The Louisa County Community Cluster

by Raven Glomus

Louisa County is a 511 square mile county in central Virginia with a population of over thirty-three thousand folks.  It is also home to ten communities, including Twin Oaks, the oldest secular income-sharing community in the United States.

I had not realized how many communities there were in the county, until Paxus published his post on Meet the Communities and I counted the communities listed that were in Louisa, Mineral, and Cuckoo (all locations in the county).  There are nine in the table Paxus included and I am adding a tenth that I know of. Here’s my summary of the communities in the county.  (I want to thank Jules from Twin Oaks who went over all the communities with me and knows a lot more about them since they actually live in the county.)

Twin Oaks

Twin Oaks, as I said, is the oldest of the communes, having been established way back  in 1967.  It has a population capacity of 93 adults and 15 children but currently has around seventy members.  It has a lot of industries, from making hammocks to making tofu and from indexing books to growing ornamental flowers to changing the flooring of an auditorium in Charlottesville to managing the Seed Racks portion of Acorn’s seed business .  Right now, given their low population, they are actively seeking new members. They ask interested folks to begin the membership process through their visitor program.

Acorn

Acorn Community has been around for around twenty-eight years now (established in 1993). Traditionally, they kept their numbers low–to around thirty full members.  Recently they began talking about expanding to closer to forty full members, however, there has been some major disagreements among members resulting in a lot of folks leaving and their population has plummeted to currently about fifteen folks.  They have one, very successful business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  They are actively looking for folks now.

Living Energy Farm

Living Energy Farm is a community dedicated to the idea that it is possible to live a fulfilling life without the use of fossil fuels.  Although they started planning the community in 2010, they began living together in 2012.  They originally started with the idea of being an egalitarian, income-sharing community, but they have changed their status with the FEC to being an ‘Ally Community’, mostly to focus on their work of developing sustainable living situations.  I sometimes refer to them as being the research arm of the communes in Virginia. They run Living Energy Lights as a way to make some of their solar energy systems available to the public.  They have done projects to help underdeveloped areas use these systems, like their work in Arizona with the Navajo and Hopi reservations and in Jamaica.  They are currently looking for both volunteers and members.

Magnolia House

Magnolia House is a house in the town area of Louisa that Living Energy Farm owns and has retrofitted it to be “off-grid.”  In his table of communities, Paxus lists it as an ‘LEF Affiliate’.  My understanding is that the people who are living there would like it to become a community in its own right.  Unfortunately, beyond this I have little information and no pictures–I have never seen the place and know little about it other than what I have heard.

Cambia

Cambia is a quirky, creative little commune with a high degree of playfulness and whimsy.  Founded in 2015, they see themselves as trying “to create human habitat that emulates the beauty and complexity of living systems.”  They run an educational program that they call “Rustling Roots” and do a variety of work for other communities and outside programs.  I’m not clear whether they are currently looking for folks or not, but they do write a bit about visiting and joining them on their website.

Little Flower

Little Flower describe themselves as a small Catholic Worker homestead.My understanding is that it is primarily a couple who grow food, practice radical hospitality, and engage in political activism.  They welcome visitors.

Community of Peace

Community of Peace describes itself as “an ecumenical Christ-centered community of welcome, sung prayer, dialogue, and solidarity” and claims to be inspired by the Taize Community in France.  I know little about this community, other than it’s in Louisa, it was listed on Paxus’ table of communities that might be coming to the Meet the Communities at the Quink Fest, and what I could get from the website.  Honestly, it looks like the efforts of one person at this point.  It’s not clear whether the community is looking for members right now but the website talks about what they do and how to connect with Brother Stephan Andre.

The Cuckoo Compound

The Cuckoo Compound is in a village that is part of Mineral, Virginia, and is actually called Cuckoo.  They say that they are “a loose collective that anticipates hosting lowkey events like potlucks, craft nights, and shows!”  I know of some of the folks there and they seem pretty cool but I’m not sure that they are looking for new members.  They look like they have some fun events there, though.

Serenity Community for Justice and Peace

The Serenity Community is one of the newest, forming communities in Louisa.  It’s an ambitious project to start a BIPOC led community and, as far as I know, they do not even have land yet. They do have support from the other communities around them.  I am hoping to have more about them on this blog as the community develops and I, personally, am hoping to become more involved with them.  I don’t think they have a membership process yet but, particularly if you are a person of color who has been disappointed in how BIPOC folks have been treated in most communities, you can probably contact them through their Facebook page.  (Also, for those interested in understanding the experience of BIPOC folks in community, the Foundation for Intentional Communities is sponsoring a panel on Zoom called BIPOC Members Speak: A Conversation About Community. Follow the link for more information.)

