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.
Coyote, a long time Twin Oaks member, died a couple of weeks ago. It’s far from the first death there. When you’ve been a community for well over fifty years, you will will see a lot of deaths (and a lot of births). How does a commune deal with death? Twin Oaks documented Coyote’s funeral and I put it on our Facebook page. Here’s what we published:
When this was published on Facebook, we got a comment remembering someone who had died at Alpha Farm.
It’s sad, but death is part of life and we need to develop our own ways of dealing with it.
“From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” Karl Marx
Kat Kinkade, the founder of three successful communal ventures, who re-defined contemporary utopian theory, and who spearheaded the rebirth of a communal movement, improbably spent her waning years living alone in a small house with just her cats and pet rabbits for company.
I first met Kat in 1982, and remained her friend until her death. On December sixth, the day that would have been Kat Kinkade’s ninetieth birthday, I looked her up online. I knew Kat to be a towering intellect and a complicated person, but the Kat Kinkade that I knew, and the legacy that she has left, were not represented in the articles I found. So I want to try here to take a shot at setting the record straight about Kat Kinkade.
In 1967, at the age of 36, Kat Kinkade didn’t merely want to start a commune where she and her daughter could live, she wanted to build a communal movement. After starting Twin Oaks, she founded the magazine, Leaves of Twin Oaks. She edited Communities Magazine and made sure that Twin Oaks kept the magazine afloat by putting in a great deal of money and labor until, many years later, it eventually became self-sustaining. Communities Magazine annually produced a Directory of Communities—the sole reference source for seekers looking for intentional communities. Later, Communities Magazine went online, creating the web site ic.org, still the go-to informational center of the global intentional communities movement.
Kat wrote and published two books, A Walden Two Experiment, and Is it Utopia Yet, about the founding and evolution of Twin Oaks Community. Twin Oaks held the first communities conference a year after getting started. This enduring yearly event (between 100 and 200 participants each non-covid year) has been the birthplace of dozens of additional communal ventures. Kat helped found the network of income-sharing communities, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That organization provided the inspiration, template, and early staff for the much larger, more expansive communal network, the Foundation for Intentional Community.
Kat Kinkade approached her movement building with missionary zeal. Her mission: a society based upon absolute equality. Kat meant to forge a model of society that would manage to defy the central failure of societies world-wide—the gravitational tendency of wealth to concentrate; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. So, how do you know if a society has attained equality?
“Equality in a community is a relationship structured so that no member envies another. Simple. [Equality creates]a general feeling of fairness, a logical first step in the pursuit of happiness.”
(Kat in “Journal of a Walden Two Commune,” from “Walden House Newsletter,” Aug, 1966, p. 14)
My attitude to every request for special privilege was always the same: “Why you?” In other words, what is there about you that makes you deserve to have more than other people? …
I was known as a hard-nosed egalitarian, and this is one of the reasons people called me “very idealistic.”
(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)
Kat read the novel, Walden Two, about a fictional utopian society written by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner. She became inspired, and wasted no time gathering a small handful of other idealists who saw this book as a how-to manual for starting an actual utopian community.
Even as those first eight pioneers unloaded their bags from a van in June of 1967, adherents arrived, eager to join, but, over the coming years, the community chose, to Kat’s enduring disappointment, to put new applicants on a wait list, allowing the community to grow only at a modest pace. In a few years, frustrated that her cohorts lacked appropriate enthusiasm for growth, Kat left Twin Oaks and founded East Wind community. Kat Kinkade’s goal was to gather up all of those eager young people seeking community being turned away by Twin Oaks and to quickly grow East Wind to several hundred members. Kat drafted East Wind’s initial policies in order to welcome open membership as a means to spur growth. Kat’s stated ambition was for the community to grow to 1,000 members. Yet, as East Wind stabilized at around fifty or so members, contentiousness escalated. Rather then fostering tolerance, strife from open membership caused the community to change direction, slow growth, and become more selective.
Disappointed yet again, Kat Kinkade left East Wind. Eventually, Kat rejoined Twin Oaks where, twenty years later, as Twin Oaks had a growing wait list, Kat set about starting her third communal experiment, Acorn community, essentially an anti-Twin Oaks, and an anti-East Wind. No longer focused on rapid growth, Acorn would remain small. There would be more commitment to interpersonal connection, less focus on written policy. At Acorn, financial rules would be looser than at Twin Oaks, so people could meet individual needs more easily.
All three communities, Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn continue to thrive today.
Although all founded at different times and having differing premises, among these different communities there are structural commonalities:
–A commitment to financial and political equality among all members—no class divide.
