A Cornucopia of Communes

Pictures of most of the communities featured in Commune Life over the last year.  (All communes are in US states unless otherwise noted.)

Acorn, Mineral, VA:

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Baltimore Free Farm, Baltimore, MD:

https://i1.wp.com/www.baltimorefreefarm.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Untitled-1-copy.jpg

Cambia, Louisa, VA:

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Compersia, Washington, DC:

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East Wind, Tecumseh, MO:

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las Indias, Madrid, Spain:

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Living Energy Farm, Louisa, VA:

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Oran MórSquires, MO:

Summer OM5a

Quercus (disbanded), Richmond, VA:

Porch music jam on our snazy palette-finished porch

Rainforest Lab, Forks, WA:

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Sandhill Farm, Rutledge, MO:

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Sycamore Farm, Arcadia, VA:

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The Common Unity Project (TCUP),  Gitxsan Territory, Hazelton, BC (Canada):

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Twin Oaks, Louisa, VA:

ZK

 

 

 

A Cornucopia of Communes

A Brief Communal History

by Raven

When I was in eighth grade (it was probably 1965), one of the nuns teaching us declared that the Apostles were the first communists.  I doubt (as I’ll show) they were the first, but it seems that they really did try to live communally.  From Acts of the Apostles (4:32,34-35): “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. … Nor was there anyone among them that lacked, for all who were possessors of land or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the feet of apostles’ feet; and they were distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Gideons International, New King James Version)  It sounds pretty communal to me.

However, Marx and Engles reference hunter-gatherer tribes as Primitive Communism, citing Lewis Henry Morgan’s discussion of the communal living arrangements of the Haudenosaunee (or ‘Five Nations’ also called the Iroquois).  Wikipedia points out that “Egalitarian and communist-like hunter gatherer societies have been studied and described by many well-known social anthropologists including James Woodburn, Richard Lee, Alan Barnard and, more recently, Jerome Lewis.”  Human beings are tribal animals.  I’ve written about this on my personal blog.  I think that communal living is an attempt to recreate tribal societies, where everyone shared what they had.

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The grounds of the Oneida Community

The nineteenth century was filled with attempts at creating “Utopian Communities” and many of them were rather communal.  The Oneida Community (according to Wikipedia) “…practiced communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions)…”  It lasted thirty-one years (from 1848 to 1879).  The Amana Colonies were founded in 1856 and (again according to Wikipedia) “They lived a communal life until the mid-1930s.”  Wikipedia also notes, “The Amana Society, Inc., corporate heir to the land and economic assets of communal Amana, continues to own and manage some 26,000 acres (105 km²) of farm, pasture and forest land. … Because the land was not divided up with the end of communalism, the landscape of Amana still reflects its communal heritage.”

Las Indias has given us a bit of communal history in their essay on “Communal Postcards“, starting with Fourierism and going onto the early Kibbutz movement.

The Bruderhof  is a group of Christian communities, founded in 1920, in Germany, and currently comprised of “more than 2,700 people living in twenty-three settlements on four continents.” They take biblical sharing very seriously.  “…at the Bruderhof, we believe that sharing our lives and finances in Christian community is the answer to all that is wrong with society today. Here we are building a life where there are no rich or poor. Where everyone is cared for, everyone belongs, and everyone can contribute.”

In the US, a second wave of communalism occurred with the commune movement of the nineteen sixties and seventies.  (Probably starting just about the time that that nun was pointing out apostolic communism.)  While many of these attempts were communes in name only and most of them are long gone, at least four of them are around in one form or another.

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The Oneida residence at Twin Oaks

Twin Oaks was founded in 1967 and turns fifty this year. They have been sharing income since their beginning. Unlike many of the communes of the sixties, it is around and going strong.  The Farm, in Tennesee, was founded in 1971.  While at its beginning “…Farm members took vows of poverty and owned no personal possessions other than clothing and tools…”, this changed.  “In 1983, due to financial difficulties … the Farm changed its residential community agreement and began requiring members to support themselves with their own income rather than to donate all income to The Foundation central corporation. This decollectivization was called the Changeover, or the Exodus.” (Quotes from Wikipedia.)  While The Farm is still around, it is no longer communal.  East Wind community was founded in 1973 by some folks from Twin Oaks.  As they say on their website: “We hold our land, labor, and resources in common.” It continues strong and communal.  And, finally, there’s Sandhill Farm, a small community founded in 1974, where they are still farming and living communally. (Here’s a brief history of Sandhill.)

