Communities Conference