–The structure of the community is a corporation. The corporation owns everything. No individual’s name is on anything—not a house, a plot of land, or even a car—therefore, no one person will control decisions.
–Equity accrues to the community—no draining of communal coffers for personal pay-outs if (when) members leave.
–In case of dissolution of the community, communal assets are not divided up among the members—no temptation to dismember the community once it becomes financially successful.
–Labor is valued equally—no tendency to develop a professional elite. This type of labor ideology also recognizes as valuable work that in other societies is devalued and done by the disempowered—often a racial minority, or women, or immigrants, or children—or all of the above.
–Members accepted on the basis of their ability to work and get along with others—no purchasing membership privileges.
Kat Kinkade and I were, bizarrely, both in the same visitor group at Twin Oaks, applying for membership in 1982. Kat was returning from her stint living “in the wilderness” after leaving East Wind. (The wilderness, in this case, was Boston.) While living at Twin Oaks, Kat did not hold back on expressing her disappointment at the many failures of the community. I was surprised to hear the founder disagreeing with the entire premise of the community that she founded, and where she was living.
Part of my disillusionment came from watching the worst aspects of communism in action. I saw a larger and larger part of the community sitting around on the front steps of the dining hall smoking cigarettes and drinking their wake-up coffee at 11 in the morning, and heard them ridicule as “workaholics” the people who made the money and kept the organization together. There was gross exploitation, but in reverse. The proletariat was exploiting the manager.
Particular personalities are watchdogs to make sure that nobody else gets more than them. I just loathe this trait. So little by little I thought, “This is not merely an ugly trait in a particular individual.” Our rigid equality sanctifies envy. You know what I said when we first started this community back in 1967? I wrote, “Equality in our community is that state in which no one member envies another.“
(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 87-89)
It took me about seven years and a fair amount of self-examination, as well as observation of the people I lived with, to discover some unsettling things about my equality theory. People will and do work for the common good…when the Community desperately needs to have a great deal of work done in a hurry, it relies about ninety percent on good will, personal conscience, the labor system, and community feeling…if we’re going to get the other ten percent, we need to add an incentive program of some kind, some method by which added effort gets added reward. I have learned that personal gain is, not a stronger motivation than the good of the Community, but a more reliable one. I no longer preach absolute equality. I live…a rough equality that doesn’t create gross differences or engender severe envy. Give people a little chance to serve themselves on the side, and they will give heartily out of their core efforts for the group.
(Kat inIs It Utopia Yet?1994, p. 46-50)
Kat, in her later years, tried to gently moderate the extreme egalitiarianism embodied in Twin Oaks’ policies—the very policies that, years earlier, she had drafted. Kat, as a community planner, created communal labor budgets that allowed people to write music, articles, books and plays—as well as to perform music and plays. Kat was part of a group that re-worked the labor system to allow more individual flexibility (Members who worked more hours each week would gain more freedom from labor constraints.) Kat established a committee that offered labor and money grants to individual members for their personal hobbies or needs. To allow people to travel, Kat created a seniority-based vacation fund. Kat supported the community in creating an income incentive program that allowed a member or groups of members to work “off the system” for money to fund personal and group projects.
However, Twin Oaks was populated by idealists why had been drawn to Kat’s earlier writings about absolute equality—many had not kept up with Kat’s own evolving ideology. Each of Kat’s proposed “liberalizing” policies was approved only over resistance, or allowed only on a temporary, experimental basis. As Kat lost political influence these policies were re-examined, cut back, or canceled completely. Currently at Twin Oaks, every one of these policies that Kat favored has been undone.
Kat Kinkade eventually just wanted to live on her own. In 2005, at the age of 74, she moved into a small house near Twin Oaks, paid for by her daughter. Soon after that Kat was diagnosed with cancer. In 2007, once she began to seriously decline, Kat moved back to Twin Oaks, and died in July of 2008. Her daughter, Josie, a doctor, said that her Mom received Rolls Royce care those final months at Twin Oaks.
Online these days, uninformed critics of communal living refer to Kat Kinkade as a guru—they paint a fearsome picture of her as a domineering presence. Kat provided leadership, but she did not have the traits typically associated with a guru. She started a new community and, once it was on its feet, she left. By this means, Kat ensured that other leaders emerged, overcoming the problem of “founder’s syndrome.” Kat did not feel threatened when members aspired to leadership, rather, she sought out and encouraged leadership in others. Far from being the keeper of the ideological light, Kat was often critical of whatever community she lived in, this granted space for other members to step forward as the public face of the community. Kat actively disliked acolytes. She gave short shrift to anyone who could not engage in a lively intellectual debate—she was pleased by members who could cogently disagree with her.