Bakers Branch

I have been hearing about these folks for years but have little information about them other than they are an association of ex Twin Oakers and others that have formed a land trust on a road halfway between Twin Oaks and Acorn.  I doubt that they are looking for new folks (they were not even listed in Paxus’ Meet the Communities event) but I just think that it’s good to know that they’re there, one more part of the conglomeration of communities in Louisa County.

The Louisa County Community Cluster

Low Ebb for the Communes

by Raven Glomus

The Federation of Egalitarian Communities (otherwise known as the FEC) is a network that tries to keep the communes connected with each other.  We have a once a month call where the delegates from various communes talk with each other.  Last month, on the call, someone joked that the FEC currently was five folks, the same five folks (representing four communities) that had been on the call for several months.  (Fortunately, this month, we had six folks on the call, including someone from a west coast community that hadn’t been on the call in several months.)

We generally have an assembly for the FEC every year (although, due to the pandemic, it may not happen this year).  I was looking at the essay I wrote for the assembly that was held in December, 2018 ( published in January, 2019 ).  I am struck by the number of attending communities that are now no longer with the FEC.  Part of it was the demise of the three urban communes that were part of the FEC.  But while the urban communes spectacularly fell apart, it feels like there are many rural communes that are just fading away.  

I think that Oran Mor, where the assembly was held, is now down to one member and her family.  Sadder to me is that Sandhill, which had been an income sharing community since 1974 and was one of the founding members of the FEC, is also down to two families and my understanding is that they are no longer income sharing.  Ionia, in Alaska, is still around, but they no longer seem interested in the FEC.  There are a few other rural communes that are still ongoing but, since they are in sparse to no contact with the FEC, it’s hard to tell what condition they are in.

The pandemic, of course, figures into this, but so does the regular boom and bust cycle of commune building.  It seems like 2018 was the end of a boom cycle and we seem to be in a bust cycle now–with the pandemic on top of that.  Twin Oaks, the biggest and longest running of the secular communes, is at their lowest membership in many years and, with the pandemic, they aren’t able to bring in a lot of new members.

Still, the term “low ebb” comes from a discussion about the tides, and describes the point where things are farthest out.  What happens next is that the tide begins coming back in.  Similarly, I have chosen to use low ebb in the title just because I think things will begin changing soon.  

In spite of how it feels, the pandemic won’t last forever.  The 2018 Assembly was not a happy occasion.  Things were very difficult at both East Wind and Acorn Community.  A year later, both East Wind and Acorn were on the upswing, while it was Twin Oaks that was having difficulties–and just before the pandemic hit, they started getting some new folks in.  Here at Glomus Commune (formerly East Brook) we are having a very good year this year in spite of the pandemic.  We have four income sharing members (the FEC now requires a community to have five in order to be a full member community) and I think that we might well have six income sharing members by the end of the year.

Finally, I think that in the long run, the pandemic may well benefit the communes.  This seems true economically: Acorn’s seed business is booming and I also think that some of Twin Oaks and East Wind’s businesses have actually done better because of panic buying.  More importantly, the FIC (Foundation for Intentional Community–the larger communities organization) reported a “sharp uptick” in searches for communities following the onset of the pandemic.  People have been realizing the benefits of communal living and I would not be surprised if membership in the communes grows as the pandemic ebbs, and I also think people who have been thinking of starting a commune or community may well decide to just do it once they can.

I would like us to find a way of moving beyond the boom and bust scenario and figure out how to stabilize the communes, but for now, I think that it’s important to build and maintain what we have and look hopefully at the future.

Low Ebb for the Communes

Questions about Rural Communes

This is yet again the next in a series that I’ve posting here on questions that have gone up on the Commune Life Facebook page. Here’s the first question we reposted and the second and the third and the fourth and  the fifth and the sixth and, finally, the seventh

Towards the end of January, I (Raven) posted this question asking what people thought about rural communes:

It got a lot of folks looking at it and had eleven comments. The first three were people speaking from their experience:

Then came the quick, often one word answers–although Clint Brown wrote a second comment to clarify:

Finally, Zamin K Danty wrote a longer, deeper response, and Boone Wheeler made one final point:

Questions about Rural Communes