And communes (income sharing communities) are still being formed.  Compersia, a new commune in Washington, DC, just had its first birthday.  Communal history is old, at least if you believe that tribal societies were communal, but it is still being written.  You can read the latest dispatches from those living communally on this blog.

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A scene from Compersia
A Brief Communal History

Sandhill Farm

from MoonRaven’s Social Alchemy Blog, Saturday, June 8, 2013

There once was a small village in northeast Missouri called Sandhill.  In the 1960s it disappeared as it was incorporated in the town of Rutledge.  In the 1970s, four people (two couples) were searching for land to start a commune and purchased a plot in Rutledge very near the Sandhill Cemetery (which is still there).  They named the place Sandhill Farm.

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It’s still there nearly forty years later.  On Tuesday night last week, there was a ‘tri-community’ dinner at Sandhill Farm and along with that, we visitors to Dancing Rabbit, got a tour of the Sandhill community.  Of the three communities here in Rutledge, this is the only one that’s an income sharing community.  Unlike Twin Oaks or Acorn, it sounds like the income sharing procedure at Sandhill is rather informal.

Sandhill makes its income on what our tour guide called ‘value-added products’.   He mentioned honey and salsa and other products like that but their biggest money maker is sorghum–which is used to make Sorghum Syrup, a natural sweetener popular in the midwest.  They produce about 800 gallons of the syrup a year  and sell it in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

The Sandhill community has never gotten very large.  They currently have around six adults (and one child) and have had at most twelve adult members.  They also (like the other two communities here) have a bunch of interns and work exchangers.  Sandhill also participates in a lot of interactions with Dancing Rabbit and Red Earth Farms.  To give one small example, there are a bunch of maple trees at Dancing Rabbit and last year someone tapped some of them and collected the sap.  Since there wasn’t a facility at DR to boil it down, they brought it to Sandhill which has a ‘sugar shack’ which they use mainly for the sorghum, but they also boil down maple syrup.  Sandhill was glad to boil the syrup down for DR (and they got paid in a small amount of the maple syrup).

A bigger example is that the very reason Dancing Rabbit is in Rutledge is because Sandhill was here.  It’s fascinating to watch the interactions of the three communities and see how much they depend on each other. There’s another way of living going on in Rutledge, MO, and Louisa County, VA.

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Quote of the Day: “We envision Sandhill Farm as a stable, progressive, fluid and vibrant community thriving in abundance. We prioritize building and maintaining the health of our members, systems and facilities. We hope to integrate more alternative energy, natural building, empowered health care and self sufficiency in our lives. Sandhill Farm, in cooperation with our friends and neighbors, will continue to expand and network a culture
of sustainable living in northeastern Missouri.” – Sandhill’s Vision Statement

 

New add note from the author:  For a more complete history of Sandhill, check out Laird’s post on this blog: 40 Years in the Wilderness

 

 

Sandhill Farm

40 Years in the Wilderness

by Laird Schaub, excerpted from his post on Laird’s Commentary on Community and Consensus, Friday, May 2, 2014

Tomorrow, Sandhill will celebrate it’s 40th anniversary. While not quite a feat of biblical proportions, it’s still a big deal.

The phrase “40 years in the wilderness” comes from the book of Numbers (while that seems an odd name for a chapter in the Good Book, think of it as a precursor to Sesame Street, “Today’s religious story, boys and girls, is brought to you by the number 40… “), and recounts the wanderings of the Israelites after Charlton Heston led them in their just-in-time escape from Egypt (remember the cool trick with the Red Sea where he washed away pharaoh’s army?).

 Moses

After peregrinating at length (enough to conduct the Olympics 10 times) and surviving a series of single elimination competitions with unhappy landowners whose property they’d drifted onto, the wandering Jews* finally settled in Canaan, the Promised Land. Now that’s taking the long view.

* [Not to be confused with ornamental spiderworts, or the apocryphal dude who is reputed to have taunted Jesus en route to the cross and was cursed to traverse the world without respite until the Second Coming.]

Sandhill’s story is a little different. We’ve actually been on the same piece of land the entire time, and our work has been to transform it into our version of Canaan—something we promised ourselves we’d attempt to do. The wilderness in our case has been mainstream society, with its competitive, hierarchic, and adversarial dynamics. Most Sandhillians had been wandering through that desert for decades before accreting in little regarded northeast Missouri to terraform cooperative culture.