Being willing to actually change her mind was the key attribute of Kat’s that allowed her to be so effective. Kat believed in honestly looking at her own beliefs—even deeply held beliefs—to see if they held up in the light of new information. Kat believed in trying things out—experimenting—then examining and accepting the results of those experiments. Because Kat Kinkade grounded her actions and policies in reality-based information, what she created endures—three thriving communities and a thriving communal movement. Thank you, Kat.
After a long decline, Coyote, a member of Twin Oaks died last Thursday with friends next to his bed. He had been declining for months, or, actually, years. In that time dozens of people were part of his care, helping lift, move, and clean him, but also just sitting with him, or reading to him, or singing to him. The day Coyote died, I was part of a group of people who gathered in Coyote’s room. We gently placed our hands on him, held his hand, and sang to him.
Less than a year ago, my father died of covid in an elder care facility. Of course, we family couldn’t visit him in the months before he died, or sit with him when we knew that he only had a few days to live. After my father passed, the memorial service, as so many people have experienced in the past year, was held on Zoom.
We were all relieved that Coyote had not died the day before when there had been a birthday celebration for a child turning twelve. Everyone wanted to attend the party. The birthday party had live music, including several songs that were written and performed by the birthday boy. Probably about forty people were in attendance. Twin Oaks has maintained a strict lockdown protocol, so there has been no covid here, but we have been able to include neighboring communities in our “bubble.”
Someone from another community had brought some larping paraphernalia to the party (shields and padded sticks that posed as swords). Kids and adults had a great time running around whacking and chasing each other while the music was playing. I noticed that one of the adults running around was a member who had given birth less than a month ago. Various people at the party were taking turns holding the baby.
The birth had been here at Twin Oaks, with friends in attendance, singing and holding the mother’s hand. Even the day of the birth, the mother managed to walk, but she was clearly fully recovered if she could run around with a padded sword, being chased by kids.
The bedside vigil, the birthday concert, the home birth–none of these events are unusual or remarkable here at Twin Oaks. Or weren’t. In this time of global pandemic it seems that everyone is longing for a return to being able to gather together with other people, no matter the reason. What so many people everywhere have been discovering is that what we all need more of in our lives is to be with other people to just do stuff together—in a word: community.
Last month, I wrote a little about Validation Day before the actual holiday. Slowly, after it was over, pictures started coming out on Facebook. I realized that I hadn’t posted them here.
First there was a post from me comparing an ornate card from Twin Oaks with the simpler ones that we had here at Glomus Commune.
As I said, the messages are the most important part. Still, the creativity that goes into the cards can be stunning. Here’s a post from the beginning of this month talking about what happened at Twin Oaks.
At the busy communes, I think that this is a wonderful way for us to remind ourselves that we care about each other.
While much of the covid-19 pandemic has fortunately left our community relatively untouched (we went on full external lockdown, so there is generally no masking/distancing/etc required while on the farm), it has certainly still brought along its share of stresses and desire for leisure activities to keep our spirits high. As with Settlers of Catan back in the early 2000s, communards sometimes think “hmm…what should I do to relax after a long day of farming, foraging, cooking, crafting, and raising animals? Oh I know: Pretend to do all these things!” Enter: Stardew Valley…
Stardew Valley is a computer game that has been around for a few years now, but recently came out on mobile so it has renewed popularity (also, Oakers tend to get into things a couple years after the rest of the world). It’s an adorable simulation game in which you inherit your grandfather’s farm after he’s passed away and proceed to try to make it into a productive part of the community, while also doing helpful tasks for others and flirting with the single people around town. While my real-life poly family was getting into this game on their own, we recently went on a little vacation at an AirBnB in town and decided to try out “co-op” mode. This got me thinking about all the similarities between the game and real-life communal living. The internet is also full of people just discovering community and wanting to immediately go buy land and invite their friends over, so this could potentially be a useful tool for folks to try it out group decision-making and income-sharing prior to taking the real-life leap.
The first thing to decide when going to co-op mode is whether or not to start a brand new farm or invite people to one you’re already been working on. This can be a test of what we in the communities movement call “Founder’s Syndrome.”
According to Wikipedia, Founder’s Syndrome is “a popular term for the difficulties faced by organizations where founders maintain disproportionate amounts of power and influence following the initial establishment of the project, leading to a wide range of problems for both the organization and those involved in it.” Many communities are founded by one person or a small group of people who have a particular vision of what they want the community to be. While this is all well and good at first, it starts to become increasingly challenging as they try to attract new members who may generally agree but also have some different ideas about what they’d like to happen.