Against long odds, we’ve pretty much succeeded. And that’s what we’re celebrating tomorrow (along with Beltane), cheered on by 75-100 of our closest friends.

Today—on anniversary eve—it seems appropriate to pause and reflect on some of Sandhill’s major markers along the way. While the selections are somewhat arbitrary, bear with me.

1975—We lost two of the original four members, and it dawned on Annie and me that we’d have to open up our group to people we didn’t already know if we were going to survive. Though that seems normal today, that was a disillusioning shock at the time. In fact, no one we knew from outside of Sandhill ever joined the community. All of our growth came from visitors attracted by the dream and our description in Communities Directory.

1977—We started making sorghum. After two year’s of apprenticing with Jo Pearl & Eva Grover (septuagenarians who lived about 10 miles north of us), we bought our own mill, had stainless steel pans custom made, and started cooking Sandhill sorghum—something we’re still doing 37 years later. That first year we sold a quart for $2.50 and a gallon for $9. Today we offer quarts of unadulterated sweetness at the bargain price of $12 (and you can order it online).

1979 —In December we completed the paperwork to become officially recognized by the state of Missouri as Sandhill Farm, Inc. Even though we were only three people at the time (Ann Shrader, Tim Jost, and me) it became apparent that we needed the group to own the land instead of Laird & Ann.

1980 —Stan Hildebrand joined us, marking the first time we had a bona fide farmer in our number, and we gelled into a group of five that was stable for five years. During that stretch the only turnover we experienced was one person leaving for Twin Oaks (Thea Page), and another from Twin Oaks joining us (Clarissa Gyorgy). Reaching this level of grounded coherence was crucial for us a fledgling group. Up until then it was never quite clear if we were going to last.

Also that year, Sandhill joined the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, a network of secular, income-sharing communities that we’re still associated with today.

1981—Ceilee was born to Annie and me. He was the first child at Sandhill, and I caught him myself in the middle of our bedroom floor on a cold, sunny morning in late January. He became the first kid born at an FEC community that was raised there until he left for college.

1991—Sandhill representatives went on local radio to speak against the first Gulf War. This was a highly unpopular thing to do and tested our local relations (would we get a brick through the window?) even though we were being true to our pacifist ideals. Fortunately our 17 years of careful spadework building personal connections in the local community proved strong enough to withstand the strain, and no bad thing happened. Whew.

1995—Stan became trained as an organic inspector, starting down a path that has defined much of his last two decades and created an income stream that developed into the linchpin of the community’s finances. It has turned out that inspecting farms pays much better than farming.

1997—Dancing Rabbit bought land three miles away. Attracted by affordable property values, minimal zoning, and neighbors who wanted them, the founding group took over the old Petitjean place. Today Dancing Rabbit is by far the larger and better-known group, strengthening immeasurably the foundation for our beachhead of cooperative culture. Today our combined population (counting Sandhill, Dancing Rabbit, Red Earth, and the outliers living in Rutledge who want to be near us) approaches 100 and we almost certainly have the largest number of communitarians as a percentage of registered voters of any county in the US—somewhere in the vicinity of three percent.

1998—We began experimenting with having summer interns. Today it’s automatic that we interview interns to join us during the growing season (April-October), and they are a well-integrated part of our life, but it all began with Lindsey Jones from Berkeley 18 years ago.

 2001—This was the year of too many interns. After a few years of stellar results, we figured if a little was good then perhaps a lot would be great. We were wrong. After being inundated by the dynamics of trying to manage eight at once, we learned to keep the number of interns lower than that of the members. Today our rule of thumb is no more than three at a time, which is far easier to integrate into the flow of life on the farm.

2005—Red Earth Farms was launched on 76 acres adjoining Dancing Rabbit. Now we were the tri-communities. Today REF has close to 20 members and Sandhill, while still the oldest community, is now the smallest of the three.

2013—We started construction on a high tunnel greenhouse to expand our growing season on a commercial scale. This represented a deepening of our agricultural commitment, and was an initiative of the younger generation of members—the folks who are taking over from Stan and me.

40 Years in the Wilderness

Communities of Communities

from MoonRaven’s Social Alchemy Blog (Saturday, June 9, 2012 )

I’ve written about the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in my post [on my blog] on Egalitarian Communities, and about Twin Oaks in a post entitled Real Models 1:Twin Oaks. What I want to write about here is what is happening in Louisa County, Virginia, where Twin Oaks is located.

Twin Oaks has been around for forty-five years as of this year and has a population of about a hundred people (adults and children). While this would be impressive enough, in 1993 some folks from Twin Oaks helped found a second community, called Acorn. (Yes, this is a spinoff reference.) Acorn is located in Mineral, a town over from Twin Oaks, and now has about 30 members. Last year, with help from Twin Oaks and Acorn, work was begun on Living Energy Farm.  This will be a community, education center, and farm which will also be a demonstration of how it is possible to live without fossil fuels.  Twin Oaks and Acorn are members of the FEC and Living Energy Farm is a Community in Dialogue with them. All are located close to one another in Louisa County.  (Update: As of 2016, there are now five income sharing communities in Louisa County–not only Twin Oaks and Acorn and Living Energy Farm but also Sapling and Cambia )

…given the size and stability of Twin Oaks and Acorn, with their help, this (and Living Energy Farm) will probably succeed. In fact, at this point, Twin Oaks and Acorn both have long waiting lists of people who want to get into them. The waiting list at Acorn is at least six months and I suspect the waiting list at Twin Oaks is a lot longer.

Land Day at Acorn

I find what’s happening in Louisa County very inspiring. There’s a growing community of communities there within a few miles of each other, backed by the durability of Twin Oaks (and now Acorn) and an apparent real longing for community, as evidenced by the waiting lists.

But what’s really amazing is that Louisa County isn’t the only place this is happening. In Rutledge, a small town in northeastern Missouri (population 109) there are also three growing, thriving intentional communities that are working together.

Sandhill Farm is the oldest, started in by four 24-year olds in 1974, now at maybe eight members. That may not seem impressive, but the fact that Sandhill was there and supportive encouraged a small group of students from California who wanted to build an ecovillage to settle there in 1997 (incidentally, the group began to converge in 1993, the same year Acorn started). Dancing Rabbit now has sixty-something members, residents, and children. They are talking about wanting 500 to 1000, but even having sixty now is pretty good. Among other things, Dancing Rabbit wants to have a “Society of Communities”. One community within Dancing Rabbit is Skyhouse.  Dancing Rabbit isn’t an FEC community but Skyhouse is (and so is Sandhill). Then, in 2005, Red Earth Farms, “an intentional community of homesteads” bought 76 acres of land adjacent to Dancing Rabbit. There’s now about seventeen adults and children living there. From what I understand, there is a lot of traffic back and forth between the three communities–and a lot of support for each other. And, not far away, in La Plata, Missouri, is the Possibility Alliance, very interesting community of nine folks that has some links with the three Rutledge communities. In addition, some students from Colby College are making a film about the three communities called “The Rhythm of Rutledge”.

Sandhill folks having fun

Paxus has written a post called “The best parts of America”  where he talks about all these communities as well as some of the other FEC related communities around the country. It’s a nice overview of this process.

What is so exciting to me is the building energy in Louisa and Rutledge. Far from the urban mainstream, folks are gathering (about 130–so far–in VA and nearing a hundred in northeastern MO) and supporting each other in building communities. The long waiting lists for the communities in Virginia shows the hunger for this and the durability of the communities. The fact that Twin Oaks has also been running strong since 1967 is an interesting answer to “Whatever happened to all those communes from the sixties?” I think it’s also significant that Sandhill has been hanging in since the seventies and has managed to attract and support two other communities in their small town. Building strong vibrant egalitarian community is possible, and even very successful, at least in two places in the US.

Addendum (6/12/12):  I finally found a piece of info that I was looking for.  I never really understood why the folks at Red Earth Farms decided to create something separate from Dancing Rabbit.  From Laird Schaub’s (of Sandhill) blog Laird’s Commentary on Community and Consensus  in a post labeled ‘Culture Forming in Northeast Missouri’:
“When some DR members were unhappy about the community’s adamancy about maintaining a high population density, they started the spin-off community of Red Earth Farms, on 76 adjoining acres in 2007. Red Earth is based on a more agrarian, homestead model of land development.”

Addendum (5/13/16): There are now five (5!) income sharing communities in Louisa County, the two newest being Sapling and Cambia.

Quote of the Day: “Why We Exist–Because we share so much, and because we are committed to a vision of community which transcends our individual groups, we have joined together to cooperate on publications, conferences, recruitment efforts, community support systems including health care, and a variety of other mutually supportive activities. Our aim is not only to help each other; we want to help more people discover the advantages of a communal alternative, and to promote the evolution of a more egalitarian world.” – from the FEC website

Communities of Communities