In Stardew Valley, if you invite people to join a farm that you’ve been laboring on for several in-game years, it can be beneficial because there is already an established base of income and less start-up labor, but can also be challenging if the founder is resistant to the suggestions of the other players, takes too much ownership of the land, and has very particular feelings about how things should run. It can be difficult for other players to speak up about the dynamic because they don’t want to disrespect all the work that the founder has put in, leading to building of resentment over time.
Starting a new farm with other people can lead to less of this, even though technically one person is still the “host” and needs to be logged in for others to be able to play. However, there is then a lot of work to do, quests to unlock, and minimal money to work with from the beginning. Just like in real-life!
Another feature to think about when starting your co-op farm is whether or not to share income. The default mode is income-sharing, so whenever a player sells a parsnip or buys an upgraded axe, this affects the total amount of money available to all players. This sounds idyllic in theory, but what happens when 3 people want to each get a bigger backpack for 4000g each but you only have 5000g? Do you talk about your purchasing desires all together and approve each transaction? Do you keep a separate ledger and keep track of 1/3 of the income each? Do you allot only a certain amount of personal spending each day or week? Decisions, decisions!
Group Decision-Making and Division of Labor
Along with how to make/spend money, there are several quests in the game that require various items. You’ll need to determine how to make decisions about which quests to prioritize, which items need to be kept as quest items versus being sold, and more.
How are you going to spend your precious time? Are you all going to be all-around balanced communards or is one person going to be in charge of crops while another goes out fishing and a third gathers resources from the mines? Do you alternate? What about a chore chart? All of these things can be discussed to your heart’s content. Sound like a lot of work before you even get to the work? Welcome to community life!
One of the great benefits of Stardew Valley is the plethora of fan-made modifications, aka “mods,” that can alter various aspects of gameplay. You can make your version of Stardew Valley even more realistic to community living by adding on some of these popular mods.
Multiple Spouses: While certainly not everyone in an intentional community is polyamorous, ethical non-monogamy (an approach to relationships wherein people can have more than one romantic and sexual partner at a time, and everybody involved is aware and enthusiastically consents to the dynamic) is generally more accepted and validated in these communities. Income-sharing and egalitarian communities are especially supportive of poly families since people’s romantic relationships can be untethered from issues of housing and economics because everyone in the community has their basic needs met through the efforts of the whole community. While the original version of Stardew Valley allows you to date many people but only marry one, the Multiple Spouses mod allows you to marry multiple people, live with multiple people, have kids with multiple people, and more!
Diverse Stardew Valley: You might notice how white most of the characters are in the original Stardew Valley. This is unfortunately not unlike many intentional communities founded by white folks. While you could leave the original version for a more sadly realistic experience, most people are drawn to community in order to imagine and create more inclusive utopian spaces. So if you’re a BIPOC looking to start a community or a white person wanting to try to get a better idea of what a multiracial community could look like, you can add the Diverse Stardew Valley mod. This mod adds ethnic, cultural, gender identity, and body type diversity to the original characters.
Unlimited Players: The original co-op mode limits the farm to 4 players. However, you might have more people than that in your community start-up group. The Unlimited Players mod will allow the host to add unlimited cabins to the farm. The more the merrier, right?
There are certainly many ways in which Stardew Valley is not anything like real-life community, from dungeon monsters to magic teleportation, but playing in co-op mode does require that folks practice the most central parts of community living: communication and cooperation! It might also reveal things about yourself and others that would be really good to know prior to actually living together. Oh, and don’t forget to also have fun while you’re at it
We have had snow for months here at Glomus Commune and we are still waiting for it to clear, but there is snow and ice at all the communes. Here’s some pictures of it from our Facebook page and various Instagram accounts.
First, here at Glomus:
And at East Wind, they are very excited about the Ice Pillars that have formed:
Twin Oaks contributed a video of one of their creeks in the snow:
Twin Oaks is a long-term (almost 54 years now) multi-generational community that has an age range from newborns to folks in their eighties and has its share of births and deaths. A birth at Twin Oaks is always exciting and a birth just happened there. Here’s the announcement:
There were some pictures of the birth floating around and I contacted the photographer for permission to publish one of parent and child sleeping peacefully. She not only gave me permission but sent an additional adorable photo of Xena.
There’s something incredibly lovely about bringing a child into the world and I personally believe that communes are a wonderful place to raise a child. – Raven